Have you ever felt disrespected?
Perhaps someone mocked the color of your skin. Or morons in positions of authority dismissed your good ideas. Or everyone laughed when you said that Avatar is a masterpiece.
Actually, check that last one. You kind of had it coming.
In any case, from toddlers to world leaders to hardcore rappers, everybody wants respect.
Scientists believe that “the human quest for significance [is] a basic motivation,” and as such, it is a “major force in human affairs” that “shapes the course of world history and determines the destiny of nations.”
Clearly, this isn’t about feeling slighted. The angry, flushed sensation of being disrespected is a core emotion, right up there with love and hate. And because everyone has it, the desire for respect can provoke people to do some pretty fucked-up things. Indeed, the craving to be acknowledged is a “universal and immutable aspect of human nature [that] has the potential to inspire great works but also tear society asunder.”
For example, studies reveal that fights over critical race theory are more likely in school districts where the percentage of white students has plummeted. The ludicrous, and occasionally violent, debate over CRT is “greatest in suburban communities with rapid demographic change,” and far less likely to erupt in districts “with minimal or no change in enrollment of White students.”
OK, but what does that have to do with feeling disrespected?
Well, social scientists believe that white Americans see their numbers and influence declining, and when that decrease is especially jarring—such as in certain school districts—they lose their “fundamental need to count, to be recognized and respected.”
Yeah, I know. Dismissing, mocking, or harassing ethnic minorities is apparently not disrespectful. Nor is taking away their right to vote, redlining them into poorer neighborhoods, incarcerating them at higher rates, or shooting them at will.
But a white person is allowed to feel dissed as hell if he sees fewer fellow whites in his neighborhood.
Once again, who is the snowflake here?
Regardless of the absurdity, systemic racism is “rooted in the motivation to put down one race to elevate another,” which allows those on top to earn more power, influence, and prestige in society. In other words, you get more respect if your group is in charge, even if you individually are no big deal, culturally speaking. It is the apogee of Lyndon Johnson’s axiom about convincing the lowest white man that he’s better than the best ethnic minority.
The construct of race “allows humanity to keep inventing, in language that can bend the most rational minds, groups of people whose supposed characteristics justify whatever cruelty we might wish to indulge.”
Again, this is a chief reason why the Republican Party indulges in a “terrifying tolerance of white supremacy and extremism.” It is why so many conservatives see all non-white people as enemies, a list that includes immigrants, refugees, Latinos, Blacks, Jews, Asians, or even reptilians who plot to dominate the world.
It is why a white Republican can shout at Martin Luther King’s children that they don’t understand their own father’s legacy as well as he does. Really, just ponder that mesmerizing display of chutzpah, hubris, hypocrisy, racism, and mega-sized mansplaining. It’s almost magical how such massive levels of arrogance and obliviousness can be achieved simultaneously.
But it makes more sense if you understand where that guy was coming from. He felt disrespected.
And when white conservatives feel that the rest of us are not worshiping them and validating all their opinions, they embrace rage, humiliation, and an urge to lash out. They are driven to preserve their status and importance. They feel justified to undertake horrific actions to maintain their prominence.
It’s not respectable behavior.
Featured image by John Mutford/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0