Asymmetry in Minority vs Majority Narratives
Whose Narratives Count?
In the hinge episode five of the Netflix series Dear White People a fight breaks out at a party at elite Ivy-like Winchester College between two black and white student friends — over the power of a word — ni***ah — and who has the right to use it:
“Just don’t say ‘nigga,’” Reggie tells his white friend Addison while they’re dancing to “Trap Niggas.”
“I guess it just kind of felt weird to censor myself,” Addison responds after insisting he’s not racist for repeating the word when it’s in a song.
“It felt kind of weird to hear you say it,” Reggie tries to explain. But soon, things escalate, others get involved, the music stops, and the situation gets tense enough for someone to call campus police.”(https://www.buzzfeed.com/sylviaobell/dear-white-people-episode-five)
The someone who calls the police is the white boyfriend of the biracial black host of the campus radio show Dear White People. His reflexive majoritarian trust in institutions is betrayed when the officer asks no white student to show an ID and pulls his gun on Reggie when he doesn’t immediately produce an ID proving he’s a student. He complies, terrified of becoming another Michael Brown or Tamir Rice.
This episode is stuffed with majority-minority asymmetries to dissect:
- Majority populations assume institutions are trusted and neutral. Minority populations know they aren’t.
- Majority populations assume easy entry to understanding minority narratives. Minority populations see this as tone-deaf empathy-free arrogance.
- Majority populations get defensive (“censor myself”) when told the minority population gets to control narrative and words with power.
- Majority populations claim victimization by snowflakes when told to listen to minority population narratives. Minority populations view majorities who defensively complain about “self-censorship” as the real snowflakes.
The easiest route to explain these four points to Americans is to go outside the familiar American setting of black vs white or Hispanic vs Anglo. Majority vs minority, war between empire-building invader vs the indigenous invaded, enslavement or genocide is the modus operandi of humanity’s post-Neolithic history.
For 5000 years tributary empire has been our species’ normal form of governance, from Egyptians to Persians to Greeks to Romans to Caliphate to Mongols to Ottomans to the Columbian Exchange of Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Britain in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Another norm: Hittites, Melians, Celts, Berbers, Basques, Corsicans, the Welsh, Gaelic Irish, Caribs, Wampanoags, Aztecs, Inca and Puebla remain consigned to silence. But this last norm, in a single planetary civilization with no society an island, is obsolete. Never heard of some of these? Point proven.
Our technologically and governmentally pubescent species has barely begun its journey out of the Darwinian logic the Athenians forced on the islanders of Melos that ”the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenian slaughter of the Melians shocked the Greek world and the Athenian empire was forever stained by it. Even ancient empire-building needed the legitimacy of moral boundaries. In the 20th century in Europe and Asia we saw its remorseless genocidal logic in 1914–18 and 1931–45 and vowed never again with Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the UN’s Prevention of Genocide Convention and the UN’s International Criminal Court.
So how do we go from Thucydides’ Melian Dialogues to American race relations? Well, it’s time to listen to American history’s Melians, of which the fictional black Winchester student Reggie is just one. After the slaughter and enslavement, who gets to talk and who ought to listen? Take a tour through our species’ blood-soaked history to give Americans the detachment required to answer these questions:
- Should Armenians listen to Turks about responsibility for the Armenian genocide or vice-versa? The absurdity with which the question is framed shows how the question answers itself.
- Should we listen to Catalans and Basques or the Spaniards and the French to get the story of linguistic repression? Should Estonians and Latvians listen to Russians or vice versa?
- Should we listen first to Native Americans, north and south, about Europe’s lethal Columbian Exchange, or to American descendants of immigrants celebrating Thanksgiving’s myth of consensual colonization?
- Should the descendants of the 18th century slave trader Edward Colston, whose statue was dumped into Bristol harbor, listen first to the descendants of the slaves, or vice versa?
- To tell the story of Japan’s murderous rampage through East Asia, should we listen first to Japanese or Koreans? Japanese or Chinese? Japanese or Indonesians?
- Should Japan’s atomic bomb victimhood belong to the narrative of WWII? If you don’t know whether we should ask the Japanese or ask the Chinese and Koreans first, we need to talk.
- Should the bombing of Dresden belong to the Germans’ narrative of WWII? If so, can a German be trusted to tell and contextualize it?
- To tell the story of the Soviet Gulag, should we listen first to a Russian or a Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Pole, Karelian, Chechen, Jew or Armenian? Was the Soviet regime led by a Georgian psychopath and gangster an equal opportunity murderer, or was there a majority-minority component to his murderous paranoia? These are complex and tricky questions that require careful distinctions and nuance, not loaded terms like “identity politics” and “snowflakes”.
- To tell the story of majority-minority relations in the 1700 years since Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, who gets to talk first about Christian civilization’s progression from forced conversion to ghettos, to the kidnapping of baptized Jewish children and pogroms to gas chambers, Jews or Christians? Who has a moral obligation to listen before talking? If this question makes you uncomfortable, we need to talk. If you’re ready to tell what you know before finding out what you don’t know, we need to talk even more.
We can answer the last question about listening with a joke: why did God invent the gentiles? Answer: somebody has to pay retail. Just as Reggie in Dear White People, but not his white friend Addison, can use the word n***ah, I, but not my gentile friends, can tell this joke. Jews can tell jokes about Jews and money. For gentiles, especially Christian gentiles, this is forbidden territory, a mine field that will blow you up even if you wander into it innocently. Here’s an example of less than innocent trespassing on forbidden territory for demagogic purposes:
It leads to Pittsburgh, Poway and this:
Snowflakes, Dog Whistles and Jokes
When or whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is our choice, not yours. Hearing Christians talk about this as a “War on Christmas” is an anti-semitic dog whistle that empowers those who wear Camp Auschwitz sweatshirts to fascist insurrections and the reality TV fuhrer who incited them. When we see a Star of David together with photos of Jewish central bankers and holocaust survivor George Soros in an anti-globalist Trump ad or retweet, we see neo-Nazism, and you should too. The intentions of Trump or his ad buyer are utterly irrelevant. Apologists telling us to “take him seriously, but not literally” is the American version of “we’ll be able to control the little corporal.”
History injects moral asymmetry even into jokes. Humor that punches up from minority to majority doesn’t have the same moral weight or framing as the reverse. A gentile telling a Jewish joke is not morally equivalent to the reverse. A Jewish woman telling a JAP joke is one thing, a gentile quite another:
“The stereotype is no less offensive just because the “money-grubbing, conniving, selfish, malicious and untrustworthy” Jew has been updated and put into a skirt. The Jewish American Princess uses her sexuality to get her man, but — in behavior that anti-Semites would claim typifies the Jew — once she has won her prey she withholds sexual favors so as to conserve her energies for her own pursuits….At some of the most prestigious universities Jewish women are subjected to attacks and ethnically hostile humor. There have been “slap a JAP” contests. At athletic events JAP chants have been led by cheerleaders. Recently when I visited Cornell University, women there told me that if they object to the jokes they are dismissed as “uptight and humorless” and that if they don’t object they feel ashamed and angry.” — Deborah Lipstadt, holocaust historian who won her libel case against holocaust denier David Irving. (https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-05-25-me-3033-story.html)
Gentiles who think JAP jokes are harmless humor don’t know that Goebbels had an affair with a Jewish woman and made the sexual allure of Jewish women to Aryan men an integral part of Nazi propaganda.
Slogans for Snowflakes vs
a Demythologized Democratic Narrative
Just as Athens was forever shamed and stained by the Melos slaughter, humans’ innate moral sense rightfully shames punch down majority to minority humor. Our species’ moral disgust reflex is triggered when Darwinian us vs them survival of the fittest ”the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” crosses this line. Those who invoke this moral disgust reflex are not the real snowflakes. The real snowflakes are those who resist and refuse to understand it by whining with whatabout-ist complaints of reverse racism. Slogans like “the War on Christmas”, “the War on Thanksgiving”, “all lives matter” and “blue lives matter” are too clever by half, disingenuous punch down majoritarian backlash. Rhetorically, they’re a form of inverted affirmative action. Like Trumpster birtherism, they’re a rhetorical expression of white and Christian entitlement to dominance of public space over the non-white and non-Christian. They’re the rhetorical white legacy kids from Greenwich and the Upper East Side getting admitted to Yale or Princeton who then question whether their black and brown classmates really deserve to be there.
Why is this important? There is no case in human history of a democracy formerly dominated by a majority racial or ethnic group successfully transitioning peacefully to robust rule of law multiracial democracy as the former majority becomes a minority. Discount South Africa, which peacefully transitioned from white minority to black majority rule, a laudable, but very different case.
To survive as a democracy, that is, to survive at all as a unified state, the USA must become the first case in human history to see its formerly dominant racial majority accept minority status within a fully multiracial democracy. To accomplish this transition its, currently majority white population will have to train its emotional intelligence muscles to listening within a very different conversation with its future majority populations. This will require relearning and demythologizing much of American history. I wrote this to frame the context for such training.