Monday, May 02, 2011

Further vindication: the self-flagellating edition

Part of me is thrilled to see that sanctibullying (YPISing*) is currently under attack. (See here, via/as well as here, via Scott Lemieux's twitter.) Another part of me is all, but I came up with these terms! I'm responsible for the definitive anti-YPIS writing of the blogosphere! Yet another part of me is well aware that I did not comb the internet searching for whether anyone else had ever had the same complaint before I launched mine, so I'm back to "thrilled." Full circle. Moving on...

Courtney Martin sees YPIS as a first step, a step in the right direction. She wants us to "move beyond" the calling-out of privilege, the guilt, oy, the guilt, but does not seem entirely convinced. Jill Filipovic, meanwhile, can't say enough how well-intentioned she believes the YPISers are. So close! Not quite there.

So, to rerereiterate:

-Sanctibullying is not poorly-executed social justice. It's not about wanting desperately for the world to be a more equitable place and, in one's enthusiasm for that noble cause, hitting a nerve. It's about killing two birds with one stone and claiming to be a good person as well as a self-made person in a meritocracy.

-Broader social-justice concerns can lead to increased self-knowledge, to a greater understanding of one's own privilege, and to a decreased likelihood of making clueless statements. What they can't do is tell you diddly-squat about the experiences of someone else, in particular a stranger on the internet, and how lucky they've been.

-Especially because people tend not to open up so readily about genuine suffering, or even just a not-so-well-off background. So you get to hear from the proverbial child of the Brooklyn Heights townhouse that he grew up in an outer borough and is thus hardcore, whereas the kid who grew up in East New York or even Flushing would rather talk about something else.

*For new readers (as if!), "YPIS refers to the accusation, online especially, that someone else's "privilege is showing," as in, "Why don't obese poor people just shop at Whole Foods and go to Equinox, I lost 10 pounds that way!" Except that normally, the cluelessness was less extreme, but is exaggerated by the accuser.

***********

Along the same lines...

No, it's not normal to tip at least a dollar (via) for a cup of regular coffee to go. Remember that this means $1 on a $1.75 drink. It's normal that people who make above minimum wage but not much above would want this - I certainly did when I worked that job - but it's far from expected. Claiming it is confuses people who need to understand that certain service-industry workers don't get minimum wage because of an assumption of tip income. I get that a lot of New Yorkers are ridiculously wealthy and feel a sense of guilt at the fact that they make a trillion times more than their barista. But this has all led to some kind of cultural assumption that anyone who ever goes to a bar or coffee shop, ever, is clearly enormously well-to-do, because anyone who isn't is living exclusively off home-soaked legumes. When there is, I promise, a lower-middle ground in which legumes play a prominent role, yes, but so does the occasional pre-teaching coffee. I could go on, but this has, I think, been more than enough on this topic.

15 comments:

PG said...

There would be a lot of baristas out of work if the only people who got a cup of coffee were those who make a ton of money -- or even enough money that $3 per cup ($1.75 + $1 rounded to nearest dollar) is a reasonable price.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Yup.

Like I said, there's this bizarre if not that bizarre assumption, at least in NY, that 'sometimes buying things at a place that isn't a supermarket'='rich yuppie' or 'trustafarian.' When, if you look around, you'll see that cops, construction workers, teachers, and yes, TAs - all notable for their lack of corporate/designer attire - are all lined up for, well, just about any sub-$10 food-and-drink possibility the city has to offer. Discussions of tipping seem to come from the perspective of, if you go to an establishment where lattes are sold, you make so so much more than the person making your drink, and as such can be guilted into leaving at least some change, although, gah, change would be insulting! make it a dollar. Someone about to be on his feet all day teaching for not much pay is not going to find it tragic-yet-inspiring that the barista's doing the same.

But - and how's this for repeating myself? - the main problem with this complaint isn't the theoretical lost jobs for baristas, but the confusion this kind of suggestion (the dollar coffee tip) brings about, to the detriment of workers who do actually need-need their tips. I could see someone reading the dollar-tip suggestion for coffee and thinking, man, tipping is dumb, and then not tipping in a restaurant either.

What should happen, of course, is minimum wage should hold for restaurants as well, with an option/culture of tipping as a nice gesture, etc. I mean, I'd prefer if restaurant workers' pay were higher still and tipping were simply eliminated, but I get the sense customers and staff like it, which is why the tradition continues in places like Paris, where you don't have to tip but if you leave an extra euro at a cafe, no one exactly chases you down the street with your coin to tell you you've made a mistake.

Britta said...

Yeah, I call bullshit. That guy was probably one of those entitled whiney baristas who would make up some rude sign near the tip jar in the hopes of guilting you into tipping. I worked at a coffee shop in Portland, and I never expected a dollar/drink tip (or really, any tip at all. I LIKED tips, but did not expect them). I have been drinking at coffee shops in Portland for many years, and have never left a dollar tip. My rule is: if it's drip coffee, especially where I fill it up, I don't tip. I don't tip the person checking out my groceries, who makes the same amount as a barista and does way more than merely hand me a cup. If I am getting a fancy drink, I'll often tip the leftover change, but probably not more than 25 cents. (I save quarters for laundry usually, but I'll tip my dimes and nickels). My thinking is, I am as poor as they are, this is not mandatory, and I really hate tip inflation, so I will combat it in places where it is not mandatory or detrimental to the worker to not tip. Maybe people think I am a jerk, but I've found the undergrads who serve me at the coffee shops I frequent seem to be friendly enough.

Phoebe said...

Also Britta:

Oh, on sanctibullying. I read the article on Feministe, and it was interesting to see that Jill really has some of the same problems I do with her blog. It makes sense, since my problems with Feministe mainly come from the comments, not the posts themselves. Jill seems like a really nice person who is trying really hard, and who is far more willing to publicly eat crow than most people around.

I totally agree that acknowledging your privilege is a first (preliminary?) step, but if you actually want to do something, you need to get beyond self-flagellation (or flagellation of others) of all the myriad ways you are privileged. I also think "calling people out" is counterproductive. Realistically, getting people to see how they're privileged requires patience and often quite a long time. Just saying "you're racist/classist/transphobic et." particularly to a stranger on a blog, will only make people defensive. It also, as you have discussed in depth, often turns into a contest of how much you can denounce everyone else, even if they are 99.9% in agreement with you.

I actually used to give anti-racist training workshops, and one of the things I had to learn to do was never ever react negatively or express outrage or tell someone they were racist, even if they said things that were absolutely shocking. Since my goal was to make people be less racist, I had to appear not to be immediately antagonistic to them. (Of course, this is complicated, since I am 1) white and 2) it was my job to hear racist stuff and try to get people to change things, so I had professional distance. Asking POCs to react magnanimously in the face of racism is (IMO) a bit much. It's easier to have a dispassioned response if it doesn't personally affect you and you haven't had to deal with it your whole life. I also do think that people who say really overtly racist things on the internet should be shamed, since since that sort of speech is toxic to the public sphere. Of course, YPIS pretty much only comes up on the left, where almost no one would openly admit to being racist, and rather it's more about dealing with the more ingrained "isms" we all have just from living in our society)

*anyways* I am just rambling at this point. But, here are some of my thoughts on a topic which, as you know too well, I could probably talk about ad nauseum.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

Agreed that racism-racism should be called out. But I don't see that as having much to do with YPIS - when you're telling someone not to use the n-word, for example, you're not telling them that they've had it easy, you're telling them that they should not be an ass. In any given circumstance, perhaps someone's only form of privilege is that they're white, and the person's disabled, overweight, impoverished, and otherwise out-of-luck and drawn to racism as a way to feel superior.

YPIS is not about this at all. It's about making assumptions about others' lives. It's about projecting an entire imagined existence onto a stranger. The thing is, you basically never know. You might know that someone has never been black, or be able to make a solid guess that they've never been a child soldier. You don't know whether a family used to be poor, were refugees, what someone's weight, disease, or abuse histories are, etc. In this anti-stereotyping corner of the Internet, what goes on is a whole lot of making assumptions about who has and has not had it easy. It's as though there's this default assumption of a straight, white, upper-middle-class, happy-suburban-childhood existence with no blips other than call-the-waahmbulence-ish problems. Because privilege is actually kind of complicated, people are best off acknowledging their own, and leaving others alone to sort it out for themselves.

Phoebe said...

Oh, to add to the first para above - point isn't to excuse this theoretical person's racism, but to say that racist =/= having only ever experienced First World Problems.

PG said...

Britta,
For a large blog, Feministe's comments sections are pretty much only unusual in their incivility for toleration of actually cussing people out. Otherwise, I don't think they're much worse than, say, Megan McArdle's.

Phoebe,
I have to admit that YPISing has a history in liberals/leftists' fondness for Speaking Truth to Power. That aspect is ludicrously evident in the post that Jill says finally pushed her into putting her thoughts down, with its "Capital F Feminism" for a f***ing blog written by a few 20somethings with dayjobs. There are people crazed enough to believe that by telling you, or Megan McArdle, or Jill Filipovic that "her privilege is showing" that they are thereby Speaking Truth to Power.

I do think there's a value to the STP enterprise, but it's probably not occurring by "calling out" someone on her blog. If I say the STP-object's name to Katie Couric and she says, "Who?" this person probably doesn't have any real power to speak of. Less STPing average people, more real-life community-organizing please. I don't think we're going to get an Obama out of this bunch.

(The YPISing phenomenon is really bizarre to me. While I'm capable of saying all kinds of dumb stuff to people online, I'm way more likely to say "Yeah, you're evidently ignorant of X because if you knew about X, you'd know Y and not have said Not-Y" than try to claim knowledge of a person's experiences. This is probably a sign of my fundamentally conservative temperament: I'm more inclined to shame people by looking down on them from an elitist perspective than by telling them what elitists they are.)

Britta said...

PG,
On Feministe--yeah, that might be why I avoid most comment sections, unless it's a small personal blog, where people who comment are usually committed to some of level of civility/thought before posting. I also will read comments on academic blogs, since they usually attract more thoughtful types as well. It does seem like there's very little space on the internet for people to thoughtfully disagree--either people with opposite viewpoints sling insults, people with almost the same viewpoint sling insults of the YPIS type, or people just sycophantically agree, which happens on a lot of overly moderated blogs where any sort of dissent is not tolerated (e.g. Shakesville). Sometimes I enjoy the trainwreck/cannibalism aspect of comment sections of large progressive-y blogs, mainly for entertainment reasons.

On the very rare occasions I have commented on Feministe, I've made what I think is a thoughtful, nuanced comment, and maybe 2 people will say, "good point" and then about 5 people will call me a trust-fund baby-eating homophobic racist misogynistic, patriarchy loving asshole, or whatever insults they can also think up, over and over again, all of which is gleaned from a comment like, "there is a space between being a Whole Foods shopping yuppie and a single mom on welfare in a food desert" or whatever. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but the shock of how someone can get B from my comment A makes me totally angry and indignant and gets under my skin, and then I have to remind myself that the opinion of some anonymous jerk on the internet doesn't matter in my life.

But yeah, YPIS was HUGE at college, and was usually flung around by 1) actually really privileged people, who maybe thought offense was the best defense, but would use YPIS to silence people who disagreed with them, generally people who were less confident and self-assured in their viewpoint, and 2) people who were generally thoughtless assholes, and who thought their hardscrabble upbringing allowed them to treat others poorly because of this. (A classic example is, I knew someone who was of this, "YPIS!! I grew up on welfare," type, who borrowed the car of a wealthy friend on the grounds that she wouldn't drive it herself, because she didn't have a license. She drove it anyways, got in an accident, and when her friend freaked out about her insurance and fixing the car, she was like, "big deal, you're rich, your family can deal with it.")

Britta said...

Oh, and, your STP point is really great.

Phoebe said...

PG,

While I'll grudgingly accept that WWPD=/=Power, major feminist bloggers, or the only female blogger at the Atlantic, strike me as not far from that, at least in a context. The difference being, say, that when people start commenting here and getting all agitated because I refuse to agree with them on, say, the I-P conflict, it's frustrating because they'd at best change one mind, whereas convincing those with actual influence, actual power on a large scale, might be more productive. Someone with more than three regular commenters, however, is at a different point on the spectrum. Not a world leader, but closer than yours truly.

Anyway, YPIS is especially silly not just because directed at the more or less powerless, but also because so often the accused are just young. Whether you grow up rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, if you grow up in a homogeneous area, you think your background="normal." Not everyone has the, uh, privilege of being around a lot of different sorts growing up, and from that getting a sense of where they stand. I did, which is how, after being told for nine years that I was poor but not super-poor, then for four that I was rich but upon further reflection (i.e. people saw where my family lived) not quite what they'd imagined, I was able to assess where my upbringing fits into the scheme of things, at least within NY. But the kids who go to private schools K-12, arrive at college, and think Park Avenue=normal just need a moment to wake up. They're just provincial, like most everyone else.

Britta,

The car anecdote sounds familiar - not nearly as extreme, but a friend of mine who was among the few kids on scholarship at a school for the super-wealthy would, this friend told me years after the fact, pretend not to have cash to pay for stuff when out with classmates, even when it was stuff they could have, in theory, afforded. But I don't see this as YPIS-related. If anything, that this friend admitted this at all was an aberration, given that this is someone who would reveal very, very little about their home life and always ask others questions to deflect. YPIS seems to me to be directly opposed to having any actual embarrassment about having grown up poorer than others - it's about shame at having grown up wealthier.

PG said...

There is something "topping from the bottom" about the YPIS dynamic: the fetishization of how the person one is scolding is really more powerful than oneself.

Which, even with being the one female blogger at The Atlantic or a top U.S. feminist blogger, is still not necessarily so. I mean, how does one measure these things? Megan McArdle is thinner, whiter and better-connected than I am; but I'm most likely wealthier, better-educated and closer to a normal height for a woman. We probably wash out about even on overall privilege levels.

Having recently attempted to show her that U.S. law is not what she believes it to be on a particular topic, and having that effort met with the McArdle standby "But my friends in the industry tell me," I'm skeptical that she's all that convincable anyway. Ditto Filipovic (though she's obviously more pre-disposed to take the law seriously). Most people seem to achieve positions of opinion influence by having an ideological position that's pretty impervious. It's one reason I suspect WWPD would have trouble getting as big as their blogs -- when presented with evidence or even logical arguments that engage your point, you're simply too willing to concede you're wrong. This is a great virtue in a human being, but not in opinionated blogging.

Phoebe said...

PG,

All that makes sense, but I think it's the lack of a coherent theme that prevents WWPD from being bigger than it is. People ask me what it's about and I don't have a one-sentence answer. (I now do for my dissertation, which seems more crucial.) As soon as I figure out what my blog is about, WWPD the Book should be on its way.

PG said...

Britta,

Thanks!

If you're looking for a more civil feminist blog, I found Alas A Blog's comment sections to be fairly decent, and especially once you've established yourself as a commenter, they give you the benefit of the doubt even when you dissent from progressive doctrine. I think the key to knowing whether a blog has decent commenting culture is whether it has a regular commenter or two who has very different politics from most of the bloggers, yet is generally treated respectfully (even when disagreed with vociferously). Someone going by "Ron" had that role at AAB. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates has some folks like that as well. Crooked Timber verges on academic.

I categorically never read comments on news websites (NYT, WaPo, et al) unless there's an error in the article and I'm checking to see if anyone's mentioned it already.

Phoebe said...

PG, re: your response to Britta,

As you already knew, I suppose, I adore reading online-newspaper comments, because they're a cross-section. Not representative, but they give you a sense of... something. It's interesting to see, on sites read by many, many people, who responds to what and how. I'd never think of participating in one of those threads, but avoiding them wouldn't be any fun!

PG said...

Most of my direct reading of news sites is for political, economic and legal news (I prefer blogs like yours for cultural coverage). The general public's level of vitriol in politics, and of ignorance in economics and law, is both depressing and not really informative (aside from Yes, yes there are people that hateful/stupid). However, it probably does make more sense to read people's comments to cultural news, since that kind of interplay is part of what makes culture.