Voltaire said that anything too stupid to be said is sung (or maybe it was Pierre de Beaumarchais). I say that anything too stupid to be said or sung is put into a meme.
Take this meme, for example. For centuries to come, experts on memes – memeologists, if you prefer – will debate about how the author could cram so much stupidity into such a small space. How could anyone believe that white, straight, Republican, Southern gun owners have fewer freedoms than people from other demographics?
You know what this meme is really about? Privilege.
Whoa, hey, don’t leave! Okay, I know you’re sick to death of hearing about privilege, particularly if you have any. But that’s one of the benefits of privilege: you can be tired of hearing about it. You can pretend it doesn’t apply to you, or that it doesn’t even exist. (You’d be wrong, but you can pretend.) That’s a luxury afforded only to people that have privilege. Underprivileged people are achingly aware of the privilege that others have. It must be the highest form of insult to an underprivileged person when somebody whom the nation bends over backwards to appease claims to be disenfranchised.
I’ve already given a name to this particular syndrome: Perceived Reverse Victimization. I wrote about it here and here. PRV happens when a person with privilege and power is asked to stop being such a jerk to the underprivileged, and in response, the privileged person plays the victim card. The only right these people have lost in recent history is the right to visit unfettered abuse upon others. If you ask me – and most other people, I think – that’s a right no one should have, but it’s the only right people with PRV can legitimately claim to have lost. That makes this meme not only stupid, but despicable as well. When you get down to brass tacks, this meme is essentially saying “I sure do miss the days when people who look and think like me could trample the rights of people who don’t.”
Let me be clear: white, straight, Republican, Southern gun owners are not currently being treated like second-class citizens, nor have they been at any time in recent history. They are still near the top of the social heap. Let’s take a few moments to look at these five (often overlapping) demographics, to assess each group’s privilege, and to consider what may have happened in recent months to make them feel (incorrectly) as if their rights are being curtailed.
White people enjoy a range of privileges so broad that when most people think of privilege, they’re thinking specifically of white privilege. I’ve discussed white privilege before, and so have a lot of other people. Being white ensures that you will always enjoy certain privileges, even if you don’t ask for them. For example, when Dylann Roof was labeled a terrorist in the media for murdering nine black people during a bible study, did you hear anybody implying that all white people are terrorists? Probably not. But what if he had been a Middle Eastern Muslim? The fact that Roof’s actions are not being viewed as representative of the entire white race is just one example of white privilege – a privilege that other ethnic groups are seldom afforded.
If you are white – as I am – that’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be born white, so you may be thinking that the unbalanced social treatment of various ethnic groups is not your responsibility. But it is your responsibility to be aware of your privilege, and to avoid saying things as daft as “white people are not free to live as they wish”.
What could make some white people feel as if they were losing rights? Honestly, I have no idea. To the best of my knowledge, no laws have been implemented that unfairly diminish the rights of white people. By any measure of legal, economic, or social privilege, white people as a group have it made. Let’s move on.
Straight people enjoy nearly as much privilege as white people. This is especially true if you happen to be straight and cis-gendered. (Cis-gendered means that your gender identity and your biological sex are congruent; in other words, if you were born with a penis, you identify as a man, and if you were born with a vagina, you identify as a woman. While sexuality and gender identity are separate aspects of a person’s self, they can play similar roles in determining how much – or how little – social privilege a person enjoys.)
If you are a heterosexual person living in the United States – particularly since Loving v. Virginia in 1967 – you have never had to worry that your state government wouldn’t permit you to marry somebody you love. Gay people have only recently gained that right, and there are still state officials pushing back against it. If you’re straight, you’ve probably never experienced the humiliation of being lectured by overzealous pastors about how your “lifestyle choice” is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. When you showed up at prom with your date, your school officials did not tell you that you could not enter. You’ve never had to worry about being brutally murdered because of your sexuality.
The recent Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriages legal across the land has certainly offended many people. (A less genteel blogger might call these people “bigots” or “homophobes”, but I try to hold myself to a higher standard.) Is being offended the same as being stripped of your rights? This meme seems to suggest that it is. I contend that it is not. If you are straight, you’ve got the same amount of rights that you have always had. You are simply asked not to deprive others of the privileges you enjoy.
Republicans have the same rights as Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and any other political party. In fact, Republicans currently control both houses of Congress and many, many state legislatures, which makes this particular claim especially ludicrous. Republicans’ rights aren’t going away anytime soon.
Why would somebody think that Republicans’ rights are being shorn away? Oh right, because a person who occupies all five points of the American star of privilege – a great percentage of whom have Republican sympathies – is also the most likely to deny that he has any privilege at all.
Gun owners have gained rights, thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA (No Regulations Anywhere) and other gun rights lobbying groups. Contrary to the conservative-fueled paranoid fantasies of some gun owners, President Obama and his evil cronies have not seized guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens; in fact, many states have eased restrictions on gun ownership. Every time a mass shooting occurs, reasonable suggestions regarding gun regulations are shouted down by people who fear that they will lose their completely necessary and not at all excessive private arsenal.
Look, I don’t care if you own a gun or two – I actually do feel that it’s your right. I also feel that there should be ample documentation about exactly what kind of guns you own and where they’re located. While most guns will not be used in the commission of a crime, it would be nice if there existed a national database by which the guns that were used could be tracked more easily. I know that scares some gun owners – particularly because they’ve swallowed the aforementioned nonsense about having their guns taken away – but it’s time to put aside those irrational fears and dedicate yourself to creating a safer America. If you won’t give up your guns – and believe me, nobody with any power is asking you to do so – then at least acknowledge their destructive power and fill out a few documents.
And for crying out loud, stop claiming that your rights are being erased. You sound ridiculous.
Southerners – oh, poor, poor, Southerners; we’ve been lied to. Not by the Northern Aggressors, but by our fellow Southerners. We’ve been sold an image of the Confederacy as a nation of men with noble purposes and a longing to breathe free – not as slavers hell-bent on protecting their rights to own other people. We’ve been told that the Confederate flag – which should be a long-dead relic of a flawed philosophy – is actually a symbol of Southern pride. We’ve been told that we are in danger of losing our rights if state legislatures finally acknowledge the Confederate flag as the symbol of hate it always has been, and take the overdue step of removing it. We’ve been told that the decisions of private enterprises to not sell Confederate flag merchandise is somehow a violation of our personal rights as citizens. We’ve been told that we’re the victims of censorship.
We’ve been fed a load of racist bullshit, and too many of us are swallowing it without hesitation.
I’ve lived south of the Mason-Dixon line my entire life, but I’ve never really felt like a Southerner; just an American. Perhaps that’s why I don’t quite get this feeling of Southern Victimization. At no point have I felt that I wasn’t enjoying the maximum amount of rights bestowed to any American citizen. I’ve never bought into the premise that I personally suffered because of where I was born and raised.
If America lived up to its own ideals of justice and equality for all, then this meme would be, say, 50% less odious; it would still be stupid, but not necessarily hateful. But the fact that there are still people in this nation struggling to make their voices heard above the din of a social machine telling them to know their place, makes it especially arrogant for those of us blessed with privilege to claim otherwise.