As you know, unlike some Philistines who work here at The Daily Banter, I am an avowed fan of Salon.com. I find the site to be a vital resource in cataloging the various daily injustices that every true liberal should be poised to stand against by way of turning them into catchy hashtags. But every so often even the great ones trip up, and I’m afraid that’s what has happened today. It’s with extraordinary sadness that I report this news.
In a headline article called “How Whites Should Talk About White Privilege,” Georgetown assistant professor Aaron R. Hanlon (misspelled “Hanlan” at the site) writes about a dilemma which many white, liberal males such as myself understand all too well. He ponders the question of how, as a white person, one can contribute to the conversation about the scourge of white privilege while not actually furthering white privilege, given that expressing an opinion as a white person is, itself, a kind of exercise in white privilege. It sounds confusing, I know, and I admit that I’ve found that the best thing to do is simply defer to, and agree with, whichever minority entity is voicing its frustration on a given day about a given concern. But the piece makes many excellent points about the necessity for white Americans to always be self-effacing and aware of the dangers of exercising their privilege.
The issue with Mr. Hanlon’s article, then, is less one of content than it is language. To wit, in discussing the still entirely relevant and not at all exhausted debate over Suey Park and her mighty #CancelColbert campaign, he writes this:
I do find Colbert’s satire compelling, but I also find what he did deeply problematic, precisely because this unwavering portrayal of the white racist came at the expense of a group — Asian-Americans — with whom media outlets of all kinds already take disproportionately unscrupulous license.
This is where I have no choice but to strongly voice my dissent, because while I agree almost entirely with Mr. Hanlon’s sentiment, his use of the specific phrase “deeply problematic” to describe Stephen Colbert’s overt racism is, I’m sorry to say, deeply problematic. I myself have used the descriptor “deeply problematic” many, many times in the past, but it simply doesn’t fit every circumstance or offense. For example, the sexual politics of the film Gravity were deeply problematic; as is the cultural appropriation involved in white people belly dancing; as was the lack of shout-outs to social justice issues on Beyoncé’s most recent album; as is the criticism of Suey Park and #CancelColbert. But Stephen Colbert’s heartless use of Asian-Americans as props in a joke that could far too easily be misunderstood by the uncultured and uneducated — well, that went beyond being simply “deeply problematic” into the realm of “harrowingly unsatisfactory.”
If we wish to have our daily indignations taken seriously on Twitter, we as liberals must come to an agreement on what rises to the level of “deeply problematic,” what is simply “problematic” and what stretches to the heights of, say, “odiously pernicious.” I admit that I would expect Mr. Hanlon, or really anyone who once wrote a scholarly essay called “Maids, Mistresses, and ’Monstrous Doubles’: Gender-Class Kyriarchy in The Female Quixote and Female Quixotism,” to be able to discern the often subtle distinctions between each of the levels in McEwan’s Hierarchy of Outrage. But it’s a thin line and perhaps since he was acting in good faith and was being as deferential and “self-effacing” as possible, one minor misstep should be a forgivable transgression.
Actually, no, it isn’t. It’s essential that Mr. Hanlon grasp every detail of the proper orthodoxy and lingo required to be an effective ally and since he obviously hasn’t taken the time to, I have no choice but to brand him as a kind of enemy to the overall cause.
Beginning today, let’s make #CancelHanlon a trending topic. I know we can do it — and I know it will change things for the better.