the market place of ideas
In reply to one of my tweets yesterday, I got this from some old white d00d: “For me it’s the first time I’ve been able to hear many different voices unfiltered.” While I did end up ranting a bit about this on twitter (after muting him because, no), I want to expand on this a little more and discuss why I get so irritated when I hear this from white ppl.
My issue with this isn’t just about wilful ignorance or learned helplessness as white people manifest it, because you can read many people talking about either (although the learned helplessness re: white ppl and race is something I first heard from Trudy – who quotes bell hooks in the link). I actually want to talk about ppl like that guy who isn’t being wilfully ignorant or practising learned helplessness. I want to talk about the white people who are seeking out education and learning and diverse voices1.
The thing is, is that it takes an incredible amount of privilege to be able to say something like “the first time I’ve been able to hear many different voices unfiltered”. And, honestly, this is something that I frequently hear from white people. Other kinds of people too (straight, able, thin, etc) but less so. And it’s funny because many of these same types of people will invoke teh market place of ideas as a rationale for free speech/expression. The idea behind the marketplace being that our public life and discourse ought to have, unfiltered, all ideas and ideologies competing and the ‘fittest’ shall survive. Ideally, this market should have space for and contain all ideas and voices, inclusive of marginalized ones.
Of course… much like other capitalist marketplaces, the marketplace of ideas is dominated by, well, dominant discourse. Something which is reflected in most/all of the mainstream media that is produced. And so we have a literary canon that is filled with white men. We have most popular fiction genres filled with white men. We have most movies, tv shows, comics, cartoons, any media you care to name, all filled with white men. And not just white men, but their values, their ideas, their ideologies, their beliefs, their words, their humanity, their feelings – all of them. All the time.
So what happens if you aren’t a white man? Well. It means that from the time you are born, you are exposed to unfiltered voices that are different from your own. I’ve said it many times in the past, I don’t actually need to consciously seek out perspectives and voices that aren’t like me or mine or that don’t agree with me (which is a much touted liberal idea these days). If I want to know what transmisogynists think about me, I just need to leave my house. So too with racists, homophobes, ableists, etc. I just watch a show on netflix and I’m informed! I read the news and I learn about it. It’s super easy. Takes no effort on my part.
You know what does take effort? Finding people who do agree with me. Making connections with people who are like me, who share ideas, values, and beliefs, people I can commiserate with, people who validate me and my humanity. This is what I have to spend effort seeking out.
And this is what the big disconnect is with how the ‘good’ white ppl use social media vs people of colour (or otherwise marginalized people). And you can see how this difference in perspective manifests in ‘diversity in media’ campaigns. White people want diversity but people of colour usually ask for representation. White people want ‘diversity’ as a means to educate themselves, whereas poc want to see ourselves and humanity reflected in the media we consume. Essentially, we want to really and actually participate in the ~marketplace of ideas~.
Then it gets worse. Because white people treat this ‘diverse’ consumption of poc media/lives/humanity as a positive value. This is, they say, what everyone should do and how people ought to engage people and ideas who aren’t like them. It becomes a tool they use to encroach on the (vanishingly small) safe space we try to carve out for ourselves. We get accused of ‘segregation’ and ‘identity policing’ (or ‘identity politics’ or whatever the fuck else). They say that we must continuously offer ourselves up to their gaze and for their consumption, because otherwise how are they to learn?
So. Yeah. When a white person says “it’s the first time I’ve been able to hear many different voices unfiltered” I get mad and irritated at the level of privilege and entitlement it takes for them to say this to me. As if I should care. Or as if I should applaud them for being a ‘good’ white who wants to watch and consume me. If this is you? Great. But you should understand that this comes from a place of privilege and entitlement and maybe you shouldn’t tell me about it.