Polite racists in denial

Been watching the news lately (I know, I know, I should find another hobby) …

If you’re white, you benefit from racist power structures and racist forms of social organization. And you’ve most likely internalized the underlying racist assumptions to the point where you feel threatened or defensive whenever anyone questions them or makes them explicit. That’s what #WhitePrivilege is. It doesn’t necessarily make you a sheet-wearing, cross-burning caricature, but to the extent that you don’t question or work to dislodge those power structures, you’re helping to perpetuate systemic racism. And that, whether you like it or not, makes you guilty of racism yourself. It’s not surprising at all that a lot of white folks react to this so viscerally, and want to project their discomfort onto others by complaining about activists stirring up racial conflict. But part of being a committed anti-racist is owning your own racism — and doing what you can to overcome it.

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The war on ‘microaggressions:’ Has it created a ‘victimhood culture’ on campuses? – The Washington Post

One much-discussed paper says a “victimhood culture” is rising at elite American colleges.

Source: The war on ‘microaggressions:’ Has it created a ‘victimhood culture’ on campuses? – The Washington Post

Thoughtful piece, crappy headline.

Why? Because casting it in terms of ‘victimhood culture’ implies that complainants want to be seen as victims, with the attendant connotations of ‘speech police,’ ‘political correctness,’ ‘oversensitivity,’ and ‘censorship.’ Moreover, putting air quotes around both microaggressions and victimhood culture suggests a false equivalence whereby the writer is raising doubts about both notions.

Once again, it’s important to distinguish intent from impact. Microaggressions may not be intended to be hurtful, but they do come from a place of privilege. In their broadest sense, they imply that being white, straight, cis, and male is the default setting, and anything else is a departure from the norm. When people call you out on that, they’re not attacking you – they’re drawing attention to that structure of privilege. And when you sneeringly dismiss the notion of microaggression, you’re reinforcing that structure.

Getting past the ‘War on the Car’ | #TOpoli #ClimateChange

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(This grew out of a Facebook discussion with the divine Septembre Anderson, so it’ll be a little abrupt. Indulge me. Tips of the chapeau are also due to Rosalind Robertson, Breeyn McCarney, and Daniel Cowans.)

A lot of this is boilerplate, and it’s already been tackled by folks like Daren Foster and Ed Keenan, but what the hey. I’d also recommend a necessary and illuminating piece by the indispensible Steve Munro, who’s forgotten more about transit than I’ll ever know.

The context was a juxtaposition of revenue from city recreational programs, and a proposal that those programs should be free, and the loss of municipal revenue from the Vehicle Registration Tax, regularly caricatured as part of the Leftie Downtown Elitist War on the Car. This isn’t really intended to get into the specifics of that; it’s more of a step back, let’s look at the big picture and try and see this in historical context (oh Christ, there he goes again — ed.) kind of thing.

Anyway, someone on Septembre’s FB feed was talking about the way we “penalize” car owners whenever the city needs revenue. I jumped on it, perhaps a little more intemperately than I might have:

The idea that you’re being “penalized” by having to pay a tax is where the debunking begins. I’d suggest a review of Alex Himelfarb‘s Tax is Not a Four Letter Word for starters. And if you do something as fundamentally self-centred, anti-social and environmentally destructive as driving a private automobile on a regular basis, then quite frankly I don’t have a problem with you being required to pony up more …

I’ve never met a group of people more obsessed with their own privilege — and less willing to acknowledge it — than motorists. Their sense of entitlement to absolute primacy on the roads is boundless. I don’t care about other users, and why do I have to stop for that goddamn streetcar, and get the fuck out of my way cyclists because I just wanna go wherever the fuck I want as fast as I can. And it’s my god-given right to park my private car directly in front of my destination, as opposed to actually having to walk a block or two from a bus stop or something. Angry, aggressive, impatient, and selfish. Ford is just an extreme and grotesque example.

Bluntly, I’m out of patience. Don’t like gridlock? Don’t like road tolls? Don’t like scrambling for parking spots (which are also heavily subsidized, BTW)? Get out of your fucking car and take transit. Or ride a bike. Honestly, just stop whining and grow up.

The discussion continued, with the same participant arguing, not without justification, that he couldn’t rely on public transit to get where he needed to go in a timely manner. He also complained, again with some reason, about the wasted time and lost productivity due to service interruptions, overcrowding, poor service, and all the other problems besetting public transit in Toronto. (I’m paraphrasing, and in truth, it would be fairer for me to allow him to speak for himself, so in that regard, if he wants to respond here, I’ll commit to publishing whatever he wants to say, unedited, at as much length as he wants.)

At any rate, that prompted this additional outburst of sanctimonious wankery:

… if you find public transit inefficient, perhaps you should work to improve it, and support public initiatives that will do the same. (Ruinously wasteful subways that will never justify themselves in terms of ridership might be a good place to start.) Honestly, where is it written that public transit has to be slow, inefficient, dirty, overcrowded, poorly maintained and unreliable? It doesn’t have to be that way at all. There are jurisdictions all over the globe where a well-maintained and functional public transit system is recognized as the Public Good that it is, and in fact it’s the preferred method of getting around. Private cars are well down the list.

Now, I’ll grant you that it’s not necessarily the best or fastest way to get around in the GTA. It’s no secret that our current urban form has been built around private automobiles: large highways, single-family homes on large lots, huge malls with large parking lots, low population density have all combined to make public transit very difficult to operate efficiently. And we’ve structured our lives and jobs and communities accordingly. You drive to work, you drive the kids to school or daycare, you drive to the mall to get groceries, you shlep all your stuff around in a car. It’s just the way it is.

Problem being, that’s simply not sustainable. I don’t need to get into greenhouse gases or climate change or emissions control; suffice it to say that our addiction to private automobiles is one of the biggest sources of smog and air pollution in North America, so there’s the impact on health and productivity to consider, never mind the environmental impact. Factor in the advent of peak oil and it becomes clear: we simply can’t structure our cities and our lives around cheap gasoline and abundant energy and inefficient land use any more. Sadly, we’re stuck with infrastructure and urban form that’s built around that, so it makes efficient and low-impact transit that much harder to achieve. But that also makes it that much more imperative. It’s not a question of cars being evil so much as a recognition that reliance on them as the primary means of getting around simply doesn’t work any more. And part of fixing that includes getting motorists to assume a greater share of the costs they’ve been offloading onto the rest of us. Whether you want to admit it or not, private automobiles are subsidized up the yingyang. As those subsidies are phased out, more and more people will make the rational economic choice of opting for other ways of getting around.

What I’ve impatiently characterized as selfishness and entitlement on the part of motorists, in that context, has to be seen for what it is: privileged distress. When you have a group of people who’ve enjoyed preferential treatment for so long that they’ve come to see it as the natural order of things, they’re going to see any revisiting of the arrangement as an attack on themselves. Suddenly they’ve become victims. It’s like MRAs who see feminism as a giant conspiracy to attack men, or bigots who whine about Political Correctness. It’s where you get idiotic memes like the “War On The Car.”

And so on. Again, nothing that hasn’t already been said, previously and more eloquently, by better people than me, but given the way things are likely to be framed over the next twelve months, worth emphasizing.

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Cycling in Toronto and the toxic effect of consistent anti-bike rhetoric | #TOpoli #BikeTO

https://twitter.com/kiwinerd/status/349540526325903360

Bit of a change-up here, folks.

Usually it’s Daren who gets into the specifics and applies his wonderful witty blend of deconstruction, observation and analysis, while yours truly drops in every now and then with the windy, sententious “let’s all take a step back and put this into a bit of historical context,” yada yada yada.

Bit different today. I had some friends over yesterday, and one of them, a far more committed cyclist than I, was describing a confrontation she recently had with a motorist. She brought video. Because the matter’s still before the legal system, I won’t name names or get into specifics.

In brief, she had words with a guy in a van who yelled at her to get off the road, arguing that “roads are for cars.” Now where have we heard that before? She retorted, quite correctly, that as a cyclist she had just as much right to be on the road as him. Next thing you know, the son of a bitch literally ran her off the road with his truck. On purpose. She had to be hospitalized. She needed stitches. Thank god she didn’t break any bones.

But there’s a lesson here, and it goes beyond the specific circumstances of this one incident. Anyone who rides a bike in Toronto’s more than likely to have had words with a hostile motorist or gotten the door prize or any of a number of hazards that cyclists have to face on a regular basis.

Now, recall one of Daren’s recent posts about some of the people who drive private automobiles and their sense of entitlement:

There’s no war on the car going on. It’s the exact opposite. This is all about the over-weening sense of entitlement and primacy in the minds of those using their private vehicles as their sole source of getting around the city. … a car driver’s sense of their right to the road is boundless.

That’s part of the context. Add to that the consistent drumbeat of hostility and vindictiveness toward cyclists from certain sectors of Toronto’s political sphere and it’s not too hard to draw the connection to my friend’s experience. In brief, as I’ve argued previously,

it’s become more socially acceptable, among a certain segment of the population, to abuse, threaten and even assault cyclists and other users of the road.

Now, maybe it’s just me and my white male privilege talking, and / or my middle-class upbringing, and / or my fetish for principled conservatism, and / or maybe even just my bourgeois nostalgia for civility, but how is this making our city better? Isn’t it in all our interests to push back against this? We’re all in this together.

Happy Canada Day, y’all.

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