"Perhaps it isn’t surprising that skin colour became a state of mind in a year when gender already had"
Among many other things 2015 may well be remembered as the year that “social justice warriors” suffered over-reach. The year saw some truly remarkable breakdowns in their movement.
For instance, who will forget Rachel Dolezal? She was the regional head of a national black people’s organisation in America who, not content with campaigning for black rights (a perfectly good thing to do), pretended to be black (not a good thing to do). She managed this by the careful application of bronzer, a somewhat stereotypical frizzing of her hair and the advantage of living in a society too terrified to say, “But aren’t you white?”
Dolezal was “outed” as white when her parents appeared on television to show that they are not only Caucasians but Caucasians of German-Czech descent. After some months of denial their daughter finally admitted she was indeed born to them, though she still regards herself as black. Not least among the case’s fascination were the divides it caused, and not only among those who fell on the floor laughing when they heard about it versus those who managed to remain in their seat. A divide also occurred among black activists: “Do we celebrate any sister who argues for our cause, or in the 21st century should we disapprove of people blacking up?” was the nub. Most interesting was the response of one black commentator on MSNBC, Michael Eric Dyson, who stood up for Dolezal, saying, “She’s taking on the ideas, the identities, the struggles. She’s identified with them. I bet a lot more black people would support Rachel Dolezal than would support, say, Clarence Thomas.” All of which suggested that the civil rights movement some time ago morphed into a left-wing politics movement where a white girl who is left-wing is more “black” than a black man who is a conservative Supreme Court Justice.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that skin colour became a state of mind in a year when gender already had. For 2015 was also the year that Germaine Greer was “no-platformed” by UK universities for not agreeing that a man who has an operation is a woman. Grilling the newest pariah on Newsnight, Kirsty Wark repeatedly pushed Greer to agree that if someone feels they are a woman then they are a woman. Greer — almost alone among adults these days — refused to bow to this new orthodoxy. As she tried to explain, being nice, decent and courteous to people is not the same thing as having to agree with their version of reality.
Simultaneously Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner completed a clean sweep of the entire US awards system by receiving a Glamour magazine “Woman of the Year” award. Soon afterwards, even the award of “Woman of the Year” to someone with a penis seemed passé as a far-left blogger and “anti-austerity activist” called Jack Monroe came out as “nonbinary transgender”. A few days later she accepted a “Woman of the Future” award, which was not merely undeserved but (if Monroe were to be taken at her word) singularly inaccurate.
Or not. For although Monroe has announced that she is “trans” she expressed herself unwilling to do anything about it. Indeed, she demonstrated even less skin in the game than Caitlyn Jenner. Personally, I slightly admire people so sure they are stuck in the wrong body that they go through the terrible operations necessary to change sex cosmetically. But I feel reluctant to go through the necessary language hurdles if they won’t do anything other than “declare” themselves something. And what hurdles! In reporting Monroe’s desire to “transition”, Pink News adopted the new house style which makes pronouns for trans people not only non-gender specific but also plural. So we read, “Writing on their blog, Jack said . . .” Also (lovers of our delicate and beautiful language look away now), “The Guardian columnist and poverty campaigner changed their name to Jack when they was younger.” The new newspeak is the old illiteracy.
No wonder that throughout the year news of the breakdown of college-aged individuals emerged almost daily. The demand for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” reached a pitch when Yale students were filmed surrounding and swearing at a professor who had advised students just to look away from any Halloween costumes they were offended by. This would not do. Before telling the professor to “shut the fuck up”, one student screamed, “It is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students. Do you understand that?” Not only rude, but wrong. The role of a university is quite different from the role of a home. What chance does anyone have with quantum physics or Shakespeare if they find Halloween so stressful? As with all these tergiversations, the great question of the year was not why the kids were revolting but why the adults kept giving in.