Should White Men Stop Writing?

863 - Blunt Instrument

That was the question a self-described “white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals in and out of the writing community” asked at The Blunt Instrument (“a monthly advice column for writers”). Well, more specifically, he said:

It feels like a Catch-22. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story. I genuinely am troubled by this. I want to listen but I also want to write—yet at times these impulses feel at odds with one another. How can I reconcile the two?

The response took a long, convoluted, and circuitous route to get where it was going, but the basic answer was simple: Yes, stop writing. Or, more specifically, you can go ahead and write all you like, but you should stop trying to get your works published.

Don’t be a problem submitter. When I edited a magazine, we got far more submissions from men, and men were far more likely to submit work that was sloppy and/or inappropriate for the magazine; they were also far more likely to submit more work immediately after being rejected. When you submit writing, you’re taking up other people’s time. Be respectful of that. I said in my last column that getting published takes a lot of work, which is true—but most of that work should take the form of writing, and revising, and engaging with people in the writing world, not just constantly sending out new work, which starts to look like boredom and entitlement.

Think of this as something like carbon offsets. You are not going to solve the greater problem this way, on your own, but you might mitigate the damage.

It’s vague enough for plausible deniability, but the logic is clear. The only way to “mitigate the damage” is to submit fewer works. Publish less.

This is the logic behind the social justice movement. It’s not always as clear cut as this, but it’s always there. For a fantastic article documenting just how long this mentality has been around, I recommend Privilege and the working class. I don’t agree with all of it (obviously, as it is printed in The Socialist Worker), but the analysis of nascent social justice warrior ideology (aka “privilege theory”) is spot on:

Third, white workers were blamed for systemic racism because their “privileges” came, purportedly, at the expense of Blacks: white workers got more because Blacks got less, and vice versa. This assumption bought into the liberal capitalist idea that the size of the share of the economic pie available to workers is fixed and highly limited, and that different sub-groups of workers must fight against each other to expand their shares. Privilege theory focused on workers battling each other for the same shares, rather than on their fighting together for a just division of the share appropriated by the bosses–that fight, in the form of shop floor and union struggles for class demands, was explicitly opposed.

The analysis of capitalism is tragically and catastrophically off-base, but the insight that the essentially divisive nature of SJW ideology is itself a statist (and therefore elitist) tool is entirely valid. Once you accept the premise that we are fundamentally divisible into racial, sexual, and other categories, the possibility for cooperation and synergy disappears and all that is left is fighting over scraps.


3 thoughts on “Should White Men Stop Writing?”

  1. Why assume that the SJW premise is that we are fundamentally divisible, rather than contingently so? My impression, as someone sympathetic to most social justice causes but too lazy to count as a warrior for anything, is that the privileged among the SJWs feel as though they haven’t noticed much of a division, but that they’ve been told many times by those who don’t share their privileges that such divisions have been socially constructed and imposed. If the hypothesis is that white/male/hetero/cisgender/etc. people have disproportionate power, but little incentive to change that or even notice it, the first step toward checking that hypothesis requires provisionally accepting the (socially-constructed) definitions in it in order to see whether there actually is a serious power imbalance. It rarely requires much investigation to establish that outcomes are dramatically worse for the classically underprivileged categories.

    My impression is that supporters of religious liberty are making essentially the same sort of claim. They see their way of life as suffering oppression from powerful groups of advocates for “social justice”. This hypothesis should, in my view, be evaluated the same way–ask what group they believe is oppressed, and how, then look for relevant measures on which that group does worse than average. It would be profoundly unserious to simply deny that “Christian” was a fundamental trait and to dismiss the complaints of discrimination as therefore necessarily unfounded. If it turned out that there was evidence of oppression, then the category suggested by those making the complaints would have some diagnostic utility. That wouldn’t mean it was a fundamental feature or natural kind, but why would it need to be in order to motivate policy?

  2. Kelsey-

    Why assume that the SJW premise is that we are fundamentally divisible, rather than contingently so?

    It’s not actually an assumption, it’s my conclusion from examining the history of SJW ideology for an article that will (I hope) appear (elsewhere) in the near future.

    I’ll add two more comments.

    First, there’s a real danger that “provisionally accepting the (socially-constructed) definitions” ends up cementing them. I am struck, when I read from speeches by MLK Jr or Malcolm X (in his last phase) how much effort they spend on emphasizing the commonality of humanity. I see almost none of that language in modern SJW rhetoric and–as in the “all lives matter” vs. “black lives matter” debate–there’s actually a fairly strong emphasis against couching the provisional differences within a greater commonality. So this is primarily a pragmatic concern: the more you focus on provisional differences without balancing that focus with some kind of intentional refocusing on commonality, the more those provisional differences become cemented in social reality.

    Secondly, I think that there are absolutely strains–important and deep ones–within SJW ideology that even theoretically embrace racialism, i.e. the actual existence of distinct races as objectively real categories (as opposed to provisional or socially constructed categories). This is usually implied rather than stated outright. For example, Derrick Bell (the progenitor of Critical Race Theory) explicitly stated that racism was a permanent feature of American society. Well, racism can only be permanent if race itself is permanent, which strongly implies that Bell accepts racial categories as objectively valid and not as merely socially constructed. In other words: there’s nothing at all “provisional” about race within Critical Race Theory.


    1. SJWs tend, in practice (with or without intention) to emphasize racial categories to such a degree that they cement those categories and therefore effectively divide humans into mutually incomprehensible tribes. (This is especially true of intersectionality.) This is broadly true of the movement as a whole.

    2. SJWs have, even in theory, taken the permanence and objective reality of racial categories as a given. This is not broadly true, I do not think, but is common to many of the most important thinkers (past and present) who have a great degree of influence on the movement as a whole.

  3. One more thought:

    I don’t actually think the “black lives matter” phrase is wrong, btw. I think that there is a legitimate criticism of “all lives matter” as sweeping under the rug the fact that the impact of crime, poverty, etc. is not race-blind.

    I used that example just because it highlights the tension, not because I actually think one side is right.

    The best phrase would be something like: “black lives matter because all lives matter.” To me, that really does the job of (1) acknowledging the reality of racially disparate outcomes while (2) situating that concern within a context of universalism.

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