Let me talk briefly about dehumanisation. There are many examples of this in politics and there are many examples of specific kinds of dehumanisation – of women, of ethnic minorities, religious minorities, immigrant communities, people of various kinds of sexualities or gender identification. However, I’m going to focus on a least-worst example. I say ‘least worst’ not because some kinds of dehumanisation are OK but because the general target is political. However, the nature of this kind of dehumanisation means it often encompasses specific targets listed above as well.
So, I’m talking specifically about the dehumanisation of the left. By this, I mean a repeated attempt to deny that people on the left have genuine anger, that any display of emotion is either fake or socially unacceptable. And yes, people on the left do it to the right as well – it is a pernicious habit among all humans to dismiss the feelings of their opponents and reject empathy. The difference is how entrenched this rejection of the legitimacy of emotion has become among not only the right but also the centre and the media when discussing the left. It is as if, the left are now meant to be a parody of some kind of Vulcan species or perhaps Romulans, in which all reactions are either calculating or a violation of social norms.
I said ‘least worst’ because I’m phrasing it in terms of the left as a political grouping but do not doubt that this rooted in the wider attempt to suppress broad groups of people – specifically those historically subject to oppression. For example, the notion that the righteous anger that arises from police violence toward the Black community in the USA is illegitimate is a form of this dehumanisation. People are told by earnest voices that protest is either illegitimate or inappropriate – even if it is simply a sports player respectfully kneeling rather than standing during a national anthem.
We can see the same attempts to deny, trivialise or delegitimize the concerns among not only the Muslim community but other religious minorities in the face of proposed ‘registration’ of Muslims by the Trump presidency. The self-appointed serious people attempting to portray legitimate fear as unfounded or premature or ‘hysterical’ (a word itself that is rooted in attempting to delegitimise the emotional reactions of women).
So let me encapsulate it, the dehumanisation is this: for you (a person on the left or a person who sees themselves as an ally towards a range of groups facing systematic oppression or a person within one of those groups who thinks enough is enough) your feelings are merely a pose or virtue signalling or animalistic irrationality or inappropriately expressed (so not worthy of consideration) *AND* you are not being sufficiently considerate to the feelings of X, who may get angry at you as a consequence and whose feelings are genuine and should be respected, acknowledged and accommodated regardless of how they are expressed.
There are those who wish to perpetuate this meme, this lie, to advance a false narrative, even unto a review of a piece of fiction . In this case, the reviewer (Dave Truesdale of Tangent online) rigs his review so that the weight of his criticism can revolve around whether the author of the story has paid sufficient attention to a real-world case of police violence. By doing so the true thrust of the review is crystal clear. It is not the reviewer’s dissatisfaction with the story itself, but the advancement of an agenda.
That the reviewer frames his review around a comment by the author—the “unjust violent death of Michael Brown”—and then gives the reader of Truesdale review a totally different narrative that is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty. Truesdale’s review fails on literary grounds (the shift of focus from a fictional story about emotional pain in the face of perceived injustice and violence to Truesdale’s evaluation of whether the author is justified in feeling angry about a real-world event), and from an error in judgment by Truesdale in attempting to justify a judicial killing, which not only reveal the weakness in the review itself, but which highlights how the reviewer’s own strong prejudice in the matter clouded his thinking, and obstructed his capacity to give a professional review.
Consider what it could mean when a reviewer of fiction says:
The author allowed strong emotions to bubble over, to overwhelm her desire (and ability) to pen a professionally written story with her obviously heartfelt message.
Note that this attack on the professionalism of the writer arises because the author of the story mentions the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in an afterword to the story. This becomes ‘strong emotions’ that ‘bubble over’ – that is a case of the second way of trying to delegitimize the feelings of the writer as being inappropriate to the space in which they are being expressed.
The story in question by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali is short and powerful and can be read here: http://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-21-the-banshee-behind-beamons-bakery-by-khaalidah-muhammad-ali/
What Khaalidah appended to here story is this:
Author’s Note: The unjust violent death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer was the specific impetus for this story. I tried to imagine what his mother must’ve been feeling upon learning about her son’s death. This wasn’t difficult because I have a son as well. I tried to impart the feeling of rage and horror I, any mother, would feel upon learning that her son was taken away in such a violent horrific way.
What Dave Truesdale effectively identifies as unprofessional (and later ‘amateurish’) is that Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali calls the killing of Micahel Brown ‘unjust’. Indeed he goes further and says that saying “unjust violent death of Michael Brown” is a lie. As he neither disputes the ‘death’ nor the ‘violent’ it is a necessary conclusion that Dave Truesdale regards the death of Michael Brown as just. He admits no possibility of nuance or perspective on this (e.g. that the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer is inherently unjust) but rather spends his time trying to re-prosecute the details of the shooting. Truesdale displays a classic error of ethical reasoning by attempting to portray the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer as not an attempt at murder and then leaping to the conclusion that it was somehow JUST or right and proper. Even if we were to accept that somehow this killing was a tragic accident of circumstance and misunderstanding to the extent that the officer involved is absolved of blame (which itself is problematic), the intentional killing of a man innocent of a capital crime is not in any reasonable society JUST. Anger in the face of injustice is a virtue – even if (as Truesdale appears to contend) the source of that injustice was somehow unintended by accident.
[I will let readers draw the other obvious connections between Dave Truesdale’s own emotional reactions to what he regards as injustice towards himself in other circumstances]
Critical reviews of stories with diverse themes and viewpoints should be encouraged in literary magazines, especially when dealing with hard-hitting or controversial material—even more so in science-fiction—and by any and all practitioners. Controversial or heartful topics shouldn’t be above informed criticism. The more the merrier.
Dave Truesdale should hope that this amateurish review of his should be quickly forgotten (or perhaps used as an object lesson is what not to do), and I doubt that Tangent will live up to its obvious potential in future efforts by showing more skill and sophistication than shown here. The scalpel cuts cleaner than the axe but more importantly righteous anger is not unprofessional nor illegitimate.