The latest bubble of gas to arise from the identity politics cauldron is the case of US civil rights activist and blackface method actress Rachel Dolezal. The story of a woman who grew up as one thing and then successfully reinvented herself as a different thing, backed up by a fabricated personal history, has generated much consternation over the elusive concept of ‘race’, and much speculation over Dolezal’s mental state.
As for the question of why Dolezal behaved as she did, a deluge of theories are falling into the three standard categories for explaining inexplicable behaviour: Bad, Mad or Sad. Dolezal herself seems to prefer the Sad theory – that she is ‘trans-racial’, white in body but black in spirit, born in the wrong skin and perhaps to the wrong parents; a harmless, tragically misunderstood individual who is simply seeking acceptance in a world dominated by narrow biological definitions of ‘race’. Other commentators are putting their money on Mad – that Dolezal has simply developed a delusion that she is ‘black’ when in fact she is not, or that Dolezal is confused to the point of lunacy about what ‘being black’ actually means, or both. While I am reluctant to draw any conclusions on Rachel Dolezal’s soundness of mind, I can say that spending too much time hanging around university humanities departments and messing about with race politics could potentially send anybody a bit bonkers.
The third and perhaps most popular theory is that Dolezal is Bad. It is suggested that Dolezal had, on occasion, ticked certain boxes on certain forms that she should not have, falsifying her ‘race’ and fraudulently claiming entitlement to certain opportunities and concessions that should only be available to people who are properly black. While Dolezal’s performance of blackness may have yielded some material benefits, commentators have focused more closely on the less tangible, yet widely coveted, benefit that she stood to gain by posing as a black woman: residence upon the lush, fertile moral high ground that is the State of Victimhood.
The implosion of Rachel Dolezal’s public persona has uncorked a gush of commentary on the supposedly ‘growing phenomenon’ of Victim Culture, in which victimhood is a source of power, and membership of a marginalised and disadvantaged caste entitles the holder to limitless deference and immunity from critique. The prestige of victimhood, say the commentators, attracts pretenders like Dolezal who may have little hope of achieving much under their own steam, and creates gatekeepers and bullies who bark ‘Check your privilege!’ at every turn. Doubters and dissenters are denounced as ‘racist’ or as some brand of ‘phobic’, and even ‘misogynist’ is occasionally dusted off and brandished like an antique hand-grenade from WWII. The legions of victimised and oppressed are too diverse to name (and to define is to further oppress, probably), but can be loosely described as anything other than straight, white, middle-class men. Unsurprisingly then, it is these fellows outside the gates who are doing much of the grumbling about the emergence of so-called Victim Culture.
Media reports on the unfolding Dolezal train-wreck have been accompanied by a torrent of online comments from the Gregs and Craigs and Harrys of Australia, complaining that, as straight white males, they are prohibited from openly expressing an opinion on matters of race, gender, or most other issues in popular culture, for fear of being branded a racist, a rape-apologist, or myriad other dreadful things. ‘It’s madness!’ they moan. ‘It must be stopped’ they splutter, ‘before it gets completely out of hand!’
To which I say, Gentlemen, let’s be clear on this: We are not talking about a recent shift, a growing phenomenon, or an emerging culture. Nietzsche was moaning more than 100 years ago about the sickliness of a society that elevates victimhood to saintliness, demonises the powerful, and embraces ‘Christian pity’ as a far higher virtue than strength or rationality. Whatever your thoughts about Nietzsche, he identified what we are lately calling ‘victim culture’ as a thing that had already gotten well out of hand way back when. It is simply a facet of modern Western culture, and is certainly nothing new.
Furthermore, all you disgruntled gents; if an emerging phenomenon is apparent, it is not so much the ascendance of the victim as your own rapid descent into enfeeblement. Has there ever before been such an outpouring of grown men complaining that they are unable to express their views openly for fear of being called rude names by people who have very little else going for them other than their capacity to hurl insults? Have we ever witnessed so many naked confessions that however much a man might wish to speak his mind, he is too fearful of the consequences to do so? The consequences have never been milder – no gulag, no stocks, no stakes or firing squads anymore – and yet the fear is so normalised that it is not considered a shameful thing for a man to admit he is just too damn timid to speak up for himself.
Some of our menfolk here in Australia have referred to ‘section 18C’ as the reason why they must remain silent or hide behind a pseudonym in discussions of identity and race politics, so let’s be clear on another thing: 18C is not an excuse for choosing to say nothing. Such an idiotic law might compel you to think more carefully about what you say, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. We should always take such care, not for fear of causing offense but to ensure we present a sound and coherent argument. For those of you too afraid to speak, please stop claiming 18C is the only thing preventing you from roaring your displeasure like the stout-hearted lions you truly are. All you are doing is validating the effectiveness of 18C as means of repressing contrary opinion, and convincing others that they are right to be afraid of it.
Believe it or not, straight white guys; you still have quite a lot of power. You are certainly not so downtrodden by identity politics that the hapless Rachel Dolezal’s of this world are in a position to oppress you. Of course, with power comes responsibility, so it may be more convenient to continue pretending you have neither, and that the creation of laws and policies that restrict freedom of speech and formalise systemic racism are misfortunes that have happened to you, rather than tragedies that you’ve allowed to happen.
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