A discussion by Candice Louisa Daquin based on reading Candace Owens’ book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation
According to the author, Candace Owens:
Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish.
Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black.
A biological man is NOT a woman.
A biological female will never be a man.
These people are just ‘playing pretend’ and as such, it’s not real. Obviously, her rhetoric has caused a mixed response. Many would agree with the first two examples, and be offended by the last two. Yet in some ways, the same argument is being used. Let’s pick this apart some.
Candace Owens in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation makes some points that really question what we assume. She’s not politically correct and maybe that’s not such a bad thing in some regards, although how far we can take this, is still up for debate.
When white people (identified as people with white skin) appropriate ‘white guilt’ they can be argued to be patronizing the experiences of the non-white on behalf of whom they experience guilt. It is worth pointing out, few of us come from one racial lineage, few, aside ironically the Nazis, have ever put a ‘number’ on the quota of DNA we need to possess to ‘belong’ to a single group (Native Americans and Jews define based on blood quota but they also accept people into their groups who do not possess this specific blood quota, through marriage and religious conversion). As much as we may want to quantify ‘belonging’ using race, it’s immediately challenging when we get clear exceptions to the stereotype of what we ‘perceive’ as solid racial identifiers, and that’s happening more and more as we become more homogenized and universal.
It used to be we argued a man’s propensity for violence, criminality, lunacy, based on his physiognomy and that perspective of ‘telling what someone is by how they look’ hasn’t left us as much as it should have. Whilst we may have stopped assuming men with big noses are Jewish, we continue to judge when we say someone is black because their skin is not white, or white, because their skin is not black. It leaves too many in-betweens out.
It can be argued that the guilt associated with past historic colonialism or racism is owning one’s ancestors’ ‘mistakes’ or, contextualizing based on the past culture and the time-period by stating that such practices are not longer socially acceptable and were never acceptable morally. Surely that is a very good thing?
The reverse argument looks unapologetically at things in their time period and context only. If a former President used a racist word, it may have been the usage in a racist society, and we are not in that context any longer. Nonetheless racism is racism. So, was it the President who was racist? Was the use of the word racist? Or was it par for the course and if so, is that acceptable in historical context? Should we eradicate any mention of that President, should we give reparation? What should we do to ensure we’re inclusive today about something we feel is intolerable?
For example, when we tear down ‘heroes’ of the past for being racist, we demolish role models who have been beloved for centuries. This causes very strong feelings from both sides. Winston Churchill was apparently quite the racist, but he also saved a continent in WW2, do we eliminate his statue and eliminate him or do we forgive him (and can we ever condone forgiveness for an atrocity, and what constitutes an atrocity versus ignorance) for his racism in context or do we put it in its social milieu? Those are all questions that have many aspects to them.
Take a President who has mixed-race children in a consensual relationship with a black woman, and who loves all his children, but still uses the ‘N-Word’ and has slaves? What about the black men who had black slaves? What of the child who is of mixed-race but passes as white? How about the woman who chooses to be with the President even though she’s at a disadvantage? Where do we quantify the level of disadvantage to understand the inequity and thus, discover the guilty party and misjustice committed? Why would we use this calculation for some scenarios but not others? Why do we pick and choose our outrages?
Imagine you are a woman who was raped, can you understand people like Steven Spielberg saying that Roman Polanski should be ‘forgiven’ because he’s paid his dues (by being exiled, which was really him on the run for decades, in relative luxury) for his child-abuse and other sexual assault charges (which he absconded to Europe from, instead of facing justice). Do you condemn Spielberg et al as being ‘male heterodoxy’ or patriarchy gone wild? Same with Woody Allen. Same with Bukowski. We pick and choose our villains. We could even argue, if we changed the colour of the villain would our response be different and if so, why?
The argument in the artworld, given how many ‘creatives’ commit atrocious acts, has always been ‘try to separate the artist from the act’ but when do you stop doing that? If you found out Woody Allen called black people the “N Word’ would you say that’s enough I can’t support him? What if he called gays, “fags and degenerates” — would that be enough? When David Bowie died and it came out, he wasn’t the paragon of virtue, people said; Oh, but he was so talented, he is my hero, I can’t give him up. When Michael Jackson was revealed to be a paedophile, people said; But he had a hard childhood it wasn’t his fault. When we excuse one and not the other, what message are we sending? Same with Bill Cosby and those ‘father’s we adored on TV growing up.
When Larry King died, the dialogue focused on his positive impact in society and little was said about the accusations of sexual misconduct that caused him to step down from his late-night show. Is that because ‘now is not the time to mention those things?’ When did that rule get applied? What if we changed the gender, would men be as forgiving of not mentioning it? Look at the discrepancies given in sentencing between those with money and influence versus those without and men versus women. Had Aileen Wuornos more money, maybe she wouldn’t have got the death penalty? How much of why she was punished that harshly was to do with not understanding the body politic and the survivor? Just as we dismiss those without celebrity attorneys. We know ‘justice’ isn’t blind or fair, but what about us? Do we analyze and judge fairly?
Is it right of us as a society and as an individual to ever pick and choose ‘what is enough’ and if we do, what are we saying about those things we decide are ‘not’ enough? In other words, if we argue that we like Bukowski because we divorce who he was in his personal life from his life as an incredibly talented writer, then we’re saying those acts were ‘not enough’ but if we find out he used the “N Word” how many of us would then agree it ‘was enough’ to condemn him and divorce him from his artistic-license?
In other words, is it ever acceptable to pick and choose without diminishing what we ‘choose’ not to condemn a person for?
I suspect, if any large name white artist of any kind were to go around saying the “N Word” and “fags and degenerates” many people would stop supporting them. But if that same artist were to go around saying “I’m anti-Muslim” or “I’m anti-Jewish” or we found out they were implicated in a #metoo outcry, we might say, “I’m going to separate the artist from the act.”
If the same artist were black, they would be socially permitted to use the “N-Word” because it’s acceptable in society to reappropriate a racial word and use it on your own race. We have some strange tolerances and rules as a society don’t, we? The same is true with friendships. How many people do we know say things like: “If you support Trump unfriend me now”, whereas if someone supported ‘Pro-Life’ even all their friends were ‘Pro-Choice’ they may not cut them off. Why do we have a notion of what is a breaking-point and what is not? Is it entirely our own breaking-point or deeply influenced by cultural perceptions of the moment?
Only fifteen years ago, people didn’t defend or talk of LGBTQX anywhere like they do now. Nobody thinks fifteen years is a long time. Social media makes ‘trends’ come and go; we change without realizing how much we are changing. What we applaud, stand for, condemn, all shift according to the whim of a mass which is greater than our singular sum. Fifteen years ago, when I told friends it ‘hurt’ me to see signs saying ‘marriage equals a man and a woman’ all over my town, they nodded and said nothing. Now it would be a march and a hash-tag. Then there’s the nuance behind the nuance, like ‘pretend acceptance’ but you’re still not invited over to their house, so it’s superficial at best. That’s rampant. Do we talk about that kind of pretense too?
Some of this is about what is perceived and what is the breaking point, or the socially perceived intolerance. Ask yourself, are you doing this because of inflamed momentum or are you being hypocritical? In theory, if you don’t have the same responses to all the things you believe are wrong, should you have any at all? Likewise, there are critical themes to most people’s personal sense of morality, that they rarely shift from. This explains why a Latino could vote for a politician who is blatantly being racist toward Latinos. They are not voting because of that; they are voting because that politician represents a party who is Pro-Life and Pro-guns and maybe that’s what their core values are.
It’s never as simple as we like to think it is. In an ideal world we’d all have a shared moral compass but we really don’t. For some, the freedom to bear arms far outweighs climate change, or women’s rights or immigrants’ rights, and we may condemn them for that, but we should consider for a moment if we are just as rigid. We may defend a Pro-Choice candidate who is against Israel even as we are Jewish. It’s never about one thing. It’s often not about what you think it is.
One might argue, this is black and white thinking and it is. But that’s where we get into trouble, by thinking dogmatically about complicated things. It’s simply not that simple and that’s part of Owens’ over-arching point in her book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation.
Some non-black people will be offended or angry that they are not being ‘included’ in the right to be outraged about racism. After all weren’t most of the protesters in Portland, Oregon white? And didn’t they protest for #BLM for weeks? Why doesn’t that count?
It does count. But every time a non-black person stands up for a black person, Owen says, it discounts the black person’s response by appropriation. And this well meaning ‘white guilt’ overlays the natural response of black people to oppression and prejudice and racism. It’s just another way of keeping (the black person) on the plantation, according to Owen.
Owen is brave to write this, because it’s poking the bear. Another example would be the women’s movement in the 60/70s and how ultimately the black women’s movement divorced from the white women’s movement for that exact reason. Appropriation. But is Owens’ right about all of it? Some cases are more easily dissected than others. Let’s look at her examples:
Hilaría Baldwin is NOT Spanish. Rachel Dolezal will NEVER be black. Those are accurate. Rachel Dolezal has gone on to ‘identify’ as Black, the argument being, whilst she knows she is not biologically black she identifies as black. Owen’s points out, whilst this may be the case, she cannot know what it is like to be prejudiced against for the color of her skin because she was born white and remains biologically white.
The argument is similarly applied to Baldwin. But there’s another side to this. Many of us know black people who don’t look black but are biologically black (take Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). We know people who look black but are not nearly as black as others who don’t, and we know people who are Spanish but don’t speak Spanish or relate to it. It’s simply not as easy as that … or is it?
Dolezal was born white, she inherited ‘white privilege’ and now identifies as black and has black biological kids. She may have had no more white privilege than some black women who do not look black and ‘pass’ as white just as she tried to ‘pass’ as black. The difference being, Dolezal was NOT black. Where do we draw the line? Are we angry at what she did more than the reality of her experience? Are we punishing her or really trying to define something that isn’t always as simple as it seems?
Just as much as there is a black and white set-in stone, there is not. Twins can be born one black and one white, does the white one says ‘I am white’ and the black one says ‘I am black’ and that’s all there is to it? They can say mixed-race but what do people see? Do we need disclaimers? Or are things based on snap-judgement of perception. I would say the later, and as such, we are all prejudiced because black people make snap judgements about black and white faces as much as white people do.
The difference here is the power in society and what you can do with it. Historically white oppression meant if a white person WAS prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour they would be racist; whereas if a black person was prejudiced because of a person’s skin colour, it would be seen as a response to the racism inherent in society.
But how do we know this?
Within all cultures there have been casteism and racism and prejudice among similar groups, based on skin colour and other aspects. If a black person says to a darker skinned black person, they are inferior, they are technically not being racist, they are thought to be appropriating racial bigotry. But isn’t that patronizing and assumptive?
In India because they were a colonial country, they inherited casteism that came with prizing fair skin over dark, and it is argued, the white man bequeathed this. But many Indians have since said, this predated the white man, just as slavery predated the white man in Africa. Whilst nobody is taking away the damage and harm done BY the white man, it’s never as cut and dry as it seems.
What we can use as an ultimate determinant is our biological status. I am biologically mixed-race; nobody can change that. But what of a biological gender?
Owen’s says; A biological man is NOT a woman. And a biological female will never be a man. So, all the arguments earlier, are moot. If your biology is NOT black you are not black. If your biology is not Spanish heritage you are NOT biologically Spanish, even if you identify as such, bad luck. How does this work when looking at transgender folk?
The very nature of being transgender is you are biologically born as one gender and you may wish to physically alter that gender, but you ‘identify’ as either no gender (androgynous) or another gender than your biological one. In recent years, identification has soared in terms of youth especially, identifying as non-binary or not wishing to label themselves with a gender. But ‘trans’ is different to someone who wishes not to identify as a gender, it also means they may wish to physically change their inherent biological gender.
If someone born female undergoes gender reassignment surgery, they are F2M. If they identify as male and do not undergo gender reassignment surgery, they will still call themselves male even if they continue to have the biology of a woman, because they ‘identify’ as male. Thus, it is ‘identity’ that is the key here, NOT the absolutism of biology which no matter what you do, you cannot completely alter.
Owens’ argues that using this logic, a woman who ‘identifies’ as black cannot be black because identity doesn’t trump biology. And therefore, transgenders are not what they ‘identify as,’ they continue to belong to the gender of their birth. She uses this as partial argument for why she does not believe transgender should be permitted into the military in the USA.
It’s quite a bold argument and she’s received a huge amount of backlash from it, although the LGBTQX community has been quieter than had Owens’ herself not been black because of course, if you are calling a black person out for calling you out, that’s another hornet’s nest. The cardinal rule book has been thrown out because it really depends whom you are accusing of what and when. One person will be forgiven if they apologise, because we like them, the next person will be vilified because we do not like them so much. Our double standards dictate our sense of truth as much as truth does.
Ultimately a liberal might say: Where is the HARM in identifying as anything as long as it doesn’t hurt someone? But Liberals were especially mortified at the two cases of women identifying as a different race/culture, because they thought it was offensive. Again, we have a group of people ‘defending’ another group by being offended on their behalf. Ironically most people of colour laughed it off and thought it was madness. Some pointed to the unfairness of Dolezal getting a job on the basis of being considered black as she was seen to benefit from a falsity. Some thought it smacked of white appropriation at its worst.
People who have an issue with trans, typically feel they are pretending to be another gender and they take issue with that because they don’t want them in the ‘wrong toilet’ or ‘peeing next to my son’ – the thought there being: there’s something dangerous or wrong or threatening.
Let’s look at that. Are trans more likely to commit a crime? No. Are they more likely to be paedophiles? No. So the ‘fear’ is more the fear of the unknown, something they do not understand. Can the same be said of white people appropriating the black culture, or a non-Spanish person pretending to be Spanish? Is it more a case of cultural/racial disrespect? In which case what is disrespectful about a man identifying as a woman or vice versa? Where is the harm?
It is about harm? A biological man can rape a biological woman. Harm and its myriad definitions, is as much about a deep-rooted sense of fear. What Roman Polanski did to kids was ‘harm’ but some say ‘let sleeping dogs lie, he’s paid for it.’ Does harm have an expiry date or a forgiveness quota? One thing I notice is, when it comes to women being sexually assaulted, it’s relatively diminished by society if you look at how many convictions occur. When it comes to famous people committing crimes, more people defend them. When it comes to talented people committing crimes, more people say, ‘separate the artist from the act’.
If brick layer Barry down the road, slept with a 12-year-old I’m not sure people would be saying ‘separate the art from the act’. So, are we giving talented people we admire, an out?
When we talk of harm, we can consider Economist Dierdre McClusky, who M2F claims she can understand the oppression of women now that she is one. Some Feminists argue a M2F is the ultimate appropriation of gender and men dictating the female. Just as it can be argued a man cannot truly understand a woman’s experience any more than a non-black can be black. Conversely, Theorist Kamla Bhasin believes: “Feminism is not biological. Feminism is an ideology.” Can being black be an ideology? No. So why can being female be an ideology? Can you experience by proxy or is it the lack of ‘born into it’ experience that denies true understanding rather than chosen experience? What of those within a group who don’t understand their own racial or gendered experience?
Likewise, are we too quick to condemn say, someone we do not understand, just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? How much is influenced by those factors we don’t even consider, but colour our sense of how far we go on any given subject? How much is natural bias versus appropriated outrage, versus subject du jour? Owens’ points out that white protests were as much about whites as about blacks and as such, they defeated the purpose and were patronizing and insulting to blacks. She believes blacks need to do their own things, and not get re-appropriated by white groups seeking to ‘defend’ them. Is there any merit to that?
When I grew up it was de riguer to say things like: “Your mum’s a lezzie”. And no way was I going to come out during those days and admit to being queer. Nowadays we can come out to things far more easily, and some argue, it’s a slippery slope, what’s next? Where will it end?
As much as you want tolerance and acceptance and an end to prejudice, racism, bigotry, you are also opening a flood gate. Some think, next it will be polyamory, just as it went from marriage to divorce — living together unmarried — gays living together — gays marrying/adopting — more than two people living together in a sexual relationship. If we apply the ‘if it’s not hurting anyone’ rule, then so what? But what about possible next steps? Already organisations of paedophiles, including under-age children, have been lobbying for recognition.
Paedophiles believe, if it is consensual then there is no harm, and their kind of love should be accepted. BDSM groups are doing the same. Whilst in theory we should be able to deal with this by applying the ‘do no harm’ rule, it begins to get more cloudy, as more complicated elements are under consideration. After all, human beings are perverse folk at best.
One might argue, there is a black and white. A wrong and right. A good and bad. A woman and a man. And there is a comfort in reverting back to those old tropes because they’re immutable. Until they’re not. And what we say in polite company as we all know, is quite different to what we say behind closed doors. How often do my LGBTQX friendly neighbors call me ‘the next-door lezzie’ even now? What would they say if I had a non-binary child? How often do my friends roll their eyes at ‘another Jewish post’ and how many times do black people get sick of white people talking about black issues?
On the other hand, if we do nothing and are true armchair liberals/conservatives, then ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ How do we give people the respect they deserve in how they identify, as we continually evolve a sense of what is permanent, biological, social, emotional, psychological? Where does that end? When an eight-year-old decides they are trans and wants an operation at thirteen, do the parents respect their right? Or worry about if they’ll change their mind in adulthood? How can you accomplish both? None of these subjects are easy. Many believe they are overly pathologized, but there remains some value in seeking therapy if nothing else, to work through the myriad considerations of any life-altering change.
Questioning these things leaves most of us really perplexed and possibly frustrated. Not questioning them is worse. We should not condemn those who have the courage to question them, even if we disagree. We have often learnt more from contention than from agreement. Whilst I may not agree with Owens’ in many ways, I appreciate her willingness to engage.
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.
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