What does it mean to be a black conservative? If you ask Chidike Okeem, you’ll get an interesting, nuanced response. If you ask Leah Wright Rigueur, well, hey, somebody’s gotta provide the bite-sized news niblets for the busy progressive, I guess. I don’t want to know all the boring details, I just want to know how to signal about it!
Progressive media is best pictured as a bunch of attention-deficient, not-too-bright children batting a balloon around. Soon enough, the balloon pops, and the poor little dimwits stand there looking befuddled, and then they start to cry and wet their pants until someone blows up another balloon and floats it back into the group.
A couple years ago, we snapped a photo of one of the resident SJW writers at the A.V. Club in full tears-and-pissy-pants mode:
Despite consistently negative media attention on the topic (and negative reaction to that negative media attention), apparently two-thirds of Americans still believe that the name “Washington Redskins” isn’t disrespectful toward Native Americans. This stance, most fervently defended by people who own warehouses full of “Washington Redskins” T-shirts…
But for more than a decade, no one has measured what the country’s 5.4 million Native Americans think about the controversy. Their responses to The Post poll were unambiguous: Few objected to the name, and some voiced admiration.
…Even as the name-change movement gained momentum among influential people, The Post’s survey and more than two dozen subsequent interviews make clear that the effort failed to have anywhere near the same impact on Indians.
Across every demographic group, the vast majority of Native Americans say the team’s name does not offend them, including 80 percent who identify as politically liberal, 85 percent of college graduates, 90 percent of those enrolled in a tribe, 90 percent of non-football fans and 91 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39.
Even 9 in 10 of those who have heard a great deal about the controversy say they are not bothered by the name.
What makes those attitudes more striking: The general public appears to object more strongly to the name than Indians do.
I’m sorry, Ms. Rife, you were saying something hilarious…? You were disregarding the lived experience of People of Color in order to impose your own white intellectual/moral colonial standards, just like your racist ancestors did? Surely, you’re not going to violate one of the bedrock commandments of intersectionality and “appropriate” the native struggle as your own, right? Surely you’re not going to condescendingly “whitesplain” to these benighted savages how they’re too primitive and uneducated to understand what they should be offended by, are you?
(As of this writing, Ms. Rife’s byline at the A.V. Club displays no posts commenting on this latest setback for white SJWs in their mission to take offense on behalf of all those too weak or politically ignorant to take offense for themselves. But we’ll see if that changes soon.)
Those interviewed highlighted again and again other challenges to their communities that they consider much more urgent than an NFL team’s name: substandard schools, substance abuse, unemployment.
It’s like some random blogger once said:
These people are pathetic truffle pigs who squeal in delighted outrage whenever they root out another trivial instance of this-ism or that-phobia; once their flickering attention span is distracted by the next pseudo-issue, they’ll go right back to knowing and doing absolutely nothing about the lives of actual, living American Indians.
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.
For the therapeutic society, such a goal continually recedes beyond the horizon. These therapies share many of the new assumptions about race: racism continues unabated; all slights are equal; anyone who endures racial slights of any kind or degree is a victim or a survivor who needs help; racism is an illness shared by all oppressors, who also need therapy; and small-group interactions and emotional catharsis are the primary ways in which the racial problems of the country should be faced. That there is never an end in sight — racism remains completely unchanged — handily gives the new therapies the rationale not just for persevering but for proselytizing through pamphlets, books, journals, classes, workshops and retreats.
…The therapeutic movement, with this ethos of empowerment, has trumped the civil rights movement, with its vision of the just society and the good life. The culture of therapy’s view that the problem for everyone — bigots, oppressors and leaders alike — is a lack of nurture, validation and support has inspired numerous best-selling books and talk shows. The spirit of the movement is that we are all owed unconditional acceptance at all times, and that any weaknesses we have are not our own responsibility.
…The notion of incorrect attitudes — stereotypes — both expands and diminishes the extent of the problem. No one is truly guilty here — no one is actually at fault — because it is society that breeds the wrong attitudes. Yet everyone must be subjected to self-examination, because everyone harbors these attitudes. Thus any distinction between a racially motivated act — like refusing to hire or promote someone or chasing someone out of one’s neighborhood on account of race, or worse — and a passive misconception one might have about a group one has never known intimately gets lost. This focus on attitudes of nebulous origin, and the misleading assumption that they are universal and as lethal as racist acts, comes from a loss of judgment and proportion. This loss of proportion and inability to distinguish among wrong acts rests on the idea that stereotypes are responsible for racism, not individuals.
I became interested in reading this book after seeing an intriguing reference to it in a Spiked article a few months ago. Shortly afterward, I fortuitously came across a copy in a secondhand bookstore. Having now read it, I have to amend my thinking a bit. You’ve heard me say many times that the trendy emphasis on intersectional social justice is merely the millennial generation’s twist on the tired old fashion of left-wing identity politics. I still think this is true, but slightly incomplete. Lasch-Quinn’s book does a very good job of illustrating the overlooked fact that both the vocabulary and the rhetorical framework favored by social justice warriors owe as much to the maudlin, emotionally-incontinent therapeutic culture as to the New Left. Truly, a grim example of the worst of both worlds combining as one.
There’s something endlessly fascinating about the left’s insistence that Clarence Thomas is not “authentically” black—that this descendant of slaves, this grandson of sharecroppers, this hardworking man who rose to the grandest heights of the legal profession, is a traitor to his race and his class. I don’t know what it is about Thomas that drives the left so nuts, but it’s there, and it’s very real. Could you imagine what would happen if someone on the right described a brilliant liberal African-American of being no more than a slave controlled by white devils?
I hate to say this—the charge is offered all too often with far little in the way of support—but that shit is racist as hell.
Leave aside the “More like Uncle Clarence Thomas, amirite?” sniggering. The suggestion that Clarence Thomas is just a mindless puppet whose strings were pulled by Antonin Scalia is racist and ignorant and wholly unsupported by anything resembling the facts. Jeffrey Toobin—no fan of Thomas, he!—has said as much in the storied pages of the New Yorker.
I’m sure Bunch’s befuddlement is just rhetorical; he knows full well that Thomas is guilty of giving the lie to progressive homilies about race. “Authentic” blacks just coincidentally happen to be the ones who choose the same political positions as the white progressives who want to be credited for making a big display of standing aside and relinquishing their grip on power. “Now, Clarence, where on Earth did you get your head filled with all these crazy conservative ideas? Have you been hanging around with that Scalia boy again? I’ve told you he’s bad news, haven’t I? Look, we only want you to be happy and successful, but that means you have to listen to us when we give you advice. We know best, after all.” Actually, come to think of it, I’d love to see the Venn diagram of patronizing progressive racists and helicopter parents.
My argument here, of course, is subject to the same critique: by indicting the people who so conspicuously acknowledge their white privilege, I’m setting myself on a higher plane than they are, and thus guilty of the same kind of jockeying for rank on the righteousness hierarchy I’m critiquing. But this merely serves to underscore the problem: anti-racism as mental hygiene is a road that has no ending. The question is whether our goal is to be good or to do good.
The question of what he would have us do about privilege and racism is answered a couple paragraphs earlier, and it’s as predictable as you might expect: more affirmative action, more cosmetic diversity in high-status areas. Conservatives, as well as liberals with integrity, have long observed that progressives only care about superficial diversity while demanding ideological conformity. The same people who can’t congratulate themselves enough for managing to enjoy the company of people who look different than them will break out into hives if the objects of their patronizing attention should have the unmitigated gall to hold different political opinions from them. If you need to see proof of this in action, just watch how progressives feel perfectly free to use outright racist language toward black conservatives.
Speaking of that endangered species, Shelby Steele has reiterated in several books his conviction that affirmative action is primarily a scheme for restoring white moral authority. By that, he means that such programs have never come close to accomplishing their ostensible goals, but, as always when policies are rooted in emotional need rather than practical results, the failure is ours, not theirs. We didn’t try hard enough, we didn’t clap loud enough, we need to do it again, this time with feeling. Steele’s insightful approach owes much more to psychology than political science — as he describes it, “Whites and American institutions live by a simple formula: lessening moral responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism.” But, he adds, “White guilt wants no obligation to minority development. It needs only the display of social justice to win moral authority. It gets no credit when blacks independently develop themselves.”
In other words, white progressives are primarily concerned with being seen to make amends for the sins of their race in order to regain the authority they always enjoyed, whether they actually make anything better or not. Doing so keeps them in charge of proceedings. Again, note the way in which “diversity” among, say, Supreme Court justices is only a good thing as long as it can be taken for granted that the minority representatives will act in accordance with the political values of the white progressives who make such a false show of stepping aside and renouncing their control. Let someone like Clarence Thomas step into the gap, though, and see how they react. As Steele bitterly summarizes the mentality, “We’ll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you’ll just let us reduce you to your race so we can take moral authority for ‘helping’ you. When they called you a nigger back in the days of segregation, at least they didn’t ask you to be grateful.” Blacks who refuse to agree that white progressives always know best are further humiliated by the indignity of having their opinions belittled, stripped from them, and credited to the racist white conservatives who have supposedly brainwashed them or bought them off. Clearly, if they didn’t come to the correct conclusions, they must not know how to think at all. If you’re not with us, you can only be an idiot or a whore.
How amusingly ironic, then, that by offering those same old ersatz solutions, Freddie thinks he’s escaping the spectacle of white progressives competing to see who can take more responsibility for black uplift. At least the conspicuous anti-racism he’s criticizing is safely contained in a social media playpen where its effects on the real world are limited.
Now Coates, who recently moved to Paris and has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant, is lambasting Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Bernie Sanders for failing to tackle what Coates calls “white supremacy.” His anger has been aroused by Sanders’s sensible observation that reparations are, first and foremost, impractical. Coates reasons that much of Sanders’s platform is impractical, so why not indulge black voters one more fantasy?
Here Coates tips his hand. Coates doesn’t actually believe that Sanders can make good on any of his campaign promises, racially motivated or not, but Coates wants Sanders to earnestly pretend that he will. In other words, Coates wants Sanders, in effect, to peddle illusions. Why? What would that achieve? Haven’t black Americans had enough of being lied to? How would being lied to change anything for blacks in this country? It wouldn’t, and that’s the point. Coates does not believe things for blacks will change, even if they should. Thus Coates is validated in his narrative that blacks are perpetual victims of a vicious history.
…It’s odd that Coates expects a white man to be in charge of ending what he calls white supremacy, as opposed to appealing to Barack Obama, a black man who holds the highest office in the land. There’s a reason for that. The tickle of authenticity comes cheap. But the second Coates looks to black leadership for change, his proposals are no longer radical chic, and reality must set in. As long as words like “reparations” can float freely in columns and cocktail parties, blacks are free to project their pain, past and present, on rhetoric that serves no purpose other than to titillate the American left.
And titillation is indeed what it’s all about. I almost wish I could be naïve enough to still be surprised, but here you have a genuine socialist candidate for president, one who may yet even become the nominee, and yet one of the prominent left-hipster media darlings is condemning him for his stance on a complete non-starter of an issue that would never be within his power to act upon, even should he miraculously win the election. You might think this is an insanely counter-productive tactic, the inevitable left-wing circular firing squad, and you would be half-correct — it certainly is, for anyone interested in pragmatism over posturing. If what you want, though, is a steady supply of opportunities to position yourself as a member in good standing of the moral vanguard, then it makes perfect sense. No one can ever be allowed to profane your purity by speaking of the need for practicality or compromise. For people like Coates and his dime-a-dozen progressive flunkies, the worst thing that could happen would be for things to actually improve. If their complaints were ever framed in such a way as to be brought into practical reach, they’d be out of a job before long.
It’s like the popular phrase “not even wrong” — this charade, which purports to be purely concerned with morality, this charade of taking to task the most left-wing politician of recent memory for failing to challenge “white supremacy”, this charade of all the white progressives who trip over themselves to be seen publicly gushing over Coates’ book and thus absolved of being the wrong kind of white people, is not even moral. It mimics the mannerisms of morality but improves nothing. It identifies nothing resembling an actual way forward. “In Coates’s view, no one has agency.” That’s convenient, because as you’ve heard me say before, and will hear me say again, many people consider agency a burden and would love to be rid of it. This charade is the moral equivalent of running in place, a means of appearing to exercise agency without getting anywhere or risking anything. What’s really depressing is when you realize how much of progressive politics consists of nothing else but.
Because this isn’t what is actually on the Antiracists’ mind. The call for people to soberly “acknowledge” their White Privilege as a self-standing, totemic act is based on the same justification as acknowledging one’s fundamental sinfulness is as a Christian. One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege.
The proper response to original sin is to embrace the teachings of Jesus, although one will remain always a sinner nevertheless. The proper response to White Privilege is to embrace the teachings of—well, you can fill in the name or substitute others—with the understanding that you will always harbor the Privilege nevertheless. Note that many embrace the idea of inculcating white kids with their responsibility to acknowledge Privilege from as early an age as possible, in sessions starting as early as elementary school. This, in the Naciremian sense, is Sunday school.
Think of it. A certain class of white person, roughly those who watched 30 Rock and Mad Men, lustily pumps their fists at the writings of a Coates who says that he is surprised that white people—i.e. ones like them—are interested enough in black people and racism to even bother reading his work. Coates is telling these people that they are sinners, in a sense, and they are eagerly drinking in the charge, “revering” him for it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is worship, pure and simple.
In this new liberalism, dissociation from America’s characterological evil was not simply a means to a better world; it was an end in itself, a gesture that proved the decency of individuals and the legitimacy of institutions…The point is that America met the great challenge of the 1960s by inventing a faux human virtue — the idea that a vicarious or merely symbolic dissociation from America’s evil past counted as a timeless human virtue like courage or honesty or perseverance, all of which require selflessness and sacrifice.
Dissociation is an artificial virtue because its entire reason for being is to avoid the selflessness, sacrifice and risk that true virtue inevitably involves. It gives us a road to the decency and legitimacy we want while sparing us the difficulty and struggle of true virtue. Dissociation turns virtue into a mask. It gives us the means to construct a “face of The Good.” It counts the mere mouthing of glossy ideas of The Good the same as an honest struggle toward what is actually possible.
For example, how does a people emerging from four centuries of racial oppression actually overcome all the damage done by that oppression and reach a true and self-evident equality with others? Dissociation spares America the need to wrestle with this. It asks us only to identify with public policies contrived around vague effusions of The Good, like multiculturalism, diversity, gender equity, etc.
See also: virtue signaling, the unwelcome burden of agency, social media as a playpen for political posers, and the general worthlessness of online progressives. What a delight it has been to discover Steele’s work. An incisive thinker and an excellent writer.
I’ve always liked reading John McWhorter. Here’s a twofer from him. One:
Some might object that we should not check that impulse, and that extremism is necessary to create lasting social change. But it’s useful to recall that, when it comes to profanity, there were once people who considered themselves every bit as enlightened as we see ourselves today, with the same ardent and appalled sense of moral urgency. They were people who said “Odsbodikins” and did everything they could to avoid talking about their pants.
Note that none of these things involve white people “realizing” anything. These are the kinds of concrete policy goals that people genuinely interested in seeing change ought to espouse. If these things seem somehow less attractive than calling for revolutionary changes in how white people think and how the nation operates, then this is for emotional reasons, not political ones. A black identity founded on how other people think about us is a broken one indeed, and we will have more of a sense of victory in having won the game we’re in rather than insisting that for us and only us, the rules have to be rewritten.