I’d like to invite you to engage in a thought experiment.
Tomorrow, English ceases to be the dominant global language. The Internet becomes Chinese overnight. All computer software is written with Chinese users in mind. All UIs go from English-language to Chinese-language. You, and most people like you, are woefully monolingual. The English-language version of wikipedia loses most of its entries, suddenly becoming incomplete. Every international communication is conducted in Chinese. All sources of information are ditto.
What are you going to do?
Cry? Learn Mandarin really fast? How quickly do you expect to master it such that you can achieve some measure of fluency? Such that you can work with the megacorporations from China and compete with those who speak Chinese natively?
Disclaimer: for the purpose of this discussion, I define “Minority Warriors” and “Social Justice Warriors/Crusaders” as interchangable terms, referring to a particular subspecies of armchair “allies” more interested in looking good and scoring cool points than actually being helpful.
Here’s some census information on the white population of the States: 82.1% of them speak only English at home. While this isn’t a precise determinant of whether they are thoroughly monolingual, it gives a fairly decent estimate. A census conducted in 2000 indicates out of all white people, 90% were monolingual. In total, across all ethnicities, 80.4% of the entire population ”speak only English” at home. I haven’t looked up statistics from the UK and other primarily English-language countries like Australia and New Zealand, but I wouldn’t be surprised the percentages are similar: most native English speakers only learn other languages passingly, through phrasebooks and school syllabi, but rarely achieve a satisfactory level of fluency.
By contrast, the average Thai person–or Cambodian, Filipino, Malaysian, more–is at least bilingual. Now while I don’t think multilingualism is a measure of intelligence, I think we can agree that it’s a fair measurement of education. Imagine my amusement at the arrogance of westerners when they sneer at “third-worlders” for being uneducated. Of course, knowing multiple languages isn’t the end-all be-all of education either, but in one of the clips I embedded here there’s a part where the white woman calls a Thai woman, who speaks perfectly comprehensible English, “uneducated” while she–the white woman–can only communicate with Thai people through an interpreter. A western interpreter, by the way, whose translation of what the Thai women said is at best incomplete, at worst dire. There exists the same contempt for English as spoken by Hong Kong and Singaporean citizens (though of course these aren’t developing nations by any means).
Anglophonic privilege is one of those things you can’t discuss with Social Justice Warriors: it goes beyond the realm of what they–as they tend to come from the first world–understand. It’s coded in terms they either don’t comprehend or aren’t ready to confront because they don’t believe such a thing as first-world privilege exists in ways more insidious than the lowest-level “you have internet and food every day over starving orphans in Africa.” It addresses a concern entirely alien to them and, because what they know of developing nations is filtered through western media, one that they readily dismiss as insignificant. After all, there are people starving and denied basic human rights in developing nations. Cultural imperialism is surely insignificant; Anglophonic privilege must be a myth; it doesn’t matter that citizens of developing nations have trouble competing in the global market because starving filth-encrusted peasants selling their children into prostitution. How dare, how very dare, a third-worlder who isn’t starving and swimming in feces speak up?
The last part derails by dragging in class privilege while carefully, and conveniently, ignoring first-world/Anglophonic privileges, which SJ Warriors tend to have in abundance but which they ignore. It’s very similar to a white working-class man derailing a feminist discussion–after all, some women are better off than he is; how dare they cry discrimination then? Isn’t he the real victim of oppression? It, as well, couples with the idea that the average citizen of a developing nation must live in conditions so dire that a third-worlder who appears on the Internet, let alone appears to blog, must be:
- an imposter
- one of the very elite (because the middle class doesn’t exist and that the Internet is a rare and precious luxury across all developing countries)
- an outsider looking in and/or honorary westerner (real third-worlders don’t speak English so well!)
What this boils down to is an Oppression Olympics where the privileged party, in this case the first-world Social Justice Warrior, always wins. Do you not languish in your own excrement? Then you are not worth listening to, because you aren’t one of the real oppressed. Do you languish in your own excrement, haven’t the opportunity to speak about your experiences (except through privilege-filtered documentaries run by westerners), can’t speak English well? Very good! You’re a proper victim. Whom a first-world audience doesn’t have to hear, doesn’t have to listen to because you don’t have a voice–and speak a language–they can understand. Ideally, of course, these Minority Warriors may have done volunteer work in a developing nation, but you and I know perfectly well they are little more than armchair activists whose greatest goal in social justice-related messages is to thump their chests and impress the Internet at large with the blazing light of their progressiveness. They drown out the voices of minorities with obnoxious faux-outrage while revoking the minorities’ right to speak, based on arbitrary, nonsensical standards set by themselves and other Warriors.
I’m not, to be sure, being entirely fair: it’s not rational or reasonable to expect everyone to care about everything equally, and devote all their time and attention to every single injustice. We all prioritize, and I for one do not give a fuck for the oppression of vegans just for starters. I’d not be surprised that the average POC living in the States is more interested in the racism they face there than the racism an Asia-born Asian faces in her home country. But it would be really fantastic if Minority Warriors didn’t fall into the same trap of false dichotomies, broad generalizations, and condescending ignorance that leads them to dismiss out of hand concerns and issues they don’t understand, never will, and have no interest in understanding.
They aren’t allies. They are part of the problem.
On the flip side, people who have done volunteer work–who may or may not be SJ Warriors, but who definitely believe said volunteer work elevates them to an unassailable position–have their share of grossness. Take a gander.
First-worlders in general, and white folks in particular, have an Opinion on Everything. Which by itself is inoffensive if somewhat obnoxious, but the problem is that once they have an Opinion on Something–human rights in China, say, or the prostitution and sex tourism in Thailand–they will make that opinion very loud, very heard, and probably publish several books about it. This elevates them to a position of authority. Their books will be referenced, taken as gosptel truth. Sometimes they don’t even need to write non-fiction; westerners’ fiction that takes place in developing countries is often taken as an accurate, honest and immersive portrayal of said countries. Off the top of my head I’ve seen reviews for Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali saying things like “I’ve never been to Calcutta but it sounds horrible [in this completely fictional horror novel] so I’m glad I have never visited” and critics lauding Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl for the author’s “understanding of Thai Buddhism” and Thai culture (even though Bacigalupi’s understanding is no better or more nuanced than your average expat douchebag’s).
Books like Burdett’s and Stephen Leather’s Private Dancer characterize Thailand through the coding of Yellow Fever, exoticization, with a good dose of whiny expat complaints about the politics and corruption (neither of which particularly affects them; as I’ve said before, all they need to do is go running to mommy or just pack up and go home). In both Burdett’s and Leather’s books, the research is terrible, the insights into culture false and strongly filtered through western ideology, and much of it is vastly objectifying–especially toward Thai women and kathoey.* There’s a sizable industry that revolves around printing books about a look at Thailand from an “insider’s eye”, except the insider in question is a white man living with his mail-order wife. Not surprisingly, these books are read for the most part by other expats in the country and westerners abroad rather than by actual Thai people.
*I’m saying “kathoey” not because I believe they aren’t women, but because the term encompasses a fairly large range of people who don’t precisely fit into western definitions of transexuality: some kathoey identify as women, and others don’t. The term is sometimes also used to include some homosexual men.
In contrast, the voices of real Thai writers often go unheard (and untranslated, for that matter). Most “first-timers to Thailand,” including tourists and backpackers, will have heard of and will read Leather’s disgusting little mess but will never have heard of Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing. They will think Burdett’s Mighty Whitey fantasies are authentic portraits of Bangkok and Alex Garland’s The Beach is all they need to learn about Thailand, but certainly will not expend the effort to read Four Reigns. Writers like Leather and Burdett, then, become highly regarded authorities on what Thailand is truly like, and likewise with expat bloggers who believe themselves incisive whistle-blowers as they write up posts about the injustices they believe they have suffered because they are white, the “rotten” state of the country that is not their home and never will be–a situation they can, at any time, escape through hassle no greater than booking an outbound plane. These books, and those books, inform how tourists and expats interact with our culture. It makes them think saying shit like this is perfectly okay:
Same as every other country and every other religion, when they run out of brain washed souls, they move to a more backward country [Thailand].
Much of our marketing media is taken over by white bodies, white faces. When I glance at a beauty products section in a shopping mall, I see white women, white men, sometimes even black women and black men, but Asian faces that look like mine–Chinese–or like that of most people I know–Thai–are rare except from Asian cosmetic brands. The same goes with many other advertisements: for cars, for clothes, for luxury products. Whiteness is synonymous with beauty and opulence. Tomorrow if I, a fairly qualified individual, were to seek out a job teaching English, I would be rejected in favor of a white person (who may or may not be qualified) because it is believed that native speakers are always automatically better at English. By virtue of having pale skin, not because they hold a master’s and I don’t. I might pass along a “wrong” accent. All I’m good for is teaching basic grammar.
This is internalized oppression; this is cultural imperialism when it has won.
So yes, yes I will continue to speak up about racism, even if according to some pig-headed SJ warriors I’m not qualified to because in my country I’m not an oppressed minority and through some strange magic of “not being in the States” it frees me of all oppression. I’m the one who has to worry that one day the US government might find something they like in our country and declare our government authoritarian, and then “liberate” us with bombs. I’m the one who has to worry when western corporations force our government’s hand and interfere with our politics.
Take your ally gold stars/SJ cookies and shove them where the sun doesn’t fucking shine.