Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prager: Minorities Should Express "Group Shame"

In his latest article at, Dennis Prager misses the point. Waxing about the plight of the downtrodden straight, white, Christian male in America, Prager defensively argues that while "white Christians are allowed to celebrate very little" in our society, minorities are allowed to celebrate group pride. This, he argues, results in majority groups feeling shamed. He then goes on to declare that minorities are sometimes "evildoers" too and therefore minority groups should express shame as well as pride.

How odd.

A little later on down in his article, it becomes apparent what it's all really about. Basically, Prager could have simplified his article if he would have just written "minorities are childlike sociopaths" over and over again. Prager touts three arguments as to why minorities should express group shame. And by this I mean he invents straw men and, with putrid stale arguments, blows them down.

1. Our proponent of "group shame" first condescendingly argues that "Only children think only well of themselves. A group that only expresses pride is essentially a group of children."

What a huge misunderstanding. It is unfortunate that with this statement, Prager shows exactly how little he knows about minority communities. Minority groups engage in public displays of pride precisely because majority groups spend so much time thinking and speaking about how not proud minority groups should be about themselves. If pride events make some members of the majority who happen to be bigots feel "ashamed," well, that feeling is probably well-deserved.

Yet, the feeling of shame that some bigots might feel is a side consequence, and not the goal, of minority pride. Prager, you see, makes the ego-centric mistake of thinking that minority pride events are somehow about the majority. What he should know is that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride, for instance, isn't about him as a heterosexual. It's about us. Because every other day of the year is heterosexual pride day, we take a weekend out of the year to take pride in being non-heterosexual. In case Prager is unaware, heterosexuality in our society is seen as superior to homosexuality and remarkable bias against same-sex relationships still exists.

For Prager to sit up on his pedestal of privilege informing minorities that they do not have enough shame in their lives is profoundly out-of-touch. I don't know a single lesbian, gay man, bisexual, or transgender person who has not struggled with shame in some way. The concept of LGBT Pride is a reaction to being told for many years by others that there is or was something inherently wrong with us or about us. From the medical community, we were told that we were "abnormal," by the psychological community that we were "pathological," by the legal system that we were "criminal," and by the religious community that we were "sinful." When it comes to shame, minorities receive it by the boatload thanks to "family values" groups, asinine commentators, racists, and bigots. Group Pride is about standing together and living fulfilling lives anyway. Yet, in Prager's warped world, minorities are little more than children who "only think well of themselves." How clueless.

2. Secondly, Prager claims that minority group pride is wrong because "If one expresses group pride, one is morally obligated to express group shame. Obviously, this does not apply to any person who does not identify with, let alone take pride in being a member of, a group."

This logic is so warped it is not even followable. Or, I should say, his argument here does not follow. At all. Evident again is his ego-centric mistake of thinking that minority pride events are about the majority. Maybe some white, male heteros are so entitled as to think everything anyone ever does is all about them, but the sooner they realize it's not, the better off they'll be. As a white person, I am not "shamed" by Black Pride events. While I may be reminded of our nation's unfortunate history of institutionalized racism and slavery and of my own white privilege, I do not feel shame about being white when other people express pride at being black. If one is not racist, one has no reason to feel "group shame."

3. Prager's final argument is that because "America's white Christians" are the only group expected to express shame, "more is morally expected of them than anyone else."

As a funny aside, notice here that Prager never argues that this majority groups actually expresses shame, only that this group is expected to express shame. I think that's a pretty important point here, as this majority group often believes that its actions are righteous and, therefore, not actually shameful.

But anyway, he contrasts the "white Christian" majority with Muslims, blacks, and gays. These groups, he argues, do not express shame over "immoral" actions committed by individuals members of these groups. Now, I certainly agree with him that individual minorities are not perfect and are capable of doing bad things. Yet Prager makes the mistake of believing that the actions of some members of minority groups should be denounced by that entire minority group. As a case in point, he gratuitously mentions that he's Jewish, brings up a "shameful" action another Jew committed, and then said he was ashamed for his peeps. Again, how strange.

Maybe Prager's privy to some definitive Minority Group Spokesperson who would announce these Group Shamings but I think he's missing something here. What might be invisible to him is that part of belonging to the majority means having the privilege of being seen as an individual. Whereas, part of belonging to a minority group means that the sins of one are largely seen as the sins of all. Sorry, but that's just an unfair burden to place on minorities. If a woman who happens to be a lesbian commits a crime, I feel no responsibility for that or no need to feel shame for that. Why? Because it wasn't me who did anything wrong!

To further "prove" his point, he accuses Muslims of not expressing shame "over the atrocities committed in Islams [sic] name" and then, comparing blacks and gays to Muslim terrorists, points to the "absence of expressions of shame" among the black and gay communities in light of "wrongs" committed by individual members of these groups. Simply put, Prager's false equivalencies are an exercise in extreme vilification. He is conflating the feeling of "shame" with that of "denouncemnent." When people commit wrongs, those wrongs should be denounced- condemned. People who have not actually committed the wrongs, have no moral obligation to feel "ashamed" of those wrongs since to feel shame is a reaction to consciousness of guilt.

In actuality, many Muslims did denounce terrorist attacks of 9/11, if those are the atrocities Prager is referring to. Rather than expressions of shame, denouncement is the more appropriate sentiment here since not all Muslims are guilty of "atrocities." And further, his example regarding the LGBT community's "absence of shame" in the face of Prop 8 protests and boycotts is not quite as black an white as terrorism is. These actions are simply not comparable to terrorist attacks. Sorry, but they're not. Anyone who would be so over-the-top to suggest as much automatically loses. So, you lose, Dennis Prager.

Specifically, as evidence of moral failings of LGBT people, Prager cites "the absence of any expression of shame in the gay community over the current blacklisting -- and attempts to economically destroy -- anyone who donated to" California's Proposition 8. It's statements like that the remind me how politically-motivated some writers must be to create such glaring double-standards. When Christians and "family values" organizations boycott and threaten to create and publish "lists" of marriage equality advocates, they're just engaging in legitimate forms of political behavior. Majority groups are just special that way. When the LGBT community does the same thing, these people vilify us as McCarthyist mobs and demand public demonstrations of our "group shame." And, when we don't view situations in the same hyperbolic, over-the-top manner that they do, they accuse us of deep moral failings and lacking in shame.

For this absurd anti-minority piece, I'm tempted to tell Mr. Prager that he should be ashamed of himself. But as an upstanding white, male, hetero member of the Moral Majority who is morally better than the rest of us, I'm sure he already knows that.

No comments: