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Moment of Truth: Racial Thinking

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.

I was reading a paper by a friend of mine, John Hartigan, a professor who teaches anthropology and sociology at the University of Texas in Austin. In it he shared this:

"In my classrooms, I ask students to look around at their peers and try to describe the range of skin tones present. It is quickly very apparent that 'black' and 'white' don't cut it—there is too much variation—and that really what we use race to do is classify people into a small set of categories."

His paper is about the value of genetic studies of Neanderthals, and how our attempts to distinguish between "us" and "them" are becoming more and more fruitless as we learn more about Neaderthals' very human behaviors. The illustrative anecdote about his classroom is a lead-in to a discussion about race being socially constructed. But implications in his paper evoke a world of errors we make in dividing groups in ways that flatter ourselves, whether we're aware of our biases or not.

My last Moment of Truth laid out the case for viewing supporters of Donald Dump as fitting Karl Popper's description of the intolerant, whom those in a tolerant society ought not tolerate. I ended with a tiny bit of irony, I like to think, saying, "Really rub their faces in your decency," or something like that. I think such irony was appropriate to a paradoxical premise like not tolerating the intolerant.

There is certainly behavior that is not to be tolerated, and some betrayals of rational discourse qualify as intolerable. Some Dump supporters seem to rely on bad-faith discourse as a way of propping up their bad-faith politics, and their continued devotion to a demagogue who evinces vile, corrupt, and self-serving behavior on a daily basis.

The Failing New York Times, which recently posted its most profitable quarter in years, hired a writer of color, Sarah Jeong, who, it was discovered, had tweeted a large volume of bile against white people over the years. One example was something about having no sympathy for the deaths of white people. Another said she enjoyed being cruel to elderly white men. She's no Hari Kondabolu. They were flat statements, not even couched in wit. Not couched in anything except the fact that she was of Korean descent. Which for some people wasn't enough couching.

Articles damning her and leftist intolerance were trotted out from the recent past or created spontaneously in response. The most salient arguments were that anti-white rhetoric on the left, especially in academia, where most of these writers' ire is directed, is not only rampant and doctrinaire in a quasi-religious sense, but also serves the elitist project of stigmatizing "out" groups, who haven't learned to internalize the left's cultish rules. And one of the main "out" groups is whites of a lower economic class. Basically, anti-whiteness is not really anti-whiteness, because "woke" whites (i.e. elite whites) can espouse it with logical consistency in "woke" culture. Left anti-whiteness is really anti- poor-whiteness. It's elitist, and serves to keep poor white people, as well as speech that would challenge left political pieties, out of the academy. Education is one of the gateways out of poverty. The left is supposed to want to end poverty. They're hypocrites.

There are a few things wrong with this calculation, and the worst is that it is a calculation, and not a true concern about upending the economic power structure that keeps poor people poor. Andrew Sullivan, one of the complaining writers, is hardly a socialist, or even that interested in redistributing wealth more equitably. The exercise is really just finger-pointing and assertions of hypocrisy meant to tar the left with the brush the left is supposed to be using to tar capitalism. The right who call the left hypocrites are the real hypocrites.

That doesn't mean the argument lacks validity. That doesn't mean certain left and left- academic scenes aren't de facto churches with dogmas of anti-whiteness and anti- maleness. I know firsthand that some are. But the academy is no more monolithic than humans are. I also know the reverse, people fighting against the white and European- centered bias in fields like Medieval Studies, where they're struggling coherently and earnestly against power in academic organizations that seem disingenuously clueless about their exclusion of people of diverse identities, as well as ideas that challenge the White European near-monopoly on the narrow definition of what their field can be about. Those legitimately challenging these white patriarchal bodies find themselves dismissed, tarred with the brush of political correctness.

Most who've matured out of the hazing, backbiting and virtue-signaling in any leftish political scene look on simplistic, arrogant political correctness today with generous pity. That generous pity is, admittedly, patronizing, but it's hard not to be generous to those whose hearts are, at least ostensibly, in the right place. Yet it's equally difficult not to be patronizing toward unreasonable, self-destructive people. It's that or take them down a peg, and let me tell you, no one but a smug billionaire is higher on their peg than a leftist who knows all the right things to think and say and is ready to tell you what they are at the slightest provocation. It may be hard to admit – it's certainly hard to discuss in any depth with the unreasonable – but the left, like any group of people, has its share of sycophants, egotists, manipulative jerks, conformists, mindless yes-people, self-righteous fools, and those who simply enjoy being mean for personal reasons. The left is just people. And many of us are wrong about many, many things. And we assume we're not wrong because we're on the side of good. You know, the way Evangelical Christians do.

There are those who will say that this is my white privilege talking, and I'm not one to doubt the many obvious and hidden benefits accruing to me by my being white, so I'll just repeat ideas I've heard many black socialists aver: class solidarity and critiquing the economic power structures that oppress us all is key to building an effective resistance and to creating change. Yes, they are power structures that assuredly favor whites, but not whites alone.

Socialists who ignore racism and other strains of systemic and quasi-systemic xenophobia do so at the risk of failing vast numbers of powerless people. It's a historical truth that's been assimilated into current leftist discourse, if not always leftist action, and the socialist commitment to seeking and empowering diversity needs to be continually maintained by all. But leftists who get distracted from the battle against the actually powerful, the massively destructive powerful, as opposed to the "coded" powerful or the "linguistically" powerful or the "micro-aggressively" powerful (who of course replicate the oppression of their oppressors – and make no mistake, poor white people are oppressed) – leftists who somehow don't believe the patriarchy can be replicated by non- white and non-cis-male oppressors risk failing, and thereby losing the solidarity of, vast numbers of powerless people, and not just white ones.

It's necessary for people of color and queerness of all kinds to talk about and act against the oppression they experience every day in white hetero-normative society. History shows that, otherwise, their oppression will be ignored by white hetero-normative leftists. But it's equally necessary that the left never allow our focus on the power that comes from control of material wealth to waiver. It's time for our species to outgrow the need for abusively unequal distribution of resources. We have to do it. We should have done it ages ago. It's killing vast numbers of people and animals and plants.

When the left shrinks the many categories of humans down to "us" and "them," we're also replicating our own oppression. Some of us are subverting it in this way. But if you're not careful, if your subversion is shallow, then you're at worst a problem to your comrades, at best a mere cartoon. Cartoons are great for agitation and propaganda, but most problems in the world require complex thoughts, strategy, and a soupçon of finesse.

The fact is, it's fun to be mean, blunt, and stupid. It's hilarious. It's one of the great comic tactics. Being mean to yourself and being mean to others. And, let's face it, white people are horrible. Even when they're nice, they're horrible, because behind their niceness, or around it or inside it, whether perceived or actually there, is a brutal, imperialist oppressor offering small pox blankets. Somewhere around or behind or inside me is an inbred, possum-eating, lynching, backwoods redneck of every civilized person's Deliverance nightmares. When I go to eat Chinese food in Monterey Park, I'm actually forcing the proprietors of Chengdu Taste to build the railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific. And, hey, no one puts a gun to my head in the morning and says, "Be white today, or else." It's my choice.

It might be as hard for a white person to be a true ally as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. But people are capable of doing difficult things. And even Neaderthals were people. The differences between you and your enemy might not be as great or as many as you might like to think.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.


Moment of Truth


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