Critical Race Theory Flip Flops

Let’s face it. I skip much of the pulp (non-) fiction on cultural politics in today’s media, but I’ll occasionally find a bit in The Atlantic worth reading.[1] This one by Conor Friedersdorf, e.g., shows how “outrage entrepreneurs on either side” of hot-button issues like racism sometimes dance each other round until they swap places. Maybe I like this one because I have argued the same in this fine blog, sometimes humorously, as in my entry on Jonathan Swift and the Arc of Liberalism, sometimes more pedantically, as in my entry on Buckling and Curling in the US Political Spectrum. In any event, if you skip the Atlantic link, you can at least link to my previous entries for more entertaining, equally informative, and much shorter elucidations of Left and Right dancing around in their little (we can hope) death spiral 😊

Conor Friedersdorf article here

[1] The Atlantic is one of the few media outlets that has not zipped itself into an ideological straitjacket in the past few years. It leans left and includes new (woke)[2] progressive voices like Ibram X. Kendi, but also includes regular contributors such as former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum, and anti-woke liberals such as John McWhorter.

[2] A note on terminology: I am sometimes criticized for using the word “woke,” as if that aligns me with a conservative rhetoric. Although the term was at first amply used as a badge of honor for left-leaning politicians like my own New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, it is true that the right has seized the narrative and largely turned “woke” into a slur. In my case, I have always identified as progressive, not conservative, but for clarity today I need to distinguish between “progressive” as rooted in the 1960s radicalism of MLK and the hippies (which favors free speech and less racialization in our value judgments about people) and “woke progressive” (the identity politics sort, which favors stifling dissent and emphasizing race in value judgments about people and interactions). Thus, I use the term to distinguish two very different versions of progressivism which are often conflated because they carry the same “progressive” tag.

16 thoughts on “Critical Race Theory Flip Flops

  1. I was just thinking how funny it is to see the left, which views itself as the ‘authority’ on everything, fighting against oppression by people in authority. In other words, they are simply fighting for control over the narrative that the previous education ‘experts’ put out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi PK. Personally, I miss the days when the left wanted to question cultural authority, not BE the cultural authority; when they wanted to quit sorting people by race, not intensify sorting people by race; when they wanted to do away with double standards based on race and gender, not enforce double standards based on race and gender; when they wanted to blast away straitjackets on free speech, not construct new straitjackets for what you can “legitimately” think, do, and say. (But as with Bill Maher, James Carville, John McWhorter, and others, my critique of the current trajectory of the left is not a de facto endorsement of the right.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a person who has always questioned authority myself, and always wanted freedom for all, always hated discrimination, I feel your pain. But I see now that idealistic people like us will never control this world because the human condition is that the public tends to support charismatic candidates who make big promises, even if they are evil, and those people love power more than people. Then it’s too late until that evil can be stamped out again. And the cycle repeats.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for helping me relax, Pinknabi 🙂 Clarifying terms to prevent misunderstanding is a bigger part of any debate than I once realized, so I do sometimes worry over it. E.g., on this senstive topic, I have too often seen people write each other off as racist because they differ over some highly-charged term (or some short-term strategy), and completely disregard the fact that they have the same long-term goal (a harmonious multicultural society, comfortable with diversity, free from shame and self-loathing on any side, in which we recognize that we are all on spaceship Earth together and are able to celebrate our differences as well as our shared humanness). Anyway, I’ll accept your “amen” and go with “woke progressive” as distinct from the more traditional “progressive” values that emerged in the 1960s 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Critical Race Theory might make more headway if it would just abandon that awful misnomer; it sounds superior, exclusive, and insulting, as well as not actually being a theory. Better just to refer to the movement as “anti-racist” or “for racial equality” – we all know what those mean; we can all join in and move forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a lot of the problem is rhetoric that seems designed to enhance your prestige with the “in” crowd while alienating everyone else. E.g., In my mostly conservative workplace, if you said, “Blacks have never gotten a fair shake and inequality is still a problem,” almost all my white friends would agree; if you start in on “white privilege” and “white fragility,” support from them drops from maybe 90% to 20%. Sure, you can say that’s because they don’t understand, because they aren’t enlightened, but why turn away so much potential good will just so you can sound cool to your peers? The current left has a real talent for rhetorical self-destruction. With overwhelming good will for racial change after George Floyd, what do they do? Carpet-bomb the twitterverse with memes such as “defund the police” and “burnitalldown” — memes sure to boost your status within your capsule population and push a tidal wave of potential sympathizers away from your cause.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another problem per xyz theory — in academia, the only way to get noticed is to be more extreme than the person who came before you. If you stick to common sense, you fade fast. E.g., if I say, “White people often have racial biases they don’t even recognize,” the next person has to say “All whites are racist.” If I say, “A colorblind approach to policy doesn’t adequately account for material conditions on the ground,” the next person has to say, “A colorblind approach is itself a racist microaggression.” It’s one upmanship. You have to go to the next extreme to get into the next anthology of xyz theory. This gets you star status in academia and idiot status among the masses (who tend to be much more grounded in reality than the tenure-seeking denizens of liberal arts colleges).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent points Daedulus!

    As you allude to, the dogma that is often applied to race issues currently tends to ignore the fact that most cultures + races have tended to blend together somewhat over time historically. As we remember from the 60s, the term “integration” was often looked at as a positive. In line with this, the integration theory tended to break down barriers.

    A good starting point to look at to prove that integration existed is how many Popular music + Rock music groups from the 60s to 90s often were made up of people from different racial + cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, we seem to be losing that spirit + sense of cultural adventure.

    Thx for posting! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Perry. Yes, I miss the days when progressives were the integrationists, blasting away at the walls that separated people. I believe that the obsession today’s progressives have with racial identity/cultural purity casts suspicion on racial collaborations and reverses the gains in consciousness we had slowly made since the 1960s. The 1960s approach in a nutshell is that photo of Duane Allman (white southerner) laughing with Wilson Pickett as they collaborate on a song by some Brits (the Beatles) who were influenced by African-American blues — this level of inextricable collaboration must surely make today’s progressives pull their hair out, as Allman and Pickett seem to be digging the music and each other while being completely unbothered by racial difference.


  4. So true Daedulus!

    The seeking of harmony + understanding that the integration movement spawned seems to be getting lost in a search for purity. And how sad that is – since as you say, the gains made towards cultural understanding are being slowly eroded. Another excellent example of this collaboration was the influential part that Billy Preston played with the Beatles. And the list goes on…

    In our own way – as this blog piece highlights, we need to reinvigorate the search for true “integration” + understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

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