Friday, October 07, 2005
Tired, So Very Tired . . .
Last night, at about half-past-eight, I went to a friend’s house for poker. She invited a number of faculty members from different departments and promised cocktails. I was looking for a little fun and a nice Cosmo (I thought of you, Helen!). Even GayProf must unwind and forget the troubles of the day.
The evening, though, left me even more unhappy. Foolishly, I left my shield and sword at home expecting that the evening would be free of the usual crap.
Last night bothered me because I think it showed a problem that the “left” faces across the U.S. In my own mind, I am trying to work out what exactly happened. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, this will be a long, long entry . . .
Half way through the evening, conversation turned to the upcoming Distinguished Lecture (you can find a reference to it here). This soon-to-be-visiting scholar claims that Mexicans/Mexican Americans threaten U.S. national identity because they supposedly refuse to “assimilate.” His argument is historically dubious, to be sure. It also hints at his deeper racism.
We all know, though, that GayProf jealously guards the academic freedom of universities (almost as much as he likes to refer to himself in the third person). Once the university invited DistinguishedLecturer to speak (which, by the way, I wish they hadn’t), we were committed to giving him a venue. I absolutely reject the notion of censoring speakers on university campuses, even crazed ones like DistinguishedLecturer. Universities, I believe, have to stand behind the rights of everyone to voice their ideas. Most of the response to DistinguishedLecturer has also kept this in mind (not, for instance, advocating a recall of his invitation).
At poker, however, two white, straight male professors moaned that responses to the speaker showed the left strangling their freedoms. As best I as I could piece together, these two believe that white, straight men have become victims of the left. They argue that the left too easily points out racism, sexism, and homophobia, making it impossible for them to do “real scholarship” (which, I guess, they imagine must include racism, sexism, and homophobia (?)).
Yes, yes, I know I live in Texas and that I should expect these things. Let’s be clear, though. These are two men who identify as “left.” They vote Democrat (or even Green), if that matters.
As a nasty tag-team, they took turns whining about how the left was not giving Distinguished Lecturer a “fair chance.” The first, let’s call Prof. RecentlyDivorced, argued that the left was trampling on DistinguishedLecturer’s “rights” by protesting his lecture. The other, who we will call Prof. WhiteEntitlement, even stated, “Isn’t DistinguishedLecturer really right? Are Roman Catholic Mexicans really fitting into our Protestant Nation?”
Where to begin with this statement? One could start at a personal level. It is odd, to say the least, that Prof. WhiteEntitlement envisions the U.S. as “our Protestant Nation” given that he converted to Judaism. One could point out that this imagining of the U.S. is narrow and wrongly presumes an “American essence.”
Oddly, though, these things are not what bothered me the most. The thing that really left me dazed was that Prof. WhiteEntitlement asserted that only he and Prof. RecentlyDivorced had ever truly faced discrimination based on ideology. Obviously the nonwhite, non-straight, non-male figures at the table protested.
The university faculty is more than 90 percent whites and more than 70 percent men. Prof. WhiteEntitlement is fully tenured. Tell me how white, straight, men suffer so? They control every element of this university from the top administration to the individual departments. I pointed out, in contrast, that I have had senior colleagues (white, straight, men btw) mocking gay people outside my office door. “But that is because of who you are,” Prof. WhiteEntitlement claimed, “It is not because of your ideology.”
This really left me confused at first. On thinking about it, though, it suggests a problematic vision of race, gender, and sexuality that still circulates in the U.S.
In trying to discuss these issues with them, I wrongly assumed that they imagined everyone at the table as equal members of the “left.” To these two figures, however, when I speak about the left, I am really only speaking as a “Gay Latino.” Therefore, my views are suspect as they imagine I lack an “ideology.” Rather, the implication is I have some sort of instinctual response that automatically forces me on the left. The same, I think, they would imply is true for women (regardless of race or sexuality).
They, on the other hand, have the amazing power of white-maness behind them. Therefore, their decisions about being on the left are more legitimate because they chose to be left. Unlike gays, women, and people of color, they had to think about their reasons for joining the left and develop complex ideologies. It is unfair, therefore, that we (gays, people of color, women) aren’t super-grateful for their largess. Instead, we just keep whining about racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Maybe these ideas aren’t circulating nationally, but white privilege still seems alive and well. Regardless, I really, really, really need to find a new job . . .