Celeste Ng, author of the 2017 novel Little Fires Everywhere (the basis for the new Hulu series), recently stated in a Buzzfeed article that the TV show is a challenge to “well-intentioned white women”.
It seems that Ng believes that the best way to have a conversation about race in modern America is for oppressed minorities to chastise white people for being white.
But the show isn’t trying to start a conversation about race.
It’s trying to preach at its audience with an explicit sociopolitical view, one that states that white women, even those who are “well-intentioned”, are guilty of privilege and should “be better”.
Imagine the outrage that would be leveled at a straight white male creator claiming that his latest work was designed to challenge well-intentioned black women.
The outrage would be completely justified. It would be an example of a member of one racial and sexual group making a broad generalization about a different racial and sexual group, and appointing himself the one to show them the way.
But why does someone like Ng, an Asian female, get away with it?
According to the principles of identity politics, being a member of a “marginalized” group — women, LGBTQQIA+, people of color, etc. — means you have the license to criticize and lecture others simply for having an identity that exists outside of the bastard hierarchy that is intersectionality.
This is a door that only swings one way; those who are straight, white, and/or male don’t have the same privilege of being able to shine a spotlight on others’ surface characteristics and assign moral values to them without consequence.
Nor should they.
But also, nor should ANYONE.
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A woman admonishing a man for his “toxic masculinity”; a black person scolding a white person for their “whiteness”; an LGBTQQIA+ person lectures a straight person on their “cis-heteronormativity” — these are all seen as Punching Up.
However, if the end goal is an enlightened and just society — one which, to be fair, I think even the most hellbent woke person is working towards — we have to establish that Punching Up is really just Punching Sideways; we’re all humans, and attacking others simply because they were born with certain traits and advantages that you don’t have is a terrible way to bring about unity.
Being “oppressed” shouldn’t shield you from criticism when you’re invoking the bigotry you claim to fight against. Nothing should.
We should all strive to foster a culture in which one’s race, gender, sexuality, and other surface characteristics are regarded with the same importance as their hair color, number of freckles, height, etc. That is, with basically no importance.
But the only way to do that is to acknowledge that one’s identity doesn’t matter. It’s their character that matters.
We have to establish the primacy of the individual, to embody the idea that a person’s superficial attributes aren’t what define them or their value in society.
Yes, skin color and genitalia CAN have an impact on a person’s experience, and those within certain groups CAN have similar worldviews. But humans are too messy, too dynamic to be cleanly shoved into cramped boxes that can be easily labeled for political convenience.
And that’s a good thing.
It means that we all have an opportunity to learn something from everyone we meet.
That’s a privilege that we should all enjoy.