Dumb and Dumber, the left’s two worst ideas
By Jules Older
Editor’s note: Jules Older is a Vermonter turned New Zealander who works as an executive consultant, medical educator, crisis counselor and writer.
Don’t let that headline fool you — I bat left. I know the 2020 election wasn’t rigged, I think abortion is a woman’s right, I’m sure Bill Gates didn’t invent covid vaccine so he could control the world, and I’m dead-certain that yes, Black lives do matter. Oh, and climate change is both real and really alarming.
I bat left, but I can switch-hit. When my team comes up with a terrible idea, I say so. When it comes up with two in a row — read on.
The first dumb doctrine has been around for a long time; in my view, way too long a time. The notion that so irks me is — heavy sigh — appropriation.
Appropriation means that if you’re a writer, as I am, and you have the temerity to create a character from an ethnicity that isn’t your own, you’re appropriating, a.k.a. stealing someone else’s culture. And that, my friend, is a sin.
Why is this such an awful notion? For so many reasons. Here are but three:
1. Writers are supposed to create characters; that’s what we do. I’m writing a kid’s book based on Billings, Montana’s brave response to hate crimes. It has three young heroes: Chip’s a local white kid heading for trouble, Stevie’s a Jew from Back East, and Quinelle’s the Black catcher on the school baseball team. If I believed in appropriation, two of them would have to go.
2. The writers most limited by appropriation are ethnics, themselves. Should Lin-Manuel Miranda write only about Puerto Rican Americans, and not The King? Should Felicia Berliner have not written Shmutz because she’s not Hassidic? Should gay writers limit themselves to gay detectives, Apaches to Apache warriors, Palestinians to Palestinian lovers?
3. Thanks to ‘appropriation’ in the arts, the world is a better place. Titian painted beautiful women. On “Modern Family,” straight Eric Stonestreet played a wonderful gay parent. And American E. Annie Proulx wrote the great Newfoundland (and Pulitzer Prize winning) novel, “The Shipping News.”
So. In my writerly opinion, appropriation is dumb, deeply dumb. But wait — there’s something even dumber. And, for society, much, much worse.
I’m talking about the white savior complex. The accusation of ‘white savior’ is hurled at any member of the majority — usually a white majority — who tries to help someone from an oppressed minority — usually, but not always, a darker-skinned minority.
An example. The best — in just about every sense of ‘best’ — literary white savior is Atticus Finch, the white lawyer who risks own his life defending an unjustly accused Black man in Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Surely, Atticus would escape the wrath of the anti-mob.
Nope. Here’s but one from a long list of denunciations; the title tells it all: “Goodbye And Good Riddance To Atticus Finch And Other ‘White Saviors.’”
What makes this not just dumb but awful? Because, making a better world starts with kindness, and the denigration of the white savior discourages and disparages kindness — especially that most important sort, kindness to the downtrodden.
Need examples of notable white saviors? The white Americans who hid escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. The Christian family who hid Anne Frank and her family in their attic. Schwerner and Goodman, murdered in Mississippi for defending Black rights. The non-Muslim New Zealanders who embraced the Muslim community after the Christchurch mosque attacks. All white saviors. All models for a better world. All heroes.
We need more white heroes, not fewer. To make this happen, we should praise these real heroes, not convert them into self-serving, secretly racist villains. If we are going to make a better world, my fellow lefties should be leading the charge.