Monday, January 26, 2015

Liberal Tolerance Not All It's Cracked Up to Be: How White Millennial Attitudes about Race Parallel Discussion of Contraception in Catholic Church

It's interesting, isn't it, that claims of greater tolerance on the part of the younger generation today don't necessarily translate into claims of any active concern for or solidarity with people on the margins — as in the contraception debate in the Catholic church, which I discussed yesterday. Younger "liberal" Catholics often say that they're totally over magisterial teaching about sexuality, and are completely open to the idea that everyone should have access to contraceptives.

But when the discussion begins to nudge those very same "liberal" and "tolerant" younger Catholics to look at how Catholic magisterial teaching is, in fact, still used to harm others much more vulnerable and less privileged than themselves, they balk, some of them. They don't want to discuss how magisterial teaching is hurting LGBT people. 

They don't want to examine their own privilege as heterosexuals, and how the Catholic institution works very differently for them as "liberal," "tolerant," dissenting young heterosexual Catholics than it does for any fellow Catholic who happens to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Nor do they intend to discuss the way in which the magisterial teaching on contraception can visit radical suffering on poor women and children in the developing sector of the world.

"Liberal" "tolerance" can mask some less than admirable attitudes towards those on the margins, it appears. It can be self-congratulatory: Look at me. Look at how over the ignorance I am. Look at how I tolerate those others

And now they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps as I myself did and get over the claims of oppression.

"Liberal" "tolerance" can be self-congratulatory and completely devoid of the kind of self-criticism that is the very ground and precondition of any meaningful ethical discussion, especially of any meaningful ethical discussion of complex issues of difference and otherness, marginalization, and economic and social inequities.

More food for this discussion: at Al-Jazeera this morning, Sean McElwee reports that even though the millennial generation touts itself as post-racial, something less than admirable lurks inside the  vaunted "tolerance" of many millennials. Carefully conducted studies show that many white millennials claiming to have transcended the issue of race are actually as racially prejudiced as their elders are. And, as a 2011 study by Nicholas A. Valentino and Ted Brader published in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly and cited by McElwee shows, precisely as American society claims to be moving in a post-racial direction in which racial discrimination is a thing of the past, sociological studies are showing that "negative opinions of blacks and heightened opposition to both affirmative action and immigration" are actually growing among millennials.

The two are causally related, the claim of the millennial generation that it is over race and is extremely tolerant, and the growing blaming of racial minority groups for their problems, along with the demonization of immigrants and affirmative action programs. The negative side is the flip side of the very claims of liberal tolerance that permit the negative to be masked, inverted, presented as a positive.

As Sean McElwee has argued very persuasively in a previous article in Salon, this generation of white millennials in the U.S. wants to claim to have transcended racial bias without paying any socioeconmic price for that claim. Millennials increasingly resist the many significant fixes to the U.S. socioeconomic system that would allow the country to address its deep, intractable, historically rooted racism in an effective way that would help racial minority groups to find their way out of the cyclical poverty that history has created for people of color.

I submit to you that this discussion of how white millennials are increasingly simultaneously claiming to have gotten over racial prejudice while resisting socieconomic fixes to racism is parallel — in a revealing way — to the discussion of how young "liberal," "tolerant" Catholics have gotten over magisterial teaching on sexual morality.

But, at the same time, do not want open, honest discussion of how that teaching negatively affects poor women and children in many parts of the world, or LGBT people around the world . . . . 

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