Authority Doesn’t Equal Enlightenment


Let us pretend for a moment that I am a sixty-five year old white male. I have worked all my life trying to make my used car sale lot the best in Wyoming. I even managed to attain an associates in business management because my wife would prefer I set a good example for my three children and eventually their grand children. I did get one when they were in their early teen years, so the amount of teenage resentment and fatherly love was about even. Just kidding, there’s no such thing as a middle school student who does not despise their parents.

You hate my imaginary used car salesman, do you not?


Okay, what the hell does this have to do with anything? And why should you give any credence to a used car salesman, even if it is an imaginary one? It’s my example so I’ll get there. Welcome to the hell that is privilege and authority someone else abuses.

Welcome to the DANGER ZONE. I mean, HELL! For the source.

But like any person, he has opinions, but unlike everyone, he may have the authority to have people believe him. He’s a successful business man, he has a degree, and he’s an old white guy, so he has an enormous amount of authority to lend to his opinions even if he never personally experienced the problems he’s talking about.

So when he complains about “the rap music” or says that poor people simply need to work harder to attain their goals, we should probably just nod and say “Oh, you used car salesman guy,” and proceed to completely ignore an opinion he has no real basis or understanding for despite his success in society.

Just because, he has, the uh, thing. You know, the thing? You should do something like…

Thanks, Cartman.

Which after a long delay leads to the point and that very same point is touched upon in Jacqueline Jones Royster’s “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own.” Just because one has the authority to say such things doesn’t mean they are correct, no matter how well they have done in other facets of life.

Colleagues who occupy a place of entitlement different from my own talk about history and achievements of people from my ethnic group, or even about their perceptions of our struggles. I have been compelled to listen as they have comfortably claimed the authority to engage in the construction of knowledge and meaning about me and mine. Without paying  even a passing nod to the fact that sometimes a substantive version of that knowledge might make me quite impatient with gaps in their understanding of my community (Royster 30)

Well damn, that must suck. Okay post over.

Oh fine, I’ll elaborate.

It is frustrating to hear someone comment on your circumstances when that person has never experienced them. He or she has basically never walked in your shoes, even for a day. If the sixty-five year old white guy from my first example told me he understood the plight of Japanese Americans throughout history, because he knows what to do. He also has an associates in BUSINESS MANAGEMENT. That would infuriate me. Now replace Wayne Brady with Max Brewer when I hear this…

It’s just so upsetting, isn’t it?

Even in an academic setting, it seems prevalent, if we’re to take Royster’s account only. To think, even in a context that is meant to provide discourse and understanding over a variety of topics, academic or otherwise, we are sorta stuck with this appeal to authority that often seems to deceive as it does to help.

Just to have someone tell you that they know you’re circumstances better than you do, the one who has lived in them and had to experience them, rather than study them as a matter of academic curiosity. Should I just say “Oh man, it sure would be great if third world countries stopped being so poor, so why don’t they just join the rest of us and keep up?” Well no, that’s awful and uninformative, but sadly it seems to be a real occurrence, simply due human nature those with authority who speak on such matters without considering the circumstances responsible for such an lifestyle.

But Royster has a plan.

Those of us who love our own communities, we think, most deeply, most uncompromisingly, without reservation for what they and also are not, must set aside our misgivings about strangers in the interest of the possibility of deeper understanding (and for the more idealistic among us, the possibility of global peace) (33)

This seems a little idealistic doesn’t it? The goals are admirable, but I’m not sure they’re entirely realistic. Sure, the intent is great, but Royster offers an idealistic solution in a realistic world. Even Royster seems to admit it’s idealistic in the grand scheme of things. But goddamn, wouldn’t it be great if it happened? That way I won’t feel like saying

Then I can say in a puddle of my own sweat tears, like Ben Sisko from Deep Space Nine, and say “IT IS REAL.”

Goddammit, I would like me some global peace and understanding, even though I know it’s implausible.

*Note: Forget everything you read here until Tuesday. You know, presentation and shit. 

A Question to ponder:

Is my title correct? Authority does not equal enlightenment? 


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