Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Well-Meaning White (and White-Bred) People

Here's a phrase that I've been hearing a lot of lately: well-meaning white people.

The funny thing about this phrase in its currently fashionable usage is that while it is meant, literally, to indicate the positive correlate to the negative ill-meaning white people, it is nonetheless still employed as a kind of soft epithet. When we talk about well-meaning white people we do not mean the good guys with the white skins as distinct from the bad guys with the white skins. We mean, instead, lame-o's.

Which is to say, apparently white people come in one of two types: bad guys (racists, one assumes, given the preponderant focus on skin colour here) and a kind of loser/fool hybrid.

Charming! You'll be sure to tell me which category I belong to, as I'm either too racist or too much of a grinning dope to be able to say for myself. (We won't get into the stickier business of which of these the average white person would prefer to be thought of as in the absence of a category that pays even a lip-service to human dignity.)

Jian Ghomeshi--who is of Iranian descent, and therefore not white, and who hosts CBC radio's Q--recently used this phrase in a piece he wrote for the National Post's (ongoingly deplorable) arts and letters section. The article undertakes to examine the etymology of another phrase--one that I, personally, have never noticed being notably used--"back in the day."

Transgress those cultural boundaries, Jian!

Now, I should say that it was not the use of the locution "well-meaning white people" that bothered me here. To be quite honest, I'll admit that if I haven't used precisely those words to describe the sort of weed who (to draw on a relevant example) listens to Q, then it is by pure accident. These people do exist. And they are, unquestionably, idiots ... That they are also Jian's target audience is, for the purposes of this argument, but an irony en passant.

And it is not the fact that Jian continues on this theme throughout his column in such a relentlessly and shamelessly insulting way: talking about "hip-hop culture being appropriated and bleached by the dominant mainstream class" (my emphasis) and quoting a man so culturally and spiritually barren that he actually
... refuses to say 'back in the day' ... and laments that it's lost all of its original meaning. He argues it's been overused into transparency. "It's the equivalent of the 45-year old white guy who uses the term 'my bad' without a trace of irony. I just want to slap the guy."
That even this sort of trite, lame ass sentiment--if it were directed at anyone other than white people, that is--could earn Jian a short, sharply-worded complaint from one (or all) of our Human Rights Commissions, is, I repeat, not the thing that troubles me here.

No, rather, what really gets up my pinched Scot's nose about this piece is its naked shittiness (from the point of view of journalistic craft, you understand); its complete lack of relevance, its complete lack of interest, intelligence, discernment ... What really bugs me about it is that the only apparent reason that I can make out that it was paid for and printed by the National Post's arts editors, is that they are themselves a bunch of well-meaning white people, and thus decided to let substance hang where they could get a little trendy self-admiring self-deprecation in by way of (double plus!) a token non-white person.

That is: the problem is not that the piece is belittling of white people; the problem is that--in spite of its pop-intellectual newsytainment aspirations--that's all that it is. That's the only thing the piece succeeds at!

I'm sorry, but if I'm to be roasted for the colour of my skin, then I should prefer that it be done by someone with a brain, an education, and the bare minimum of competence.