Suffer the (White, Middle-Class) Children

Teen Outcasts Change the Face of Identity Politics

Gripping as Littleton and the aftermath have been for media outlets and Slashdot's geeks, they barely register elsewhere. In the 93 percent minority school district of Oakland, California, it's a cold topic. "The other day," says teacher Nick Bacon, "a kid said, 'Well, we're not as crazy as they are in Littleton.' Other than that, I didn't hear anyone even mention it." Any testimony on their own high school oppression? "Haven't talked about that at all."

The kids who are talking about it have learned the codes of identity politics elegantly. Among Katz's responses, he received "hundreds comparing Littleton to Stonewall. I asked them, 'Are you gay?' Most of them said 'No.' It was just that the analogy struck them, that this was their politicizing moment."

It's telling that the analogy aligns outcast teens with gay rights rebels— the only other example of an identity group driven by the white middle class. But is it a fair comparison? Will geeks really get truncheoned for the crime of geekism? Will they be sent to the camps, made to wear badges in the shape of computer chips?

Unlikely as this seems, one suspects that had Katz's respondents been older or had a more diverse history to draw from, they might have said that Littleton was their Emmett Till trial, their Feminine Mystique; with chutzpah, even their Auschwitz. In "Voices From the Hellmouth," Katz himself said, "I hate to use the word but it reminded me of Holocaust testimony, describing the most awful experiences— being urinated on, being beaten up, crying every night, never being invited to places, just utterly worthless, really trying to survive." (Emphasis added.)

Home alone on Friday night. Gas chambers.

Sucks to be a kid. Sucks especially if you decide against— or never learn— the moves for playing along with the popularity game. I know it from experience, and I believe it in reading through all this material. And of course students have a right to complain, and to fight for a better incarceration— even the baseball players. Yet at a remove from Littleton, current events mark a strange turn in the history of identity politics, which once bet its progressive stake on being a countermeasure to the power of relatively well-off white guys. The idea that this group could move into the slot of the oppressed, as well as occupying the traditional role of the oppressor, is rich with the sense that history has been outmaneuvered, and the margins excluded once again. Ironic, you might say— for all the relentlessly mocked overkill of the p.c. movement, the white guy has become the universal subject once again.

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