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OPINION: There’s A Fine Line Between ‘Social Justice’ And Meaningless Rhetoric

Words by: Jonathon Davidson


Watching this year’s Melbourne RAW Comedy Festival finals, I found myself particularly taken aback by a running theme throughout a few of the sets: social justice.

“I’d like to be a comedian, but I’m a white male . . . so if this doesn’t work out for me, something else will. [Laughs] That’s the nature of privilege”, the winning comedian of the night told the crowd.

The entire audience laughed, and even I did. It was just one joke in his set, but it was one of his strong sellers. ‘He’s right’, I thought to myself, nodding in agreement with his words at the time in between bong hits. ‘It’s funny because it’s true’, I coughed. The host of the evening was Adam Hills, and he too came out with quite a few comments on white male privilege, which I honestly felt was stolen directly from Louis C.K – everyone’s favourite pro-feminist-but-still-blokey comedian who tells it like it is, despite his penchant for obnoxious rape jokes, which are okay though according to jezebel. Another comedian competing in RAW brought up privilege and social justice as well.

But later in bed that night, something irked me. Something got to me, about the privilege comment, and the way it received a roaring ovation from the Melbourne crowd.

Social Justice, originally, was and or is a moralist, philosophical position on the global distribution of wealth and opportunities available to citizens of a nation, state, region, what have you. It is not necessarily an issue of feminism, but currently the two are inseparable, mainly because feminism has got pop-culture by the balls at the moment (sorry Mum, but it’s true).

So if we observe white male privilege from this textbook root of social justice steeped in global economics, then the issue quickly becomes less of a cultural concern regarding the treatment of white men in a contemporary patriarchy, and more of a geographical-cross-infrastructural issue.

And then it hit me: what the comedian said made no fucking sense.

The statement “if (employment situation x) doesn’t work out for me, then something else will…” applies to every single person on Earth, not just white males. What kind of logic dictates that everybody who isn’t a white male either gets their dream job, or no job? Children living in trash piles in India collecting scrap metal for 40 cents a day are not privileged by any means, but how does white privilege in a developed country translate to a slum entrenched in corruption?

“…If this doesn’t work out for me, something else will…that’s privilege”

What does this even mean with regards to the state of current affairs? Does it mean to imply that every non-Caucasian-male out there is unable of fulfilling a dream? “Something else will work out” for absolutely everybody in terms of a career, so long as they try hard enough through the mandated channels.

What kind of logic dictates that everybody who isn’t a white male doesn’t get a job, presumably because of a global conspiracy of white-boys-club-patriarchy; and not a lack of training, or lack of presentation, or lack of willingness to cooperate with a workplace’s standards, or lack of ability to speak the local language, or whatever else qualifies an incompetency? Why aren’t those factors considerable? Why is it ‘privilege’ left to blame so often of the time, and why did the most of a 1500 person audience seem to accept that logic as sound?

As a white male who can’t seem to find work for shit, I was unable to resist writing something on the matter.

The implication that somehow, non-Caucasian-males are “missing out” on opportunities is offensive to every non-Caucasian-male who makes a comfortable living in Australia. The statement outright implies a pre-established life path for non-caucasian-males; in trying to mock the foundations of an imagined archaic ideology, its presumptions are only strengthened.

On a global perspective, Caucasians are a minority, and it’s estimated that there are more women than men. Of course, I’m aware that this minority’s control over half the globe is the nature of why patriarchy has its dissenters.

Of course, because we are dealing with human beings, there’s no room for the cold hard math of economics – we now have complex ethical and moral dilemmas to deal with. Of course, patriarchy presents us the same problem.

Social Justice has come to be synonymous with the notion of privilege, but the notion of privilege carries dangerous presumptions.

It implies that the ‘privileged’ have no access to an underlying experience held by the ‘underprivileged’. By necessity, there has to be permanent division for the paradigm to work. But the “something else will work out” statement also implies that a non-white-male naturally won’t be able to get work. The notion of privilege, then, panders to that ancient, tribal beast of a compulsion within ourselves: ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It does not mean to imply this, but it does, and in doing this the desperate reach for equality and fair standards only further fall away, widening a divide between ultimately imagined factions.

What is troubling about all of this is that Social Justice is being considered to become an implemented tool to be taught in Australian primary schools and extracurricular programs. Remember the outrage you felt when old mate Minister for Immigration wanted to introduce Jihadi-Awareness programs to primary school kids? Maybe I’m just a crusty right-winger stuck in a Fremantle denizen’s body, but I feel the same sense of outrage at the fact that we are considering it a good idea to start telling kids about transgender issues in year four. Some commentators have asked if the current state of online-heavy Feminism has not evolved into a form of cultural censorship, and I see social justice going the same way.

We should be telling kids to be open to who they are and to not be afraid of confusing thoughts that come later in life, but we shouldn’t be teaching children to be mindful of others political self awareness. What we are instilling in these children is the same fallacy of multiculturalism that Australia abandoned in the nineties – constant mindfulness of the need to balance equality is the same as constant mindfulness of inherent differences between life experiences.

When interviewed about America’s ‘Black History Month’ Morgan Freeman told a reporter that the only way to move on is to stop talking about it, and to stop reporting it. I can’t help but feel the wisdom is transferable.