Thursday, May 19, 2016

Playing with Cards: Bringing It All Together

When I write about issues of discrimination and identity, I try when feasible to use a mix of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism examples to illustrate my point. So, for example, in Playing with Cards I discuss the bad faith "card" retort to discrimination claims by looking at how Gamergaters responded to Anita Sarkeesian's contentions of sexism in the video game community (to talk of sexism is an "I-win button") and how Caryl Churchill dismissed objections that her play Seven Jewish Children was anti-Semitic ("It's the usual tactic."). It's the same move, just applied to different people.

And sometimes, the world reciprocates. Breitbart News has been engulfed in scandal (well, a new scandal anyway) recently after it published David Horowitz calling Bill Kristol a "renegade Jew" (stemming from the latter's rejection of Donald Trump). The fallout has led to alarms being raised about the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the conservative movement (not that this should really surprise us given the basis of Trump's appeal-- anti-Muslim sentiments and anti-Semitic sentiments are in fact excellent predictors of one another), including by one-time conservative wunderkind Ben Shapiro. And to Sharpiro's concerns, well, Breitbart published this yesterday:
He has started playing the victim on Twitter and throwing around allegations of anti-semitism and racism, just like the people he used to mock. 
Ben, no one hates Jewish people....You’re no better than notorious feminist agitator Anita Sarkeesian presenting the tweets of Twitter trolls to the UN as proof of an overwhelming rise in sexism!
They even made the same comparison to Sarkeesian that I did!

Perhaps we shouldn't feel any pity for Shapiro who, after all, made his career on mocking and deriding others who raising discrimination claims on behalf of outgroups. But there is something worth observing here. One recurrent argument people make in dismissing discrimination claims is some variant on the "crying wolf" case -- that if we are too quick to "cry discrimination", people won't take "the real discrimination" seriously. This was always an iffy claim, and if anything Shapiro's case seems to demonstrate that the reverse is true. If you spend your life telling people that most discrimination claims are ginned-up, bad faith political ploys that should be mocked and dismissed, they won't make an exception when it's your turn to be the claimant (Jewish Voice for Peace has run into the same problem on the rare occasions where it has tried to call something anti-Semitic -- it finds that the norm it has promoted whereby most anti-Semitism claims are simply Zionist scare tactics doesn't evaporate just because they're the "good Jews").

Decades ago Derrick Bell already recognized this when elaborating on his concept of "enhanced standing": You can make a fine career out of telling the majority why your group is untrustworthy, unreliable, or outright condemnable -- but don't expect to be able to cash that credit in if you're perceived as even temporarily switching sides. And so the idea that we can get people to take racism, or sexism, or anti-Semitism seriously if we vigorously police out the "bad" claims and keep our powder dry to tackle the "real" ones turns out to be a dead end.  If we don't start with the basic assumption that members of historically marginalized groups have claims worth listening to, there really isn't a lot of room for meaningful political conversation to move forward.

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