|The problem with leftists is they always resort to broad generalizations.
||[Jan. 30th, 2015|09:07 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
When I was a bright eyed leftist fresh out of school I moved to the Uptown neighborhood and ended up being a volunteer for Alderman Hellen Shiller's campaign.|
Shiller was an independent alderman, opponent of the Daley Machine and as much of a Marxist as an alderman could be openly. Uptown was a truly diverse place - as was her staff and supporters - and my presumptions about class, race, gender, etc. were challenged as I did this.
One day I was canvassing with a white woman who was a bit stiff and earnest, but a truly devoted neighborhood resident who knew an astounding (to me) number of people by name. She and her husband had spent their lives doing low paying social work and always rented.
We had talked our way into one of the increasing number of condos in Uptown. In recent times the poorer sections had been gentrifying to the delight of some wealthy long time residents and consternation of far more non-wealthy locals.
It turned out the people who had let us in were a middle class African American couple who had just moved in. They were interested in Shiller's campaign, but they had questions. They said they chosen Uptown because they wanted diversity, but hostile anti-condo and anti-gentrification graffiti was freaking them out. They understood what it meant, but it still reminded them of the sort of harassment which had long kept Chicago segregated.
We were not prepared to talk about this. My colleague was clearly flustered and defaulted to a speech about how she had known the people who had been displaced when this place went condo and the tension had reasons. It did not go over well. I stepped in to say Uptown's uniquely mixed population could make it intense, but Helen Shiller took care to provide service to all residents equally even as she worked to protect the less powerful. Or some babbling to that effect, then we handed out flyers and left.
I were Fredrick deBoer, I could write how I Watched That Happen: A Black Couple Who Just Wanted To Understand Were Berated For Their Privilege By A White Lady and I Didn't Know What To Do. I could describe the black couple in depth and my colleague as a left wing cliche who Ruins Everything.
It would not, however, be the whole story, just one which fit into scoring points against the powers of Political Correctness.
As we walked away from the building, I hesitantly suggested that might not have been the best thing to say. To which she replied defensively what she said wasn't untrue - that condo had come at the expense of renters. I said yes, but their earnest yet friendly concern over spray painted threats was not unfounded given Chicago's history. She pointed out this neighborhood had areas where lower class blacks and whites had lived for decades and now they were being pushed to areas far from the lakefront and trains. After a few moments of very midwestern tension and muttering, we agreed it was awkward and someone non-white should do a follow up.
We never canvassed together again but over time the tension eased as we were next door neighbors. She had many positive qualities and the doctrinaire attitude which dismayed me in that moment was a strength in others. I realized how much effort is required to get anything done and long term fighters can be inspiring and insufferable at different points. I also realized I wasn't so different.
After 15 years of fighting the good fight, Ald. Shiller tried to make a deal with Daley to get more affordable housing and ended up playing the fool. Then she retired. I don't actually have a conclusion to this story.
DeBoer presents his anecdotes with a dramatic flair ("I have seen, with my own two eyes") which draw attention to what's left out. When this 19 year old passionate white girl ran from a classroom in tears was it his class? Didn't he have power to address this? Did he talk to those who upset her? Did he talk to her? Is it possible her reaction was as overblown as theirs? He dramatically proclaims "I watched that happen." but "that" is a vague, evil Them vs. idealized Her. (Also, how does he know the woman in the other incident had $300 shoes? Did he ask or just assume?)
I appreciate a well formed essay. Generalizations are not inherently bad - they are a key part of communication. Even what we deem rhetorical fallacies can be used to convey truth. Yet...
I've read several essays which say Chait's essay was band but he still has a point. Each one ends up indulging similar reductive narratives and annoying sanctimony they decry. They exaggerate the sins of PC which points to the unspoken larger context of the severe injustices these PC people are talking about.
As John Hodgman observes: "there are toxic, pointless arguments all over the Internet since internet began. Social justice is just one flavor of contentiousness."
Chait's essay conflates mean Facebook comments and the murder of cartoonists. Boer disagrees but then says Chait has a point by describing a student upset by thoughtless peers as "shellshocked" and "burned terribly" and uses rhetorical flourish like "This is where I live" and "I am out of fucking ideas" as if he had been tending the wounded in some war on a distant front no civilian has seen or could understand, rather than a guy who's spent a lot of time in college.
If DeBoer doesn't know what to do, I suggest start by admitting the mean students are also "being typical clumsy kids" who aren't perfect. Try being a grown up who can defuse drama and address assholes calmly, not use two paragraphs for the condescending, trolling prediction "the same pack of self-absorbed media liberals will herp de derp about it". Because that's what one writes not to get answers, but to demonize some people to rationalize whatever agenda is unspoken.
An answer: once one is over 30 it becomes harder to relate to students or anyone who seems like they should be more mature than they sometimes are about things. It can be exasperating and exhausting to deal with the same immature bullshit over and over, but if one is to work in a university perspective is part of the job. At the very least, recognize that toxic stridency isn't exclusive to right or left, but an eternal human failing to be understood, especially within oneself.