Racist Violence: a Preliminary Thought

I’ve complained, many times, about how our dependence on our phones and on the internet has relocated us into a world of abstractions. We no longer live in the tangible realm of the sensual body, people and things that are immediately present, here and now. These days, we are all drifting through a misty void of words, statistics, metaphors, symbols, semiotics, concepts, half-thought-out ideas, unsubstantiated claims, and unprovable theories.

In this environment, aggrieved activists use the word “violence” as a metaphor to denote anything that anybody else has said that has upset them. It is a deeply inappropriate misuse. Violence is real, not a metaphor. Violence is an irreducible, untranslatable fact. Wordless and visceral, it is the ultimate, unanswerable response to our self-congratulatory social science debates, our clamour for the insubstantial hypotheticals of social justice, inalienable human rights, and egalitarian societies: an argument-ending reminder that we are still, at root, physical, biological creatures, and despite all our clever talk, we can be easily silenced.

This misuse reveals the danger of taking the theory of “Micro-aggressions” too far and too seriously. Small insensitivities may form part of a culture of prejudice, but they might also just be coincidental. Everyone’s verbally and socially clumsy, at times. People are annoying. They say the wrong thing. 

It’s no doubt deeply irritating to have to tolerate white kids’ twittery and the silly assumptions they impose on you, but to describe the experience as “violence” is to reveal quite how entitled and complacent Social Justice activists have become. It belittles and insults the survivors of real, actual racist violence, and their experience of such terrible powerlessness. To equate your experiences to that of the victims of true oppression is to undermine the struggle and allow us all to be dismissed as overly-sensitive solipsists.

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