I’ve been thinking about the way that “treating everyone the same” functions to magnify privilege and reinforce extant power dynamics, rather than promoting equality.
Two examples from divergent worlds. First, Daniel Handler’s statement on Gwenda Bond’s blog. At one point he writes, “As someone who’s been a struggling author, I take seriously the responsibilities of my visibility, and have always thought that treating all of my colleagues the same was the best way to dispel the unease that can come from a competitive or self-conscious environment.” But of course, people aren’t the same, and making dirty jokes at female authors you have just met in professional spaces has a different impact than in more intimate settings.
Then there’s Quinn Norton, recently fired from the New York Times (within hours) when it emerged that she’s a pal of Nazis and uses homophobic and racist slurs frequently. She compared Nazis to Meat Eaters (saying the latter are worse) in her tweets, and you can see my tweets on the vice-signaling going on by giving her a column.
I understand the impulse to quickly give Norton a column to explain herself. It’s a good get. But I think it would be smarter to have a column on her – an interview, but also people who understand Weev’s impact, people who study how de-radicalizing Nazis actually works.
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) February 27, 2018
But I’m struck by the safety she feels in treating everyone the same. She writes:
I was called a Nazi because of my friendship with the infamous neo-Nazi known on the internet as weev—his given name is Andrew Auernheimer; he helps run the anti-Semitic website The Daily Stormer. In my pacifism, I can’t reject a friendship, even when a friend has taken such a horrifying path. I am not the judge of who is capable of improving as a person. This philosophy also requires me to confront him about his terrible beliefs and their terrible consequences. I have been doing this since before his brief time as a cause célèbre in 2012—I believe it’d be hypocritical for me to turn away from this obligation. weev is just one of many terrible people I’ve cared for in my life. I don’t support what my terrible friend believes or does. But I strongly advocate for people with a good sense of themselves and their values to engage with their terrible friends, coworkers, and relatives, to lovingly confront them for as long as it takes, and it would be wrong to not do so myself. I had what I now see as the advantage of coming from a family of terrible people. This taught me that not everyone worthy of love is worthy of emulation. It also taught me that being given terrible ideas is not a destiny, and that intervention can change lives.
This is deeply ignorant of, for example, the way that weev is also trying to radicalize her. This is not how de-radicalization works. Moreover, there are people who are harmed by the Daily Stormer, which weev runs (the killer in Parkland had Nazi sympathies, for example. I’d be shocked if his web trail doesn’t include Stormfront).
But it’s the flip side of Handler’s treat everyone equally rudely and crudely approach. Treat everyone nicely, no matter what harms they do. Treat everyone the same, no matter what harms you do. Only a person who recklessly avoids understanding how human societies work could live by such a code.
And I doubt, if you dig deep enough, that they really do treat everyone the same. Norton finds being friends with Nazis interesting and she would like to tell you about it.
Treating everyone the same is something only a person absolutely convinced of their own safety can do.