Tag Archives: social justice

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to See “Get Out”.

la-et-hc-get-out-horror-peele-20161004-snapI have been wanting to see Get Out, Jordan Peele’s foray into horror/race relations cinema, for some time. It was my fortune that my best friend suggested we see it, on what is becoming “our day” to hang out.  I arrived at the theatre (St. Anthony Main), where I purchased the tickets, and—at the suggestion of my bestie—sauntered into the neighborhood bar to order drinks. As I waited for my friend, I picked up on an interesting conversation at 3:00 (to my right). What appeared to be a couple on a date, a white man and a black woman, immersed in conversation about the film they were about to see, which happenstancely happened to be Get Out. At the same theatre, James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro was playing, and the discussion eventually centered around the subject.

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James Baldwin. Have we met?

“What?! You don’t know about James Baldwin?” the young white man exclaimed. The black woman admitted her ignorance, wherein the white dude went off on a veritable lecture on the merits of James Baldwin. “You know, the film does good about James’ works on race, but it doesn’t really focus in on him as a homosexual (sic),” and so on and so forth.  As I sat there in horror over the conversation, I was rescued by my friend. Thus, we ordered our beverages and retired to the theatre, which was packed by a rainbow of diversity, yet all gathered in one mission to watch a film. Touching.

Now, the horror I felt while sitting at the bar—this I must explain. Namely, anytime I pick up a conversation between people on a date is a terrifyingly awkward encounter. Why—in fact—a couple next to me (at 9:00), where in deep discussion about the man’s new “entry level job” at a charity foundation associated with a certain fast-food joint. Horrors upon horrors. If it wasn’t the awkwardness of being a single person forced to listen in on conversations that contribute to my detestation of dating, it was the subject matter that was engrossingly trivial. But no, the conversation at 3:00 was much more intriguingly disconcerting.

As I am wont to do, I post about this circumstance to Facebook, and go on my merry way into the theater. I join in with the audience to watch the film. It’s a wonderful film, as many—especially white folk—would agree, because of the paradoxically subtle and blatant exploration into race relations. An interracial couple travel to meet the white girlfriend’s family, where at first the awkwardness of meeting the parents descends into the offensiveness of stereotypes, and finally crashes into the horror of racism and general ‘evil.’

After the film, the encounter at the bar enmeshed with my experience of the film, and to the replies I received on Facebook about my post, I felt moved to expound on the experience.

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A wild SJW appears

An archetype that I have long struggled against is that of the social-justice-warrior (SJWs), and particularly from the entitled perspective. What is an SJW?  An SJW is ardently vocal about social justice issues to the point of ad nauseum. Now, I suppose we all should be ardently vocal about social justice issues, but a problem I have is what I suppose to be the subconscious (or perhaps more aptly, the unconscious) motive for a SJW to identify as such.

Let’s parse this out through psychoanalysis and speech-act theory.  On a conscious level, an SJW makes it known that they are for social justice by vocally demonstrating: “I am for social justice.” This is the locution; it’s what the SJW says.

On a subconscious level, there is an intent for the SJW to make known their “for-ness” for social justice. It can also be their intent for themselves to identify as a person who is ‘for social justice.’ Or, it can be—as I am oft to witness—the need for the individual to identify as corresponding to a certain category of their desire. This is the illocution.

But my suspicion lies within the unconscious intent for the utterance of “I am for social justice.” What is the person ‘really’ trying to explain by exclaiming that they are for social justice? Or, more aptly, what is the response the SJW desires from the recipient of the locution “I am for social justice,” (the perlocution)?

It is my belief that the perlocutionary intent of the utterance is the problem. As I’ve witnessed, interpreted, and intuited—time and time again—is that the intent is the need for the utterer to have the listener view the utterer as someone who is relatable/desirable because of an affinity that they are attempting to make, however authentic or inauthentic it may be. Thus, here is what I perceive some SJW speech-acts to be:

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So, in the event at the bar, when the white man evoked his knowledge of James Baldwin to the black woman, here could be the speech-act he was creating:

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Now, let’s talk about bias. Biases become explicit through the locution, but they remain implicit through not only the illocution, but especially the perlocution. In the example above, the bias is the inconceivability that a black woman would not know about another black person. Parsed out, the bias becomes a knowledge disparity:

“I know more about black people than you do, even though you’re black.”

But the bias becomes explicitly implicit (or is it implicitly explicit) in the perlocution:

“Because of your lack of knowledge about this black figure, I need to educate you in your culture, and by doing so, I’m demonstrating value and relatability to you as a white person who likes black people. So, I’m safe. I’m cool. Sleep with me.”

This kind of speech act is the heart of the white consciousness. As the dominant white consciousness engages with the other (any other race), whitefolk may go through different stages of engagement.

On one end of the spectrum, they may engage in an outright antagonism (“White Power! White Power!). A little down the gamut, they may engage at arm’s length (“Yeah, you’re black and I’m white; let’s leave it there.”).

Even further down the gamut, they may attempt to universalize as a means towards some relationality (“You know, I don’t see color. To me, we’re all human”). This minimization of the differences between whitefolk and not does nothing to address seeing the persons of color as culturally significant; it blends POC significance into the already confirmed significance of whitefolk.

Now, just a step down the gamut is a reversal. Once encountered with the other, the dread of the whitefolk’s racist legacy against people of color is realized, and so the weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues (“I love your culture so much! I wish I were part of it. I’m not like other white people. White people are so cray! Yaaaaaass!”).[1] The appropriation of the other’s culture is enacted while—at the same time— one’s own culture is repressed for the sake of the appropriation.

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Don’t Tread on Me! I’m just celebrating cultures!

My contention is that this kind of reversal is exactly what is occurring in the speech act outlined above. In fact, we see reversal at its most extreme in Get Out. The white family’s fascination with the black man progresses from desiring to relate to him to (and without making any explicit spoilers) desiring to becoming like him.

The investment into the culture-other, as a means of reconciling the conflict of the white consciousness, wherein encounter with the other results in perlocutionary bombastic boasting against the perceived ignorance of the other, is the kind of sick shit I was upset about. There, I said it.

Now, was this exactly what was going on in the consciousness of the white man with the black woman? Fuck, I don’t know. I can’t know. But I can interpret. I can intuit. That’s about all I can do.

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Talking about these things is so hard!

Now now, why do I bother writing about this anyway? Could it be my own white consciousness working out its own conflicts? Is my perlocutionary intent for you, dear reader, to see me as a valuable and relatable voice, wherein I can teach you something you don’t know? Or is it to demonstrate that I, as a white person, have given serious thought to the issue of race, and I want you to see me as someone who thinks seriously about race, and as someone who would never, and I say NEVER, speak that way to a black woman? Even moreso, is my critique of SJWs simply coming from my place of privilege?Perhaps.

If it is any of these (or other unconscious biases) at play, then I guess I will leave you, dear reader, with one final thought. Regarding my perchance for disenchantment with SJWs, my sentiment is asking whether we can be and do social justice without invoking the words of social justice. Let the speech acts speak for themselves, and be left open for interpretation.


[1] Now, I’m not going to get into the topic of “Yas” as cultural appropriation, even though I would love to dive right into it. An illuminating yet aggressive conversation about this took place on the Queer Exchange of Minneapolis/St. Paul group on Facebook. At this time, I’m not sure to what degree the moderators have censored the conversation, so I won’t bother to link it here.

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