Who speaks for whom?

Really liked this Jesse Singal blog post about what to make of liberals speaking for marginalized groups when what the marginalized groups seem to what is something else.  This is particularly interesting in the case of Northam and Virginia:

But there was a bit of a plot twist last week. According to a Washington Post/Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University poll summarized by WJLA, “Only 37 percent of African Americans [in Virginia] say Northam should resign compared to 58 percent who say he should not. African Americans approve of the job Northam is doing by 58-30 percent and accept his apology by a 58-31 margin.” In polling, a 27-point difference is quite large — in this case it translates to about a 2:1 gap, meaning members of the single group ostensibly most affected by Northam’s donning of blackface believe rather strongly that he should stay in power despite it.

This story ties into one of my qualms about the way progressives talk about race, and marginalized groups in general, these days: It feels increasingly common for progressives to treat the opinions of elite members of marginalized groups as representative of the groups in question — even though rank-and-file members without platforms may feel quite differently.

Some other examples of this: Many progressives, Latino and non-Latino alike, seem to have rather strong linguistic preferences about whether to use the word Hispanic as opposed to Latino (or, more recently, Latinx). But when actual, well, Latinos/Hispanics are polled on this question, their answer tends to be that they identify more with their country of origin or ancestry than with zoomed-out ethnic labels anyway, with only about half of members of these groups even having a preference — meaning it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to suggest one term or the other is “right” while the other is outdated or offensive:

I also really liked this last bit as I recently had an interaction with a student who was very much surprised when I suggested she use Hispanic or Latino instead of Latinx in a document she was writing for a mainstream, bipartisan audience.  The ordinary Latinos/Hispanics are definitely not insisting on Latinx.

Singal also brings in my favorite NFL team:

There’s something similar going on with a controversy that, to me, is a much easier call: the Washington, erm, football team. I’m of the belief that the logo and name are offensive and should absolutely be changed. Which, it turns out, is an opinion held by a mere 9% of actual Native Americans, according to a 2016 Washington Post poll:..

Now, does the fact that a solid majority of black Virginians want Northam to stay mean that he definitely should, and does the fact that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans don’t find the Redskins name offensive* mean that it should? No — I don’t think that should be the end of either story. (* This section of the sentence originally read “overwhelming majority of Native Americans want the Redskins name to stay” — the bolded phrase was a misstatement of the survey result and has been edited.)

But at the same time, if you’re a progressive who is calling for the Washington football team to change its name, or for Ralph Northam to resign, because of the harm that football team name and that governor did to marginalized people, it should feel very weird that the actual groups most affected mostly disagree with you, no? Or if it doesn’t feel weird, why doesn’t it feel weird? What does it mean to say you hold an opinion out of a desire to protect a given group when members of that group say, in polling, they don’t require your protection on that particular issue?

Interesting questions indeed and I don’t claim to know the answers.  But what I would suggest, is that liberals be a little more circumspect and less certain of themselves on these matters.

%d bloggers like this: