Friday, November 06, 2009

The Zero-Sum Game

I've recently started reading Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Like his stuff a lot, even if he thinks of Prince as "his mother's music."  And god knows he could use a proofreader.  But anyway.  Not only are his posts interesting, but he's built up a large and mostly well-behaved commenting community.  I haven't joined it because it is so large and well-spoken even without me, and I just don't feel like creating one more damn account for myself, but I have to respond to this comment anyway:
As a white person (I don't presume to speak for all white people), one of the reasons why I find myself getting annoyed at anti-racists is because of their insistence that the only reason why I enjoy any comforts today is because of the suffering of others. . . . By speaking of racism as a zero-sum game, you are GUARANTEED to turn white people off. After all, if whites prospered at the expense of blacks, many whites reason that if blacks prosper, it will be at their expense.
Well, yeah, actually, the reason you are where you are today is because of the people who suffered and died to get you there.  To name just one example, as a white male Christian friend of mine wrote on his Facebook recently, "People died to give you the right to vote.  So go vote!"  I'm really astonished that anybody could be unmindful of those who came before them -- even if you just think of it in terms of your own ancestors.  (This reminds me of the piece I wrote three years ago.)  Perhaps the problem is that you don't like to think of people suffering unwillingly.  Is is really any better to imagine them gladly sacrificing their comforts for you?

As for the zero-sum game:  again, yes, that's what it is.  We all prosper at someone else's expense.  Take jobs for example. If you apply for a job and get it, everyone else loses out.  I'll assume for the sake of argument that the person who wrote this post and called themselves "Star Wars Nut" is a man, although it doesn't really matter.  So, if someone else gets hired for this job, and you find out it's a black person, do you get upset because black people are stealing jobs from whites?  If a white woman gets hired instead of you, are women stealing jobs from men?  If another white guy gets the job . . . well, who is there to be outraged against?  But it's still a zero-sum game, and you still lost.  Unless you congratulate yourself with the thought, "Well, at least the job is safely in the hands of a white person."

I don't think the problem is the zero-sum game.  I think the problem is a sense of entitlement, the belief that those people should stay in their places and not be taking jobs, etc. from the guys who have always had those jobs, always should, always will.  (Gee, this does remind me of a recent Presidential election.)  It makes sense to me that white men would feel threatened and want to cut down on the competition.  But then, of course, you're stuck with feeling guilty about those people who suffered so that you could continue to live in the style to which you're accustomed.  Nope, just can't win.

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