By Doctor Comrade
Potential third-party voters have been continuously attacked for ignoring the realities of the 2016 presidential election: only Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected the next president. Many potential third-party voters have been accused of privilege because their abstinence from the two-party system may help Donald Trump. Robbie Medwed summarized this line of thinking: "While third-party voters are out there trying to make a statement, the rest of us have to deal with the fallout. It’s an incredible statement of privilege to be able to vote for a third-party candidate and accept the consequences of a loss without much harm." In general, this statement is aimed at educated, white, cis-gender, male, upper- and middle-class voters who will not be victims of Donald Trump's policies.
Accusations of privilege are quite damning, and they often draw the identity those accused of privilege into sharp relief. Accusations of privilege can cast doubt on a person's perspective, arguments, and beliefs, and rightly so: privilege can prevent someone from having empathy with those who are suffering. In this light, accusations of privilege can be used to criticize and evaluate the strength of someone's arguments.
But pointing out someone's privilege is not sufficient to end or win an argument. Rather, evaluating privilege should be the beginning of a conversation, a kind of statement of ground rules that the discussants can refer to throughout the discussion. Of course, privilege is a part of one's identity which can--and does--influence the perspectives they may take on certain issues. Privilege may be formative of someone's ideology, or it may prevent someone from understanding the subjective experiences of others. Privilege can provide excuses for people to ignore, denigrate, or otherwise marginalize certain points of view. We've seen this numerous times when white people ignore or decry claims of racism that come from people of color, and instead they choose to believe that racism either doesn't exist or is overblown. Similarly, many men have dismissed the very real threats of violence faced by women on a daily basis, or even defended sexually aggressive men who have impinged on the wellbeing of women. We've seen terms to describe these phenomena as well: casual racism, white privilege, rape culture, mansplaining, etc. These terms attempt to make privileged people aware of their privilege while also critiquing the real ways that privilege manifests in behavior and ideology.
Establishing an observance of "privilege" should be a fundamental part of any debate. This observance can establish a metalinguistic rule that can accompany other rules which have already been tacitly agreed upon (for example, namecalling and ad hominem attacks are generally discounted as being against certain rules of decorum. Similarly, acknowledging one's privilege can follow this format, as one should constantly be evaluating their language and arguments for the effects of privilege in much the same way they may avoid certain unfair or off-limits attacks in their argumentation). There are numerous stated and unstated rules which govern any discourse. Acknowledging, evaluating, and taking privilege into account is a worthy goal for the beginning of any debate on socioeconomic issues.
But accusations of privilege cannot and should not be deployed as the only means to end a discussion on certain subjects. A white person can oppose racism, or a man can oppose sexism, or a wealthy person can oppose classism, or an American can oppose imperialism, or a straight person can oppose homophobia, or a cis-gender person can oppose transphobia, etc. The problem is not that privilege means anyone outside a marginalized group has nothing to say on a social issue; rather, privilege means they should be aware of how their words, actions, rhetoric, and behavior affect people in those marginalized groups. More importantly, people of privilege must be ready to listen and acknowledge critiques aimed at them and their privilege. That means white people must acknowledge critiques of racism and the way that white people are complicit in racist discourse (including the silencing of the voices of people of color when they are drowned out by whites); men must acknowledge critiques of sexism and the way that all men are complicit in sexist discourse; etc.
In essence, people of privilege must be ready to answer for the ways their privilege has silenced the voices of marginalized people.
And moreover, when people of privilege participate in a discussion, they must be aware of the ways their discourse may silence, marginalize, or do violence to the discourse of others.
And third, people of privilege must acknowledge the intersectional oppression faced by other people, and must constantly evaluate how their rhetoric may correspond to a form of silencing, oppression, or marginalization.
Once these rules are understood by all parties, then a discussion can take place. It must be open, and people of privilege must listen to and attempt to understand the perspectives of others. If privilege blinds some people to the perspectives of others, this is how that blindness will be dismantled: by opening their eyes to new experiences, perspectives, feelings, and modes of discourse.
This is why conversations that seek to shame Leftists for not voting for Hillary Clinton are so abhorrent. Many writers and critics have accused Leftists of enjoying the utmost privilege because they have the luxury of helping Donald Trump win and not facing any consequences if that happens: white men who oppose Hillary Clinton will not be subject to the abortion restrictions, immigration restrictions, racist violence, or any number of consequences if Trump wins, and therefore they are only against Clinton because they are privileged enough to be that way. That is how we are portrayed: the privileged whiners who face no consequences if she loses.
But these criticisms ignore several crucial points. For one, these well-meaning liberals claim to speak for oppressed groups, but have systematically ignored or silenced the criticisms of Hillary Clinton that have come from the very groups they claim to represent. Morgana Visser, who is a trans woman, authored perhaps the most famous of critique of this liberal worldview: "You’re Not Voting For Hillary To Protect Me," in which she argues that "This is not the first election that has made me fear for my life and it will not be the last. Any discourse that says 'If you don’t vote for Hillary, you’re privileged' ought to be tossed out the door. Because for many of us that are marginalized, it is not privilege that causes us to not vote for Hillary, it is our fear of the violence and disempowerment that will be caused by her. So let’s be clear, you’re not voting for Hillary to protect marginalized people, you’re voting for Hillary because you want yours." Or feminist Sarah Lazare, who argued, "Feminists should unequivocally declare that Clinton’s policies of war and empire that kill, wound and traumatize women around the world are not compatible with feminism. Of course we defend any woman, including Clinton, against sexism. But that defense must not lead to reflexive embrace of an entire platform, nor claims that elite politicians like Clinton somehow have a monopoly on feminism." Or journalist Rania Khalek, who has written extensively on Clinton's foreign policy, who argues, "Clinton is also dangerous to world stability. And unlike Trump, she has the blood on her hands to prove it. If lesser evilism is the goal, as establishment pundits insist, it remains unclear who the lesser evil is – if the choice is limited to Trump or Clinton." (A longer list of these kinds of critiques was published by Full Praxis Now.)
This begs the question: are the people who criticize Leftists for "privilege" actually being blinded by their own privilege?
It certainly appears that way. Forcing Leftists to vote for Clinton is an example of First-Worldism, American exceptionalism, nationalism, and imperialism. For liberals to claim that we must vote for Clinton or minorities will suffer, they ignore the ways in which Clinton has already facilitated the suffering of marginalized peoples abroad through her hawkish foreign policy, and the ways she will continue to make people suffer when she is elected president. It is pure hypocrisy to demand loyalty to Clinton because she protects LGBTQ rights in the US, while at the same time LGBTQ people are oppressed by a theocratic fascist ally of the Clintons in Saudi Arabia. It is pure hypocrisy to demand loyalty to her when the foreign policy she helped develop and still supports is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Syria, Libya, and Somalia. And Clinton's history on women's issues, which liberals need to believe is part of her sterling record, is deeply troubling: anti-teacher policies in Arkansas, anti-union activities while on the board of Walmart, welfare reform that targeted single black mothers, opposition to wage increases for Haitian garment workers, stigmatization of abortion, etc. Hillary Clinton's bourgeois feminism is misleading at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Americentric privilege obscures the ways in which a progressive social policy at home does not justify a violent, repressive, and destructive social policy abroad. And before I am accused of equating Trump and Clinton, I'm not saying that Trump is better: clearly he's much, much, much worse. But I am saying that Trump and Clinton are both unacceptable, and there is no world in which I could force myself to vote for one form of imperialism over another.
What mainstream liberals have done is reaffirm the most privileged position possible: a First-Worldist, un-class conscious privilege that further marginalizes those people beyond the political mainstream. We shouldn't be accused of privilege when liberals are hiding behind their own privilege. They are asking communists and socialists to sacrifice their own ideals for the sake of political expediency, and they ignore the ways in which Hillary Clinton represents the pinnacle of American exceptionalism and privilege (a rich white woman with a hawkish foreign policy who supports drone strikes against civilian centers where thousands of women and children live, who is pro-Israel and Zionist colonialism, and who has routinely opposed the struggles of working people both domestically and abroad). It is this potent First-Worldism which claims to protect marginalized people at home while at the same time allowing those same marginalized people to die or suffer abroad.
Those who make a claim of privilege must first and foremost examine their own ideology before attacking that of other people. They assume Leftists come from a place of privilege while at the same time refusing to evaluate their own exceptionalist thinking.
More importantly, if liberals want to condescend towards Leftists, then perhaps they should get Democrats in a line first. When Nader was accused of costing Gore Florida, it was because 28,000 Democrats voted for him. Except no one seems to remember that 308,000 Democrats voted for Bush. In this election, Clinton is struggling to motivate the Obama coalition to vote for her. But it is not the fault of those Obama-holdouts; it's Clinton's fault and it's the DNC's fault for producing an uninspiring, deeply corrupt, unlikable candidate, and it is not the responsibility of the socialists and the communists to get in a line behind her.
So it is the very height of privilege to ask us to compromise our beliefs--which have always been explicitly anti-fascist--when Democrats would never dream of voting for one of our candidates. Imagine if Ted Cruz began asking anarchists to vote for him during the primaries, and telling them that if they didn't vote for him, then Trump would win. Now the anarchists would bristle at these assumptions--not only that the democratic process is a legitimate form of government, but also at the presumption that their voices and beliefs mattered less than other voters simply by the weight of their previously existing political beliefs. This is the same situation: communists and socialists do not belong to the Democrats, and asking us to compromise on our beliefs because of "privilege" misses how privilege manifests in daily discourse, and it misses how even the term "privilege" does not take into account the accuser's worldview.
Privilege must be addressed because it is part of the ideological milieu which often blinds people to the suffering of others--or worse, gives them an excuse to victim-blame people who are suffering. Underlying any serious Ideologiekritik is the implicit assumption that privilege is one of the many facets of ideology that comes under scrutiny. However, just because I pass for white and have probably never experienced racism firsthand does not mean that I can't criticize racism; and because I am a man, I have probably never experienced sexism firsthand, but I still criticize sexism; and because I am American, I have never had an American missile dropped on my family, but I can still criticize imperialism. I understand my privilege and how lucky I am to not be a victim of American foreign policy, and I also understand I will probably avoid most of the tyranny of a Trump Presidency. Yet simultaneously, we must continue to criticize the underlying assumptions which say that siding against Clinton is equivalent privilege, especially coming from First-Worldists who don't care about the women and queer people who will die under a Clinton foreign policy.