The white nationalists I sometimes encounter on Twitter have an expression for militant liberals like me who care about the greater good, the suffering of the vulnerable, and the liberties guaranteed to everyone by the Bill of Rights.
It’s: “Special snowflake.”
It’s supposed to be a put-down, like I’m too delicate to handle being told “the truth” about “how things really are” by men (usually men) who “aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.” If I object to his slur-filled bile-spewing, then I’m too fragile.
Like a snowflake.
I don’t make a habit of engaging with white nationalists. It comes with being a newspaper columnist. The bigotry isn’t always obvious. After I wrote about Samuel Jared Taylor, a Yale alum who’s now among the most influential white nationalists, a concerned reader wrote to ask: “Don’t you care about your own people? What is happening to us?”
By “your people,” he meant white people.
And yes, I am.
I’m concerned that the real special snowflakes are not racial minorities, Jews, Muslims, women, or LGBTQ people. These are among the toughest people I have met, people who have endured all manner of stigma that by accident of birth I have not endured. Indeed, by the same accident, I merely have to be mediocre to be great. Meanwhile, my female and non-WASP counterparts must be great to be mediocre.
But these people are tough. It’s white men I worry about.
We are special snowflakes.
Westport is sponsoring an essay contest on the topic of white privilege. Its diversity council is encouraging schoolchildren to look inward and consider the sociopolitical advantages of being white. Westport is overwhelmingly white as well as affluent. It’s worth noting the topic was not racism.
To the surprise of organizers, white privilege turned out to be touchy-touchy. The touchiest were white men. News of the contest sparked outrage on social media. Westport resident Bari Reiner, 72, told the AP that he was “offended” by the question of white privilege. “It’s an open town,” he said. “There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re black or whatever, you can’t move here.”
That’s true, but why “offended”?
Asking Westport schoolchildren to consider white privilege is like asking the sons and daughters of billionaires to consider the wealth and power they were born into. Yes, white privilege is not necessarily material privilege. But socially and politically speaking, being white is a huge advantage. All white men are born on third base. But most of us think we hit a triple.
When reminded of this, however, our feelings are hurt. You have to understand: We’re sensitive. We’re special.
Like a snowflake.
Westport has not cornered the market in sensitivity. Plenty of white men, and plenty of white men who voted for President Donald Trump, exhibit similar sensitivities.
After Trump ordered a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries, National Public Radio went to upstate New York, where I grew up and where most of my family still lives. A reporter found a guy rejoicing over the Muslim ban. Why?
“I feel that if a Muslim woman wants to move into this country, she needs to leave her towel home,” he said, according to the NPR report.. “Because the reason this country is here and safe today is because of Jesus Christ. We were one nation under God.”
If a man claiming to be Christian was confident in his faith, and was confident in the Constitution’s protection of his free exercise, there wouldn’t be much need to worry about Muslims, no matter how many hijabs they wear.
Living in a diverse society is hard work, and reconciling differences demands courage. One way to begin is by sponsoring an essay writing contest. Topic: How to help white man understand what’s going on.
We may be like snowflakes.
But we don’t have to be.
John Stoehr is a lecturer in political science at Yale and a New Haven resident.
IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) as he arrives to speak at a congressional Republican retreat in Philadelphia, U.S. January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst