If we were to envision Twitter as a vast, wind-torched desert in which bedraggled humans scrounge for any semblance of meaning or purpose, then insensitive Tweets penned by privileged white "liberal" dudes are like the water-conserving plants speckling the landscape. They should not be able to thrive and propagate with such fecundity; and yet, against all odds, there they are. Just sitting. Never going to give up.
Twitter in the aftermath of the reinvigorated Weiner-sexting-scandal is a veritable cactus farm. Case in point: David Roberts, a writer for Grist, planted a lil' insenitive succulent of his own just yesterday. After reading Weiner communications director Barbara Morgan's profane rant about ex-intern Olivia Nuzzi, he found himself sympathizing with the disgraced mayoral candidate and decided to Tweet his feelings:
I dunno, and I also kinda think the intern sounds like a social-climbing mercenary hobag. I’m oddly #teamweiner on this one.— David Roberts (@drgrist) July 31, 2013
After reading some angry responses to his word choice, Roberts was at first dismissive ("All right, I take back hobag. I will instead say that the young intern seems triflin’"). Then he attempted to deny that the insult was gendered (when someone accused him of writing a misogynistic tweet, he responded "I don’t see why. DC is full of social-climbing mercenary hobags of both genders"). Then, however, something wondrous happened: he recognized that he was being insensitive, and he decided to write an apology and examine what he's termed "White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS)":
[From my perspective, the 'hobag' archetype] I had in my head [was] nothing gendered, just a certain young Beltway type that I find both familiar and distasteful.
This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!
However, regardless of intent, quickly denying or minimizing the effect of your word choice on others is not okay. As Roberts puts it:
The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me! We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.
Instead of feeling immediately affronted, victimized by the phantom "political correctness police," a better response is to try and figure out why what you've said was offensive to some. When you're in a privileged position, it's easy to assume that the meaning of traditionally demeaning terms is contingent on context: it's not sexist if I say "hobag" ironically, or gender-neutrally! I'm liberal! Actually, yeah, it is, because the reason "hobag" so effectively invokes the idea of a classless social climber is that it relies on gender stereotypes of women as classless social climbers (who profit off of their sexuality instead of their intelligence or capability).
"As for the 'political correctness police,' well, I'm happy they got me," writes Roberts. "That kind of social censure reinforces norms that badly need reinforcement in social media... If I’m briefly being made an example of, that’s as it should be — learn from the example!"
You can read the rest of his apology here — it's pretty amazing, and hopefully it will inspire other White Liberal Privileged Dudes (and Ladies, and anyone else in a position of privilege) to follow in his lead.
Images via Facebook.