See this dude here? He knows a lot of things. Far more than you, though he pities you enough that he would never say so and risk hurting your little feelings. He wouldn’t have to say anything, if you just spent a few minutes in his presence and it would become obvious. His beliefs are very, very correct. Even his feelings are correct. He’s as close as we can get to an angel on earth.
Notice the earnest concern in his eyes, under the carefully waxed unibrow. It’s not fake. Mr. Gessen has pitied thousands of minorities, occassionally even going so far as to learn their names. Not that he would actually do anything to defend said minorities, he is, in his own words, “too vegetarian and peaceful” to do anything rash. Peace is more important than anything, including minorities.
He knows what it’s like to suffer. After courageously clashing with the police – because he was curious what jail felt like – and speaking with a tatooed minority prisoner – because we shouldn’t discriminate – he experienced deep privations like non-organic jail sandwiches and prison bathrooms scarcely worthy of a Denny’s.
He knows how you little people suffer as well. As editor of a pretentious literary magazine he has exceptional access to the ways middle American families struggle. His friends and fellow jail tourists are salt of the earth types from vital industries as well. One worked at an anarchist magazine, another in alternative education, others still wrote memiors and yet another worked with totally-not-a-terrorist-group The Weathermen.
“But,” you say. “With one so wise as Keith Gessen I cannot help but wonder why he appears to wear an expression of pained confusion in the roguishly handsome portrait gracing the top of this post?”
It’s good you asked. With his freely given pity always available and his immense knowledge universally renowned, Mr. Gessen simply cannot understand why some minorities and little people won’t entrust him and his obvious expertise. I mean, it is painfully obvious to any thinking person that if we simply put the world in the hands of pretentious magazine editors and jail tourists the world’s problems would vanish in a matter of weeks.
Unfortunately, in the course of his jail tourism Mr. Gessen discovered that a shocking number of minorities and little people were so stupid that they could not even look out for their own interests. I mean, some of them prioritized getting out of jail or providing steady incomes to their families over the important stuff, like making anarchist-inspired protest chants, participating in Occupy Wall Street rallies or antagonizing prison guards. With so many silly little people out there fighting against their own saviors, Mr. Gessen and his ilk have every right to feel confused.
If you want to learn more about this incredible man, I encourage you to read this article. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/central-booking After you read the article, I’d encourage you to repeatedly kick Mr. Gessen in the testicles until, I don’t know, his head pops off or something.
She cares for you even if you’re kind of gross.
In the previous installment in this series I spoke of the valid reasons black men and the police have to hate and fear each other. What I didn’t get around to is explaining why the supposed saviors, white liberals like yours truly, are more likely to inspire contempt in both groups than to actually effect positive change.
Pity and Contempt
We white liberals pity the poor. We pity oppressed minorities. We pity the people starving in Ethiopia and we pity the Amazonian tribesmen losing their forests to the forces of industrial capital. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that “these are the real heroes, these poor, these struggling, these weak people.” I thought heroes were supposed to be strong?
The more I think about it, the more I believe we like these people because we like to pity – we like to look down, with concern in our eyes, onto those people so wonderfully, deliciously far beneath us. I say that because it’s really hard, maybe even impossible, to pity somebody you consider an equal.
Nobody pities Wall Street Bankers, school principals or doctors because, while they may be bad or wrong or corrupt, they are not low. Contrast this to how much time we white liberals spend feeling sorry for minorities, for women, for the poor.
Let me explain how the condescending pity works in an anecdote. I took an anthropology class at the University of Nevada where we learned of the evils of colonialism. Cool, valid, totally within bounds. Learning how weak and strong groups can interact without the annihilation of the weaker group is a massive historical challenge and a pressing issue for us today. I could not support the goals of that class more. However, we hit a snag.
You see, when it came to the colonialization of Mexico we did an excellent job of detailing all the nasty things the Spaniards did, how they double dealed and how they took advantage of the poor Aztecs. Once again, totally valid. Cortez was a nasty piece of work in many ways.
However, I didn’t feel that was a complete explanation for the conquest of Mexico. I pointed out that the Aztecs, also a colonial power, were worse in just about every way. Yes, the Spaniards used inexcusable things like slavery, murder and kidnapping. The Aztecs used genocide, human sacrifice and literal child killing rituals to control their conquered subjects. As such, the Spaniards had very little trouble in finding native collaborators to overthrow the justifiably hated Aztec empire.
The professor greeted this with confusion. We needed to focus on the evils of the Spaniards because they should have known better. Yes, the Aztecs had been bad, but how could I really hold that against them?
I don’t know how to process my professor’s analysis without some serious condescension, some heavy duty pity. I don’t know what else she thought other than that the Spaniards, as real white human beings, were capable of responsibility but that the Aztecs, as primitive brown people to be pitied, were simply too childlike to hold responsible.
Not that we pity everyone, though. Working class whites are hillbillies, rednecks, and inbred shit kickers. They are the villains in our movies and the vile oppressors in our textbooks. They are our real terrorists and true criminals, blessed with whiteness and yet still so low.
If I’m right, would that not seem an explanation of why the minorities, women and poor that we so claim to love might reject our presidential candidates, vote for the patriarchy and support Donald Trump?
Because we’re hated. We’re hated enough that spiting us has become a pilar of the Republican Party. We’re hated enough that “elite liberal” slots in somewhere between sh*thead and motherf—- on the list of epithets in a lot of small towns. And I promise, most of those people who hate us are not the one’s whose money we want to redistribute or whose companies we want to regulate, they are the people we pity.
What to Do
I can’t imagine I’m alone in not wanting others to feel sorry for me. Personally, I find that state humiliating. I find it ever so slightly dehumanizing. I feel strongly enough about this that I’m trying to eliminate the pity I learned in college, strongly enough that I genuinely try not demean, not to feel sorry, for anybody.
I think, perhaps, this might be a good idea for us white liberals in general. When we feel tempted to accept a crappy argument because the interlocutor is a minority, stop. When we feel tempted to dismiss horrible actions taken by women because, well, the silly little things can’t help themselves, stop. Basically, my fellow white liberals, let’s do the rest of the world the courtesy of assuming they’re as intelligent and self possessed – and culpable – as we are.