Tuesday, February 26, 2013

getting epistolary

Had to dig up this old email chain.




It should almost go without saying, but: at the heart of most of the white liberal agonizing from the last several days is absolute terror in the face of blackness. Often, at the core of those who demand materially useless rituals such as privilege checking is pure racial panic. They work to position themselves as obsequious reflections of black agency not out of respect but out of the opposite of respect; to grant that they might have a racialized conscience that must by duty interact with the racialized conscience of the nonwhite, they would risk being interpreted by same. They arrange their opinions not to work to the benefit of the essential category of blackness they've created but to be protected themselves from that blackness, from the potential of its judgment. To see nonwhite people as fully-realized actors with whom one might disagree on topics of race would be to risk being regarded as racist by any one of them, and for many or most of the white people who write about race, avoiding that accusation is a higher priority than working against racism as such. They therefore create a mental world in which the act of ceding all personal responsibility for issues of race to the nonwhite is an act of charity, when in fact it operates on the assumption that the nonwhite are inhuman. They are in bad faith.

This is why they only engage on issues of race in mediums where they can encourage and expect immediate assent, amplification, agreement, and support. It's why you never, ever read social liberals writing on such topics in a way that does not immediately receive social approval which confirms their blamelessness, any individual intellectual responsibility dissolving into a haze of attaboys, #realtalks, THANK YOUs, and the like. Even acts of self-implication are rendered toothless through the inevitable flurry of approval which ignores the sin for which the writer was self-implicating and preserves only the end state of racial blamelessness. Like I said last night: social liberals' writing on race and sex engenders no demonstrable productive effect on the world, but is more likely than any other kind of writing to win fulsome praise. Is it really unfair of me to assume that the purpose is then not to achieve that productive effect but rather to win the praise?

I never asked anybody's permission; not on the theory that I know everything, but on the conviction that only I am responsible for the content of my conscience and the morality of how I express it. I want nowhere to hide. The advantage of avoiding the inevitable reduction of nonwhite people into a set of social cues and essentialized political traits, I consider a bonus.

22 comments:

Josh said...

It seems like you're saying this conversation is going to necessarily be uncomfortable and complicated, and that we shouldn't shy away from that, while the other side wants things to be more...black and white.

Q said...

To which I ask, uncomfortable and complicated for whom? The problem with his never-ending efforts to centralize the discussion around white liberals he dislikes is that it obscures the presence and legitimacy of large swathes of black people who object to and say the exact same things. If you think the white people in question are posturing tools, what do you think of the POC's who - in most cases - create and express the critiques that white people end up repeating? And why do you hold yourself as unaccountable to those non-white people?

I want to know how this post is distinct from the "positioning" he so scathingly describes (since, of course, its bursting with the implication that he's more loving toward black agency than the white people who just pretend to love black agency). I want to know how he responds to his approach also making the victims of racism even MORE uncomfortable. Because if this white-centric, white-focused, social justice/privilege mocking is a superior racial discussion to you, I'm not sure how it's supposed to benefit me and mine. I can't really say that about white people who are repeating and internalizing the precepts argued by POC's that are attached to social justice. At least there, there's a pretext of at least incidentally absorbing, avoiding and understanding the issues described. Here, there's just...you, and everything you insist on being proudly wrong about and negligent of. Why are you an adequate judge for what effective and useful anti-racism is? Why do you think an anti-racism that's detached from POC discourse (which includes the people you dismiss as "racial avatars") is capable of being better?

Freddie said...

I have a black acquaintance who deeply opposes all forms of race-based affirmative action, Q. When he says that affirmative action should be ended, what is my duty? What would your duty be in the same situation? What is our duty to the black people who feel the opposite way?

Will Shetterly said...

Or here's another conservative black who does a decent takedown of Critical Race Theory:

http://www.intellectualconservative.com/article4783.html

Mind you, if skin color's the criteria, my heart is still with Adolph Reed and Thandeka. But sometimes, the left and the right can agree that a notion is flawed.

Will Shetterly said...

Huh. My first comment disappeared, either because blogger burped or Freddie didn't like a word I used, so I'll try again with a slight edit:

Q, are you white? How can you say you want to talk bravely about race and be afraid to acknowledge what you think you are?

If race is the criteria, Herman Cain and Michelle Malkin are every bit as valid as Kimberle Crenshaw and Derrick Bell.

Q said...

Are you impotent? This isn't physics.

Your "duty", as it were, is to link this:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w9873.pdf?new_window=1

this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/us/01race.html?_r=3&

and this:

http://www.princeton.edu/~pager/race_at_work.pdf

And then ask how affirmative action is worse, more discriminatory, more unequal and more racist in practice than the status quo. Then ask if he has a better solution, and if he doesn't, you can ask yourself why you should yield equivalent value to an opinion that's out of step with and unresponsive to the sensitive/aware writing on the subject. By innocently batting your eyelashes and pretending that people who are saying you should defer to POC's when you discuss racism are somehow saying that "All POC views are equal" you're strawmanning the actual argument and abdicating any responsibility for engaging with it. You're trying to start a vaguely solipsistic discussion about an entirely different thing. Stop playing dumb, please.

And by the way: how are you not using black people with divergent views as "racial avatars" to push your silly, obfuscating point. And at what point do you answer any of the questions asked in either of threads you started? Because I'm still waiting.

Rasmus Xera said...

So, in reality, it's more about the one position you've deemed all rational black people should hold than it is about race itself?

And thus whites are allowed to speak in place of 'true' black people, but only whenever they meet one who is sufficiently confused or misled?

I think you've just proved Freddie's point...

Alex Davis said...

Q's response in sum:

- In using an avatar as a counterexample, you're using an avatar! Gotcha!

- "All POC views are equal" is a strawman. The actual argument is "All POC views are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Ethan Gach said...

So if I as a white person have the legitimacy to distinguish between worthwhile POC views and invalid ones based on the merits, why can't I make an argument for or against something race related based on the merits, despite the fact that it originated from a place of white privilege?

Freddie said...

Yeah, I'm genuinely dumbfounded by what "defer" can mean, when it sometimes requires me to vigorously dissent. Not getting it.

Q said...

My only response to both of your posts is: Seriously?

I'm going to have to bow out soon. I can go to bat with unconsciously evil arguments, I can engage with people who are wrong, but I draw the line at willfully stupid. Maybe that can change when your summaries don't require arguments I didn't make and rest on ignoring the nuances you've thought to remove.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

And what a loss that shall be.

Liz said...

Between this post and last one it's like you're on some kind of mission to have your leftist card revoked by the tumblr Women's & Gender studies league. Their theory of everything dictates that positions need to be determined in the matrix of oppression prior to all discourse, and trying to peg a platform above your dignity is a pretty cardinal sin.

Will Shetterly said...

Ethan Gach, if your understanding of power is that there are mice and there are cats, what sane mouse would listen to a cat, no matter how enlightened the cat claimed it had become?

When socialists use the cat and mouse metaphor, we're speaking of fluid identities--your class allegiance can change for many reasons. But when anti-racists use it, they start from the same place racists do: whites are forever white, and people of color are forever of color. It's not a scientific model, but it's a fascinatingly religious one.

jpmeyer said...

Liz: my favorites are:

1) when 4chan trolled tumblr by creating an oppression matrix which tumblr took 100% seriously

2) when someone on tumblr tried to create a comprehensive hierarchy of oppression & privilege (and being a completely self-serving post, "male" overrode everything to the point where the entry for transgendered, queer, disabled, homeless black man was listed as having more privilege than a rich white woman)

3) when people on tumblr claim that others have "oppression privilege", which is when you become blinded to the fact that everything you say is automatically correct because of your minority status(es)

4) the general idea of people on tumblr constantly trying to invent new kinds of oppressions so that their ideas won't be automatically rejected, regardless of topic

5) Prince Koyangi

6) I'll just leave this here: http://accelll.tumblr.com/post/10652086811/this-is-kavitiyas-about-me-i-kid-you-not

Nathan Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Wright said...

@Will Shetterly, I think "religious" is apt. Forget about scientific, it isn't even logical.

"Fascinating" is also apt; because, to me, this stuff seems to have a strongly pro-oligarchy tenor, while seemingly having spawned from the universities. These anti-racists see an oligarchical society, and the objection they find is not that such a society exists, but that the oligarchs as a group are less than 13% black. So I see the Q's of the world as either shills for the 0.1%, or useful idiots. The true believers do kind of baffle me though.

Liz said...

jpmeyer: I'm not trying to discount the honest-to-goodness oppression that ostrichcats deal with, but...

Nathan: I think the problem is that, as you rightly indicate, universities are the natural reservoirs of these grand theories of oppression, and as you can see in the syllabus below, the academy is currently enchanted by 'trauma theory':

http://home.adm.unige.ch/~madsen/trauma.htm

Whether your average Q chooses to spell out this part of the theory or not, it manifests itself as the anti-intellectual binding agent of the whole shebang. Arguments posed by the wrong person aren't just oppressive in this frame; if they were just functionally oppressive, you could theoretically counteract that oppression with competing arguments. Instead, these folks want to preclude the possibility of the wrong person posing an argument because the wrong person's voice can, they suggest, trigger sort of vague, nebulous sets of negative symptoms based on collective community memories of trauma.

So saying their refusal to question the oligarchical arrangement of authority in society is illogical isn't even a possibility in their frame. They cut you off prima facie by saying your arguing anything is traumatic.

Will Shetterly said...

Nathan Wright, I used to think their "kyriarchy" was a redundant word for "hierarchy", but after seeing it in use for a while, I've realized it actually means "bad hierarchies in which we don't get to tell everyone what to do".

Jack Crow said...

"They arrange their opinions not to work to the benefit of the essential category of blackness they've created but to be protected themselves from that blackness, from the potential of its judgment. To see nonwhite people as fully-realized actors with whom one might disagree on topics of race would be to risk being regarded as racist by any one of them, and for many or most of the white people who write about race, avoiding that accusation is a higher priority than working against racism as such. They therefore create a mental world in which the act of ceding all personal responsibility for issues of race to the nonwhite is an act of charity, when in fact it operates on the assumption that the nonwhite are inhuman. They are in bad faith."

This is the best thing you've ever written, Freddie.

Since this often gets bogged down in the most common racial dichotomy in the US, black-white inequity, I'd just briefly add that when sensitive white people learn that I'm "half Indian" they almost immediately ask me about the terrible conditions of reservation life, as if this serves to signal to me that they are sympathetic to my plight, as a way of maintaining their purity in the face of an assumption of their guilt on my part.

(It is from schadenfreude, I guess, that I like to state dryly that I've never been to a reservation.)

And this has shades of the complaint about "classism," as if mistreating the lower orders is a terrible sin which must be prevented, when the real tragedy is the notion that hierarchies can be sanitized, reformed, made good, redeemed.

Brett said...

RE: Jack Crow

It's bizarre - don't they imagine how weird that would sound if someone asked them a question like that? If I mentioned that I'm half-British, I'd look at the other person pretty strangely if they responded with "So soccer is pretty awesome, right?"

sl4irl said...

Freddie, that email exchange makes you seem like a complete tool. If someone doesn't reply to something, don't pester them. Often people are too busy to reply to stuff.