What we are seeing is what we’ve always seen: privileged white liberals and ‘progressives’ demanding that those of us on the bottom sacrifice ourselves on the altar of the greater good.
I hear with increasing frequency this lament of liberal elites: The left will eat itself. Cries of concern are usually focused on people like me, people who are marginalized: the loud and disenfranchised, the uncompromising and unforgiving, the brown, the queer, the poor, the disabled. We are never satisfied. We sacrifice the greater good for our own selfish needs. We are distracting the left from their mission. We are dividing the party. We are creating a quagmire. We are the regressive left. We are the illiberal left. We are the new dictators. We are why the left eats itself.
I hear from white men about how I have demonized them, the founders of liberal ideology, and made them afraid to speak their minds. I hear about how they used to support me and my feminist and anti-racist causes, but how I’ve made it impossible for them to do so now because of my anger at their privilege.
I hear from white women about how I’ve fractured feminism with my need for intersectionality. I’ve made feminism too personal, too selfish. I’ve sacrificed them for the needs of black men, trans people, disabled people. It used to be about something bigger than your own needs, they cry.
“[T]he new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence,” says Jonathan Chait in one of his many essays dedicated to raising alarm about how hard people like me are making things for good white people like him.
College students who shut down appearances by problematic figures, Twitter rebukes that coerce apologies for questionable statements, protests that shut down political appearances — all of these have been used to sound the alarm in the progressive movement. All have been used to paint a picture of a world where the oppressed has become the oppressor, and the ultimate victims are the allies who used to fight next to the disenfranchised.
But this imagines a world before where we were once united. Where people of all races, gender identities, incomes, and abilities worked together in harmony for the true good of the left. We were all freedom fighters united by the call of justice and equality.
This world did not exist.
Yes, we worked together for women’s suffrage — only to find that the white women at the front of the movement would use the fear of the black vote to get it. Yes, we marched on Washington together — but when the marching was over, it became clear that many white liberals would turn on us the moment we asked for changes in their actions and in their communities.
We were only supported so long as we did not ask for too much too soon, so long as we asked politely and thanked profusely. And we were not satisfied with that arrangement, not even then.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”
What we see now is not the left “eating itself” and the destruction of the great coalitions that brought so much progress in decades past. What we are seeing is what we’ve always seen: privileged white liberals demanding that those of us on the bottom sacrifice ourselves on the altar of the greater good. What we are seeing is a privileged class of liberals who still refuse to actually listen to those they claim to represent. What we are seeing is a privileged class of liberals who see the acknowledgement of the left’s racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and transphobia as a larger threat than the bigotry itself. What we are seeing is a privileged class of liberals refusing time and time again to reflect upon their actions and actually get better.
It is ironic to see privileged liberals bemoan how the left is now eating itself when they have been eating the less privileged since their inception. We have been used for food and fuel, barter and trade. Our issues have been raised when convenient, silenced when not. We finally have some power to say no, to refuse to be sacrificed, and for that we are accused of destroying the movement. The privileged among us refuse to see that every call-out is an opportunity to learn and engage, an opportunity to fix our mistakes and become more of what we claim to be: progressive.What we are seeing is a privileged class of liberals who see the acknowledgement of the left’s racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and transphobia as a larger threat than the bigotry itself. Click To Tweet
Those with nothing new to say should not be speaking for our progressive movements. Those with little to lose should not be defining the greater good. Those who refuse to be inconvenienced should not call for the sacrifices of others. Your place at the front of a movement is not grandfathered in because the leaders of the past have always looked and sounded like you. By definition, progressives move forward, and we should not let the pace of that movement be set by those who like to sit and rest at the stops that meet their goals.
If the privileged of the movement refuse to let go of their trickle-down progressivism, they will find themselves increasingly embattled with the demands of those who are not content to wait their turn. But if they hold out, the cries will fade. And this won’t be because the privileged few have won — it will be because they will have become irrelevant and nobody will bother.