Does Your Worth Depend On Your Immutable Characteristics?
Some Social Justice Fundamentalists think so.
In Commentary, Wilfred Reilly recently argued that "The Karens Were Innocent." He notes that any number of white women have had their lives ruined by the online mob in the past several years over alleged altercations with nonwhite individuals and that most of these women were innocent.
Reilly offers several compelling explanations for the online mob's willingness to dogpile on white women: it's a "mass hysteria" phenomenon in which crowds of otherwise reasonable people all develop the same biases and distorted perspectives; it's a product of our "Victimhood Olympics" in which victimhood (real or perceived) is seen as currency; and the demand for breathless tales of old-school racism far outstrips the supply, leading us as a society to uncritically accept any accusations to fill that demand. But he misses a key (and potentially more disturbing) explanation: immutable characteristics. For a certain segment of Social Justice Fundamentalists (to borrow Tim Urban's excellent term), your race and gender determine your value.
First, it's important to note that the assault on white women is not limited to a few Karens attacked by the online mob. This is a broad phenomenon primarily held up by Social Justice Fundamentalists at all levels, from op-eds in prestigious papers to bestselling books.
In their New York Times bestseller White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism And How to Do Better, Saria Rao and Regina Jackson argue that every white woman upholds white supremacy. As the authors put it, talking to their white female audience, white supremacy is "a script you wrote, directed, and produced, and from which you've amassed dizzying wealth and power." Unlike some on the far left, when Rao and Jackson say "white supremacy," they mean old-school villainy. They define it this way: "white supremacy is the guiding assumption that white people are superior to those of all other races."
It's hard to imagine any other demographic group being accused by a New York Times bestseller of such a grievous character flaw based purely on their immutable characteristics.
It's not just that white women are (allegedly) racist; many Social Justice Fundamentalists (SJFs) treat white women like pariahs. A Washington Post article asks, "Can black and white women be true friends?" The author, a black woman, argues that the answer is no: "Generally speaking, it’s not that I dislike white women. Generally speaking, it’s that I do not trust them. Generally speaking, most black women don’t."
Even feminism–the vehicle that helped many women escape a genuine patriarchy and earn the right to vote and own property–comes under attack. Ruby Hamad's book White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color is considered essential reading in some far-left circles. A piece in Literary Hub calls white feminism "Socially Accepted Gaslighting" that "Perpetuates Racism."
When white women respond to these insults with hurt or pain, their tears are often mocked. For many Social Justice Fundamentalists, the pain of white women is a cynical ploy—for attention, for power, or even to keep minorities down—that can be safely ignored. A blog in Anti-Racism Daily lays out the logic: "Even though there are many wounded identities worth listening to in our society, the marginalization that white women experience – the ‘damsel in distress’ narrative—is prioritized in our white supremacist culture." A piece in the Washington Post puts it more bluntly: "I Refuse to Listen to White Women Cry."
Social Justice Fundamentalists often defend these attacks on white womens' pain by citing examples like Carolyn Bryant, whose partially-faked testimony against 14-year-old Emmett Till resulted in the latter's lynching by Bryant's husband and his half-brother. For these commentators, white women's tears have a performative aspect that has been used to terrorize people of color. As Robin DiAngelo puts it in her mega-bestseller White Fragility:
"There is a long historical backdrop of Black men being tortured and murdered because of a white woman’s distress, and we white women bring these histories with us. Our tears trigger the terrorism of this history, particularly for African Americans."
While it's true that women like Bryant weaponized their tears, it's hardly fair to judge an entire demographic group for the sins of a few bad actors.
Why do white women as a group come in for such vitriol from Social Justice Fundamentalists? I posit three reasons, and—as suggested above—two of them come down to demographics. First, it's a witch hunt; the Fundamentalists are going after people they think are most predisposed to agree with them to shame those people into compliance. The second reason exacerbates this: these women are white and, therefore, an "oppressor" group in SJF parlance–and for many Social Justice Fundamentalists, this means that any vitriol against them is justified. Finally, white women are, on average, more receptive to accusations of racism than white men, making the online mob see the former as lower-hanging fruit.
Let's take each of these in turn.
In a witch hunt, an ideologically near-homogenous group feels threatened by external forces. They respond by attacking, not the enemy without, but the insufficiently zealous within their ranks. The goal is to enforce ideological conformity by weeding out traitors. As renowned social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) Greg Lukianoff note in their bestselling book The Coddling of the American Mind, witch hunts happen when "a community becomes obsessed with religious or ideological purity and believes it needs to find and punish enemies within its own ranks in order to hold itself together."
Because of their gender, Social Justice Fundamentalists often see white women as already "within the ranks" of the SJF movement. In SJF terminology, white women constitute an "oppressed" group by virtue of their womanhood. The late Kathryn Pauly Morgan, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, taught intersectionality in terms of binary groups: the "privileged" and the "oppressed." "Oppressed" groups included women, as well as non-whites, gays and lesbians, transgender folks, and other groups. For many Social Justice Fundamentalists, your identity should determine what you think, and every oppressed group should unite against the forces of oppression (see, for example, the new Progress Pride Flag). There's a strong sense among SJFs that by virtue of their "oppressed" status, white women should already agree with the Fundamentalists on key issues.
This is heightened by the fact that so many white women are Social Justice Fundamentalists. A 2018 study by Hidden Tribes found that Progressive Activists are 80 percent white. Progressives are also overwhelmingly likely to be female. According to the Survey Center on American Life, which analyzed Gallup Poll data, fifty-four percent of young women considered themselves liberal in 2021 (among men, that number is just 25 percent). As pollster Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), put it as early as 2018, "Women just tend to be more progressive, more focused on social issues, on social justice."
When SJFs see white women who don't toe the ideological line, they're often much more angry than when they see white men refuse to toe the line. It's similar to how black conservatives routinely get called the n-word—the vitriol is more intense because there's a sense that black people who don't espouse the correct SJF talking points are "traitors to their race." White women who are insufficiently far-left are seen as "traitors to their sex," as well as to all the other oppressed groups—and traitors are the one group a witch hunt will target above all others.
Exacerbating this is a second element: white women are also white, meaning that in Social Justice Fundamentalism parlance, they are "oppressors." For a certain segment of SJFs, vitriol against oppressors is not only acceptable, but laudable. Rao and Jackson, for example, dedicate their book to "all Black, Indigenous, brown, and non-white girls, women, and non-binary identifying folks who are sick and tired of white women's bullshit."
This puts white women at the center of a perfect storm. Their gender (which marks them as "oppressed"), along with their voting patterns, arouses the ire of SJFs who believe that non-conforming white women should think a certain way. At the same time, their skin marks them as "oppressors," which makes it acceptable and even desirable in certain leftist circles to throw vitriol at them.
This perfect storm is exacerbated by the fact that women are more likely to change their minds, and even their behaviors, in response to accusations of racism (justified or not) than men. On average, women display substantially higher levels of empathy and compassion than men. An article in the National Library of Medicine sums it up: "Much research has shown that women are more empathic than men."
This higher empathy is generally a good thing, but it does mean that many women are more willing to give in to the demands of the online mob. No one wants to be told that they're racist or that their actions are somehow hurting the underprivileged, but people higher in empathy are much more likely to be wounded by this charge—and to change their thoughts and behaviors accordingly. Online mobs seek out targets they believe will be the most receptive to their message, whether their goal is to hurt or to persuade. This means going after women far more than they go after men.
Ultimately, Social Justice Fundamentalism offers a bleak worldview of demographic groups fighting it out in a zero-sum world, and this, more than anything, explains the witch hunt against white women. As Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy put it in their book Is Everyone Really Equal? "those in dominant groups are not disadvantaged by the oppression, but in fact benefit from it." If X group benefits from the oppression of Y group, then it follows that helping Y group will involve—and perhaps even require—removing certain privileges or rights from X group. The SJF movement turned against white women for the same reason it's now turning against Asians: any group can be safely made into a pariah by the simple accusation of being "dominant" or "privileged."
We should all reject such a bleak and zero-sum worldview. An ideology that turns each successive victim group in turn into demons cannot be said to be pro-human. Instead, we need a revolution grounded in universal principles and the recognition that every human being has equal and inalienable worth and dignity regardless of their immutable characteristics. That's the only way out.
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