Monday, February 25, 2013

bullshit social climber faux-antiracism

When I saw, in this Atlantic Wire piece, that Internet personality "Jay Smooth" was lecturing Radley Balko on his attitude towards people of color, I laughed out loud. It's like God decided, "I'm going to create the perfect possible example of cultural liberalism's preference for feelings over material conditions."

Jay Smooth makes videos on the Internet. So he's got that going for him. Radley Balko, meanwhile, has gotten actual black people out of actual jail. He has worked tirelessly against police abuse and corruption, the drug war, and mass incarceration, and specifically the mass incarceration of young black men. He's been cited in court cases where innocent people were freed. His journalism-- you know, the kind where you go out into the world and find out facts in order to create change, rather than sit in front of a webcam and use tired slang-- has helped to create material change in the world. That matters. You know what doesn't matter? Tweets about how offended you are by something. Your tweets do nothing. They accomplish nothing, make nothing happen. They do less than nothing: they are nothing that you mistake for something, and thus make it harder to actual apprise the actual situation. Let's check the percentages, please.

If you're a white person who thinks that "Jay Smooth" has the right to lecture Radley Balko about race in America, you care more about your social positioning than about the material conditions of the nonwhite people you claim to be speaking for. Period. But then that's true of white, web-enabled social liberalism in general: it is fodder for the endless cultural and social status competitions of the people undertaking it, and not for the productive purpose of ending racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or other ills. Online social liberalism is a cul de sac.

The joke here is that I think Balko is an asshole, and his economic politics a horror show. And while I doubt he's ever spent a spare moment thinking about me, I'm certain he'd find me an even bigger asshole than I find him. I hope he never gets what he wants economically. But none of that that matters in this context. You know why? Because getting people out of fucking jail transcends petty personal bullshit. Challenging racist laws and exposing police corruption and contributing to appeals of unjust verdicts is about something bigger than deciding who's cool. One day of Corey Maye's life as a free man is worth more than every scolding tweet that's ever been sent. If you think otherwise, please, never speak about racism again.

Nothing could be more indicative of the state of American social liberalism than the divide between the graduate classes I take and the undergraduate classes I teach. The students in the graduate classes are endlessly careful to check their privilege. That's good. Privilege is real, it's better to think about it than not to. But the obsessive focus on privilege checking is the epitome of how people misunderstand social change. People of the world, I implore you: what is privilege checking doing for anyone? Is anyone in the world going to materially benefit from someone in some grad seminar checking their privilege? Has all the privilege checking in every cultural studies class in the history of creation ever put clothes on someone's back or food in their belly? Ever stopped a single cop from beating a black man senseless? Don't mistake your purification rituals for progress, please.

Meanwhile, my undergrads are mostly good kids. But they are absolutely repulsed by what they take organized social liberalism to be. I talk about politics with them and they seem generally to be on the side of the angels. But you mention the word feminism, and they recoil. It's visceral. And the young women are even worse than the men. They aren't racist, mostly. But in large majorities, they are skeptical to outright hostile towards organized antiracism. Why? In part, because of ignorance and privilege and apathy. But in part, because they have grown into a world where social liberals are more interested in demonstrating their superiority over them than in educating them. Because they perceive, correctly, that white antiracism is dominated by people who are more interested in being right than in doing right.

I like the grad student attitude and actions more than the undergrads. But the undergrads vastly outnumber the grad students. And it's the undergrads that go out and rule the world. Don't believe me? Read the Tweets that aren't written by a small group of self-selected fellow travelers. Read the comments on websites that are writing about this controversy. Look outside of the castle of sanctimony you've built. Extend your perspective outside of the orgy of self-congratulation that you took part in today. There are more of them than there are of us. The people with the microphones make fun of Seth McFarlane. But the masses love him, love his show, and loved him last night. And as long as you are more interested in excluding them than in actually undertaking the work of reaching out to them, they will always outnumber you. I know you feel good about yourself and how righteous you are. But you are losing. Who do you think the median American is? A commenter at Jezebel? Or at ESPN.com?

If feelings were what mattered, when it came to racism or sexism or homophobia, we would have solved these problems long ago. But social inequalities are not about feelings. It is the structure of our society that renders black manhood criminal. It is the structure of our society that keeps women underpaid. These problems can't be solved with feelings. These problems are not in people's minds. They can only be solved structurally, through actual material change. And yet it is the self-same social liberals who raise all this controversy who concern troll real change, who refuse to stand for a reorganization of human society that could actually address these problems. Meanwhile, they spend all of their attention on soliciting apologies that do not one tangible bit of good for any human being. It's useless, but there's just more social percentage in it.

The fundamental conditions on the ground are a social liberalism that speaks to and for a smaller and smaller group of self-selected people, utterly unable to create material change, but endlessly self-congratulatory and aggressive, in a way that expels precisely the people who need to be educated. Those are the facts. The question is whether this is merely a failure of the infinitely self-satisfied class of prominent social liberals, or in fact their preference. After all, an ever-shrinking circle of those deemed righteous only serves to further burnish the righteousness of those within. Will they ever notice how little they're accomplishing, how their obsession with the personal is self-defeating? I doubt it. Social liberals can continue on forever this way, nor do I doubt that those within it will furiously enforce the marginalization of criticisms like this one. Personally, I don't much care who listens or agrees.

Hey guys: black people have 6% higher unemployment than the country at large, they have an incarceration rate six times the national average, and they make up 13% of this country's population but suffer half of its homicides. But the Onion apologized for a vulgar tweet! Truly, you are all that stands between us and a fallen world. Keep living the dream.

95 comments:

Freddie said...

This was one of those ones where I was like "write it but don't post it. who needs the grief. don't hit post."

And then I hit post.

Will Shetterly said...

Hey, if it's any consolation, I appreciate venting about middle-class moralists who want to think they're radicals. Regarding "white antiracism is dominated by people who are more interested in being right than in doing right", I'll take the hit for adding that black antiracism is pretty much dominated by the same bourgie folks. We're talking about graduates of the schools for the 1% whose concept of social justice rarely includes economic justice. Privileged folks love to feel like they're good people, and if the way to do that is to tweet with angry righteousness about perceived racism and sexism, they'll happily do that.

Will Shetterly said...

That said, if you decide to delete the post, ain't no shame.

Will Shetterly said...

On second thought, don't delete this unless you simply feel you must. My wife read your post 'cause I left it up on my screen, and she pointed out the beauty of this line: "Don't mistake your purification rituals for progress."

studentactivism.net said...

This would have been a stronger post if you'd actually engaged with, or even attempted to summarize, the content of Smooth's critique. Whatever it was. Balko does great work. I agree. But that doesn't mean he never screws up, or that calling him out when he does isn't useful.

studentactivism.net said...

Also, it's kind of weird for a professor to be arguing that speech acts have no material consequences, and to be doing so in defense of a journalist.

studentactivism.net said...

Also also, Jay Smooth isn't white.

Knockout Ed said...

Isnt "the structure of society" created by the collective "feelings" of of large numbers of of people in sad society?

I really dont understand the point of this post. Jay Smooth cant criticize Balko b/c he's done things? Nevermind that you seem to know nothing about Smooth besides the fact that he makes videos. All this b/c of one tweet? Protesting too much, homie.

Knockout Ed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knockout Ed said...

Are you really arguing that we dont change things by changing people's minds? The structures of society are made & propped up by people. Your whole argument makes no sense.

Eric said...

As a regular reader and admirer of Radley's (even his "horror show" economics), I took his comment and subsequent tweets to Xeni to mean something much different than "get over it."

As you rightfully note, Radley spends the large majority of his time on criminal justice and police abuse issues. He has a DAILY feature about police-raids-gone-bad that feature victims who are disproportionately poor and minority. He wrote extensively today about a federal prosecutor who openly assumed in front of a jury that "black person + hispanic person + money = drug deal."

With that as a background, I took Radley's comment not as a "get over it" but instead as a "where is this level of outrage for the real injustices that are happening every day." In fact, that's what his response to Xeni was when she called out his original tweet. Radley asked her "instead of demanding apologies for jokes, why not focus on places where -isms cause tangible harm?" to which she responded "you're kind of trolling."

Your (excellent) post reinforces that point. The way I read Radley's tweet, he was saying "stop with the purification ritual and look harder at the horrible stuff that's really happening." And for that he was roundly criticized.

Kyle Thompson said...

I'm glad you posted this Freddie - just because someone thinks they're on the side of the angels doesn't mean they should get a pass on sloppy sanctimony, especially when said sanctimony is the bulk of their intellectual output.

As for summarizing the content of Smooth's critique... there wasn't any. He was just throwing Balko's race in his face, implying that this somehow made his subdued comment about the importance of prioritizing outrage condescending towards PoC. That is some lazy ass thinking.

The argument isn't that speech acts have no consequences - it's that the obsession with privilege and the accompanying self-righteousness are not the most useful speech acts around.

studentactivism.net said...

The argument isn't that speech acts have no consequences - it's that the obsession with privilege and the accompanying self-righteousness are not the most useful speech acts around.

This really bears no relationship that I can discern to any of Jay Smooth's work. If you're not going to engage beyond the level of caricature, why even bother?

It's kind of like Balko's tweet itself. He's upset because people are upset about something he thinks they shouldn't get upset about? Come on. What's more trivial than being upset that people are upset about something you think isn't worth their upset? It's not as if people sat down this morning and thought "Either I'll do some death penalty defense work or some tweeting about the Onion," and chose the Onion because they thought it was more salient. That's not how this stuff works.

Yes. Practical, sleeves-rolled-up direct service work is important. But rhetoric is also important. Conversation is also important. Interrogating how systems of oppression work, convincing people that they're worth opposing, and banding together to shift cultural values? That's not fake. That's not bullshit. That's real. If you don't think that's real, then there are huge swaths of the social change that's taken place in the US in the last half century that you basically have no analytical tools to explain.

Yes, some anti-racist rhetoric is stupid and counter productive. But that's because THAT rhetoric is stupid and counter-productive, not because rhetoric ITSELF is. Want to counter the unproductive rhetoric? Counter it. Argue against it. Don't whine about how unattractive whining is.

Because that is some bullshit right there.

matthew christman said...

Freddie, if you've got a way to "educate" the racist, sexist masses in a way that doesn't make them feel condescended to, please share it with the class.

jpmeyer said...

Ouch.

But tell us how you really felt about last night's episode of Girls. (bah dum tish)

Ethan Gach said...

"Yes, some anti-racist rhetoric is stupid and counter productive. But that's because THAT rhetoric is stupid and counter-productive, not because rhetoric ITSELF is. Want to counter the unproductive rhetoric? Counter it. Argue against it. Don't whine about how unattractive whining is."

To often people are willing to settle for rhetoric instead of actually DOING something; preferring the ease of speech to the work of action.

Then there's the point of where you channel your outrage if you going to do so rhetorically. Do you spend the morning griping about a tweet and something an awards ceremony MC said? Or about the fact that it's perfectly acceptable to dress up in clothes that cost as much as a minimum wage earner makes in a year, give gold statues to you're buds and colleagues, and only give work to women who meet an extremely narrow frame of physical attributes?

You're mounting a false equivalence. They all have effects, but not in equal proportion, and where the focus is put and the time is spent, and the actual work is done, is the thing.

studentactivism.net said...

To often people are willing to settle for rhetoric instead of actually DOING something; preferring the ease of speech to the work of action.

I teach in a NYC community college. I'm a father of two. I mentor student activists around the country. I'm a historian of US social movements and a chronicler of contemporary organizing. I go to marches and meetings and convergences. I door-knock. I vote. I fundraise. I recycle. If you need more bona fides, just let me know.

Then there's the point of where you channel your outrage if you going to do so rhetorically. Do you spend the morning griping about a tweet and something an awards ceremony MC said? Or about the fact that it's perfectly acceptable to dress up in clothes that cost as much as a minimum wage earner makes in a year, give gold statues to you're buds and colleagues, and only give work to women who meet an extremely narrow frame of physical attributes?

Ah, so they're not griping about the RIGHT things. Ineffectual whining is A-OK with you as long as it's ineffectual whining about class and body image, not race and gender?

But let's cut to the nitty gritty, shall we? Is it your position, and Freddie's, that the persistence of casual, crude, dismissive racism and misogyny among supposed liberals and leftists ISN'T an impediment to building a broad-based progressive struggle against the structural inequalities of our society? Because if that's your argument, I'd like to see it spelled out explicitly. And if it's NOT your argument, I'd like to hear why you think we should all shut up about the manifestations of such bigotry.

These aren't rhetorical questions. I'd really like to know.

Will Shetterly said...

studentactivism, I hope your "I recycle" was ironic, but if it was not: I was a caretaker at a writer's retreat where rich people would come. They recycled religiously, with no apparent sense that compared to the ecological consequences of their annual travel by air, their recycling was no more meaningful than sprinkling themselves with holy water. Which, to the religious, is extremely meaningful, I realize.

Freddie, I duno what you think of Adolph Reed, but I love the guy's thinking. He just did an essay called "Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why" that contained this:

"Over time, the idea that a “left” is defined by commitment to a vision of social transformation and substantive program for realizing it has receded from cultural memory. Being on the left has become instead a posture, an identity, utterly disconnected from any specific practical commitments."

Ned Ludd said...

If you want to rise through the ranks of the existing social system, you need to focus on issues that do not disrupt the existing economic and political structure. Let’s say Writer A is appalled by bigoted language, and they also advocate for redistribution of the wealth and condemn U.S. imperialism. Writer B also takes offence at bigoted language, but they are on easy terms with capitalism and imperialism. Writer B, given the same level of talent, will go further in their career. Consequently, people like Writer B become the face of social liberalism.

There is no point in trying to change social liberals. They achieve status in society and advance their careers by being who they are. Much better to shame them and seek allies elsewhere.

ohtarzie said...

Really glad you posted this because I have concerns myself about where this call-out culture - for lack of a better term - is leading. I am also glad that you used Balko as your example since an emerging trend among the enlightened people that love to dominate these discussions is a rabid, largely irrational loathing for libertarians.

At the same time, I also sympathize with those in comments who have objected to an implied dichotomy between talking about stuff and doing things. Like you, I am a big fan of Balko's work against state violence, but I don't think it necessarily immunizes him from a Twitter call-out by people who might actually be doing less.

All I require from people is that their claims not be stupid or trivial and that they argue them in good faith. Hence, my biggest problem with these kinds of discussions is these minimal standards are too rarely met. I mean, of all the political fodder the Academy Awards provided, it's depressin that the Onion joke was the thing that had people frothing. And the underlying assumption - that basically some white dude running the Onion twitter feed had taken his satire hat off momentarily to earnestly insult a nine year old for the sole purpose of smacking down women and black people - was just preposterously stupid.

But once these crusades get going, woe be to the person who thinks out loud that maybe smearing someone as racist or sexist requires a little more deliberation, especially if the person doing the thinking is not a member of the class of ostensibly wronged people.

Which brings me to the other thing that always crops up in these crusades, which is the notion that anything Jay Smooth might say trumps anything Balko might say by virtue of Smooth being a person of color. But of course, except in the most open and shut cases, there is no monolithic 'African American, or woman's or LGBTQ position on any of this stuff. Certainly in my Twitter timeline today some of the best defenses of the Onion were actually coming from African Americans. I also noticed in the screen cap of the actual tweet that a number of the people who had faved it were African Americans also. Certainly the majority of lefty African Americans were vocally against the tweet but so were the majority of lefty whites.

Which brings me to my other objection which is that in my experience these dust-ups are dominated by middle class white people settling scores with each other. On the rare occasions when I get accused of taking some obviously 'white male' position on something, it's almost invariably a white person and frequently a male person dressing me down. When I first came on Twitter I was actually shocked by white people like Kate Harding, for instance, who is also featured in that Atlantic piece, who never tire of keenly observing their own privilege as if that somehow mitigates the having of it. To me it looks less like privilege checking than lstatus seeking.

I agree certainly with studentactivism.net that "the persistence of casual, crude, dismissive racism and misogyny among supposed liberals and leftists" is a barrier to progressive struggle, but I also think the bad-faith use of supposed infractions is a problem of its own. I mean, look at the way people like Erik Loomis, a white dude no less, accused leftist third-party and non-voters of essentially being racist, sexist and homophobic. That shit is political poison.

Kyle Thompson said...

"What's more trivial than being upset that people are upset about something you think isn't worth their upset?"

Making veiled accusations of racism at that person for their trivial and entirely non-racist comment would be at least as trivial and significantly dumber.

I don't mean to caricature jay's entire body of work, but that was an accurate description of that one tweet (which precipitated this whole discussion).

Q said...

I'm taken aback by how disgusting this post is. I don't really have the patience or the stomach to document every screwed up thing in it, but I'm in awe at the seemingly unrestrained shamelessness of your arguments. Did you even know that Jay Smooth was black when you wrote this?

Because I want to hear more about your deep and abiding concern for the plight of black people while you dismiss the black people who speak up about patronizing microaggressions as dudes that "makes videos on the internet" that apparently have less of a right to talk about racism than someone who's never experienced racism. I look forward to you explaining to everyone how that works.

f769bf36-8008-11e2-b2cb-000bcdcb5194 said...

LOL @ lecturing a black dude about the kind of racism he should be offended by.

Q said...

Is anyone else ever shocked by how little it takes for left-leaning, supposedly social-justice sympathetic white folk to become really, REALLY white when someone dares to use their whiteness as a perfectly legitimate reason to dismiss their continually white-affirming opinions?

It's like the smallest pebble (or in this case, tweet) causes all of their learned, mannerable, genteel, outwardly non-racist (to them) behavior to unravel into a sea of tired but oh-so-very-white catechisms that can be aptly summarized as "Why don't POC's shut up and stop being so emotional about an omnipresent and unavoidable societal disadvantage that whites are collectively and individually responsible for upholding?!?!?!"

Social justice isn't "failing" because the advocates of social justice are somehow flawed, inarticulate and too aggressive or "personal" to have their message received by the Good White Folk that would, apparently, receive it if only social justice people were just a little bit nicer. It's failing because dominant white culture has rather comprehensively excised the notion that it has any responsibility for the racism it perpetrates and because it has emotionally, intellectually - and, most importantly - morally checked out of a discussion that directly implicates their behavior, their culture and every white person in their families and lives.

And please, give your students some credit. They don't latch on to privilege because they're Good People who would be sympathetic to removing privilege if Every Person Of Color Ever took valuable time out of their lives to sit every white person on their lap and give them The Talk. They latch on to privilege for the same reason you do: because it's convenient. Because it provides advantages that are integral to your personal, professional, moral and public existence. Because it gives you the ability to decide - with no basis at all - who should be listened to about race and who shouldn't. And because it lets you do all of this without actually blaming yourself for the racism that's invariably perpetrated by your, you know, racism.

I think what you're seeing is an evolution of social justice. Particularly from some American black folks who now openly roll their eyes at the truly endless set of rationalizations that uphold whiteness as the illegitimate social construct that it is. You see, social justice movements are responsive to the period, and in the ascendant era of colorblind racism - where racism is everywhere and even more entrenched/unchallenged than before, but because of diversity or something, it's not REALLY there - there's actually no reason to assume that white people will magically become more moral. People have been engaging your kind for ages, and after overly patient series' of disappointments, it becomes apparent that your whiteness is more important to you than your desire to uproot racism. Jay Smooth's terse response is a symptom of that experience.

You and yours don't get the presumptive benefit of kind explanations, anymore. You get called out, as well you should. If people have to walk you through why sexualizing and insulting a black girl not only ties into a history of racism, but into the experiences black women HAVE with racism, sexualized depictions and disproportionate rape, you're not worth engaging with as though you'd be moral if only some nice POC would explain everything in mild-mannered, educated language. You get spoken to like you're affirming racism, which you are by pretending like black people shouldn't be angry and shouldn't talk to supposedly Good White Folk who slip.

Q said...

(continued)

The starting position isn't that social liberals should be nicer to less informed social liberals. It's that POC's should never, ever have to experience racism, period, and that it's deeply immoral to ask them to tolerate it and get over it and stop making mountains out of molehills - as your hero so empathetically implied. His whiteness is integral to why he thought he could imply that, and it's what robs both him and you of the perspective to notice the depth of your offenses and what's perpetrated by them.

But hey, if you think Seth MacFarlene is funny and didn't harm anybody, you should at least feel heartened for being in good company: https://twitter.com/charlesmurray/status/306078858241798144

White People Are Terrible People. The sooner you realize they don't actually care, the easier having racial dialogue with them becomes. Let's see if you castigate me for saying that instead of castigating the parties who are actually being terrible.

I'll wait.

Ethan Gach said...

None of the rejoinders here are addressing the issue, which is that the nature of media and online networks as markets for exchanging and growing social capital leads people to disproportionately (stop pretending someone's suggested an either/or)level criticism in ways which are both easier and appear to be more progressive/effectual than they actually are.

The issue is about degrees of time and degrees of outrage vs. degree of change affected.

Some criticisms affect more change, and some actions affect more change than criticism.

We have limited time on this planet, so using it wisely is an issue.

Q said...

"None of the rejoinders here are addressing the issue, which is that the nature of media and online networks as markets for exchanging and growing social capital leads people to disproportionately (stop pretending someone's suggested an either/or)level criticism in ways which are both easier and appear to be more progressive/effectual than they actually are."

If a person of color takes umbrage at racism, do you consider that an effort to "level criticism in ways which are both easier and appear to be more progressive/effectual than they actually are?"

If not, then why are you discussing potential interlocutors as though they're presumptively white? Or personally unaffected by whatever ism you decide to focus on? Though one can't blame you too strongly. Freddie's post manages to do the same thing, afterall.

Rasmus Xera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
studentactivism.net said...

None of the rejoinders here are addressing the issue, which is that the nature of media and online networks as markets for exchanging and growing social capital leads people to disproportionately (stop pretending someone's suggested an either/or)level criticism in ways which are both easier and appear to be more progressive/effectual than they actually are.

Some people spend their time posturing rather than organizing? That's "the issue here"? If so, it's easy to resolve: Yes. That's true.

But that's not actually the issue, is it? Because that observation is self-evidently true, and it's been self-evidently true forever. (Anyone who thinks social media invented sitting around on your ass pontificating to your friends about how everyone else is a jerk has never seen the inside of a dorm room, or a bar.)

The real issue, it seems to me, is twofold. First, there's the question of whether you can correct the problem addressed above by concern-trolling people like Balko did. I'd argue that you can't -- that Balko's tweet, and this post, are both manifestations of the problem under discussion, rather than productive interventions against it.

Second, there's the question of when and in what circumstances it's useful, even necessary, for activists to address perceived acts of bigotry in the larger society and in their own movements, and that of how those responses can be rendered most effective. Those are the really interesting questions, it seems to me, and neither Freddie nor any of his supporters here have shown any particular interest in discussing them here.

Rasmus Xera said...

I have to say, Q, whenever you post here I find it really difficult to see who exactly you're attempting to characterize. Certainly, it doesn't seem to be Freddie (especially in this case, since he is not at all defending MacFarlane).

But I find it especially ridiculous that you end your post with "Let's see if you castigate me for saying that instead of castigating the parties who are actually being terrible."

That sentiment itself is exactly what many of us (who feel the outrage over the Onion's tweet is either misplaced or overblown) are trying to express!

By getting all upset at an organization which regularly produces far more biting social commentary on this very issue than they themselves do, and at the same time ignoring the more serious institutionalized problems we face, these crusaders are giving those who are "actually being terrible" a free pass. Worse, because they're acting just like the 'PC police' the racists and misogynists always accuse us on the left of being, the effect is a further polarization of the greater part of society.

And while we might have previously been able to use MacFarlane's act as a learning tool, now we're all stuck arguing about a tweet which was designed to raise our awareness of the problems inherent in MacFarlane's act and the treatment of women and people of color in society in the first place. How, exactly, is this progress?

We're not going to crush patriarchy or racism by spending our days fighting tweets - not by any stretch of the imagination. We're not going to achieve equality by censoring public language without addressing private feelings, or embracing other superficialities such as making sure the presidential cabinet has enough women and people of color in it. All of us here should be more than aware that having experienced racism does not prevent one from going out and reinforcing it, just as having not experienced racism does not prevent one from wanting to fight it with every part of their being.

So yes, you have the right to be outraged at this. Just don't act like you're actually winning the fucking war because you made enough noise to where someone offered you a token apology.

Will Shetterly said...

Q, Since you seem to believe the color of a person's skin trumps the quality of their thought, you might google these essays by black leftists:

"The limits of anti-racism" by Adolph Reed Jr.

"Why Anti-Racism Will Fail" by Thandeka

I'm not bothering to offer links to similar rejections of identitarianism by right-wingers like Michelle Malkin because Critical Race Theorists have a habit of claiming that people who are true to their class are traitors to their race, as if all people of color are supposed to think alike.

Will Shetterly said...

studentactivism, thanks for bringing up "concern trolling", which I think Smooth used as a hashtag. That made me laugh--couldn't his tweet and the comments by folks like you and Q equally be considered "concern trolling"? Y'all are always mounting your chargers to come explain why jokes and metaphors are bad, and if only we can police language, we'll make a better world of some vague sort.

David Harvey is white and male, so you may feel he has cooties, but if you can get past your rejection of his social identity, you may find he's got some mighty insightful comments about identitarianism in his book on neo-liberalism.

ohtarzie said...

"Is anyone else ever shocked by how little it takes for left-leaning, supposedly social-justice sympathetic white folk to become really, REALLY white when someone dares to use their whiteness as a perfectly legitimate reason to dismiss their continually white-affirming opinions?"

This is a mischaracterization of what actually happened. Freddie is comparing the merits of actually getting people released from prison against the merits of making anti-racism videos. While I don't concede the implication that this gives Balko immunity from criticism, I also don't concede your point that it's Balko's whiteness that in this formulation places Balko above Smooth. It seems to me saying otherwise is the kind of bad faith maneuver that characterizes this realm of debate and it's this, not fear of losing privilege, that causes people to look on this stuff with skepticism and dread.

I don't honestly understand why Freddie chose Smooth as his example in what was bound to be a really contentious piece, since most of the people hyperventilating on Twitter were white, including Balko's other interlocutors. But I am almost glad he did, since it raises the question of why Smooth's assessment of the Onion tweet is dispositive. As I noted in my previous comment, there were plenty of African Americans and women on Twitter yesterday defending the Onion tweet as satire. I also wonder where in the vaguely defined but rigorously enforced rules of middle class social liberalism it says that a man gets to take a remark that, if it's not satirical, is more inarguably misogynist than it is racist, and move the focus to race?

A lot of what you say about white people protecting privilege is certainly true, but I don't find discussions where people are presumed to have authority for reasons other than the force of their arguments particularly nutritious nor do I think they build solidarity among radicals. Sometimes white people are objecting in good faith on theoretical and tactical ground and I think that's mostly what's going on here. At heart, this discussion is mostly about talking about things vs. actually doing things, and while I can't speak for everyone, my irritation is mostly with white people who yap and use social liberalism as a cudgel to pursue their own agendas.



Ethan Gach said...

Building on what Rasmus Xera said, a rush to shout down the racism and sexism of an Onion tweet not only distracted from actual problems underlying MacFalane's shtick, to which the Onion was drawing attention, but in both cases attention is distracted from the systemic discrimination in: the Oscars, Hollywood, etc.

Pointing out the disproportionality issue is only to suggest that outrage should increase as you go up the foodchain, not be the loudest for one tweet, or even one comedic routine, that is creature born of a larger environment.

Q said...

Rasmus, you mistake me. I'm not going to respond to Freddie's post like it's a fair-minded starting position for some rational discussion that We Need To Have. It wasn't. Freddie's conversation and the one you wish to continue is a non-starter to me and I'm far more interested in discussing why it's a non-starter than I am in discussing why we should overlook its gaping problems and iron out the understanding he so magnanimously failed to include. It was a well-poisoning series of half-grasped, reactionary nonsense, and it was so drenched in privilege that it'd get soggy and fall apart if I tried to pick it up and throw it somewhere else.

Here's a much more intriguing question to me. If you accept the notion - as I do - that white people, on the whole, don't particularly care about racism, the effects of racism, being racist, or how that racism emotionally, psychologically (and, you know, not just materially) effects POC's, then how is it more "productive" (since that's our Word Of The Day) to let the very racism that triggers POC's emotional/psychological reactions (while perpetuating a social order that subordinates black interests and emotions, just as surely as it crushes black wealth, progress and equality) to just fester with no challenge and no social consequence? Because it seems to me that people are perfectly ok with hurting folks as long as the coloreds are silently grappling with their pain while they find ways to kindly and patiently articulate to white people who won't listen why white people should be less jerkish.

As far as I can tell, it isn't the boisterous and poignant articulation of non-white pain, anger and resistance that's letting this racism fester. It's white silence. It's white complicity in a social order where being openly, proudly racist or racism-dismissing (same thing to me) carries no reaction, no real social/material consequences, open celebration and a call for the victims of racism to do more to appeal to whites who don't care and don't really care that they don't care. If you want to do something about racism while being white, start calling out your white family, white friends and your white heroes when they pull the dismissive tripe that Freddie is saying black folks shouldn't call out. Start actually listening to and deferring to POC's who openly challenge your whiteness, stop talking about the idea of "checking your privilege" as though it's worthy of clear derision for its apparent ridiculousness. But if it's not actually a problem to you and it's an "overblown" "overreaction", I can certainly see why that wouldn't be an intuitive solution. Surprising, really. Except not.

ohtarzie said...

"Those are the really interesting questions, it seems to me, and neither Freddie nor any of his supporters here have shown any particular interest in discussing them here."

That's not entirely true. I agreed with you that there isn't really a doing things/talking about things dichotomy and laid out my concerns about how certain bad faith operators - mostly white - corrupt these discussions.

For the record, I think you are getting very close to 'the white guy who cares way more than other white guys' caricature yourself that all of us have probably seen a thousand times. It's extremely irritating, vain, and argumentatively non-nutritive. Since you'd like everyone to focus on what works and what doesn't, I'd suggest this isn't working and that you should consider dispensing with it.

Q said...

"Q, Since you seem to believe the color of a person's skin trumps the quality of their thought"

Cite?

studentactivism.net said...

Will, you seem unclear on the definition of the term "concern trolling." As the second google hit for the term suggests, "a concern troll is a person who participates in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has some concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause. In reality they are a critic."

The form of Balko's tweet was "you'll achieve your goals more effectively if you follow my advice." But the content was "you'll achieve MY goals more effectively if you follow my advice." That slippage is the essence of the concern troll, and it's what's on display here.

As I said in my last comment, the truly interesting question raised by this debate is that "of when and in what circumstances it's useful, even necessary, for activists to address perceived acts of bigotry in the larger society and in their own movements, and that of how those responses can be rendered most effective."

Debating those issues would be a productive way to bridge the divisions revealed by this dispute, because it would involve a recognition that thoughtful, committed, right-on people can disagree about such things, and that by listening to each other they can learn how to work together more effectively.

And that, really, is a key issue here. Freddie and Balko are saying "the issues I'm working on are the issues we need to address, and the issues you're working on are stupid." But you never get someone to work on your issues by calling their issues stupid. You get them to work with you by emphasizing commonality, shared perspective, mutual interest. You get them to work with you by having their back when and as you can.

Freddie seems to believe that the people who were criticizing the Onion can be written off by the left without cost. I think he's mistaken.

Q said...

"Freddie is comparing the merits of actually getting people released from prison against the merits of making anti-racism videos."

And as we all well know, Freddie - with his extensive experience as a person of color who's disadvantaged by racism - is perfectly positioned to determine what's useful and what isn't to people of color. He's capable of rationally offering an informed assessment of what should be internalized, just as I'm sure he's personally benefited from stuff like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

Whyever did I not defer to his extensive experience before? How did I miss the clarity of the insights such an experience gave him? It truly escapes me.

ohtarzie said...

"As far as I can tell, it isn't the boisterous and poignant articulation of non-white pain, anger and resistance that's letting this racism fester. It's white silence. It's white complicity in a social order"

We must travel in different social network circles. White people on Twitter can't shut up about it.

If you think that all white people are so monolithically indifferent to/invested in racism, what's the point of talking at all? And where do you put a white person like Balko, who has dedicated a large part of his life to fighting police brutality and mass incarceration?

Once again, you keep trying to make this a discussion about the 'right' of POC to speak. That's not what's being debated. What's being debated is whether or not things like seeking an apology from The Onion are the best places to put focus and energy. This is a tactical question and, as people keep pointing out, there is no definitively African American position on this.



jr said...

Freddie, I disagree with you on a lot of things, but you're dead right on this topic. Don't back down. I'm not a leftist, but I believe in the importance of having a left that is dedicated to actual material change and not just insider status signalling.

There is so much that I'd like to say on this, but as per usual, SWPL has already said it"

Naturally, white people do not get offended by statements directed at white people. In fact, they don’t even have a problem making offensive statements about other white people (ask a white person about “flyover states”). As a rule, white people strongly prefer to get offended on behalf of other people.

It is also valuable to know that white people spend a significant portion of their time preparing for the moment when they will be offended. They read magazines, books, and watch documentaries all in hopes that one day they will encounter a person who will say something offensive. When this happens, they can leap into action with quotes, statistics, and historical examples. Once they have finished lecturing another white person about how it’s wrong to use the term “black” instead of “African-American,” they can sit back and relax in the knowledge that they have made a difference.

White people also get excited at the opportunity to be offended at things that are sexist and/or homophobic. Both cases offering ample opportunities for lectures, complaints, graduate classes, lengthy discussions and workshops. All of which do an excellent job of raising awareness among white people who hope to change their status from “not racist” to “super not racist.”

Another thing worth noting is that the threshold for being offended is a very important tool for judging and ranking white people. Missing an opportunity to be outraged is like missing a reference to Derrida-it’s social death.

ohtarzie said...

"And as we all well know, Freddie - with his extensive experience as a person of color who's disadvantaged by racism - is perfectly positioned to determine what's useful and what isn't to people of color. "

Well it's not Freddies' whiteness that speaks to me. It seems self-evident that getting people released from prison is at least as good if not better than making anti-racism videos that will mostly be watched by people who may not learn anything particularly new.

I'm curious, do you not make a distinction yourself between the two types of interventions? Are Jay Smooth's more worthy by virtue of his being a POC? What do you think a POC in jail would say? As a person who is not in jail, do you have the authority to answer the question?

Where do you place Barack Obama's contributions to the Drug War, the expulsion of immigrants, and the murder of Yemeni and Pakistani children? Where do you place his lectures to African American men about being better fathers? Does Freddie, Balko or any other white person have grounds to object?

Q said...

studentactivism, I've appreciated many of your contributions to the thread, but I must say that the following sentence from you might be revealing of the actual problem here: "You get them to work with you by emphasizing commonality, shared perspective, mutual interest."

I don't think racists, people who silently benefit from racism (same thing in my eyes) and the victims of racism share mutual interests, shared perspectives or commonality on this subject. As I've previously asserted, the first reaction to challenged privilege is a defense of that very same privilege. White privilege is too societally beneficial to white people as a group for them to collectively make the decision to give it up and internalize the illegitimacy of all of its expressions.

I think there would be a noticeable evolution in these discussions if white people sought to unlearn and dismiss the societally programmed reactions to privilege-challenging that inevitably results from discussions like these. They need to understand that whole lot of their starting positions and intuitively grasped perspectives are somewhere between wrong and evil (and often both). Once that's evident in their writing and thinking, THEN we can potentially have a productive discussion about race.

We aren't there yet. Letting stuff like that pass unchallenged isn't getting anyone there, either. And even IF it only provided catharsis for the black folks understandably annoyed by black-directed racism, who are white people to say that what gives them peace and affirms their dignity is useless and irrelevant? The utterly insensitive arrogance of the notion is baffling.

ohtarzie said...

"As I said in my last comment, the truly interesting question raised by this debate is that 'of when and in what circumstances it's useful, even necessary, for activists to address perceived acts of bigotry in the larger society and in their own movements, and that of how those responses can be rendered most effective.'"

That is exactly what's being discussed. Specifically a number of people are offering reasons why they think Twittering an apology out of The Onion for an act of satire took priority yesterday. Maybe you can answer those objections since we get it already, you're the white guy with the good questions. The white guy who cares.

ohtarzie said...

Q, isn't it simply possible that Freddie's anti-racism is genuine and that when he elevates the direct defense of POC against police brutality and incarceration above Twittering The Onion into submission, he is doing so in good faith assessment of the interests at stake, primarily the interests of POC?

I honestly don't know what you are trying to accomplish here, argumentatively. I mean, what POV would you like everyone to come away with? That Jay Smooth's videos ARE more important then getting people sprung from jail? That white people should stop pretending to care? That POC should never assume that white people can operate in good faith?

And then having answered that, what would you have everyone do, practically, to make a less racist world?

Will Shetterly said...

"If you accept the notion - as I do - that white people, on the whole, don't particularly care about racism"

Y'know, that's a nice example of the indifference to evidence that's shared by racists and anti-racists. If you actually looked at polls, talked with white folks who aren't academics, and stopped analyzing metaphors with Jesuitical delight, you might find that the majority of white people are very glad that legal racism has ended. But I realize for Critical Race Theorists, subjectivity trumps objectivity, so talking about what things are really like is less important than talking about what you think they're like.

studentactivism, now that Q has brought up your white privilege, I'm not sure you're allowed to participate in this discussion. But hell, I"ll give you a white guy pass. :)

Yes, "concern trolling" has been defined in a way that the first person who uses the word wins. The possibility that the "concern troll" might an actual ally, not in the social justice warrior sense of someone who drinks the koolaid but someone who shares the goal while criticizing the tactics, escapes you. Ideological purity is fascinating, but it doesn't lend itself to effective politics. If you want to win, you have to work with people who disagree with some of your articles of faith. Conservatives understand that. That's why they keep kicking our asses, even though the politics of most Americans on so many issues are to the left of both parties.

Q said...

ohtarzie: "It seems self-evident that getting people released from prison is at least as good if not better than making anti-racism videos"

That's wonderful. If you agree that it's at least as good, then we have no point of contention on that front. If you think one action partaken by a white person is de facto more valuable because you, as a white person, thinks it's more valuable, then we have problems. It's nice to see that at least one hurdle is avoided.

"I'm curious, do you not make a distinction yourself between the two types of interventions?"

Of course. But my distinction is not qualitative. Which, again, is the difference. I find both valuable, for different reasons.

"Jay Smooth's more worthy by virtue of his being a POC?"

No. His worth is determined by the insight that intelligence and perspective can provide to a topic that's minimally discussed, in my estimation. If you read closely, that's actually the foundation of my contention. The perspective provided by whiteness often diminishes any pretext for directly empathizing with a plight they've never experienced. It insulates them from the subtle dynamics and stresses that are unique to being non-white, just as it blinds them to moments when their perfectly normal (to them) behavior is actually quite insensitive and racist. Even if you can do valuable things as a white person, you can't engage the topic in any comprehensive fashion without being or having direct insight from a person of color. Which is to say, there's nothing about Balko doing things to help black people that stops him from taking advantage of, being blind to, and utilizing white privilege. There's nothing about Balko doing things to help black people that immunizes him from being racist or dismissive of people who object to racism. He's capable of and has done good things. He's also capable of being racist, and when that capacity is demonstrated, he should be treated as someone who's behaving in a racist fashion in a white supremacist society. Why should it be any other way?

"What do you think a POC in jail would say?"

Which one?

"As a person who is not in jail, do you have the authority to answer the question?"

What does authority have to do with it? And do you think the disproportionately high risk of policing, being shot, being beaten, or being sentenced harshly doesn't affect the lived behavior of even free POC's/black people? You don't think having a friend or family member who wasn't as fortunate as you seem to think I am doesn't provide enough insight to answer your questions? What makes you think I haven't been a victim of any of those things in the past?

"Where do you place Barack Obama's contributions to the Drug War, the expulsion of immigrants, and the murder of Yemeni and Pakistani children?"

I don't understand what you mean by "where you place it"? He's a black dude in a position of authority in a society that grants continuing and disproportionate power to whiteness. It's not remotely shocking that his actions - like the actions of nearly every black person who's in a position tainted by white supremacy - are affirming of white values, regardless of his personal beliefs or reaction to it. He's a cog in a white supremacist system and an inheritor of all the discrimination, violence, war and destruction it requires. He's black in America. He's a politician that - at the very least - must appeal to white voters. How can he attain power without being anything else? Your question is silly.

Q said...

(continued)

"Where do you place his lectures to African American men about being better fathers?"

http://thewayoftheid.tumblr.com/post/43303614599/my-mother-was-one-of-those-parents-you-know-one That's how I place it (and no, I didn't write that). And, again, he's in a white supremacist society that pathologizes blackness. What else do you expect him to say? Eloquently empathizing with a kid that got shot unleashed a torrent of hatred. Residing in a church where the totally-typical pastor implicated American society for its racist behavior almost sank his candidacy. Calling absurdly discriminatory police action unleashed a distracting torrent of discussion about "properness" long after a press conference that had nothing to do with that topic. The nature of his power means that in order to retain that power, he has to appeal to the moors of the society he resides in. Those moors are strongly white supremacist affirming, anti-black, racist, and contemptuous of efforts to call out racism, and so our leader must be. I blame both the nature of his position, the nature of the society that elected him and how open anti-racist morality is incompatible with political self-preservation. A fact that's even more pronounced because he's black, and thus, has a number of stereotypes and assumptions to fight against to achieve the same level of acceptance enjoyed by, say, Bill Clinton.

"Does Freddie, Balko or any other white person have grounds to object?"

To object to what? It depends on what they say. Given Freddie's previous remarks and Balko's political leanings, I'm not remotely interested in what either of them has to say about racism. I'm fine with what anti-racist actions Balko participates in, and if he stays over there, any problems I might have with him won't be thrown in my face and we can have a relatively peaceful coexistence.

Q said...

"Y'know, that's a nice example of the indifference to evidence that's shared by racists and anti-racists. If you actually looked at polls, talked with white folks who aren't academics, and stopped analyzing metaphors with Jesuitical delight, you might find that the majority of white people are very glad that legal racism has ended."

See, this is what I mean by perspective-blindness. When, exactly, did legal racism end to you? That's an incredible statement. And oh so very white. And it's possible that your argument is even more ignorant than I suspect.

Do you think racism is illegal?

Ethan Gach said...

Q, you wrote,

"See, this is what I mean by perspective-blindness. When, exactly, did legal racism end to you? That's an incredible statement. And oh so very white. And it's possible that your argument is even more ignorant than I suspect."

The least you could do is actually demonstrate why the statement is false, before jumping to conclusions about why someone might believe it (the only reason obviously being that white privilege has blinded them to the truth).

Q said...

Ethan: They believe it because they don't have any experience that contradicts the dominant narratives about racism. Do you really think someone who's been a victim of something like Stop and Frisk is going to magically think that legal racism is over?

Not sure why this topic should be immune to common sense.

And no, I don't accept your portrait of what the "least I can do" should be. It's not my job to do people's googling for them. It's not my job to tell you and make you feel things you should already know and feel. There are some things that - if you don't already know - significantly limit your conversational worth. That's one of them.

Ethan Gach said...

If you decide to enter into a dialouge, then yea, it is your job Q. If you don't like the terms of engagement you can go in the corner and yell or tweet into the void.

Q said...

Or, I can do as I wish which - coincidentally - conforms with my behavior thus far. But thank you for outlining my other options. I wasn't aware of them.

ohtarzie said...

Q, I appreciate your comprehensive answer. In asking the question about being in jail, I did not mean to suggest that you are unaffected by issues of police brutality or incarceration that disproportionally affect African Americans. I was simply trying to draw out the limits of crediting people with the right to have opinions based on their place in the racism food chain.

I do think that even if issues of incarceration affect you, they are certainly affecting you differently than they are affecting someone who is actually in prison. I think that logical people can make guesses about where a person in prison places direct interventions on his behalf in relation to tweeting -- mostly with a lot of deeply concerned white people -- about a joke on the Onion. But that could be my privilege talking.

It was this same interest in 'Who Gets To Talk' theory that I asked about Obama and appreciate your answer there too. I am confused, though. Since making ones way in the world can lead a person like Obama to the most abject concession to everything evil about white supremacy, I am confused about when white people's obligation to defer to the special insights born of experience that African Americans bring to these debates and when we're at liberty to rely on the force of arguments. There is also the thorny matter of African American heterodoxy. I mean, what would you say to an African American who would say that Jay Smooth's videos don't count for shit against getting people out of jail? Or is such an African American absolutely unthinkable?

Ethan Gach said...

Q, you have made that abundantly clear.

Nick! said...

Wait, I'm super confused, as someone who has just drifted into this post...

Is Q a white dude?

Q said...

"Q, I appreciate your comprehensive answer. In asking the question about being in jail, I did not mean to suggest that you are unaffected by issues of police brutality or incarceration that disproportionally affect African Americans. I was simply trying to draw out the limits of crediting people with the right to have opinions based on their place in the racism food chain."

I think you're misreading me when you make my objection to white people's views on racism about "rights". I don't believe I've used that word, and that's quite a different concept from what I mean. When I implicate whiteness as a dynamic that inhibits productive discussion, I'm viewing whiteness as a corrupting factor. I think that it's perfectly intuitive to empathize with people with color, I think it's absolutely no big deal at all to read them, understand where they're coming from and why where some of them are coming from is right. I think it's rational and easy to see how the reality of white privilege advantages white people at the cost of disadvantaging non-white people. I also think privilege is a wonderful thing to have and that's where the corrupting dynamic takes place. Things that are visible, obvious, moral and correct from a perspective that doesn't enjoy white privilege becomes less obvious, less wrong, less evil, less affecting because its removal negatively impacts the lived (and enjoyed) experience of whiteness and the generations of assumptions that come with it. The entire narrative of America as-is becomes automatically contradicted if you're not white and are, conversely, a victim of white America's self-perception. The impact of that makes it difficult to have these discussions, because people aren't operating from anywhere near the same wavelength (as a function of the white supremacy that makes lived racial experiences distinct).

Which is to say, the closer you are to being advantaged by whiteness as a social construct that carries social currency, the more likely you are to hold perspectives that subtly and almost unconsciously affirms its own existence and delegitimizes whatever devalues it. This is a white problem, and is not usefully divided into traditional liberal/conservative binaries.

" Since making ones way in the world can lead a person like Obama to the most abject concession to everything evil about white supremacy, I am confused about when white people's obligation to defer to the special insights born of experience that African Americans bring to these debates and when we're at liberty to rely on the force of arguments."

I do and don't understand this question. I'm open to answering it, but would you mind rephrasing it?

"There is also the thorny matter of African American heterodoxy."

"African American heterodoxy" was never assumed and I have no idea why you think it was. Why did you think this discussion was just about African Americans? When I use the "people of color" formulation, I'm explicitly refusing to just make this a black issue - though blacks are pretty disproportionately impacted by it, even in comparison with other races.

"I mean, what would you say to an African American who would say that Jay Smooth's videos don't count for shit against getting people out of jail?"

I don't know. Why are they saying the videos don't count?

"Or is such an African American absolutely unthinkable?"

Why would it be unthinkable? I find this line of questioning silly, too. Particularly since it relies on the assumption that I presume black heterodoxy when I don't.

ohtarzie said...

"See, this is what I mean by perspective-blindness. When, exactly, did legal racism end to you? That's an incredible statement. And oh so very white. And it's possible that your argument is even more ignorant than I suspect."

Or it could be that by legal, he simply meant racism that is EXPLICITLY legal, even compulsory, like segregation. Y'know, he might actually be arguing in good faith and simply differ on terminology. 'Stop and Frisk', and the The Drug War, as manifested, are, of course, overwhelmingly racist in practice, but the racism is not inscribed specifically in the law.

Also, Will had raised the point simply to demonstrate that when polled, white people tend to support legal measures to end racism. So even if he is being 'ignorant' as opposed to just more literal about 'legal', his point still stands: that a large number of white people at least say they think racism is a bad thing.

Q said...

" Y'know, he might actually be arguing in good faith and simply differ on terminology."

Perhaps you and I have differing definitions of "good faith". It's not "good faith" to, in "good faith", use terminology that uses an morally empty technicality to try and argue that racism doesn't exist or that it's diminished. Even if I took your assumption as true, there would be very little that's "good faith" about it.

"'Stop and Frisk', and the The Drug War, as manifested, are, of course, overwhelmingly racist in practice, but the racism is not inscribed specifically in the law."

Do people ever, like, feel bad when they try to make this distinction? Is there anything satisfying about relying on these cleverly non-clever semantics to try and argue that society is less racist? Does it feel like victory when you can pedantically say "Well, they're not TECHNICALLY racist, because racist things (to me) aren't written in neon-lit letters"? I have nothing but contempt for the quoted perspective, and for privileged distinctions between what's "technically" allowed and what the nature of the actions are, in practice. I don't understand why people want to make them.

"Also, Will had raised the point simply to demonstrate that when polled, white people tend to support legal measures to end racism"

Oh? Like what? Affirmative Action and racial quotas? Pretty sure white people dislike that. Reparations? Wait, nope, no support there. And let's say they did support "ending racism". If you support "ending racism", in the abstract, as a pretext for making yourself feel like a lovely, good White American, how does that actually erase the existing racism of how society's wealth, positions and power are and have been structured?

Ending racism without actually correcting the systemic dynamics which, themselves, are a product of racism is a gesture that's considerably more empty and less radical than you think. So let's try this again. How much money, political power, social comfort, and positional favor do you think white people are willing to give up? And why do you think the answer to that would be reflected by polling and polling questions that are, invariably, coming from white people who usually lack a habit of thinking of privilege and racism in such terms?

Freddie said...

Here's the question for Q, of course, and for all of my critics: what have you ever accomplished in your life that materially improved the conditions of those you claim to fight for?

Will Shetterly said...

Q, I was trying to find an alternative to "institutional racism"--as ohtarzie noted, racial discrimination is no longer legally sanctioned. This does not mean racists no longer exist. Apologies for not elaborating.

I gotta love your "that's so very white". I'm fascinated by how CRTers will claim race is a social construct, then judge people on the color of their skin. I agree it's a social construct, which is why middle class radicals with their expensive private school understanding of privilege seem so painfully white to me.

Out of curiosity, would you say "that's so very white" to Adolph Reed Jr. or Reverend Thandeka?

Q said...

That, too, is a silly question. Where did I claim to fight for them? And why do you think I'd be stupid enough to entertain to that digression? I'm insulted.

ohtarzie said...

"When I use the 'people of color' formulation, I'm explicitly refusing to just make this a black issue"

That's interesting. I shy away from using POC because as a logical matter it seems to me that African Americans experience forms of discrimination that are very different and mostly worse than what is visited upon, say, Indian - or Chinese - Americans. One of my problems with this realm of discussion is the way in which all of these forms of oppression are lumped together such that someone like Katha Pollitt who is a white Barnard grad and owner of two homes - one in Greenwich Village and one in Connecticut - can use 'white male privilege' as a cudgel and do so with a straight face.
As I find this to be a form of oppression-hijacking I prefer specificity. In the same way, I don't think, that say, a Chinese American hedge fund manager is particularly better situated than I am to talk about mass incarceration, Twitter fights, Jay Smooth.

"you make my objection to white people's views on racism about 'rights'. I don't believe I've used that word"

No, I suppose you haven't. But your implication throughout has been that certain opinions are weightier by virtue of the opinion-haver's status as a POC. For lack of a better term I have been using 'right' to describe this apportionment of argumentative weight.

"I do and don't understand this question. I'm open to answering it, but would you mind rephrasing it? "

Yeah I realized it was a word soup after I posted it but dimly hoped that the meaning could be inferred nonetheless. But since you don't even acknowledge the possibility of heterodoxy among African Americans and also see no benefit in distinguishing African American political concerns separately I think we may start getting diminishing returns. I consider this purely a theoretical difference but if you want to credit it to my whiteness, feel free.








Will Shetterly said...

Q., here's a question that I regularly ask CRTers, and never get answered: because class mobility for all races is so very limited in the US, the only way to achieve proportional distribution of wealth is to share it.

Which effectively means the end of capitalism.

Do you support that?

Now I'm a socialist. I agree with King's take in '67, which is still true today: "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike."

But CRTers tend to be mighty bourgie sorts. They don't like social privilege, but they love economic privilege.

So, do you support doing more than parsing words, and if so, what?

Rasmus Xera said...

Not to derail this lovely conversation about race, but I'd like to further a comment made by Ethan earlier.

While focusing on the Onion tweet took a lot of attention off of MacFarlane (and that of discrimination in Hollywood in general), it also took attention off of the very nature of the movies up for Oscars this year in the first place.

Movies are important. They influence public opinion far more than tweets from the fucking Onion do. I shouldn't even have to mention that Zero Dark Thirty (which, hurrah, didn't win anything but a sound award) not only presents torture in a positive light, but also attempts to further cement into place the war on terror and all of its imperialist abuses - including institutionalized racism.

But even though ZDT lost most everything, Argo didn't. Make no mistake, Argo is of the same breed - a whitewash of history in the CIA's (and America's) favor. It includes the same awfully stereotypical depictions of people of color, which further both racist sentiment in general, and the goals of those who wish to demonize Iran and war against it. Certainly, it's more subtle than ZDT in most ways, but it's often the subtle, implied attempts at propaganda which are the most effective.

And not only did Argo win, but the First Lady was 'there' to hand out the award. That's right. The CIA won, and the White House presented it with its prize. But, again, instead of talking about this, we're worrying over a goddamned tweet seen by a fraction of the people who watch these movies (and indeed the Oscars).

That, more than anything, is my point of contention.

-

Now, as far as privilege goes, I "know my place" as a white man, but no way in hell will I ever defer to the Barack Obamas and Hillary Clintons of the world just because they have experience being oppressed. Is it their experience which has made them embrace the system which oppressed them in the first place - or is it much more likely that we are all complex organisms who experience a wide variety of influences, meaning that even the oppressed can turn into the oppressors?

ohtarzie said...

"Do people ever, like, feel bad when they try to make this distinction? Is there anything satisfying about relying on these cleverly non-clever semantics to try and argue that society is less racist?"

The point wasn't that society is less racist. The point was that people support legal measures to address it. But never mind. Please continue to make the world better by arguing in really bad faith and assuming that everyone else does too.



Q said...

I have a much better question for Freddie. Why did you "hit post"?

And even further: What - in your denigration of non-white responses to racism - advanced anti-racism? Where did you lay in some privilege-derived qualifiers for your over the top praise for someone whose position and attention from white people is at least partially afforded by being a white male in society that overvalues the opinions of white males? Where's your analysis about him gaining further legitimacy from being in a profession that's - shock - disproportionately staffed by white men?

Did you, at any point, consider that it's absurd and wrong to untether your mockery of what Jay Smooth does from what society, as a whole, lets black people and people who directly implicate white people from a black perspective do? And if the answer to these questions reveals that you didn't think about them, that takes us back to question one, doesn't it?

Rasmus Xera said...

I should add that, indeed, the hierarchical and authoritarian (capitalist; statist as well, if you prefer) system we live under ensures that those oppressed who rise through the ranks will become oppressors. That is, I do blame the system and not directly the Obamas and Clintons.

But that doesn't change the fact that they've become just as evil as any white man - and in fact even more dangerous due to the fact they further legitimize the system. (This point is more thoroughly made in a post I linked to in the first part of my thread regarding 'diversity' in the presidential cabinet.)

Q said...

Ah, yes, the derailing MLK quote. I was wondering when that was coming. I'll answer your question first question, Will, but I have no desire to engage with you at all after this. Like, at all.

I don't support capitalism and would love its removal. But I don't think your questions and comments are remotely related to racism. They're rooted in the absolutely irritating trend of leftists to derail discussions of racism (which doesn't effect typically white leftists) to discussions about classism, which does. The ease with which white leftists segue into that makes me queasy, so I'm not dealing with it today. Maybe another time.

Ethan Gach said...

you do realize that class warfare disproportinately affects non-whites, right?

Hence the point upthread about how much higher African American unemployment is? Classism, in the context of America, is inextricable from racism.

Will Shetterly said...

"I have no desire to engage with you at all after this. Like, at all. "

No big. 'Cause you haven't engaged with anyone yet. Engaging includes listening; it's more than simply citing articles of faith.

As for your comment about "classism", here's a bit from Adolph Reed, whose skin color may make you willing to consider his criticism:

"Yes, racism exists, as a conceptual condensation of practices and ideas that reproduce, or seek to reproduce, hierarchy along lines defined by race. Apostles of antiracism frequently can’t hear this sort of statement, because in their exceedingly simplistic version of the nexus of race and injustice there can be only the Manichean dichotomy of those who admit racism’s existence and those who deny it. There can be only Todd Gitlin (the sociologist and former SDS leader who has become, both fairly and as caricature, the symbol of a “class-first” line) and their own heroic, truth-telling selves, and whoever is not the latter must be the former. Thus the logic of straining to assign guilt by association substitutes for argument.

"My position is—and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said this bluntly, yet to no avail, in response to those in blissful thrall of the comforting Manicheanism—that of course racism persists, in all the disparate, often unrelated kinds of social relations and “attitudes” that are characteristically lumped together under that rubric, but from the standpoint of trying to figure out how to combat even what most of us would agree is racial inequality and injustice, that acknowledgement and $2.25 will get me a ride on the subway. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular action except more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism."

Q said...

Of course class warfare disproportionately effects non-whites. That wasn't in question. What IS in question are the motives of class-conscious people who bring up class when they want to avoid anyone implicating their limited race-consciousness. What IS in question is the value of righteous class warfare that's, in practice, colorblind and race blind. What IS in question is whether class warfare can actually be anti-racist when it refuses to specifically address the particularities unique to wealth/poverty when race is a dominant dynamic. If we're talking about race and you bring up class as though class directly addresses race, that is its own whitewashing. I have no patience for it.

Because if we actually want to talk about black poverty, then we can start with the centuries of still uncompensated slave-labor and the centuries thereafter of white terrorism, state supported white violence and a national policy that confined blacks to discrimination, refused to protect them from still on-going discrimination and still uses the full might of the police to make sure that certain blacks never, ever escape their circumstances.

Saying "well, white people were poor too" sort of ignores that white poverty comes with considerably fewer systemically enforced impediments, none of which are addressed by pretending that that's not true as both a historical and present-day matter.

Will Shetterly said...

Ethan Gasch, is your goal proportional poverty or the elimination of poverty? Yes, as many thinkers have noted, race is linked to class--the class system provides a structure for racism, and is nuanced by racism. Any decent history of race will point to the development of the theory of race in the 16th century to divide slaves, indentured servants, and landless free people of all hues. Anyone who tries to talk about race without acknowledging class is, well, the sort of person who thinks oppressions are fundamentally different things that sometimes "intersect". I'm with the folks who see racism and class oppression as thoroughly interrelated.

Hmm. Now I think I may be derailing, so I'll drop that.

Will Shetterly said...

Q, why do people who want to talk exclusively about race start ranting whenever anyone mentions class? Can race be treated as a spherical cow?

Civilized Crank said...

So by Q's logic, how can s/he presume to understand the white experience, assuming based on his/her posts that s/he is a POC? I mean, you go on and on about white privilege, but am I correct in saying that you have never actually experienced white privilege for yourself?

Also, I get where you are coming from in rejecting the post-racist America narrative, based on the current society being inseparable from an overtly and legally racism foundation. However, as a practical matter, isn't this the central problem of any radically egalitarian scheme? That even if you reset society to zero, over time the unintended second and third order consequences of the system design require revisions that take you further away from the ideal egalitarian state, and thus require semi-regular resets to ensure the preferred egaltiarian outcome.

And if that's the case, what are we left with for solutions?

Q said...

"Q, why do people who want to talk exclusively about race start ranting whenever anyone mentions class? Can race be treated as a spherical cow?"

Because class-consciousness without race-consciousness is insufficient for addressing the effects of stuff like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=q7sjUmlgsI8

Or, to irk Freddie further, this:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/terrorism-is-politics-by-other-means/273469/

and this:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/terrorism-and-politics-clarified/273518/

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I wish Q would just tell the truth about his ethnic heritage, so we'd know whether anything he had to say was worthy of attention or not.

Q said...

"So by Q's logic, how can s/he presume to understand the white experience, assuming based on his/her posts that s/he is a POC? I mean, you go on and on about white privilege, but am I correct in saying that you have never actually experienced white privilege for yourself?"

I don't recognize this as an application of my logic, or an understanding of the factors that motivate my logic, so I can't really take this question seriously or respond to it seriously. I am curious as to why you think my commentary means I'm not white, though. Not because I disagree, mind you, but because your response could be helpfully revealing.

Will Shetterly said...

Q, there isn't a person on this planet whose ancestors have not been slaves. Nor are there any whose ancestors have not been slaughtered for being from the wrong tribe. I sympathize with Freddie's frustration because humanity's track record is awful, and there isn't a race or a gender that can be pointed to as the exception. "Power corrupts" applies to everyone. Sometimes I think it's why well-paid academics love theories of privilege that exempt them.

Well, this is a religious discussion, and I've been in it too long. Go in peace.

Q said...

"I wish Q would just tell the truth about his ethnic heritage, so we'd know whether anything he had to say was worthy of attention or not."

I want to know why or how my arguments are non-white things. I want to know why you think it's likely that white people wouldn't hold them and why you think they call the typical presumption of whiteness into question. And I want to know whether you think this is a good thing.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Actually, I don't think your arguments are non-white things; on the contrary, every word you type seems to me to scream SWPL things, but perhaps I'm simply being uncharitable. Nonetheless, given that your entire thesis is that white people should not speak about racism unless they have a permission slip from a person of color, it would be awfully helpful to know what your bona fides are.

Civilized Crank said...

"I am curious as to why you think my commentary means I'm not white, though."

I was inferring from your response to the prison question and your authority to answer based on your life experiences tangential to the racism of the prison system. I'll admit I could be wrong, hence my qualifiers.

But your answer illuminated what I was driving toward with my question. Namely that there seems to be a whole lot of yelling about the validity and authority of people's POV, based on whiteness or non-whiteness or their personal experiences or lack thereof. I'm a white male, so I really don't have any authority or experience from which to claim to know what or how a woman or POC thinks or feels on a daily basis (and frankly never will). Conversely, a woman or POC cannot put themselves in my shoes, no matter how much the media defaults to a 'white male' perspective (and a very good argument could be made that this generic perspective is just a damaging as the media's presentations of women or POC).

Basically my point is, conversations like these tend to break down into appeals to authority or experience, instead of people actually listening to what people have to say and acknowledging the reality that there are millions of life experiences and the existence of one experience does not negate the existence of another.

Will Shetterly said...

Oops, this development caught me on the way out the door. Yep, if Q is indulging in electronic blackface, I'd like to know. To me, all CRTers sound alike, because they all learned their style from the same middle class theorists.

bcg said...

I'm sure Q will have a reason why this isn't what Q's saying, and also will have a reason for why me thinking that's what Q's saying makes me a stupid, intolerably illiterate piece of racist shit, but the fact that Balko has done unquestionably great things for actual black people doesn't mean he isn't perpetuating styles of thought that are racist.

Freddie, if you found out tomorrow that Radley Balko finds a black man once a year and spits in his face, and Jay Smooth criticized him for that, your argument would be largely unchanged, wouldn't it?

On net, Balko's done actually great things for actual black people. That covers a multitude of sins. Does that mean he can't be racist elsewhere, or that something he said wasn't racist, and that Tyrone the Plumber shouldn't be allowed to get pissed off because Balko said some shit?

Q said...

Oh, bcg. I don't bite. I agree with the trajectory of your statements/questions and said as much myself. That implication was one of the many issues I had with this post.

perlhaqr said...

The joke here is that I think Balko is an asshole, and his economic politics a horror show. And while I doubt he's ever spent a spare moment thinking about me, I'm certain he'd find me an even bigger asshole than I find him. I hope he never gets what he wants economically. But none of that that matters in this context. You know why? Because getting people out of fucking jail transcends petty personal bullshit. Challenging racist laws and exposing police corruption and contributing to appeals of unjust verdicts is about something bigger than deciding who's cool. One day of Corey Maye's life as a free man is worth more than every scolding tweet that's ever been sent. If you think otherwise, please, never speak about racism again.

As someone who is probably even more radical than Balko, from your POV, regarding economics (and likely other things as well, but that's beside the point) this is the fight I've been having with the people who are more on "my team" (my very very small team) about, well, teamwork. Find allies where you can, and fight the battles you can with the most people you can gather.

I don't really care if someone wants to end the Drug War because they think it's a constitutional violation, or because they're tired of the effect it's having on minority families, or simply because they want to get high in peace. All I care about is "more people on my team to end this travesty".

So, I guess, what I'm trying to say here is, good on you for recognizing this principle. Yay!

perlhaqr said...

The joke here is that I think Balko is an asshole, and his economic politics a horror show. And while I doubt he's ever spent a spare moment thinking about me, I'm certain he'd find me an even bigger asshole than I find him. I hope he never gets what he wants economically. But none of that that matters in this context. You know why? Because getting people out of fucking jail transcends petty personal bullshit. Challenging racist laws and exposing police corruption and contributing to appeals of unjust verdicts is about something bigger than deciding who's cool. One day of Corey Maye's life as a free man is worth more than every scolding tweet that's ever been sent. If you think otherwise, please, never speak about racism again.

As someone who is probably even more radical than Balko, from your POV, regarding economics (and likely other things as well, but that's beside the point) this is the fight I've been having with the people who are more on "my team" (my very very small team) about, well, teamwork. Find allies where you can, and fight the battles you can with the most people you can gather.

I don't really care if someone wants to end the Drug War because they think it's a constitutional violation, or because they're tired of the effect it's having on minority families, or simply because they want to get high in peace. All I care about is "more people on my team to end this travesty".

So, I guess, what I'm trying to say here is, good on you for recognizing this principle. Yay!

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

And still no answer from Q about his own identity. So yeah, he's likely a cis white dude getting high on his own farts.

Kyle Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle Thompson said...

"'I mean, what would you say to an African American who would say that Jay Smooth's videos don't count for shit against getting people out of jail?'

I don't know. Why are they saying the videos don't count?"

Because they are preaching to the choir.

Signed,

An actual black person (since you seem think that matters)

Will Shetterly said...

Kyle Thompson, if Blogger's comments let us +1 them, I would +1 yours.

A friend of mine says things like Smooth's videos are the Jack Chick tracts of anti-racism.

placeandpoetics said...

i think Q is tim wise

ohtarzie said...

"I want to know why you think it's likely that white people wouldn't hold them and why you think they call the typical presumption of whiteness into question. And I want to know whether you think this is a good thing."

In your answer to me about prisons, you very strongly implied that you had authority to speak by way of your and your loved ones vulnerability to police brutality and incarceration. If you are not black, I would say this implication was strong enough to warrant calling you a liar.

Will Shetterly said...

placeandpoetics, I laughed. And you could be right.

ohtarzie, ditto. I stayed in the conversation with Q longer than I would've because Q made hints like that. I thought Q was some earnest bourgie black person, and I have a lot more sympathy for them than I do for bourgie white folks.

ohtarzie said...

Will --

Yeah, exactly. I won't hesitate to tell a preener like Angus Johnson to fuck off but with someone like Q, I'm all 'Yes, I see your point but isn't it also true...' while s/he makes one bad faith argument after another in between telling people how stupid and racist they are.

Dramatically proves point about anti-racism as social capital and also my point about how this cudgel is more often wielded by white people. Also really demonstrates how foolish and impossible it is to put anything before the force of someone's arguments.