I have been fascinated with the responses to the article I posted about here. (What follows assumes you have read Brendan O’Neill’s piece).
It is interesting to watch how the British royal family elicits such strong responses from Americans. Nothing new here, but as someone who does not watch the royals I am always baffled by it.
The response to the article on my social media outlets (and personal e-mails and messages) have been split 50-50. Some believe Brendan O’Neill lacks any empathy for Meghan Markle and his article should be roundly condemned. The suicidal feelings she felt, and the racism she experienced, transcend her wealth and elite class status and we thus should respond to the Oprah interview with compassion for the royal couple.
Others believe that so much focus on the problems of Meghan and Harry–millionaires who live very comfortable lives in southern California–are trivial in light of the fact that so many ordinary Americans of all races are struggling right now.
Of course Meghan’s struggles with suicide were real. If Meghan’s story about Archie’s race is true (and I have no reason to believe it is not) then this needs to be called-out and exposed. The royal family has some explaining to do. But there is also a lot of truth in O’Neill’s piece, as harsh and scathing as it it. Both truths can exist at the same time.
I spend a lot of time on this blog railing against the binary and unnuanced thinking of the Right. For example, I have tried to get my fellow evangelicals to realize that there is a lot about critical race theory that can help us better understand racial disparity in this country despite my belief that critical race theory is not the Gospel. I have also tried to get my fellow evangelicals, especially those on the Christian Right, to think in more complex ways about politics.
But this whole discussion of O’Neill’s piece (at least the discussion I am witnessing) shows that people who identify as left-of-center on the political and ideological spectrum can also engage in Manichean thinking. Those who privilege race as the most important identity category want to trash O’Neill’s class-based analysis. Those who privilege class as the most important identity category (a category that, interestingly enough, includes people of all races) tend to downplay the racism Meghan experienced. There might be others who tend to see the world almost entirely through the category of gender. Those who have experienced mental illness will focus on Meghan’s testimony about suicidal feelings. And I am sure there is an interpretive category I am missing here.
The bottom line is this: all of these things are at work here.
I tend to approach these matters as a history teacher. Every day I walk into a classroom of students who tend to privilege one category or another. If I am teaching well, classroom discussion often leads to a richer and more complex understanding of the world or the particular event we are trying interpret on that day. The history teacher (or the theology, philosopher, English professor, etc.) who always privileges one category of analysis over another misses an opportunity to teach students something about the complexity of the human experience and is not doing his or her job very well. This doesn’t mean that such a person is a bad historian or theologian or philosopher or literary critic. They might publish excellent books and articles. But in the end, these teachers use the classroom as a pulpit. In the worst case-scenarios, they use their power in the classroom to bludgeon their students with only one interpretive method for understanding the world. My provost, philosopher Randall Basinger, likes to call this “clubbing baby seals.”