Can we talk about ladder pulling for a minute?

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In light of the Kevin Hart backlash. Or maybe the Joy Reed controversy. I do not refer here to the metaphysical roots of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I refer, rather, to all those Irish white guys in America, whose ancestors were used as target practice by Tammany Hall Toughs in 19th century New York, who are now just fine, and from this position above a repressed and exploited past, say really bone-headed things like “All Lives Matter, #!” They climbed the ladder, and the first thing they did was pull it up so the next group could not. And I refer to all the other ladder pullers out there. You know who you are. Or, maybe, you don’t, and that could be a problem.

We are all aware of the fact that repression of Americans of African heritage is not the same as repression of almost everyone else. This repression, also known as racism, has unique roots among all the repression syndromes and even racist syndromes known across the world. Those who assume that racism is innate in our species, and looks the same everywhere, are wrong, and that this is seen as a way to characterize racism is itself a form of latter pulling. The repression, also known as sexism and misogyny, of Americans of female identity, is not as unique because it is on a spectrum of bad male behavior found across the world, but it is, in this country, distinct and different from anti-Black racism, or Antisemitism, and the like. As long as we are on the subject of Antisemitism, well, that is also unique. And all the other things are unique in their own special unique way, almost. It is probably possible to characterize the serial sets of repressive behaviors against nineteenth and early twentieth century immigrants of European ancestry as more similar to each other, but that is probably an oversimplification.

One of the ways in which all these things are unique is the timing of the key events whereby society wakes up and goes, “holy crap, we are killing, hurting, robbing, sequestering, and otherwise messing with people with that characteristic? Why? Stop that.” And, the way that happens is unique as well, who says it, who fights, how the fighting happens.

And we haven’t even, yet, mentioned the intersectionality of it all. When all the repressive paradigms are divergent in the hows, when, whys, and whats, the intersection of any two or three can get really complicated and very intense.

This is all related to pulling up the ladder. For example, upper middle class or well to do gay men and women living in a woke community, like South Minneapolis or East Side Manhattan or whatever, have very little to worry about day to day, when it comes to acts of violence or disenfranchisement. The cultural ancestors of those exact people, one generation ago, may have been beaten, fired, set on fire, driven out, and otherwise treated very poorly, and their cultural cousins in other environments (like, possibly, almost all American middle schools) still are. But if you are a well-off public figure who can influence the world around you disproportionately, and a gay man, there is a good chance that you’ve already pulled up the ladder and will not be engaged in the process of helping others less fortunate. This is not a general rule or possibly even a majority characteristic. Lots and lots of senior gay men are exactly like George Takei and frequently engage in a positive public discourse about social justice, right? Except also note that Takei is intersectional, and engages in conversations about issues spinning off from his family history in American concentration camps. So maybe he’s not a good example.

I think I see a pattern. If you are in any repressed, currently repressed, group, you may notice that members of a previously repressed group, or perhaps a less-repressed-these-days group, seem to not care about you and your people. This may lead to resentment, and ladder-pushing. This is sort of the opposite of ladder pulling. Instead of being on top and raising the ladder quickly behind you, you are still on the bottom, actively, resentfully, kicking the ladder of the previously laddered-up folks. This is what straight black inappropriate humor about gay people feels like to me, as an example resonant with current news. There is a long history of black leaders, mainly religious, being very clear that gay rights are not actual rights.

On the other hand, if you are a member of such a group twice, i.e., if your experience is intersectional, you might be a lot more likely to be actively building ladders or ladder parts and handing them around freely. Some of the most intense, active, and energetic civil rights fighters are personally intersectional or are engaged in intersectional thinking. This conversation and this activism is all very fraught, very energetic, very likely to be the next wave. See the film The New Black by Yoruba Richen, go to a pride march, read a book, read the news.

So, that’s my clear as mud thinking on this issue. I’m disconcerted with the way we have come to treat allies lately, and I wonder if that strategically awful shift is a natural counterbalance to the way allies have treated those in need of allies, pulling up all the ladders and all. I wonder if we can have a conversation in which we cooperate to identify the causes of repression in our own previews, and work actively on them. For example, citizen or grassroots activists groups around the country, regardless of which cause or causes they focus on, should always speak out and act out when any identifiable repression happens in their local schools. The cost of a transgender high school student getting pried out of a bathroom stall like a criminalized oyster should be huge to the school in which such a thing happens, the cost should be huge for the school administrators, the cost should be huge for the school district, and the cost should be huge for the school board, the cost itself exacted, hugely, from all of the grassroots groups in the area working on gun violence, health care, climate change, and the rest of it. Everybody should have a ladder that we drop in place when needed, not a hand on a ladder ready to pull it up.

Are you a member of one or more activist groups? I know, we don’t want to be distracted from our missions, and we don’t want to muddle our messages. But there are probably ways we can retain our focus, keep our edge sharp, and at the same time, participate in the broader social and environmental justice movements. If that became normal and common, I imagine ladder pushing and pulling would be attenuated, and allies would grow stronger, more realistic, and more effective.

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One thought on “Can we talk about ladder pulling for a minute?

  1. Hart’s old tweets were sickening enough — especially the one about what he’d do if he found his son playing with his daughter’s dollhouse — but his ham-handed and dismissive first response to those tweets being brought to light illustrated he didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he said and wasn’t concerned.

    This is another case where I just have to wonder how, even if these people are bigoted enough to think these things, they can possibly not realize that no matter which platform they use they won’t have them discovered and brought up to the general public.

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