Default Setting

Coming of intellectual age in this particular time, it’s abundantly clear that white-dude insecurity in the academy is at an all time high. This means it’s still relatively low, but the increased visibility of non-white-masculine perspectives is cause for celebration and pause. The white-dude-academic-complex’s cracks and shortcomings have never been more apparent.

Being a white male myself, another permanent user of the default setting, the awareness of marginalized voices has caused me no shortage of anxiety. Partially out of a culturally- inherited feeling of entitlement (that I do my best to quell), and also out of the special anxiety that comes from either using my privilege, or simply getting out of the way. These are questions that will no doubt plague me for the rest of my life and career. And that’s how it probably should be.

The point is, issues of race and identity are never going to be simple or painless, as much as we white people want to claim that we live in a post-racial society. As Scott Schomburg discusses in his post on The Other Journal, these issues are not problems to be solved, but crises to be faced. Schomburg’s piece dissects the “post-racial” white identity by way of an analysis of Dr. Schultz in Tarantino’s Django Unchained through the thought of the African-American writer James Baldwin. What Schomburg finds is not a white progressive liberator, but just another, if more benevolent, slave master. That is to say, Schultz’s identity is never thrown into question. This leads to the disturbing conclusion that domination and persecution are endemic to white identity.

This is something I’ve slowly come to terms with over the past few years, and something that causes so many of my friends and peers to flip out and get defensive. When a black public figure makes a statement about racism, the default reaction of the default people is invariably “But I’m not racist!”. There is never a realization that the designation is not completely up to us; it is also dependent on the perceptions of the other.  We get to be solipsistic because we’ve never been subject to anything else, and in turn we subject others to the same standards.

There’s no solving this. There are no easy answers. But maybe we can realize there’s no inherent virtue in the default setting.


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