I read Thomas Chatterton Williams’s memoir, Losing My Cool, last summer and found it engrossing. I recommend checking it out, but until you do, here’s a couple more recent articles from him worth reading. One, on everybody’s least favorite buzzword, privilege:
What is more harmful — and pervasive in these disillusioned last days of the first black presidency — are the ways in which left-leaning discussions now share assumptions with the worst conservative and even white supremacist ideology. Whether put forth by racists or anti-racists, the insistence that, as James Baldwin noted, it is a person’s “categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended,” is oppressive. When genuinely anti-racist views lead us to the same practical conclusions an open bigot would embrace — that black life is miserable compared with white life — we give white people too much credit and strengthen the status quo.
The false choice between acknowledging the repugnant history of racism that informs the present, and the wish to accept the reality that a growing number of black people may nonetheless experience the freedom to define ourselves, is infantilizing. What this current moment of protest and awakening must lead us to, if it is to lead us anywhere, is a dignified means of fully inhabiting our ever more complicated identities.
It’s a strange and ironic double diminishment: first to feel oneself aggrieved, and then to conclude that the best response is to bask in fragility and retreat into an artificially indulgent social context. There is something utterly dehumanizing about being fit to a demographic profile, reduced to the sex or color of a body. While I may not be able to control how I look or how others perceive me, I control absolutely the ways I perceive myself. The idea that minorities need bubbles betrays an internalized sense of inferiority. When we concede public space as inherently hostile instead of deliberately claiming it as our own — as Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others did in the Sixties, as the gay-rights movement did more recently — we perpetuate and reinforce some of the very biases we seek to counteract.
Just as troubling, the growing power and influence of the appeal to vulnerability transforms it from a strictly defensive (if ineffective) tool into an increasingly potent method of intimidation that can silence even meaningful disagreement.