Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 7 News List

The generation gap is back, but not as we know it

There is an ideological conflict brewing between ‘woke’ millennials and an older generation in which neither understands the other

By Brigid Delaney  /  The Guardian

In Australia this conflict includes debates around who gets to tell what stories. For example, whether a fiction author has the right to depict an experience that is not her own, such as a white Australian woman writing the experiences of a queer Indigenous man.

This issue came to a head at the 2016 Brisbane writers festival, where novelist Lionel Shriver gave the keynote address and said that novelists should be free to write from the point of view of characters from other cultural backgrounds.

In the audience was the writer and engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who found the speech offensive and walked out. She later wrote for Guardian Australia on the experience, saying: “It’s not always OK if a white guy writes the story of a Nigerian woman because the actual Nigerian woman can’t get published or reviewed to begin with.”

“It’s not always OK if a straight white woman writes the story of a queer Indigenous man, because when was the last time you heard a queer Indigenous man tell his own story?” she added. “How is it that said straight white woman will profit from an experience that is not hers, and those with the actual experience never be provided the opportunity?”

Or it shows up in a reconsideration of the work of Chris Lilley — once a Gen X icon for Summer Heights High and We Can Be Heroes, but now being chastised for depictions of characters such as Jonah from Tonga.

The show did not go down too well with critics in the US and UK, with the Huffington Post describing Lilley as “a 39-year-old white guy in a permed wig and brownface. Yes, brownface. In 2014.”

However, when Summer Heights High first aired in 2007, the brownface went largely unremarked upon.

This week it is The Simpsons that has come under fire for its flip response to anger over the depiction of the long-running Indian character Apu. Lisa says: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”


Part of this gap between young and old is the rise and mainstreaming of identity politics and intersectionality, a theory originating in black feminism, that calls out identity-based oppression.

This theory, around since the late 1980s and 1990s and used to describe interlocking and structural systems of power, was coined in 1989 by the academic Kimberle Crenshaw. It is used to describe, in Crenshaw’s words, the “multiple avenues through which racial and gender oppression were experienced.”

So how a black hotel cleaner might experience workplace discrimination is different from how a white, upper-class lawyer might experience it, because other forces of oppression are also at work other than gender discrimination.

Intersectionality was once a notion confined to the campus — its concerns did not reach the editorial conference room in the newspaper, in the programming of a music or writers festival or the writers room of a TV sitcom.

However, in recent years it has jumped off the page and into real-life discussions about Me Too and Black Lives Matter, for example.

In 2006 — when the generation gap was pronounced deceased by New York magazine and a year before Jonah from Tonga was shown on Australian television to an accepting public — words associated with this movement such as no-platforming, the use of “a violence” as a verb and “woke” as an adjective, microaggression, and cisgender heterosexual did not exist, nor had they entered the mainstream.

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