Who gets to be apolitical, and who neutrality serves

A great article about serious politics and Captain America from Dr Naja Later at Women Write About Comics:

The trouble is that this narrative is hinged on the idea that until now, Cap was not political. Apart from being historically untrue, it speaks to a greater failure in recognising that everyone is political. The privilege to believe you can be apolitical is particular to a demographic like [current Captain America writer] Nick Spencer’s. These people are exnominated, a term coined by Roland Barthes to describe how privileged identities are unnamed because they are the norm. The exnominated can believe that their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, bodies, and ideologies are “neutral.” For those of us outside the exnominated—anyone who is “other” in some way—our every action and inaction is, whether we like it or not, read as political. This is how the term “identity politics” arises, because only the non-privileged have a visible “identity,” and its existence is treated as political. Because we have been forced to recognise how our everyday is political, we recognise that the same is true of the exnominated.

This is one reason I kind of hold on to the label “identity politics”, even as it’s been weaponized by dudes who really wish the womenfolk would stop having opinions loudly and in public. It’s a beautiful circular trap: my politics are grounded in my identity because my identity has been created for political ends, i.e. to preserve and protect capitalism.

Being defined as neutral or not having an “identity” is the basis of privilege. Your rights aren’t special when you’re the norm, your needs aren’t extraordinary or frivolous, your welfare is inherently important. Your existence and opinions are simply not seen as political the way a woman’s or a black man’s or a queer person’s are. But when we buy into the idea that to be political is icky, and that the best way to be is neutral … well, we end up defending Nazis. Literally.

[Spencer’s] entire tenure as the writer of Cap books has been working to recreate the popular fanboy illusion that superheroes can and should be apolitical. He’s set a scene where activism and criticism are not only wrong: they’re out of character, unheroic, and embarrassing. This long game leads to a point where the man who writes one of culture’s most famous Nazi-punchers advocates for a genocidal neo-Nazi. Now that Richard Spencer has retweeted him, we can see exactly whom the myth of neutrality serves.

I’m almost finished reading Katrine Marçal’s Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? which absolutely nails this topic. Hopefully have a review up shortly!

Were we wrong about Trump?

A few thoughts expanded from my Twitter yesterday, on the number of leftwingers or liberals who I see saying things like “Oh, Donald Trump has calmed down since winning, he’s toned down the extremism, maybe he won’t be a total monster as President.”

The thing is, Trump’s behaviour may have calmed down. But the hatred and violence he deliberately fostered during the election hasn’t.

There were many, many factors involved in the US election result, and a lot of the narratives presume there was a massive surge in Republican support, to which I just keep referring to this graph:

But just because Trump didn’t get a huge stack of new voters doesn’t mean his aggressive, violent messages had no impact. Of course they affected the way people talk, and the way people are behaving now he’s won, and their sense that openly racist, xenophobic, sexist attitudes are acceptable now.

Those people are now doing the work for him, of terrorising people who might resist, of shutting down honest debate about democracy, and of marginalizing even further the people already on the margins. They are harassing, attacking, abusing, vandalising, threatening, and inevitably they will be killing other people because of Trump’s message.

It’s entirely convenient and cynically, strategically smart for Trump to chill out and start acting like a grown-up for the cameras now. Because the violence will carry on regardless – they got the message – and our “oh it’s not so bad, he’s stopped screaming racist abuse” reaction means it will go unchallenged.

If we say “oh but violence is terrible, I deplore violence” yet do not actively resist the root cause of that violence we might as well say nothing at all.

Trump’s newfound “mature” demeanour gives people – especially privileged liberals with access and resources – an excuse to step back and stop being angry. Stop elevating the voices of others who don’t have our privilege. Stop caring about violence and abuse targeted at people who don’t look like us.

After an election in which so many marginalized people already felt like (and have plenty of data to support the notion) middle-class liberal white people sold them out, we simply cannot double down on ignoring their needs.

We cannot take comfort in the fact that Donald Trump has taken off the red baseball cap of the disruptive threat to the status quo and put on the trappings of a normal, safe white male politician. Because then all we’re doing is saying fascism is okay as long as it’s not too shouty.

The Kermadecs and racist environmentalism

I did a bit of a tweetstorm earlier today, inspired by seeing friends embroiled in frustrating conversations like this one and the decided slant of articles like this about the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

My thoughts resonated with a bunch of people, so here they are in post form, but I’m going to stick up at the front something which I tweeted late in the piece: I’m just a Pākehā woman with a Twitter account and a reflexive critical analysis of political discourse. I’m not an expert in this area. I refer you to far wiser people like Morgan Godfery and the reportage of folk like Maiki Sherman at Newshub.

So. This week has been a revelation in the racist imperialism of mainstream (white) environmental organisations.

We’re not even arguing about meaningful consultation around establishing the Kermadec sanctuary, we’re talking about ZERO consultation by white politicians who assumed they knew best. National are literally in coalition with the Māori Party but didn’t even pick up the phone to give them a heads-up, probably because like every other Pākehā handwringer they just assumed they knew best about whether there’d be an issue.

That’s problem 1: Pākehā assuming they know everything about a complex historical/legal issue which gets really shallow coverage in the media and frequently is only lightly discussed in school, if ever.

Problem 2 is the (very Pākehā) environment lobby’s outrage that anyone might stand in the way of an ocean sanctuary. “Think of the planet!” they cry, which is appallingly arrogant coming from the ethnic group which has done the vast majority of screwing up the planet to start with.

But no, now we know better so let’s do things our way, it’s for the greater good after all!

This also brings in the horrible racist undertones of the Pākehā worldview being more ~sophisticated~ than Māori.

We have to take a hard look at how environmental organisations and Pākehā liberalism exploit indigenous culture. When it suits us, we happily draw on the notion of indigenous people being ~more in touch with the land~ and having a ~spiritual connection to nature~ and painting with all the goddamned colours of the wind. When it helps our agenda, we happily retweet the hashtags opposing oil pipelines and trumpet the importance of honouring the Treaty.

But scratch the surface and all the smug superiority is there. We know better; our thinking is more advanced because we care about ~the whole planet~.

It’s very easy to care about the whole planet when you’re on the team who took it by force.

The third problem I came to is broader than the current debate: it’s the hate-on Pākehā have for the idea that Māori dare to operate in a capitalist framework. Like, we came here, smashed their culture, took their land, tried to destroy their language, imposed capitalism on them, and when we offer a pittance in compensation for what they have lost, we get OUTRAGED when they set up “modern” business structures with it.

Do people have justified concerns about the decisions and operating practices of some Māori corporations? Probably. There are issues with every capitalist construct run for profit. But we treat Māori ones very differently – we treat everything Māori do differently (remember the foreshore and seabed? Remember how nobody seemed to have a problem with rich white people owning whole beaches and islands, but the idea of Māori just having the right to test ownership in court was the end of the world?)

We’ve put Māori in a catch-22: imposing Pākehā capitalism on them, but acting appalled whenever they dare use it to survive.

So this is how it goes. Pākehā make a decision to eradicate fishing rights without consulting Māori, because we know better. Then we decry them for not caring about the environment – which we stole from them and exploited for over a century – and imply they only care about money – which is a good thing if you’re in business but not if you’re brown.

And so we pat ourselves on the back for being More Enlightened About The Environment while literally confiscating land & resources from Māori again.

~

A tangent on industrialization, climate change and the environment: let’s consider how all the “first world” “developed” nations got to where they are – by pillaging and strip-mining every piece of the planet we could get our hands on – but now we’ve hoarded all the money and resources and built “sophisticated” economies, suddenly we want to scold “less developed” nations for doing exactly the same thing.

Blade Runner and The Fifth Element knew exactly what they were doing when they showed the working classes living beneath the smog layer, is what I’m saying.

Older white men paid double young ethnic women

That’s not my headline. That’s Stuff’s business section’s headline.

Middle-aged white men might be sick of being cast as villains, but a report suggests they should check their privilege.

And that’s not my first sentence, that’s business reporter Richard Meadows’ first sentence.

I’m going to try to not just copy-paste the entire article – because it’s all good and it’s all quoteable – but seriously:

Young Middle Eastern and African women are at the bottom of the heap, with median pay of just $14.75 an hour, on par with the minimum wage.

At the other end of the spectrum, white men aged 45-64 command top dollar, earning a median hourly rate of $28.77.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said it was only fair that wages should increase with time and experience.

These are the kinds of statements which normally get sneered at – when it’s Social Justice Warriors making them. There are cries of “ew, politics of envy!” and “that’s just because you all go off and have babies!” and “just upskill if you don’t want to flip burgers your whole life!!!”

Sorry, dudes: pay discrimination is a real, documented, mainstream idea.

The Human Rights Commission’s interactive Tracking Equality at Work tool is amazing, and I strongly encourage having a look – especially if you still want to pretend that we’re all living on an even playing field.

The only way to ignore these statistics and pretend they don’t matter is to openly admit that you really do believe that women, people of colour, and people with disabilities “just aren’t trying hard enough” and somehow “deserve” to be paid less, hired less, and promoted less.

Statement of the bloody obvious: of course different types of work and different levels of “skill” are always going to be paid differently in the economic system we currently have.

Other statement of the bloody obvious: but that cannot justify the widespread discrimination and disadvantage which is playing out in workers’ lives every day. It cannot justify paying women like Kristine Bartlett, with 23 years’ experience caring for elderly people in rest homes, $14.46 an hour.

If we took a serious look at the “value” produced by low-paid workers – the people feeding us, caring for us, keeping our workplaces and public spaces tidy and hygienic – we could not condone the miserable wages they are paid. We would not write off their jobs as “unskilled” or “women’s work”.

But the first step is admitting there’s a problem. And when it’s right there in black-and-white on a major news site – even listed as an “editor’s pick” on the front page – I think we’re ready, as a society, to take that step.

QOTD: Pratchett on privilege

The parents of two pupils from St Bede’s College got a court injunction so their sons could row in a competition. The school had cut them from the team after they were given formal warnings by Police and Aviation Security about jumping on the baggage conveyor at Christchurch Auckland Airport.

Which just brought to mind a quote from the Terry Pratchett novel Night Watch:

“That’s the way it was. Privilege, which just means private law. Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.”

In a post-9/11 world where you aren’t even allowed to joke in the line for passenger screening, the rules clearly don’t apply to the sons of rowing commitee chairmen from decile 9 integrated schools.

Or Cabinet Ministers.