Saturday, September 08, 2018

Why I Intuitively Adopted Aggressive Black Partisanship Instead of Submissive Intersectionality...,

nakedcapitalism |  If we consider modern privilege discourse as a sort of semi-animate entity, a part of its genius lies in its ability to convince its adherents that questioning it means claiming that no disadvantages distributed unfairly according to collective patterns exist.

Or that questioning it means denying the existence of subtle conventions that make certain people feel unwelcome in certain settings.

Or, closer to home, that critiquing McIntosh’s œuvre means dismissing all of her ideas.

I believe, on the contrary, that there are important questions that should be asked about all of these topics. Privilege discourse doesn’t exactly encourage asking them, but that doesn’t need to stop us.

First, the lateral/vertical world distinction is worth thinking about. The way in which the distinction is partially overlaid on gender in McIntosh isn’t really essential, even to her own treatment of the idea.
Real questions arise at this point. To what extent can things smacking of meritocracy be done away with? To what extent can the vertical world be marginalized? 

To what extent can people, even well-meaning people working towards similar goals, discuss ideas without sometimes tearing the social fabric? 

The lateral world seems less uncomplicatedly good than McIntosh suggests. The secretary praised by her for “keeping everything going” might be working for an elementary school, but might instead be working for an arms dealer. In a case like the latter, the lateral world’s relationship with the vertical world is not conflictual but symbiotic.

One thought I’ve had is that I think people respond better if treated as individuals who are potentially involved in larger group patterns, rather than as exemplars of groups, fighting an uphill battle in any effort to be seen as single people.

One way in which privilege discourse has been “efficient” is by separating the process of classification of something as a privilege from the process of assigning it a moral charge. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with trying to look at advantages as a single large category. But from this starting point, it seems clearly important to make distinctions about where these advantages come from, what they signify, and what can be done about them.

In the spirit of McIntosh’s vertical/lateral distinction, we could make a (not at all hard and fast) distinction between “vertical” and “lateral” advantages. Vertical advantages would include things like money, where people generally feel like having more is preferable. Lateral advantages would include things like speaking French versus speaking English, where either one can be preferable, depending on the milieu.

One problem, in fact, with classifying lateral advantages as “privileges” (and therefore presumptively bad) is that they are more or less coterminous with culture. If the goal is to make it so there are no environments where some people are more confident and others less confident, I don’t see how to do this without leveling all cultural distinctions. After all, one name for a place where a particular group of people feel disproportionately comfortable is home.