Two takes on whiteness

Some decades ago on a daytime TV talk show – I’ll never find it – the African-American public intellectual, Cornel West, was seated next to some Ku Klux Klan members, and the host said something about the KKK representing white people. West gestured at the white supremacists next to him on the stage and replied, “These people don’t represent white people; they represent morons.” That encapsulated the norm in anti-racist discourse in the post-1960s trajectory (post-MLK/post-hippies). It was not black vs white but, as Dr. King called it, a “coalition of conscience” on one side and racists on the other, “for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny . . . that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (“I Have a Dream,” 1963).

How times have changed. Many in the (ironically named, some would say) “progressive” movement have swung around to suggest that the KKK, in effect, DOES represent white people, as the KKK expresses more overtly what is implicitly baked into white people. Whereas West’s witty remark of yore would marginalize racists and foreground Dr. King’s coalition of conscience, the most prominent voices among today’s anti-racists give the KKK center stage.

“All white people are invested in and collude with racism . . . The white collective fundamentally hates blackness” (Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility).

“The way in which people have constructed whiteness, and even their identity, or even the identity of white people, prevents them from seeing this white terrorist threat for what it is” (Ibram X. Kendi, interview 01/12/2021).

Though Kendi’s remarks are less demoralizing than DiAngelo’s, they still emphasize the battle lines between white and black – not anti-racism as a (rainbow) coalition of conscience against racists, but anti-racism as a battle against “whiteness.”

The two takes on whiteness, in any event, are clear. The post-1960s anti-racist angle was that whiteness was neither here nor there, not a blessing and not a scarlet letter. In the coalition of conscience, whites and blacks joined hands to combat racism and racial inequality, without probing into the color of the hand next to you and whether that color meant secret sins that needed to be called out. The post-woke angle, on the other hand, is that whiteness is indeed the problem. It comes dangerously close to recapitulating the old blackness vs. whiteness dichotomy favored by Bull Connor and the racist segregationists that liberals fought so hard against in the 1960s.

Some of you might find anti-racist inspiration in the woke discourse, and I suspect I might find some myself if I push into it harder, but the overall thrust is a hard sell for me. The idea of teaching children, black and white, the Robin DiAngelo quote above, and how that might affect them socially and psychologically, is frankly a little chilling. The other angle on whiteness, the angle that I have identified as post-1960s (as opposed to post-woke), the angle I associated with that decades-old quip of Cornel West (my more up-to-date readers can comment on whether his position has changed since then) – that’s the angle I like. It allows all people of all races to celebrate each other, to work hand-in-hand to fix continuing racial inequality, each able to express one’s own heart robustly, with full confidence in oneself and one’s fellows in the coalition, not cowering in self-doubt about one’s own goodness or casting suspicious eyes on those around you.

Best that each of us, black or white, express the power of beauty and goodness in the heart without impediment, in the brazen manner of William Blake, or better yet, Walt Whitman:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself…
My tongue, every atom of my blood…
Nature without check with original energy…
The smoke of my own breath…
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.

I know I am solid and sound…
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow…
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

(Song of Myself)

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Wokeness under threat (or, gravity is a fascist)

One thing wokeness has opened our eyes to is collective guilt. All males are complicit in rape culture.1 All whites are complicit in white supremacy.2 Individuals are not responsible for crimes; they are just acting out the values of their culture. Extend the logic and you will see that when a black man commits a crime, the blame falls on black culture, in which all blacks are complicit; and when an Islamic terrorist strikes, all Moslems are complicit. And here’s a valuable addition for my woke brothers and sisters. I have recently discovered that women and gay people also commit crimes. Extend the collective guilt logic to those groups and, well, we are back in medieval times, where we are all going to hell in a handbasket, without a grim Calvin to save us.

Now that we have reached this pinnacle of religious truth, however, wokers beware! You are under threat. And it’s not conservatives you need to fear. There is an army of scientists and public intellectuals of the liberal sort – Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury – who are trying to turn us back. Even Obama and Noam Chomsky have taken liberal positions against wokeness. One vile woman is going so far as to twist the Diversity Training Industry away from its proper us-vs-them focus with whites in one box (racists) and blacks in another (victims) into a false narrative that “invite[s] our clients to explore what connects them as human beings.”

In 2021, we are finally moving past the age of so-called Enlightenment. We are finally getting back to where tribal biases can overrule the universal truths and universal rights associated with science and Enlightenment thinking, finally getting back to where tribal identity takes precedence over the idea of shared humanness. We’ve worked long and hard since the 1980s to integrate this neo-medieval world view into our academic, social, and political infrastructure. Don’t let them give us a neo-Enlightenment. Don’t let them put us back into the chains of scientific truth. These are the people who would deny that gravity is a fascist, even though it is plain to see that gravity forces all to abide by its truth, regardless of race or ethnicity. We need tribal truth, not the fascism of science’s universal truths. Don’t let them drag us back to the ideal of universal rights over tribe-based rights. Most of all don’t let them bring back that pre-1980s liberal cornerstone of oppression, “shared humanness,” which would be anathema to the most treasured ideals of wokeness: i.e., tribal bias and cross-racial suspicion.

Wake up, wokes! Liberals are out there, pushing their agenda (free speech, less racialization in our judgments of others) against the woke agenda (stifle dissent, increased racialization in our judgments of others). We’ve increased wokeness in newsrooms, schools, and elsewhere. We now need to consolidate that power and force people into vocal support for our side. Silence is violence. Demand vocal support for wokeness in the workplace, on campus, in the streets, or else. Criminalize all dissent as “unsafe,” as “harmful,” and therefore unprotected by the 1st Amendment. Get to work! The woke revolution is not as secure as you think!

1 ”We are all active contributors to rape culture. All of us. No one is exempt.” (Damon Young, Senior Editor of The Root)
2 “All white people are invested in and collude with racism.” (Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility).

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Proceed with caution, young progressives

Food for thought. A word of caution to both the left and the right, bringing together an impressive list of signatories, from Noam Chomsky to J. K. Rowling, Wynton Marsalis, David Brooks, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem, and many more.

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The most forgotten phrase in US politics

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39)

There was a time when both my Christian and non-Christian friends appreciated the value in this principle. But (trigger warning: equivalence coming) now if you are on the left, you can be kicked out of the club for being insufficiently hateful toward Trump and the right. (I myself have been exiled from the club for this very reason.) Not to be outdone, those on the right are kicked out for being insufficiently hateful toward liberals.* I don’t find the platforms of the two sides equivalent, as I definitely favor one of them in terms of policy. But sufficient hate is now the measure of allegiance on both sides. I am fed up. Remarkably, through these semi-private blogs, I find that LOTS of other people are fed up with “split-screen America,” fed up with all the hate-shaming (i.e., guilt-tripping people for not being hateful enough toward the other side), fed up with the zero-sum partisan death spiral. These people have no voice in the media or halls of government, but they are there in large numbers. So let’s go. It’s time to break the back of the whole left-right spectrum. Throw it away and start over. Where to start? Matthew 22:39 — if you truly, mindfully practice it as a daily habit — is as good a place as any.

x x x

*Apologies to my neo-Marxist friends in the David Harvey line, but I use “left” and “right” as they are commonly used in the US, as quasi-synonymous (in most cases) with “liberal” and “conservative,” albeit with a stronger ideological accent. E.g., calling Reagan neoliberal may make sense in Europe or in the parlance of a particular political theory, but ask anyone on the US streets and they would say, “Reagan was the conservative and his Democratic opponents — Carter and Mondale — were the liberals. Reagan was supported mainly by those on the right half of the spectrum, and Carter and was supported mainly by those on the left half.” I am not discrediting Harvey and friends — the theory is internally consistent and probably makes good sense in the UK and in the larger sweep of history — but it is an awkward metric for common usage of the terms in the US. (“Libertarian,” as distinct from “liberal” and “conservative,” might better fit everyday US usage — at least in some contexts — to describe what Harvey and others call neoliberal.)

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How woke is woke (or, gimme that old progressive vision)

I sort of fell into my recent blog series on the cultural lead-up to Woodstock (1969), but now that I’m there, I’ll piggyback with a curious political look at those filthy hippie progressives.

This may come as a shock to my younger woke friends, but back then, progressives were the ones fighting AGAINST official restraints what to say, think, and do; fighting AGAINST sorting, judging, and voting for people based on skin color or sex organs; fighting AGAINST double standards based on demographic identity and AGAINST tribe-specific definitions of truth and justice. And conservatives were the ones fighting FOR all those things. In a word, that old progressive vision was to obliterate the cultural police, while conservatives wanted to BE the cultural police. So when you criticize an old-timer whose values were forged in the Civil Rights/hippie days for being too conservative, remember: To them, YOU may look a lot like the conservative they grew up fighting against 😊

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Think Big

Be the change you want to happen. Never accept any ideology from the Left or the Right that says we need to respect walls of separation between races, genders, etc. Never accept any ideology from the Left or the Right that says we should vote for, value, or prejudge someone innocent or guilty based on skin color or sex organs.

We can celebrate our different cultures, but we do so best when we disregard the dividers on both Left and Right and invite all comers to celebrate with us. When crunch time comes, like it or not, we are all in this together with our shared humanness at stake.


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Paglia’s latest on the culture wars

Here’s a bit from a Camille Paglia interview (by Claire Lehmann, Quillette, 10NOV18) on how we got to this point in the culture wars.

I don’t always agree with Paglia, but she is a reminder of a common political fallacy. Anyone who criticizes identity politics is assigned to the Right by default. This is a false binary. There are quite a few of us who critique identity politics not from the Right but from what seems to us true left, a more or less Marxist-based 1960s radicalism. From this vantage point, the identity politics Left seems just another version of the authoritarian Right, with its sharp lines between races and genders, its reliance on us vs them models, and its ideological concentration of power and policing of all dissent.

Anyway, on to Paglia …

“As I argued in … [1991] Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault were already outmoded thinkers even in France, where their prominence had been relatively brief. There was nothing genuinely leftist in their elitist, monotonously language-based analysis. On the contrary, post-structuralism was abjectly reactionary, resisting and reversing the true revolution of the 1960s American counterculture, which liberated the senses and reconnected the body and personal identity to nature, in the Romantic manner . . .

“Post-structuralism, along with identity politics, made huge gains in the 1970s, as the old guard professors proved helpless against a rising tide of rapid add-on programs and departments like women’s studies and African-American studies. The tenured professoriate seemed not to realize that change of some kind was necessary, and thus they failed to provide an alternative vision of a remodeled university of the future. I myself was lobbying for interdisciplinary innovation in the humanities—something that remained highly controversial right through the 1980s . . .

“Helped along by a swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps. Out went half the classics, as well as pedagogically useful survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history (now dismissed as a “false narrative” by callow theorists). Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment . . . [They] never systematically engaged or critiqued … [That] was left instead to self-identified conservatives. The latter situation was clearly counterproductive, insofar as it enabled the bourgeois faux leftists of academe to define themselves and their reflex gobbledygook as boldly progressive . . .

“I am an equity feminist: that is, I demand equal opportunity for women . . . However, I oppose special protections for women as inherently paternalistic . . . Women have rarely worked side by side with men in the way they now do . . . Despite their general affluence, professional women of the Western world have been chronically unhappy for decades, and I conjecture that it is partly because they have been led to expect happiness from a mechanical work environment that doesn’t make men happy either…”

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Audacious things to say out loud (ten years out)

“Left and Right have become mirror images of each other. There are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal … Their purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated … to beat the other side into submission … what has been lost in the process … are those shared assumptions – that quality of trust and fellow feeling … [This is politics, but] there is another story … millions of Americans who are going about their business every day … [All] those ordinary citizens … who have found a way – in their own lives, at least – to make peace with their neighbors … are out there, waiting for Democrats and Republicans to catch up with them.”

“Any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in … keeps us locked in either/or thinking.”

“I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe … I reject politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally.”

“I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.”

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