It’s not just because of the tenor of the times that this question warrants asking — although, granted, it is high fashion these days to ask it out loud — so I will: what the hell is wrong with white people?
It just so happens that I have been pondering the question for quite a few years now, and because I’ve settled on an answer that is supported by a surfeit of overwhelming evidence, I may as well come straight out with it. White people are useless. That’s what's wrong with them.
First, a brief explanation is required: I don’t mean white people as a race. I mean the majority populations of most of the Western democracies, particularly those who — out of guilt and shame or nationalistic fervour — insist on centring themselves in their whiteness. These people suck up most of the bandwidth in our domestic politics. Because of my journalistic work in "foreign affairs," I've been lucky enough to cultivate friendships among people on the front lines of the epochal struggles for human emancipation around the world. You know what I’ve noticed? There’s only the smallest and loneliest cohort of white people among them.
This might be explained by the argument that in the countries where most white people live, the heaviest lifting in the struggles for women’s rights, for freedom from slavery, for workers' rights and for expanding the democratic franchise, has largely already been done. Most of the white people today are coasting on the sacrifices and discipline of previous generations. Most people who find themselves thrown into the grinding agony of struggles for those rights in the 21st century are not white. But even when the most plaintive appeals for material solidarity go out to white-majority societies and their democratic governments, even when those appeals are clearly articulated and identify achievable and effective objectives, white people prove themselves to be objectively useless.
A Syrian no-fly zone. A suite of sanctions and asset freezes sufficient to prevent Iran’s ruling class from taking the money they’ve pillaged and swindled from their subject populations and reinvesting it in high-end real estate in Toronto and Vancouver. A pathway to citizenship for Hongkongers fleeing the bloody repressions Beijing is inflicting on pro-democracy activists there. These were achievable goals, and yet the autocrats sail on. And the pretexts the white people offer for their uselessness are all variations on the same theme: the matter is none of our concern, it’s too complicated, it’s none of our business.
The excuses will be uttered in a right-wing lexicon — we should look after our own first, those people are always at one another’s throats anyway, these people aren’t worth the lives of our boys, and so on. They will be replicated in the rhetoric of the left — we shouldn’t impose our values on other cultures, it would be imperialism, interference is simply more land grabs and meddling for shadowy capitalist interests, and what have you. It’s multi-partisan: U.S. president Donald Trump’s “peace talks,” his abandonment of the cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic, was once counselled by Canada’s beloved New Democratic Party leader, Jack Layton. There is nothing in Trump’s avowed opposition to America’s “forever wars” that had not been articulated in nearly indistinguishable rhetoric by the American documentarist Michael Moore, or by the “anti-war” hobbyists from that circle of elderly white hippie ladies that calls itself Code Pink.
When white-majority states do at least try to behave in useful, multilateral ways in the life-and-death struggles that matter to the world’s non-white people, the commitment is fleeting, disingenuous, half-hearted and self-interested. Any old fiction will suffice as justification for abdication of our responsibilities.
In the case of Syria, any guilt we may have felt as Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people, and watched as his nation was immolated and dismembered, has been easily assuaged. White Canadians congratulated themselves for permitting a relative handful of refugees to arrive at airports for prime ministerial photo opportunities. White Europeans send out the occasional coast guard vessel so that not quite so many Syrians and Sudanese and Eritreans in rafts and rustbucket ships make inconvenient spectacles of themselves by drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and littering pristine tourist beaches with their corpses.
Every right-wing trope demanding the dissolution of global neoliberalism had its prelude in slogans from the anti-globalization riots like the Battle in Seattle in the 1990s. In response to the worldwide financial collapse of 2008, the right-wing Tea Party and the left-wing Occupy movement — both phenomena of the white political class — offered ostensibly competing but functionally indistinguishable and equally useless folk remedies to the crisis. The broke and the woke are equally unable or unwilling to face up to the challenges of today.
I know that some people will object to the term “white people” as an identifiable class, here. Under a Marxist analysis, we used to call this collection the bourgeoisie. But at least the 19th-century Western bourgeoisie supported the end of Black slavery. The 20th-century bourgeoisie was at the vanguard of the struggle for women’s equality rights, the end of statutory discrimination against gay people, the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in America, and the achievements of environmentalism.
But nowadays? As social and economic categories, there is one hell of an overlap between the Western bourgeoisie and white people, and their usefulness to human progress can be presumed to be now and at last truly at its end. The white working-class is increasingly marginal to the great upheavals of the current epoch. The trade union movement it helped to create is suffering a tragically diminished relevance. Once the brawn and sinew of industrial capitalism, their labour has been outsourced across vast sectors to the sweatshops of India, China and Malaysia.
In what little use they are making of themselves in the struggles they once championed, white people are giving every appearance of intellectual exhaustion, with all the incoherence, histrionics and narcissism you’d expect. The “violence” of campus micro-aggression is afforded greater attention among white “activists” than the actual, real-world violence endured by hundreds of millions of Uighurs, Royhingas, Yemenis, and on and on. They may demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the Black slavery that militant Americans once fought to abolish. They may also exhibit the most nuanced analysis of Black slavery’s enduring legacies. Yet when they show up to Black Lives Matter rallies in locales as far flung as Saskatoon, the Faroe Islands and Rio de Janeiro, the clothes they are wearing are effectively made by slaves.
Tommy Hillfiger, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Esprit, Nike, Uniqlo, H&M, Lacoste and hundreds of other globe-spanning corporations have been demonstrably implicated in forced-labour production inside prisons and detention centres and sweatshops from Bangladesh to Xinjiang, where upwards of a million minority Muslims have been rounded up in the largest mass internment of an ethnic minority since the Holocaust. By the reckoning of the Walk Free Foundation’s global slavery index, nearly 50 million people around the world are confined in various forms of slavery. The beneficiaries of slave labour are primarily the contented white consumers of white-majority countries. And as for the struggle to eliminate this scourge of their own generation, white people, true to current form, are largely useless.
Also on The Line, Peter Menzies has sharp words for Canada’s failing legacy media companies. “Increasingly cash-starved Canadian newspaper publishers have been lobbying the federal government to invoke legislation that would force global giants Facebook and Google to pay for the use of their news content when it's shared on their platforms,” Menzies writes. “News organizations in Canada have had 20 years to adapt to the Internet. Their solution was to reduce the size and quality of their newsrooms. Thousands of journalists lost their jobs and readers — with a whole world of online news to choose from — went elsewhere.”
It’s a powerful piece. And if you’re a subscriber here at The Line, we suspect you might agree with him. (And if you aren’t, you should be!)
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