Dissecting a bizarre article in VICE’s Power And Privilege Issue.
I showed up to the coffee shop I manage today to find a copy of the latest VICE magazine sitting with our newspapers and various community flyers. It was a slow day, so me and my coworker read it and made fun of it as we went along.
The October 2018 issue, ‘The Power And Privilege Issue,’ is divided into three sections: Education, Work and Pay, and Activism. The first two feature mostly some pretty standards left-wing talking points about the minimum wage and private schools, nothing really new. The third section on activism was a hoot, however – it features all the regular identity-politics-obsessed crap you see your sociology student friends sharing on Facebook, but all boiled down into one large volume with nothing interesting in between to thin it out. The starring piece? Several pages on what safe spaces mean to people of colour.
Let’s go over my favourite claims the article makes, and why exactly they’re incorrect.
Page 98 Section 3 – Safe Spaces: Out Of Despair, Students Of Colour Seek Meaningful Ways To Reflect On National Politics And Social Injustice On Their Own Terms
First of all, let’s do away with all this safe space nonsense. The world isn’t a safe place, and if you feel anxious or under threat all the time, confining yourselves to certain places where injustices aren’t supposed to happen to you do the opposite of help. What helps is building up a tolerance to the things that scare you, often through therapy and exposure. See Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling Of The American Mind.
The title suggests that the article is going to deal with what safe spaces do for people of colour and young activists. Like organized social groups of people designated to not engage in behaviours their group would consider offensive. The introduction suggests this too – discussing the Parkland shooting:
The white and upper-middle-class students from Parkland, Florida, mobilized quickly for increased gun control with national media outlets focused on their every move, leaving students of colour across the country desperate to make their issues – police brutality, systematic racism, and deportation – just as pertinent. But how? According to a Teen Vogue article, black youth, who’ve been passionately advocating for gun-control measures for years, felt they had been ‘demonized, obfuscated, and overlooked.’
Yikes. (Here’s the link to the article in question).
- Who turns to Teen Vogue for reliable political content? Anybody see their article on capitalism? Or their article on colonialism? All worthy of their own debunking posts. They should stick to talking about what their magazine was intended for, celebrities and fashion.
- Those issues listed are all non-issues. Systematic racism isn’t real, police brutality sucks but the police don’t have a hidden agenda to kill black people, and if you move to a country illegally, you should face deportation.
- “White and upper-middle-class students from Parkland, Florida.” The reason why we talk about Parkland so much was because it was the deadliest secondary school shooting ever, not because the students implicated were white. A bunch of students from that school got involved with the media and activism in a timely manner, which made them ideal spokespeople for the movement. Timing and effort, not race.
- On the racial note, hmmm… Who again was that person who became the most famous after the school shooting, now considered a renowned advocate for social justice?
Oh yeah, Emma Gonzalez, a bisexual Cuban woman. David Hogg became famous for being a meme, you know, the white guy, while she’s being called ‘an American hero’ by many.
The introduction then goes on to claim:
Safe places can be launching pads for young people to take their first step into activism or to garner the confidence they need to pursue self-expression through the arts. By having the private time and place to collect their thoughts and emotions with peers, teachers, parents, and after-school facilitators, students feel more emboldened to get involved in what’s going on around them, whether it’s joining social justice movements like Black Lives Matter or participating in their own education in stronger ways.
Which also really implies that the pages that follow are going to talk about social organizations and activist groups. Spoiler – they don’t. It’s also worth noting at this point that the introduction oddly lacks facts and statistics. They include one statistic on gun violence (and we know how misleading those statistics can be), and the only reference to another article is to Teen Vogue. This article, for instance, contains seven links to external sources. As it should!
What follows is just a series of paragraphs written by young people of colour about their favourite place to hang out, their happy space. Now, that’s not problematic to me. We all have places we like to go to forget about the stresses of the world, we have those places our whole life. I like to hang out near the ocean. My best friend from childhood would have considered the tree fort my dad built to be hers.
It’s more of a who-cares kind of deal. Really, what does it matter where people you’ve never met before feel their happiest? They didn’t even interview interesting people with interesting answers, just a bunch of teenagers you’ve never heard of before.
Several of the testimonials are pretty non-offensive, for instance,
I need safe spaces because sometimes my headspace can only hold so much. I overflow, and no one should have to keep everything inside. We as people need safe spaces to let go of pain, safely. To be able to get the emotions out of our heads before it manifests into something beyond the mind.
I like this because she’s not making any references to identity politics, she is making a universal statement about mindfulness that I think applies to everybody. It even seems like she avoids referring to her identity, choosing words like ‘we as people’ instead of ‘we as people of colour.’
But you know VICE, they couldn’t resist the identity politics for long.
Safe spaces are so important because in our current sociopolitical climate, almost every aspect of our lives is under attack. We see the legislation constantly breaking down our protections, refusing us our rights, tearing our families apart, destroying our environment, controlling our bodies, and putting our men, women and gender non-confirming in harm’s way.
Those are some pretty bold claims to make without bold verification. And while he’s right about Trump’s administration not doing much to protect the environment…. well, that’s the only thing he’s right on. The only families being torn apart are the ones who are illegally trying to enter the country. His other points don’t make sense, and should be accompanied by hard data if he wants to make them.
This next one was my favourite though.
I strongly feel like safe spaces are necessary because this country does a really good job at continuously attempting to do two things: to invalidate youth voices and to silence the voices of people of colour. When someone is at the intersection of both, it’s really hard to remind yourself that your voice and opinions matter.
First, how does “this country” silence the voices of people of colour? The USA has free speech, anybody can go online and say whatever they want to say, and if your content is good you can be heard. And countless people of colour are heavily involved in media, sports, the art, and government. Can you show me any proof of the government censoring people just for being what they can’t control? Many popular figures on all sides of the political spectrum are not white.
As for invalidating youth voices, there is a perfectly good reason why many people don’t take the opinions of young people too seriously. I’m saying this as a very young person myself. Most young people have very little real-life experience, and their opinions are mostly based on the opinions of others. That’s not to say we shouldn’t listen to young people who have good things to say, but most young people just don’t. With age comes experience, wisdom, stories of love lost and earned, the trials and tribulations of working difficult jobs, living under various political climates, and raising families. With twenty or so years of life comes preschool, elementary school, high school and some college, for most in the Western world.
Later in her paragraph, she states,
Our thoughts and feelings did not ask for anybody’s validation.
Well, you obviously did need validation, if you wrote about the importance of listening to young people of colour for a left-wing magazine whose fan base loves validating people based on identity and not merit.
And besides, since the article wasn’t actually dealing exclusively with what safe places do for people of colour – as several of the testimonials didn’t bring up identity – then what is the point of only interviewing people of colour?
VICE is going farther and farther down the rabbit hole of unverified nonsense with every step it takes, in the opposite direction of what its creators originally intended. The irony that VICE was founded by Gavin McInnes is never lost on me. On the bright side – at least you have us now, to take over where they left off!
-Senior Editor A.
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