Divide and conquer

(art by skdaffle)

This is just how I see it. To deal with marginalized people, normative culture uses a strategy of divide and conquer.

I kind of feel like the game of prisoner’s dilemma starts like this: “We need you to sell out someone specific. We’ll give you a mouthpiece or even a job in exchange for it. If you don’t, we might fire you, ridicule you, something else.”

In practice it’s “Gay people: go sell out trans people; they’re too weird.” Or “Pride attendees: sell out kinksters; they’re exposing children to sex.” Or “Lesbians: sell out asexuals; they’re not ‘really’ oppressed.” Or “Nonbinary people: go sell out otherkin; they’re online weirdos.” Or “Plural people: go sell out OSDD sufferers; they’re not technically plural.” 

Other times there’s no shared group identity but there’s still an appeal: “Dirtbags and laborers: tell us the Trans have coopted your movement.” 

Sometimes the media just looks for marginalized people who intersect with prejudiced groups and tries to amplify them, knowing they’ll probably say something ignorant. For instance, if you talk to enough black people who attend a Baptist church, especially old people, you will find someone who shares the church’s strong negative views on gays.

When a lot of marginalized people take the bait on selling out X people – gay people, trans people, uneducated people, rich people – you end up with an X group and an X-exclusionary group. At this point you don’t really have a coalition any more. You have two and they kind of hate each other.

Unfortunately, like with theoretical cases of the prisoner’s dilemma, there are some winners and losers. The winners get institutional power, money, media airtime, whatever’s convenient.

In some cases, just a few people defect. The losers have to deal with a weakened political position. Their political opponents end up, parasocially, with a new Black Friend or Gay Friend who happens to agree with them that political correctness has gone too far, or whatever the order of the day is. See the Chris Rock routine.

This isn’t that big a problem for your ability to defend your side of the story if you’re black or gay yourself. But if you’re not black or gay, you can expect bad-faith accusations of racism or homophobia on the basis that you disagreed with the black or gay people who defected.

I’m not black, so I’m in an awkward position on this because at most I can say “well, I know some black people who would say X” – but none of them are my closest friends and it’s not as if I have a direct quote of them saying X. If I say “well, I have a textual example of a black person saying X” and I link to an academic source or a blogpost, I look like a weedy nerd who is selectively curating evidence.

When there are super loud defectors from a group basically repeating attacks on that group – black people repeating racism, trans people repeating transphobia – then you’re effectively trying to be heard over members of that group when you criticize them, which is usually bad.

At least for groups I’m in though – trans people, autistic people, etc – it’s very obvious to me that the support for those views is fake and results from this process. I don’t want those influencers to create a situation where the only people who can defend the rights of trans people and autistic people are trans and autistic people, because no one really listens to us, so we end up losing by default.

The sad thing for me about this is that I think most people would be able to tell that the support is astroturfed if they had friends in those groups. By “most people” I’m not talking about committed bigots; I’m talking about people who want to have the right opinions but listen to incredibly bad sources. I can’t really blame cishets who don’t know any trans people for not having any trans friends because it’s not their fault. People are forced into the closet on purpose.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem. I think you have to use your creativity and do what works!

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