White Privilege on the Right and the Left – A Lesson from Malcolm X

White Privilege Forgotten by the Right

Another Brick in the Wall Lyric (Pink Floyd)

I’ve had students defend their rather negative attitude at school like this:

“High school is a time for rebellion. As a high school kid, you should disobey your teachers in order to discover yourself. Perhaps most of all, high school is a time for pranks and practical jokes.”

Anthropological considerations aside, from a socio-economic perspective this type of attitude towards high school is often a sign of privilege. Some parents even encourage their children to “experiment” at the very spot where their offspring should be preparing for the future. And by experimenting they don’t mean developing philosophical thought experiments or exploring a scientific hypothesis. They rather refer to a kind of mischief that is supposed to build a strong character and personality. When teachers complain about the conduct of their children, those types of parents either pretend to agree with the teachers or they try to excuse the misconduct by using phrases like “we’ve all been young” and “with youth comes youthful indiscretion…” Those parents know that what their children don’t learn at school, they will learn from high paid tutors who eventually get them into university.

James Baldwin Quote on Imitation

Apart from developing the weak spine of a spoilt brat, adolescents who grew up that way didn’t do anything else but imitate the kind of behavior that is advertised in pop culture time and again. We all develop an identity by mimetic (i.e. imitative) processes, of course, but it is quite ironic that the high school rascal thinks of himself as an original and daring character. This is the typical narcissism of the youngster who thinks of himself as a hero and doesn’t see that there is nothing heroic about “transgressing rules” at most of today’s permissive high schools. He is unable to love the reality of his situation, but is all the more in love with an unrealistic self-image of which he wants the confirmation by his peers. In the end, however, his eventual professional ambitions are often not “original” at all, as they turn out to be imitations of the ambitions of his parents and their social network.

Malcolm X on Education

When children come from a poor neighborhood and have to walk 10 miles a day to the nearest school, they don’t have the luxury to waste the precious time and money that their community invests in providing a good education. As it happens, some of those disadvantaged children end up at schools surrounded by rich kids who behave like so-called high school rebels. However, the poor child who starts imitating his “rebellious” classmates does not have the resources to compensate for the potential voids in his education as a consequence of his so-called rebellious behavior. There is not an army of high paid tutors waiting at home.

Moreover, in the process of growing up the disadvantaged kid will also start noticing that his mischief is separated from the same mischief committed by privileged youth of the same age group. Indeed some rich parents who do excuse the misconduct of their own children as “youthful indiscretion” will condemn the same behavior as “juvenile delinquency” when it is performed by so-called uneducated poor people, even more so when these are people of color. Racism runs deep. Add to this the fact that a lot of socio-economic problems today in communities of colored people are the consequence of a history dominated by white elites, and it becomes clear why a movement against discrimination calls itself Black Lives Matter to fight “white privilege”.

James Baldwin Quote on the Paradox of Education

People on the political right should be more aware of the double standard behind blaming disadvantaged people for their own miserable situation. The fact of the matter is that opportunities are not equal for all. Some enjoy the privilege of getting away with so-called “youthful indiscretions”, for instance, while others are incarcerated for the very same youthful sins. Those types of privilege are often forgotten by the political right. Also, if we would truly live in a meritocratic society, and not just on paper, the likes of Donald Trump would never make it into the US presidential office (even if they were backed by powerful elites who were planning to use that type of president to push their own agenda).

Condoleezza Rice on Victimhood

In a worst case scenario, the downtrodden develop a deep-seated feeling of ressentiment. They develop an aversion to the ambitions they previously imitated from their privileged peers. They comfort themselves by getting a sense of self-worth in groups that claim to oppose everything privileged people stand for. As a privileged elite points to their mistakes and blames them for their miserable condition, while at the same time that privileged elite can afford making similar mistakes without having to pay for them, they are easily manipulated by recruiters who abuse their sense of victimhood. They fall for the basic story of every manipulator: “They reject you, but I see your potential…” Thus they become the slaves of false Messiahs who promise to deliver them from victimhood, but who actually keep the victimary status alive to gain power over their followers. Gangs thrive upon ressentiment, from ISIS to the Black Disciples to groups of Neo-Nazis.

It is important to realize that the violence originating from ressentiment cannot be disconnected from instances of systemic violence and oppression as described above. Ressentiment ultimately results from a comparison by people who feel disadvantaged, one way or the other, with people who are at least perceived as privileged. Although privileged people often cannot be held personally responsible for racism and other types of discrimination, there are historically grown structural injustices, which result in some people literally having more chances than others. So gang members are indeed personally responsible for pulling the trigger in acts of violence, but the way society is structured as a whole often hands them the weapons. As for the latter, we all bear some responsibility, if just for our voting habits.

To realize the depth of historically grown structural injustices, it is good to listen to the following speech of Kimberly Jones (be sure to watch the video below of Desiree Barnes against looters to get a complete picture of what this article is all about). Jones ends her powerful statement by saying “They are lucky that as black people what we are looking for is equality and not revenge…”:

White Privilege Forgotten by the Left

While the political right often remains blind to instances of deeply ingrained, historically grown systemic violence and social oppression, the political left often does not want to hear about individual freedom and responsibility. Since on many issues I tend to belong to a community of “white liberals” more than to a community of “white conservatives”, I will write in the first-person plural to develop a self-critical reflection. That is not to say I wouldn’t lean to the right as well sometimes. I guess I’m left in the middle.

Anyway, we liberal white folk, we think love for our neighbor should always include a recognition of our neighbor’s potential traumas. Especially in education we should be aware of the violence in its many guises children carry with them. We are all victims, one way or the other, be it of socio-economic circumstances, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, learning disabilities or mental disorders. Although the recognition of that reality is crucial to become a self-responsible person, it becomes a danger when it is used to simply excuse children for not taking part in the educational process as they should.

There is a significant difference in approaching children as being somewhat determined by their problems or as being free to learn despite their problems. In other words, there is a difference in approaching children as mere victims or as people with potential (think of the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect in this regard). Not being demanding is not a sign of love and respect in education. You might become popular and powerful among young people in that way, but in the meantime you deny them the dignity to develop their talents. In fact, you become the double of those severe teachers who are only strict to gain a sense of power as well. It does happen, although perhaps more or less unconsciously, that the question to let a pupil pass during deliberations eventually has more to do with a powerplay between teachers than with the interest of pupils themselves. In any case, children from a privileged background will once again find ways to compensate for voids in their education as a consequence of an all too soft approach, while disadvantaged peers in the same educational situation remain the victims of oppressive circumstances. The political left often forgets that type of privilege. Again some people can afford being spoilt during the educational process, while others can’t.

Malcolm X Quote on White Liberal

We, white privileged liberals, should be aware of potentially similar dynamics in our assessment of systemic injustices experienced by people of color. Malcolm X (1925-1965) criticized a liberal approach that turns out to simply abuse the victimhood of colored people in a fight over power with white conservatives. He came to the conclusion that many white liberals, consciously or not, have an interest in maintaining that victimhood. Presenting themselves as liberators of a problem they will in fact never solve, those liberals time and again become false Messiahs who gain power and wealth by locking up their followers in an idea of victimhood. In 1963, Malcolm X formulated it this way:

“In this crooked game of power politics here in America, the Negro, namely the race problem, integration and civil rights issues are all nothing but tools, used by the whites who call themselves liberals against another group of whites who call themselves conservatives, either to get into power or to retain power. Among whites here in America, the political teams are no longer divided into Democrats and Republicans. The whites who are now struggling for control of the American political throne are divided into liberal and conservative camps. The white liberals from both parties cross party lines to work together toward the same goal, and white conservatives from both parties do likewise.

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way; the liberal is more deceitful, more hypocritical, than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor and by winning the friendship and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or a weapon in this political football game, that is constantly raging between the white liberals and the white conservatives. The American Negro is nothing but a political football.”

For more, listen to:

Against this quite cynical stance of Malcolm X I would argue that the majority of us, white liberals, is genuinely touched by the fate of disadvantaged people, especially oppressed people of color. We feel for them. We sympathize with their just cause to better their socio-economic situation. We are prepared to stand next to them in the fight against racism. Because of the prevalence of drug abuse, poverty and crime in some of their neighborhoods, we understand that it is often very difficult for young black people to fully participate in a good educational process. Hell, we know that some of our own children, growing up in the best of circumstances, wouldn’t take their chances at school if it wasn’t for the high paid tutors to pull them through. Let alone that they would be able to take their chances if they would grow up like some of their disadvantaged black counterparts.

Blaming those black youngsters for their own situation would thus be hypocritical. This is all the more so because the system we receive our privilege from is the same system that keeps them oppressed. Moreover, as privileged white folk we are always partly responsible for maintaining that system and its inherent oppressive violence. That’s why we quite easily refer to socio-economic circumstances when we are confronted with criminal conduct of black youth. We are convinced that at least some of that conduct may be excused, since it is to be partially understood as a consequence of our own violence. And so it happens that by taking up the cause of the disadvantaged fellow citizen, we clear our conscience. We take the moral high ground by judging everything and everyone we perceive as oppressive or racist, while maintaining the same privilege and wealth as them.

Reflexes of the Privileged – The White Conservative in the White Liberal

On the surface we, white liberals, might seem very different from white racists who openly look down on poor and oppressed people of color. However, we don’t really change our white privileged mindset if we merely approach those downtrodden as “helpless victims” who cannot achieve anything without “white” help. At the same time we rave about Steven Pinker’s claim that the world becomes less violent because we rarely ever have to deal with violence directly. We rave about Rutger Bregman’s observation that most people are good until we have to personally deal with those good people doing bad things. In that case we very conveniently refer to the latter as “psychos” – or we use some other convenient monstrous depiction.

James Baldwin Quote on Real Change

The same goes for our attitude towards people we perceive as having a “free spirit”. We rightfully celebrate someone like James Baldwin (1924-1987) as an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Liberation Movement. However, we despise the 25 year old gay colleague who falls in love with a 17 year old adolescent. Perhaps this means that we would have only gossiped about James Baldwin if he would have been that colleague, because that is exactly what happened to him at 25.

This ambiguous attitude depends on the (physical or mental) distance between ourselves and the others we compare ourselves with. French American thinker René Girard (1923-2015) points out that others can become our heroes in a process of external mediation. This means that others who are somewhat external to our day-to-day life can become models or heroes we admire, and that they mediate some of our ambitions and (secret) dreams.

When those same others become part of the internal circle of our life, however, the dynamic of comparison may turn them into rivals. In a process of internal mediation our models easily become obstacles in the pursuit of our ambitions. They are often perceived as threats to our own position or way of life. That’s why we can stand the free spirited James Baldwin who is far away, and not the same free spirited person who is close by. The latter is often too intimidating. Just his mere presence is already experienced as competing with everything we unwittingly hold dear.

And so we listen to Charlie Parker (1920-1955) and Billie Holiday (1915-1959) in our hipster coffee houses, yet walk around the struggling musician, addicted to heroin, on the way home from work. We pity the poor young man who seems unable to escape a life of crime, yet condemn a poor young man from mixed descent like Diego Maradona, who did become successful and maintained his parents’ family from age 15. We Billie Holiday Quote on Plantationcuddle the rascal as long as he remains on the streets, but when he rises to the level (or beyond) our privileged situation we tend to look down on him. We actually don’t understand that you can take the man out of the street, but never completely the street out of the man, although we do pay lip service to that sentence. Someone like Maradona is a hero of the poor and the oppressed, first and foremost.

The fact that we often feel sympathy for the poor and the oppressed but sometimes look down on their heroes, is a sign of our complacent, paternalistic and condescending supremacy. Maybe we do want to remain saviors, so the problem we want to save people from has to also remain. Disadvantaged communities don’t need this type of false Messiahs. Therefore, we privileged liberals should realize that we often are more concerned with taking down our conservative “enemy” than with actually focusing on the victims of systemic injustices in our institutions. We should truly reflect on the fact and its implications that our lives, spent in the privileged layers of society, have more in common with the lives of our privileged conservative neighbors than with the lives of the disadvantaged. As long as we use movements like Black Lives Matter in a polarized political powerplay that actually drowns the potential for a policy of social reform, we will remain the folk that Malcolm X characterized so sharply.

Taking Matters into Own Hands

On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shoots 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida. He has already attempted suicide by then. His autism is one of the factors that makes him a target of heavy harassment throughout his youth. His story makes clear that it is not his autism per se that makes him violent to himself and to others, but the social rejection he experiences by bullies, time and again.

David Dorn

On June 2, 2020, a young man shoots David Dorn in front of a pawnshop in St. Louis. David Dorn is a 77-year-old African-American retired police captain. During the social unrest after the police murder of George Floyd, he tries to protect a friend’s pawnshop from looters. It becomes fatal to him. 24-year-old Stephan Cannon is arrested a week later on suspicion of murder.

What Nikolas Cruz and Stephan Cannon have in common is the experience of social rejection. Something like that has similar effects on the brain as physical violence. The former experiences systematic rejection because of his autism, the latter experiences systemic rejection because of his skin color. Both forms of rejection are to be condemned. Unfortunately, neither Cruz nor Cannon seem to experience this condemnation. As a result, they ultimately share another violent reality: they make innocent others, i.e. scapegoats pay for the frustrations they both experience in the course of their lives.

It might be tempting to further isolate perpetrators such as Cruz and Cannon and to explain their violent actions on the basis of a hyper-individual problem from which they would suffer. However, this is all too easy and actually indicates a cowardly attitude. The way communities are made up does play a role in the way individuals behave. In other words, each community has a share and a responsibility in the violence perpetrated by some individuals. Again, a social environment might not pull the trigger, but it often does hand the weapons (see above). This is not to say that perpetrators of violence themselves bear no overwhelming responsibility. Cruz and Cannon do have a freedom of choice. In the end, they pull the trigger – or not.

It is important that Black Lives Matter acknowledges that someone like Stephan Cannon is also one of those blacks who feel rejected in a society dominated by white privilege. Stephan Cannon’s violence, as a revenge against the violence of social discrimination, is an actual imitation and continuation of white supremacy violence. It is precisely for this reason that Black Lives Matter, in addition to making an analysis of the causes of revenge against innocent third parties, must also clearly condemn this form of violence. If it doesn’t, it puts that condemnation in the hands of its opponents. The latter can then continue to live with the illusion that they have nothing to do with the frustrations of a young criminal. In that case, a society dominated by white privilege remains blind to its own violence. The condemnation of violence is therefore not a side issue in the struggles of movements such as Black Lives Matter. It belongs to their essence, at least if they don’t want to become part of the violent hatred they thought they were opposing.

So it is important that protesters against injustices listen to people like Desiree Barnes (a former Obama aide, by the way):

Alphonso Jackson Quote on Victimization and Blame

Malcolm X did not advocate violence as a necessary means to solve the problem of racial injustices. Following Malcolm X, oppressed people of color are not helped by an approach that turns perpetrators of violence from their communities into mere victims of other violence. It only turns those communities as a whole into the poor victims privileged liberals paternalistically love to use in their rivalry over power against privileged conservatives. Again, if movements like Black Lives Matter do not condemn violence against innocent bystanders, those conservatives will easily put the blame for violence on the side of protesters and remain blind to the reality of systemic violent oppression.

In short, following Malcolm X and other African-American voices on the matter at hand, black people in America should not look at themselves through the eyes of some of the white conservatives or white liberals, who often treat them as criminals or victims respectively. They should look at themselves as people with the potential to create a more just society, who can take matters into their own hands, and who can become agents of change.

James Baldwin Quote on Higher Dreams

 

James Baldwin Quote on Love for America

Malcolm X Quote on Human Beings

 

Malcolm X Quote on White Liberal

 

Christian Love During Christmas Exams (Nietzsche vs Scheler)

It’s that time of year again. Advent? Christmas shopping? Charity fundraising? Sure. All of that and more. But also, exams!

It made me think of a particular situation between two friends, Jack and Bob. Jack used to come up to Bob in the morning, while Bob was repeating his courses for the exam that was about to take place. Jack would ask Bob these questions: “Did you pay special attention to that chapter? How long did you study, yesterday, for that part? At least five hours, no? Did you make sure to repeat the extracurricular material?” It drove Bob nuts! Jack made Bob feel bad about himself. Bob always thought that he was prepared well enough for his exams. After five minutes in the presence of Jack, however, Jack somehow managed to give Bob the eerie feeling that Bob might not be up to the task at hand, time and again!

Years later, I realized that this might have been Jack’s purpose all along, albeit maybe rather unconsciously. Sure, his annoying questions and remarks were always wrapped in a package of so-called “good intentions”. He seemed concerned about Bob. But as it turned out, this concern really was a way of troubling Bob. Jack’s “love” came from a little jealousy and resentment. After all, at the end of the day, Bob’s grades were always much better than Jack’s!

Things got worse when Bob started a relationship with the girl Jack secretly had fallen in love with. Her name was Marilyn. At first, Jack comforted himself with the thought that Marilyn “really was a dumb blonde”, and that “Bob was stupid for wanting a relationship with her”. Other friends of Jack confirmed Jack’s ideas. Jack hated Bob for being “so blind”. In the end, however, Jack’s hatred of Bob transformed to pity, even compassion. He felt sorry for Bob, who was “wasting time” with a girl like Marilyn. Once again, Jack managed to make Bob feel bad about himself!

According to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Christian love is comparable to Jack’s so-called love for his friend Bob.

Nietzsche claims that, in Antiquity, the Jews represented a group of weak people who were secretly jealous of the people in power. However, because they couldn’t possess the same position as the powerful, the Jews started comforting themselves with the delusion that “there is one true God who takes sides with the weak, the oppressed and marginalized victims”. The Jews became convinced that the gods at the side of the powerful were false, and that they wouldn’t want to trade places with “those blind, powerful people”. It is clear, in Nietzsche’s scenario, that this hatred of the powerful people’s position comes from hidden jealousy (hidden, even, from the jealous persons themselves). To get back to the aforementioned situation between Jack and Bob: Jack, who is secretly jealous of Bob, makes himself believe that he wouldn’t want to be in the situation of Bob with Marilyn to comfort himself for not obtaining that situation, like the Jews make themselves believe that they wouldn’t want to be in the situation of the powerful to comfort themselves for not obtaining that situation.

Calvin and Hobbes Resentment

Hatred is the first phase of resentment or, better still, ressentiment. Ressentiment literally is an aversion one develops towards something one secretly desires but cannot obtain. In Dutch a synonym for aversion (Dutch: “afkeer”) is “weerzin”, which goes back to a translation of the Latin prefix “re-” (“weer”) and the Latin noun “sensus” (“zin”). Sometimes ressentiment evolves into a second phase, whereby hatred transforms into a kind of compassion and love. Again according to Nietzsche, Christianity represents the second phase of the ressentiment of the Jews: instead of hating the powerful, Jesus of Nazareth starts pitying them. It’s like the story of Jack: in the end he no longer hates Bob, but he develops a feeling of compassion for Bob.

Still following Nietzsche, the dynamic of ressentiment is complete when the people one is secretly jealous of start feeling bad about themselves. That’s the ultimate revenge. Nietzsche claims that a Judeo-Christian morality based on ressentiment eventually contaminated western culture as a whole: powerful people started feeling bad about themselves. The powerful started developing a bad conscience, just like Bob under the influence of his so-called “worried friend” Jack.

Max Scheler & Friedrich Nietzsche

With all due respect to Nietzsche’s impressive account of ressentiment in the development of the West’s morality, it could be argued that Judeo-Christian love itself is not the result of ressentiment. Max Scheler (1874-1928) has done this. He concedes that ressentiment plays a powerful role in our world, but he firmly disagrees with Nietzsche concerning the true nature of Judeo-Christian morality. According to Scheler, Jesus of Nazareth embodies a love that is born, not from ressentiment or hidden jealousy, but from freedom. The love coming from Jesus of Nazareth is like the love of Johnny, yet another friend of Bob’s. Johnny truly was a happy camper, grateful for a life filled with more than he needed. He had a good relationship with his girlfriend Jacoba, for one thing, and at school he always got good grades. He was happy for Bob when Bob started his relationship with Marilyn. He was also concerned about the way Bob prepared for his exams, but contrary to Jack, Johnny sincerely looked after Bob because of Bob, and not because he needed to satisfy his hidden frustrations. In short, with his love, Johnny empowered Bob. Moreover, Johnny was able to reveal to Bob how Jack really was driven by resentment (or, better again, ressentiment), much in the same way as Jesus of Nazareth unveils the fears, the ressentiment and the ulterior motives of the people he meets. These types of revelations make possible new types of relationships between people: from love of one’s self-image (and its confirmation by others) to love of oneself and others. (For more on all this, especially on the way Jesus unmasks ressentiment, click here.)

It’s that time of year again, when we are challenged to imagine ourselves that a Being of Abundant Life comes to us as a fragile child in a manger, not because that Being of Abundant Life is secretly jealous of us, mere mortals, but to offer us a participation in its Abundant Life. That child in a manger does not want us to feel bad about ourselves, but it wants to empower us to love. And what other love responds more to the reality of that little, vulnerable babe than a love that comes from our fullness, from what we have to give rather than from our needs or what we are lacking? What other love responds more to the reality of that little, vulnerable babe than a love that is not driven by fear, wounded pride or resentment, but by hope and joy?

adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

A shepherd wants us to become shepherds, like a resurrected Abel, so like shepherds we shall adore him.

Fun@School (SJC Aalst, Collegecross, 2017)

Muslim WomenOnce upon a time, there was this Muslim woman who wore a headscarf and always went on a rant when she saw other Muslim women without headscarves. She thought Muslim women without the scarf were “bad Muslims”. After her husband died, however, she herself decided not to wear the scarf any longer and let her hair hang down. As it turned out, she had been afraid of her husband, her family and the village she used to live in, and that was the real reason why she had worn the scarf. She thought that she would have lost face when she didn’t dress like the other women in her village. All along, she had desired to walk around like Muslim women without a headscarf, but because she hadn’t been able to fulfill this desire, she had convinced herself that she didn’t want to walk around without a headscarf, and she had begun to despise women who didn’t wear a scarf. That’s how she had comforted herself, how she had reconciled herself with her situation. In other words, this woman had been driven by ressentiment: she had developed an aversion towards something she had secretly desired.

Muslim WomanA couple of years ago, I had the privilege of welcoming some Muslim girls in my religion class. Among them were two sisters from Chechnya. Years later I came across them again in the streets of my hometown. One was wearing a headscarf, the other was not. I asked the one without the scarf if she considered herself less religious than her sister. She assured me that this was not the case, and her sister, the one with the scarf, added that it was not really an issue. The latter also wasn’t at all disturbed that her sister didn’t wear a scarf. She was happy with wearing a headscarf, it was her freely chosen way of symbolizing her faith, but she could understand that her sister made other choices.

Makes you think… Apparently, to point the finger at someone sometimes has to do with a desire to uphold a certain reputation or image. If you do things because of love for what you are doing, you are less inclined to judge people who make other choices (within certain ethical limits, of course).

Collegecross SJC Aalst 2016Yesterday our high school (Sint-Jozefscollege, Aalst – Belgium) organized its yearly run. Since a couple of years, our senior year students try to make their run more playful and humorous, instead of competitive. They just want to have some fun together. What I notice, however, is that a few of them do feel tempted to act like a nuisance to other students (or, in the past, to teachers and principals as well). They can’t seem to accept that not every student has the same idea of fun and humor. To those (few) students who point fingers at supposedly “uncool” and “lacking sense of humor” classmates, I would ask: if you are enjoying yourselves and if you are having fun (because of love for… the fun!), why would you care about others and their idea of fun? The thing is, if “having fun” and “being humorous” become serious business, not allowed to being put into perspective and to being criticized, then they gradually lose the fun and the humor. Especially when they become moral instruments for judging others.

This all happens when “having fun” is not primarily a sign that people are enjoying themselves, but is a way of establishing a “cool” reputation or image. Some students seem to imagine that they are performing some “heroic act against an all too disciplined school system” (which is not the case; our school is very tolerating – but maybe some of our students are a bit spoiled?). Their all too necessary “humor” becomes an outlet for frustrations. Although they reproach others with being humorless, they themselves seem filled with bitterness, unable to minimize the importance of their “fun”. Fun at the expense of others is no fun at all. It is often a sign of ressentiment.

In short, like a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because she wants to uphold a certain reputation, some students “have fun” because they want to be noticed as “cool dudes”. It’s basic narcissism. And like the Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because of her image has the tendency to point fingers at others (she blames Muslim women without a headscarf for “not being true Muslims”), some students who “have fun” because of their image also have the tendency to point fingers at others (they blame the student who doesn’t take part in their particular activity for “not being humorous”).

Charlie Chaplin Quote on Laugh

On the other hand, a Muslim woman who freely wears a headscarf, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. She will not bother or harm others. After all, she loves how she dresses. Equally, students who freely enjoy themselves, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. They will not bother or harm others. After all, they love what they are doing…

Gay & Muslim, Twice the Scapegoat

Who or what is to blame for the massacre at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida (June 12, 2016)? Muslims? Religious people in general? Islam? Religion in general? Or just the twisted mindset of a troubled individual?

Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American Muslim of Afghan descent leaves 49 people dead and 53 injured after opening fire at Pulse, the gay night club he allegedly visited himself on a regular basis. He was eventually shot by the police. Being a regular visitor of the club, as well as his use of gay dating sites, suggest Mateen was gay himself. His ex-wife also made the claim that he was gay. So maybe it was ressentiment that drove him (for similar examples, click here)?

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that religion often advocates intolerance and hatred against LGBT people. Religious leaders past and present have discriminated against LGBT people. For instance, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Christian evangelicals Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed gays and lesbians, among other people, for the attacks (which they interpreted as “the wrath of God”). Jerry Falwell stated (for more on this, click here):

Muslim Lesbian Gay HappyI really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

In other words, some religious people hold LGBT people themselves responsible for the oppression and violence they have to endure, allegedly “because they don’t respect God and His laws”. Seen from the perspective of René Girard’s mimetic theory, this is a form of scapegoating: instead of taking responsibility for their own intolerant and sometimes violent attitude, the perpetrators of hate crimes blame the victims and even God for their own terrorist behavior.

The aversion to LGBT people and their sexuality by certain religious people is sometimes mirrored by an aversion to religion by certain “anti-theists”. In the words of Girard, this makes the latter doubles of their theist counterparts. Because religion is seen as one of the main causes of evil, hatred and violence in the world, certain people would rather eradicate religion, blaming religious people for fostering one of the main breeding grounds for evil, and thus start scapegoating themselves. Bill Maher, for example, in the mockumentary Religulous:

LGBT MuslimsThis is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. […] If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a Mafia wife, with the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of a religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was: That we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.

Well, seen from Bill Maher’s perspective, you’re in big trouble if you are gay and Muslim. You shouldn’t be surprised that you experience violence because being a Muslim, being religious is, in the words of Bill Maher, being “an enabler of homophobia and violence”. Once again the (potential) victim, in this case the gay Muslim, is held responsible, this time by so-called anti-religionists, for the violence the victim might have to endure.

In short, some people scapegoat people for being gay, others scapegoat people for being religious. Being gay and muslim means running the risk of being twice the scapegoat.

I am Gay and Muslim

From a spiritual perspective we are challenged to criticize ourselves by listening to the Voice of our (potential) Victim, by listening to the voice of the scapegoat, in order to become “the change we want to see”. Maybe “true Islam” is not a religion of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and violence. Maybe “true Islam” is the religion of a “radical minority” that testifies to the Love of “the Merciful One”.

In the words of a gay Muslim man from the documentary I am Gay and Muslim:

No one has the right to tell me whether I’m a good Muslim or not.



To put things in perspective, an overview of mass shootings in the US of the last decades shows that most of the murderers didn’t need religion to get them to kill people. Some even hated religion. All they needed was easy access to guns and all too human characteristics played out in the wrong circumstances:

July 18, 1984: unemployed security guard James Oliver Huberty kills 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. He is killed himself by a police sniper.

October 16, 1991: George Jo Hennard crashes his pickup into a Luby’s cafetaria and begins firing, killing 22 people before taking his own life.

April 20, 1999: Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people before taking their own lives.

April 16, 2007: student Seung-hui Cho kills 32 people on Virginia Tech campus and eventually commits suicide.

April 3, 2009: Jiverly Voong kills 13 people when attacking Binghampton immigration center in New York state.

November 5, 2009: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, attacks Fort Hood in Texas and kills 13 people.

July 20, 2012: James Holmes kills 12 people in what became known as the Colorado cinema shooting, during the screening of the new Batman movie.

December 14, 2012: Adam Lanza kills 27 people, including himself, during an attack on Newtown school in Connecticut.

September 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, kills 12 people at Washington Navy Yard.

June 18, 2015: Dylann Roof kills 9 people at Charleston prayer meeting.

December 2, 2015: Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people at a community centre in San Bernardino. They die in police shootout.

June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen kills 49 people and injures another 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

no to homophobia islamophobia

Scapegoating in American Beauty

Scapegoat Mechanism – Type 3 (SMT3): ressentiment

[see previous post “Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism”]

 

an example

 

 

THE CHARACTER OF COLONEL FRANK FITTS

IN THE Movie

american beauty

(DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES)

 

 

American Beauty Ricky Fitts FilmingAlan Ball, who wrote the story, said the following about the main theme of the movie:

“I think I was writing about … how it’s becoming harder and harder to live an authentic life when we live in a world that seems to focus on appearance … For all the differences between now and the [1950s], in a lot of ways this is just as oppressively conformist a time … You see so many people who strive to live the unauthentic life and then they get there and they wonder why they’re not happy … I didn’t realize it when I sat down to write [American Beauty], but these ideas are important to me.”

– Alan Ball in Chumo II, Peter N. (January 2000). “American Beauty: An Interview with Alan Ball”. Creative Screenwriting Magazine (Los Angeles: Creative Screenwriters Group) 7 (1): 26–35 (p.32).

 

The character of “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” certainly is one poignant example of someone who is “keeping up appearances” at a very high price. His situation can be summarized as follows:

CLICK TO SEE THE SCHEME (PDF)

Frank Fitts

American Beauty Rose Plastic BagThroughout the film it becomes clear that Frank Fitts is secretly gay and that he is jealous of gay people who “came out of the closet.” He dares not reveal himself as a homosexual, though, for fear of being cast out by the social environment whose recognition he has mimetically learned to desire. Frank Fitts always presents himself as “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” and apparently this self-concept considers homosexuality as “something to be ashamed of.” He can’t stand being around openly gay people, like his two neighbors Jim and Jim, because they awaken his hidden homosexual desires. Frank Fitts resents and hates what he actually desires. When he thinks that his son Ricky is in a gay relationship with his neighbor Lester Burnham, he threatens to throw him out of the house and to banish him forever. Frank Fitts constantly justifies his acts of terror by making his victims responsible for the violence they have to endure. He constantly applies some sort of scapegoat mechanism, his victims “should be ashamed!” They should feel guilty about something they actually shouldn’t feel guilty about…

Frank Fitts is willing to do anything to protect his socially mediated (self-)image. His scapegoating of openly gay people helps him to be somewhat  at peace with his own life, although he is a bitter man. Finally, he reveals himself as a homosexual to his neighbor Lester Burnham, whom he wrongfully considers gay. Frank tries to kiss Lester, but Lester turns him down. Afraid of what might happen, Frank ends up murdering Lester in order to prevent the loss of his so-called acceptable (self-)image. In other words, the sacrifice of Lester – in no ways responsible for what happened to Frank, hence a scapegoat – seems necessary for Frank to fulfill his desire for recognition. In still other words, eros – a mimetically ignited love for some image or social status – leads to thanatos (death) to put an end to some identity crisis.

BE SURE TO WATCH THE EXCERPTS FROM AMERICAN BEAUTY WITH ADDITIONAL NOTES TO SEE HOW THE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS DEAL WITH

“THE LOSS OF APPEARANCES”

 

– CLICK TO WATCH: