Conservatives and Critical Race Theory

The latest bogey man is likely not well understood.

No to racism

At the risk of turning this into Kevin Drum Day here at OTB, his posting yesterday evening “What Is Critical Race Theory?” raises some interesting questions. He attempts to summarize what conservatives mean by the term when they criticize it as follows:

  • Race is a key part of identity in the United States.
  • Our nation was built on the back of slavery.
  • Systemic racism always has been, and still is, embedded in American society.
  • White people are oppressors who continue to play a role in perpetuating racism.
  • Black people suffer unequal treatment in a wide variety of ways, including school discipline, criminal justice, employment, housing, and so forth.
  • White people should be aware of the privilege and benefits they enjoy solely due to their skin color.
  • There are “Black ways of knowing,” based on lived experience, that are different from science, logic, reason, and other white constructs, but just as valid.
  • Students should be taught about racism and oppression from an early age.

To this, he invites audience participation, which he presumes to be futile since few conservatives are among his readers.

To some extent, I think the premise of his question is wrong. That is, aside from maybe Andrew Sullivan, I don’t believe many people criticizing CRT have any idea what it is. Mostly, they’re just parroting talking points they’re hearing on Fox News and the like.

At best, they’re objecting to things like White Fragility and the 1619 Project, which are only CRT-adjacent.

I’m not sure anyone worth having a conversation with much doubts these:

  • Black people suffer unequal treatment in a wide variety of ways, including school discipline, criminal justice, employment, housing, and so forth.
  • Students should be taught about racism and oppression from an early age.

While I’m sure that there are people who think racism is vastly overblown, it’s so obvious that there are disparities in treatment as to be incontrovertible. I’m 55 and went to public schools in Texas and Alabama and those on US military bases in Missouri and Germany from 1971-1984. At least by 4th grade and quite likely earlier, we spent considerable chunks of time in social studies classes learning about slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and the like. It seems unlikely that there’s a major movement to stop doing this.

I think the most visceral objections are around these precepts, which are all highly interrelated:

  • Our nation was built on the back of slavery.
  • Systemic racism always has been, and still is, embedded in American society.
  • White people are oppressors who continue to play a role in perpetuating racism.
  • White people should be aware of the privilege and benefits they enjoy solely due to their skin color.

Given how much treatment there was of slavery even when I was in elementary school nearly half a century ago, I can’t imagine that many reasonable people doubt it was a significant factor in our early history. But, even as one who actually thinks CRT has a lot of merit, I think the 1619 Project went too far in considering slavery the central feature in our founding. It was, even in 1776—and certainly by the Constitutional Convention of 1787—recognized by many as a contradiction to our stated ethos but one that had to be accommodated given economic and political realities.

“Systemic racism” is pretty obvious if one spends a lot of time reading and engaging in discussion over the issue but really hard to explain to the average guy who just wants to watch SportsCenter and have a beer after a long day at work. Why, schools have been desegregated since 1954,* Jim Crow got abolished in 1964/65, and we’ve even had a Black President!

And, because “racism” is such a loaded word, this may be an example of the “faculty lounge” language James Carville hates so much. Certainly, “privilege” is one. That a white guy is going to be perceived differently than a black guy in a given situation all things (age, dress, demeanor) being equal seems pretty obvious. But you’re not going to convince a third-generation coal miner that he’s “privileged,” much less that he’s oppressing anybody.

____________

*They weren’t, of course, but most pre-college history classes are taught as memorization of dates and that’s when Brown was decided.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mister Bluster says:

    We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, my brothers and sisters—Plymouth Rock landed on us.
    Malcolm X

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Critical Race Theory is nothing more than the current BENGHAZI!!!!

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  3. Slugger says:

    Income, health, and power disparities between whites and nonwhites are real. Our social and cultural structures reenforce them. Within my lifetime, blacks were considered unfit to play baseball. Blacks were considered unfit for skill positions in football; in 1978 Warren Moon was not drafted despite being the Rose Bowl MVP. When were “colored only” water fountains removed? My mother drank from one in Chattanooga in 1957. What is the impact of the many laws about voting access passed in the USA in the last year?
    White people don’t recognize US racism for the same reason fish don’t know that water is wet. We feel that if we are not as overt as Byron de la Beckwith, then we’re OK.

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  4. mattbernius says:

    Related to this topic, The Root just published a really wonderful piece that takes many of the leading Republican voices against the 1619 project and looks at how the textbooks they most likely read in High School represented the topics of the Civil War and Slavery in general.

    It’s a really great reminder of how history has always been revisionist and used to prop up various narratives (in these cases the normalization of systemic racism). Its too long to effectively exceprt but well worth the read.

    https://www.theroot.com/we-found-the-textbooks-of-senators-who-oppose-the-1619-1846832317

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  5. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Critical Race Theory is nothing more than the current BENGHAZI!!!!

    I get what you’re saying, but I’d make a distinction between the types of things Republicans use to distract. Benghazi is Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, Lewinsky, Swift-Boat, Her Emails, and Hunter’s Laptop. It was one of their cooked up corruption scandals they use perennially against Democratic politicians.

    Critical Race Theory and other recent “woke” controversies (Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potatohead) are more in the category of things where they try to tag Democrats with trends coming from the cultural left, typically distorting the views in question but also attempting to blur the line between marginalized radicals and the mainstream center-left. They’ve been doing this for over a generation as well–first it was political correctness and campus speech codes, then it was postmodernism, then it was Afrocentrism, then it was the War on Christmas…and on and on.

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  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    For a couple of generations now, schools and civic organizations have been teaching, advocating acceptance of all peoples. Those children have come of age and are now voters who have joined with older citizens who value civil rights for all. The reactionary right is seeing its own children, reject the idea that male, white Christians are the core of America and that others are secondary or lower. The attack on CRT is the flailing of dying privilege. Unfortunately it will likely destroy America before its last breath passes.

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  7. Kathy says:

    The one item I find completely objectionable is: “There are “Black ways of knowing,” based on lived experience, that are different from science, logic, reason, and other white constructs, but just as valid.”

    That’s BS and pseudoscience at best. It validates race as something inherently biological with specific attributes much different than those of other groups of people. It would also imply there is a white, brown, yellow, etc. “way of knowing.” That’s all complete bunk.

    But, even as one who actually thinks CRT has a lot of merit, I think the 1619 Project went too far in considering slavery the central feature in our founding.

    The Europeans who came to this continent had one thing in mind: profit. In many parts, this was accomplished by extracting valuable resources, such as gold and silver. In most others, including much of what became the United States, this involved growing cash crops like tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton.

    Both relied on forced labor. First by indigenous inhabitants who could be enslaved, and then with slaves imported from Africa.

    People on the right like to talk about indentured servitude, or point out that most slaves imported to the Americas went to the Caribbean and Brazil.

    This is not false, but indentures were for a term, and at the end the person involved received a parcel of land and some capital. Most enslaved Africans wound up as described, but that lessens not the amount who wound up in the US one iota.

    Later generations had made homes in the “new” continent, and labored to build and expand their holdings, organized governments, etc. This varied a great deal, too. Much of the continent, ruled and owned by Spain, was governed by Spaniard officials sent from Europe, with little local involvement even by Europeans born in the Americas.

    So maybe slavery is not central to the founding of the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies, but none of them would have been what they were without slavery. If it’s not the central feature, it si one of the central ones.

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  8. Jon says:

    @Kathy: I would posit that the phrase “based on lived experience” is pretty important there, though, and contradicts the concept of it being biological.

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  9. Modulo Myself says:

    There are “Black ways of knowing,” based on lived experience, that are different from science, logic, reason, and other white constructs, but just as valid.

    This is really stupid. I think it’s more that ‘white’ ways of knowing center science, logic, and reason as independent of lived experience. Which is how we get slaveowners being somehow men of reason who just didn’t know that torturing human beings was unreasonable.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    The 1619 project and CRT translate to conservative minds, but also to a lot of moderates as white people bad. In fact, that’s exactly how it is wielded by progressives in social media because everything that upsets progressives must be turned up to 11. This is deeply unhelpful.

    Yes, slavery was a huge factor in the growth of the US, but no, the country was not ‘built on slavery.’ If nothing else, what about the ethnic cleansing and massacre of Indians? Black people were not the only group screwed by the colonies and later by the United States. At very least the statement should be that the US was built on Black slavery and the ethnic cleansing of Indians. But of course that, too, would be reductionist and simplistic.

    Clearly slavery was a crime against humanity, an evil system, but no, all white people are not oppressors. Collective guilt is a pernicious idea. Collective guilt gave us pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide. And collective guilt laid at the feet of two thirds of the country is politically. . . what’s le mot juste. . . fukkin stupid.

    When you’re driving at night, and you get drowsy, and you suddenly snap awake and realize you’re drifting off the right side of the road, the sensible response is not yanking the steering wheel as far as it’ll go, crossing the median and driving off the left side of the road. The intelligent reaction to distortions of American history is not to veer wildly into creating countervailing myths and exaggerations, the intelligent response is to grip the wheel, glance at oncoming traffic, and get back in the lane.

    We’re being whipsawed by racist, misogynist goons on the Right, and humorless half-smart commissars on the left. Yes, the right is worse, far worse, but I’m really tired of trying to justify the excesses of the Left. Just because X lies that does not justify Y lying. A little rigor, please. A little rationality. Some self-discipline. I’m flashing back to Vietcong flags being unfurled at peace demonstrations in the 60’s. Progressives would have an easier time marching if they stopped shooting themselves in the foot.

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  11. R. Dave says:

    OP Wrote: At best, they’re objecting to things like White Fragility and the 1619 Project, which are only CRT-adjacent.

    That strikes me as a bit of a “no true Scotsman” dodge, and Drum’s list of ideas that conservatives attribute to CRT is a bit of a “motte and bailey” trick. It’s really frustrating how ubiquitous both of those rhetorical devices are among the pro-CRT and anti-anti-CRT folks.

    Sure, one can posit an idealized version of CRT that, like any good critical theory, merely identifies and teases out underappreciated factors influencing societal relations without making outsized claims about how significant those factors really are in the grand scheme of things, but that’s not how CRT (or basically any critical theory) ends up operating in practice. In practice, what you get is massive concept creep and dumbed down, overbroad application of the theory such that it becomes, for its most vocal advocates and those actually driving its implementation in the real world, the “ONE BIG THING THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING!!! and can only conceivably be opposed by people who are either too ignorant or too evil to get it”.

    I would argue that Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project”, and Ibram X. Kendi’s schtick are much more representative of CRT in practice than some mental construct of a dry academic theoretician grappling with the subtle interactions of race and economics or a well-meaning layman acknowledging that race is still a factor in society to some vague degree.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Jon:

    I will readily admit there are things that can’t be understood, grasped, aprehended, or appreciated fully unless one experiences them, and that things like racial discrimination and oppression are two of them.

    But these are not exclusive to any one human group, nor are they independent of reason or logic, or any other cognitive human attributes.

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  13. Modulo Myself says:

    Collective guilt is a pernicious idea. Collective guilt gave us pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide. And collective guilt laid at the feet of two thirds of the country is politically. . . what’s le mot juste. . . fukkin stupid.

    Collective guilt did not give us pogroms and genocide. There’s a radical difference between anti-Semitism and hating all of the Good Germans who were collectively guilty. The Jewish people have never done anything to warrant anti-Semitism, just as black people in America have done nothing to contribute to racism. Both racism and anti-Semitism exist independently of the groups they target.

    For whatever it’s worth, America never had a movement for truth about race. There’s always been a political cost for going too far and pushing white people, because by and large the charges are true. I.e. the insanely-poor 15th generation coal miner has benefitted from racism and he knows it and is simply lying.
    The blowback definitely happened after the Civil Rights Act, and maybe it’s happening now, although nobody is flying Vietcong flags or joining the BLA. In fact the sum terrors of the woke movement are some annoying eye-rollingly bad HR presentations and some mild criticism flung at white people.

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  14. Mu Yixiao says:

    I think this is way too much angst about Cathode Ray Tubes.

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  15. Jon says:

    @Kathy:

    But these are not exclusive to any one human group, nor are they independent of reason or logic, or any other cognitive human attributes.

    I’m not sure anybody is claiming any exclusivity. But to back up for a bit, the original quote causing this kerfuffle is Kevin Drum’s wording, and he was perhaps a bit imprecise in how he framed it.

    It is indisputable that there is racial bias in science, both conscious and unconscious. Some of that colored (see what I did there?) which topics are researched and how, some how results are interpreted, and often it propped up whole fields of ‘science’ that today are completely discredited (phrenology, eugenics). Given that it should not be surprising that lived experience can contradict science. Black people were well aware, for example, that they did not have an inherent higher tolerance for pain than white people but that didn’t stop that from being accepted medical fact for way too long.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Anti-semitism predates the Nazis by many generations and is based on the belief by Christians that Jews are responsible for killing Christ. In the minds of Christians, Jews absolutely did something wrong to deserve oppression, they murdered Jesus and then denied his divinity. ‘Christ-killers’ came long before ‘cosmopolitan bankers.’ It was this notion of collective guilt that laid the foundation for the Holocaust.

    For whatever it’s worth, America never had a movement for truth about race. There’s always been a political cost for going too far and pushing white people, because by and large the charges are true. I.e. the insanely-poor 15th generation coal miner has benefitted from racism and he knows it and is simply lying.

    Of course there have been efforts to talk about the truth of race in this country. Roots comes to mind. But writers (even humble kidlit hacks) have been talking openly and honestly about race for a long time. And no, the coal miner doesn’t know any such thing, at best he ‘knows’ he’s better than a Black man, but he does not attribute that to racism.

    In fact the sum terrors of the woke movement are some annoying eye-rollingly bad HR presentations and some mild criticism flung at white people.

    Progressives are blind to the damage caused by the overly-woke because when your heart is true you can’t possibly be doing anything wrong. First up: Charlie Cook says his instinct is that ‘Defund’ is what killed the blue wave in 2021. He’s almost certainly right to some degree. Second: progressives don’t attack enemies with their thought police vigilance, they attack allies. They aren’t the front line troops they imagine themselves to be, they’re NKVD squads shooting the insufficiently ideological in the back. Third: things like the San Francisco schools defenestrating Lincoln FFS, resonate, not just with the loony right, but with moderates and liberals who see it – correctly – as absolutely batshit.

    If we lose Congress is 2022 it will be the fault of progressives. Period. And they won’t care, because progs prioritize performative righteousness over helping actual people. They’re very much in the mindset of, ‘I’d rather be right than president,’ a narcissistic abandonment of the people we are meant to defend.

    There’s about a 90% overlap between my beliefs and those of progressives, so if I can’t stand the self-righteous, self-involved twits as far Left as I am, who do you imagine does like them?

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @R. Dave:

    I would argue that Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”, Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project”, and Ibram X. Kendi’s schtick are much more representative of CRT in practice than some mental construct of a dry academic theoretician grappling with the subtle interactions of race and economics

    It’s important to separate the legitimate theorists from amateurs who riff from theory. Karl Marx got some things very wrong in The Communist Manifesto and other early writings but went can’t blame the Lenin, Stalin, and Maoist bastardization of his ideas on him.

    DiAngelo is a huckster. NHJ is a journalist, earnestly trying to apply an idea but doing so poorly in some instances. Kendi is, among other things, an academic and quite probably more emblematic of CRT.

    2
  18. Modulo Myself says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Well, the Romans killed Christ. The Jewish people were scapegoated for it, and it’s been a blatant Christian lie ever since. But funny that you mention the NKVD–my partner’s great-grandfather was taken away by them in a black car in the 30s and never seen again. And many years later, her parents were regularly beaten in school by their classmates because they were Jewish while their teachers cheered.

    There’s just no relationship between actual secret police and our current ‘thought’ police or saying a few things about white people vs physically attacking Jewish kids. I think Robin DiAngelo is a fraud, but ‘white fragility’ is a thing. The constant metaphorical switch of normal democratic conflict into some sort of violence–e.g. the defenestration of Lincoln 140+ years after he was actually assassinated–is not coming from black people or the woke. It’s coming from moderates who seem not to be able to handle normal shit.

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  19. JKB says:

    The larger problem is that, and really both sides, slavery/race in the US is not given context in the wider world at the time. The citizens of the US in 1800 we a very new concept of a free people, self governing, sovereign vice subjects of king or parliament. Villeinage had died away in England till abolished by Elizabeth I in the early 1600s. It was abolished in France with their revolution, but Russian peasants remained in 1917. Chinese peasants (those from rural areas) are still 2nd and 3rd class “citizens”. Slavery is more severe than peasantry, but, at least in Maryland, it was considered to tie African “slaves” to the land before they opted for chattel.

    So in all this, the US was not born of immaculate conception, but rather evolved as more and more people were brought into individual liberty. And I doubt the CRT people really want to teach the role of the radical pietists in abolition given their motivation being steeped in hardcore Protestant belief that the enslaved could not freely have their own acceptance of God.

    Instead, we get this obsession with slave torture p_rn, and stories of abuse. The exception rather than the rule for the mere fact that the specter of a slave revolt and slaughter dominated the minds in slave majority areas. And nothing provokes rebellion like abuse. Not to mention abuse damaging the economic value of a slaves labor.

    As for getting students to understand what slavery is like, the teacher only has to have them imagine that they do not become adults at 18 but rather continue in their condition under the control of a guardian.

    Could not the African slave do as much? In fact, is not this whole position exactly that of the slave? He, too, was guaranteed his sustenance; he, too, was allowed to keep and spend the extra money he made by working overtime; but he was not allowed to better his condition, to engage in trade, to invest it, to change his lot in life.

    –Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson

  20. gVOR08 says:

    I don’t believe many people criticizing CRT have any idea what it is.

    That. You’re exactly right, FOX Noise said it was bad and that’s all they know, or care to know about it.

    I can’t imagine that many reasonable people doubt it was a significant factor in our early history.

    I think that statement hinges on your definition of “reasonable”. I sometimes read conservative sources, and many people seem to believe slavery was never more than peripheral to our history. Flowing from their religious mindset, nothing should be said that’s critical. Every word should boost the faith. And the faith is that we’re a shining city on a hill, always perfect.

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  21. Joe says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Malcolm X was apparently a fan Cole Porter, since this is a thinly disguised borrowing from the lyrics to the song, Anything Goes from the eponymous musical. Who knew?

    1
  22. R. Dave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Second: progressives don’t attack enemies with their thought police vigilance, they attack allies. They aren’t the front line troops they imagine themselves to be, they’re NKVD squads shooting the insufficiently ideological in the back.

    This is an amazing line that I will shamelessly steal going forward.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Clearly slavery was a crime against humanity, an evil system, but no, all white people are not oppressors.

    If you personally benefit from an oppressive system, then what are you if not an oppressor? Every time I go for a job interview, my white skin gives me a boost over other candidates (darkening my skin would cause other problems…).

    I grew up in an area that didn’t really invest in the school district three miles away where the black folks lived, and instead gave mine lots of gifted student programs, computers, etc.

    I went to a college that depended on standardized tests for admission which my school took the time to teach us how to do, while the black kids two districts over didn’t get that.

    I benefit from systemic racism to the point where I make a crapload of money off being given a lot of advantages. And these are just a few of the ways — I expect I don’t even recognize the majority.

    Am I an oppressor?

    What if my instinctive reaction is to push back against change to things that benefitted me, because if they benefit me they must be good things, and it takes a lot of effort for me to see the effects they have on others? Am I an oppressor now?

    That’s sounding more and more like an oppressor. You don’t need to own slaves to be an oppressor, you can just unthinkingly support a status quo that was built on racism.

    Micro-oppressions.

    (Of course, I also have slaves, because what white man doesn’t?)

    Collective guilt is a pernicious idea. Collective guilt gave us pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide. And collective guilt laid at the feet of two thirds of the country is politically. . . what’s le mot juste. . . fukkin stupid.

    I don’t think the Jews felt any kind of collective guilt — that was more collective blame than guilt. I hope the Germans continue to feel some, and continue to be alert to racist demagogues having too much power.

    8
  24. gVOR08 says:

    @JKB:

    So in all this, the US was not born of immaculate conception, but rather evolved as more and more people were brought into individual liberty.

    Careful, Jake, you’re dancing awfully close to Corey Robin’s thesis in The Reactionary Mind, that liberalism throughout modern history has been the effort to extend the benefits of full citizenship to those who don’t have it, and conservatism has been nothing but reactionary opposition to whatever liberals were fighting for. Updated daily.

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  25. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod:

    They’ve been doing this for over a generation as well–first it was political correctness and campus speech codes, then it was postmodernism, then it was Afrocentrism, then it was the War on Christmas…and on and on.

    May I add Saul Alinsky? I think more Tea Partiers have read, or at least talk about, “Rules for Radicals” than liberals.

    3
  26. Monala says:

    @Gustopher: Regarding privilege and the hypothetical white coal miner, I think Chris Rock said it well in one of his routines (paraphrasing from memory): “White folks know they have privilege. You know how I know? Cuz none of y’all would change places with me–and I’m rich! In fact, I could offer to change places with a white guy who’s a blind, one-legged shoeshine boy, and he’d say, ‘Naw, that’s okay, I’m gonna see how this white thing works out for me.'”

    On the other hand, I can’t agree about all white people being oppressors. The things you described in your comment are examples of privilege, which is a passive thing–you benefit from it not because of anything you did or didn’t do, but because of your race (and to some degree, social class). Oppression, however, takes active involvement.

    That doesn’t mean that upon recognizing our privilege (and white privilege is not the only kind someone might have, obviously) that we shouldn’t strive to help make the world more fair and just.

    4
  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Secret police forces didn’t rely only on force, they relied on the destruction of people’s careers, their living, their social connections, and their main tactic was fear, and only when that failed did they bring out the truncheons. So yes, there is connective tissue between our thought police and, for example, the Maoist Red Guard.

    The arena has changed. It’s no longer kids beating up kids in school. The world is online, the battles are in social media, and ruining the careers of actors, pols, directors, writers, academics, singers and assorted, um, personalities, is a national sport. You don’t see it because you’re not involved. You’re a civilian, and here you’re anonymous. Destroying Al Franken’s career was not ‘normal shit’ that moderates ‘couldn’t handle.’ But hey, what’s the destruction of one man’s life when there’s a whole world that still needs condemning?

    @Gustopher:
    I don’t think the Jews felt any kind of collective guilt

    Of course not, but guilt can be assessed, not just experienced.

    @JKB:
    Who was freely and fairly elected president of the United States in 2020?

    Until you can answer that question, FO you pathological liar, you have nothing to contribute.

    3
  28. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Gustopher:

    If you personally benefit from an oppressive system, then what are you if not an oppressor?

    A beneficiary of a system I didn’t create and was far too young to be held accountable for? “Oppressor” is very personal and current. I fully acknowledge I have benefited my whole life by being born a white male American. Compared to the rest of humanity I *WAS* born on 3rd base from those factors alone. Also born to solidly middle-class parents just meant I was halfway to stealing home when I popped out of mom’s womb. I support a whole lot of actions to help redress that, including reparations of some sort. To still be called an oppressor just pisses me off.

    You will very rarely convince people you’re right if you’re personally insulting them at the same time. Blame the system and the past. But claiming all white people are still oppressing minorities? Counter-productive in the extreme. Better to say that all white people still benefit from the oppressions of the past and provide examples like redlining and how it has persisted.

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  29. Monala says:

    @Monala: another data point in the “white people know they have privilege, even if they don’t admit it” argument: the fear that white people have of becoming a numerical minority, that drives so much of current rightwing politics. Why are they afraid, if minority groups are treated well? What do they think they’re losing?

    3
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Better to say that all white people still benefit from the oppressions of the past and provide examples like redlining and how it has persisted.

    Yes, but that would merely be true. Truth does not get clicks.

    4
  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @R. Dave:
    I can let you have it for $1.50 per use.

    3
  32. Richard says:

    We can all agree it would be appalling to tell black kids they must recognize their inherent criminality, and to take ownership for crimes committed by people whose only relation to them is the color of their skin. However, it is just fine and good to do the same thing to white kids, and everyone wonders, “why would anyone be against this?”

    To reduce everything to skin color is silly and ridiculous, not to mention racist, and that is what CRT is. Its most popular advocates promote segregation and discrimination openly.

    I would never want my children to be taught they need to treat others different based on the color of their skin. It is astounding to see support for ideas that are Jim Crow and racism of another kind.

    4
  33. Jay L Gischer says:

    I want to distinguish two terms before I make a point with them. Guilt is about something you’ve done. You cheated on your spouse, you stole office supplies, you had a slave whipped and sent down the river to be sold, separating him from his family.

    Shame, on the other hand, is about who you are. There’s no atoning for it, no redemptive pathway. It’s personal, and it sticks. Nobody wants shame, so they pass it around like a hot potato – “I’m not shameful, YOU’RE the shameful one”.

    The is so much shame coming down from the fact of 200 years of chattel slavery in this country that it’s still giving us fits. I think the unhappiness we’re experiencing comes from that shame. The only way to get rid of shame is to experience it, to hold on to it for a bit, and stand your ground. This is a program I recommend for white people. Understand what was done to black Americans, what is being done to black Americans. Don’t run from it. A white person of our times probably didn’t participate in those big-ticket things, and so they shouldn’t feel guilt for it, but there is shame.

    I think of these feelings of shame as being like going through a very old house that has been closed up. You open a door to a new room and WOW THERE’S QUITE A SMELL HERE! After time the smell diminishes and you have a new room with lots of interesting things in it.

    Contrariwise, we need to confront our guilt over what we have done, which is perhaps pretty minor in comparison with the sins of our forebears, but can still be a factor. If we use racial epithets to harm people, if we are subject to racially-tainted bias in hiring, or college admissions (something I’ve seen), if we just make assumptions that really aren’t warranted and make someone else’s life a little worse, we need to confront that and see if we can make amends, or at least an apology.

    And for me, if there are policies and/or structures in place in government, banking, insurance, and so on, that have benefitted me as a white person preferentially, I would very much like to put my support behind programs that alter that to be more racially fair. I’m not sure this could be called a guilt/redemption thing or not.

    Probably the most important thing a white person needs to do is avoid saying, “there is no problem”. As it happens, I think there are multiple problems, and I sometimes get policed for talking about the “wrong” problem, because that’s off-message. This is why I’m not an activist.

    Anyway, I understand the pushback to “critical race theory” (which is a name intended to make it as unappealing as possible to the core audience) as a sort of shame denial. The problem with that is it keeps people stuck, but it’s understandable all the same. Shame sucks, and the only way to be rid of it is to stand your ground and experience it while sorting through the actual psychic material.

    This is my current understanding. It isn’t super conducive to, say, Twitter, because it’s a conversation, not a one-liner. The best one-liner I know comes from James Baldwin, though it’s meant to address something slightly different:

    When the white man learns to love himself, there will be no race problem

    7
  34. mattbernius says:

    @JKB:

    Could not the African slave do as much? In fact, is not this whole position exactly that of the slave? He, too, was guaranteed his sustenance; he, too, was allowed to keep and spend the extra money he made by working overtime; but he was not allowed to better his condition, to engage in trade, to invest it, to change his lot in life.

    –Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson

    Wow, clearly Mr. Stimson really did not actually know jack about the conditions of most slaves in the US.

    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/lincolns-north/

    This is exactly the type of ahistorical argument that folks use to justify their own personal biases.

    5
  35. gVOR08 says:

    @Monala:

    another data point in the “white people know they have privilege, even if they don’t admit it” argument: the fear that white people have of becoming a numerical minority, that drives so much of current rightwing politics. Why are they afraid, if minority groups are treated well? What do they think they’re losing?

    In my @gVOR08: reply to JKB above I almost added that if their “replacement” theory is true, in a hundred years liberals will be fighting for full rights for Anglo-Saxons* and conservatives will be opposing them.

    I happened earlier today to come across the concept of “Saxondom” among nineteenth century writers. I am tempted to go to TAC or FOX and argue that talk of preserving Anglo-Saxon culture is mongrelizing the pure Saxon race. You don’t get to call yourself Anglo-Saxon just because you’re white and speak English.

    2
  36. gVOR08 says:

    Looks like none of my tricks for calling forth the Edit Djinn are working. In @gVOR08: please insert a “*” in front of the bottom paragraph, which is supposed to be a humorous footnote.

  37. Kanticle Jones says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You’re way too smart and well spoken for this subject, I’m afraid.

    1
  38. mattbernius says:

    @JKB:
    BTW, I note that you failed to note the next line of Mr Frederic J. Stimson’s speech:

    “Precisely what makes a slave is that he is allowed no use of productive capital to make wealth on his own account.”

    That’s a unique view of human chattel slavery where those slaves were literally owned and the property of another human being. Oh wait…

    The only difference is that under socialism, I may not be compelled to labor (I don’t even know as to that – socialists differ on the point), factually compelled, by the lash, or any other force than hunger. And the only other difference is that the negro slave was under the orders of one man, while the subject of socialism will be under the orders of a committee of ward heelers. You will say, the slave could not choose his master, but we shall elect the ward politician. So we do now. Will that help much? Suppose the man with a grievance didn’t vote for him?

    Oh, so he does acknowledge that Black slaves were able to be beaten for not working (or any reason)… that’s a little bit to kind of gloss over.

    Oh and he also thinks that if you have to live under a president you didn’t vote for, then you are like a slave. So was I like a slave for the last 4 years?

    Are you like a slave now? And if so, who is whipping you for your labor?

    He also included other dittys in this speech like:

    The only possible excuse for accepting socialism, if it meant slavery,
    would be that we should otherwise starve. That was the consolation the Southern slaveholders gave their slaves—that they were always “looked after.” That argument hardly did for the negroes; it certainly will not do for us.

    “hardly did”…which means on some level it did work. Man, so it seems like he seems to think that slavery was, on some level, “acceptable” for negros… but white men would never stand for those conditions.

    Or this one:

    The officeholders will probably make a caste, they will certainly belong to some party or to some ticket, and they will have control of that man’s life in a way that no one and nobody, under God, has control of it today. Quite as much control as the slave master had in the days of slavery , and without the interest that the slave-holder had in keeping his slave well and happy.

    Nothing like perpetuating the message of well and happy slaves singing spirituals in the field.

    Hell of a person to quote there my dude…

    (Find the rest of the goodness here: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Socialism/_UI8ofLLi3cC?hl=en)

    2
  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    And for me, if there are policies and/or structures in place in government, banking, insurance, and so on, that have benefitted me as a white person preferentially, I would very much like to put my support behind programs that alter that to be more racially fair. I’m not sure this could be called a guilt/redemption thing or not.

    I don’t operate on a guilt-shame spectrum. There’s good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies. During slave times my ancestors were about a hair away from being slaves, and in between being treated as slaves and imprisoned in ghettoes, my ancestors were running from Czarist thugs. In fact, I don’t even need to go as far back as that, let alone all the way back to the antebellum South, because much more recently my ‘people’ were again slaves in Nazi Germany.

    Neither guilt nor shame. Slavery is evil, whether the victim is Black or a Jew or some poor woman kept enslaved by some Saudi prince. That’s all I need to condemn it.

    1
  40. Jon says:

    @Monala:

    Oppression, however, takes active involvement.

    And yet being oppressed does not.

  41. mattbernius says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    A beneficiary of a system I didn’t create and was far too young to be held accountable for?

    The challenge is that at some point *we* (and I say that as a middle-class white dude) grow up and start to help perpetuate said system. We might be doing it actively. We might be doing it passively. Yet, the reality is most of us are still perpetuating it.

    And so at some point, the “why am I accountable for the actions of the past” is something that can no longer be dodged. Unfortunately, there are also no easy or quick fixes for this, especially as systemic racism is the result of generations upon generations of actions. So like any abolition effort, dismantling it will take generations and generations of slow effort.

    And as we are seeing, the more things move forward, the more a lot of white folks will move in reactionary directions as they realize that they are losing cultural and political power.

    6
  42. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Clearly slavery was a crime against humanity, an evil system, but no, all white people are not oppressors. Collective guilt is a pernicious idea.

    The thing is that properly understood, things like “systemic racism” are actually the escape from collective guilt. They’re about how well meaning people can end up doing horrible things anyways because even if they’re doing the right things locally, the system is set up in such a way that it adds up to a bad global result.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There’s good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies.

    One big thing here is to try an shift from a virtue ethics based morality to a deontology based one. There aren’t good or bad people, there are good or bad actions. Now some people do a lot more bad actions than others, but the reality is we all are responsible for a mix of the two. Most of us want to do fewer bad things in the future. So the question is, how can we change society make it easier to do good things and less easy to do bad things?

    6
  43. Monala says:

    @Jon: right. Better said, “Being an oppresser takes active involvement.”

  44. mattbernius says:

    I think the 1619 Project went too far in considering slavery the central feature in our founding. It was, even in 1776—and certainly by the Constitutional Convention of 1787—recognized by many as a contradiction to our stated ethos but one that had to be accommodated given economic and political realities.

    While my initial reaction to agree with this critique, I think the fact that this remains such a fundamentally, culturally divisive topic–not to mention increasingly the dividing line for our political parties–suggests that Chattle Slavery (and the raced-based hierarchical system it led to) did, and continues to, play an outsized role in shaping American history.

    5
  45. Gustopher says:

    @Monala:

    On the other hand, I can’t agree about all white people being oppressors. The things you described in your comment are examples of privilege, which is a passive thing–you benefit from it not because of anything you did or didn’t do, but because of your race (and to some degree, social class). Oppression, however, takes active involvement.

    It’s the defense of the status quo — something that I and other conservative-by-nature people do. That tends to be semi-active.

    It’s not the same as owning slaves, granted, or deliberately rejecting a candidate in an interview because he’s black, but it’s there.

    And what if you reject the candidate because of some vague culture fit issue? And it just happens that black people are never quite as good as that white guy… they’re both qualified, and you’re not racist, but you just have a better feeling about the white guy.

    We all contribute to reinforcing an oppressive status quo. Even black folks end up doing it when they get a little power — that’s why those are the black folks who get a little power.

    3
  46. Jon says:

    If you are benefitting from a system that oppressors others, it seems a semantic dodge to claim you are not an oppressor. What then is the term for somebody who benefits from oppression?

    Being an oppressor is not binary; just like everybody is a little bit racist, everybody who benefits from oppression is at least a little bit an oppressor. Some more actively so than others.

  47. Christopher says:

    Critical race theory has some significant truth and redeeming points, but it fails to include the whole horrid history of how slavery came to be in the Americas. Moreover and importantly, it fails to account for what you said in your last line, “But you’re not going to convince a third-generation coal miner that he’s ‘privileged,’ much less that he’s oppressing anybody.”

    1
  48. mattbernius says:

    @Jon:

    Being an oppressor is not binary

    FWIW, it’s worth noting that forcing everything into binaries is considered to be one of the characteristics of (white) supremacy culture. I know that’s going to immediately activate everyone’s pucker factor, but hear me out.

    The problem with this is that binaries tend to allow people to throw up their hands and ignore a problem (or refuse to consider possible solutions). So you’re either oppressor or oppressed. Or good or evil. And that fails to allow for actual conversations about what might exist somewhere in between. Or that two things can be true at the same time.

    This is what Emmerson was getting at when he wrote:

    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    2
  49. Kathy says:

    @Jon:

    It is indisputable that there is racial bias in science

    And a gender bias, and don’t even et me started about what trans people get to put up with in medicine.

    But the way you know that X people feel pain the same way as everyone else, or that women do get heart attacks, etc, is not through lived experience, but by actually looking at the data in the light of logic and reason.

    1
  50. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @mattbernius: Certainly I agree we are responsible for making changes to alleviate the oppression that has occurred and is still ongoing. I even said as much originally. But when I am trying to do so, and supporting such efforts, it’s very frustrating to have those efforts be ignored because I object to being called an oppressor by the more extreme wing of the CRT movement.

    I think it’s ridiculous for me to apologize for being born a white male American; just as I think it’s ridiculous for me or anyone like me (like my father, unfortunately) to deny the tremendous lifelong advantages my birth gave me. I deserve neither credit or blame for what was essentially a random event.

    Is Gustopher or Jon’s (or others) goal to get me to throw my hands up and say “Fine, I’m an oppressor”, and walk away ticked? Or should I continue to support BLM, criminal justice reform, the Obama Foundation, reparations efforts in Congress, and other causes? Call it a semantic dodge all you want; to me it seems like a great example of what Carville was talking about the other day. I inherited my privileges, and I recognize that and actively support doing something about it. It just seems like some of the more fervent CRT supporters are more concerned about flagellating whites and virtue-signaling how woke they are than they are about supporting actual change that builds everyone else up to the level of advantages that white male Americans are born with.

    As others have pointed out repeatedly, if nothing else it’s really bad messaging and lousy politics to question the motives and insult the people you need to make change real. Calling someone an oppressor makes it personal, and is a losing strategy. Even if it makes philosophical sense in an academic lounge and logical sense in the abstract.

    1
  51. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The thing is that properly understood, things like “systemic racism” are actually the escape from collective guilt.

    Potentially that’s true, but we haven’t reached a point where it’s commonly perceived that way. There’s tremendous shame attached to the concept of racism in our society, which is why people get so defensive whenever they’re accused of racism. To some extent the shame is a good thing, but I think it’s been brought to an extreme that in many instances it’s counter-productive because it discourages people from engaging in any self-examination as to their own attitudes and prejudices. It’s all “I’m not a racist!” and that’s the end of it. And I think that to alleviate this situation, we need not just broader public understanding of systemic racism, but also the research into the subconscious biases that virtually everyone has, including members of minority groups.

  52. SKI says:

    @Monala:

    Better said, “Being an oppresser takes active involvement.”

    Choosing not to do something about a problem – or refusing to recognize the problem exists – is an active choice.

    1
  53. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “If we lose Congress is 2022 it will be the fault of progressives.”

    You’re absolutely right. Of course gerrymandering and voter suppression laws will have nothing to do with it, because going after them would mean targeting Republicans and hippy-punching is much more fun.

    8
  54. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “There’s about a 90% overlap between my beliefs and those of progressives, so if I can’t stand the self-righteous, self-involved twits as far Left as I am, who do you imagine does like them?”

    Well, thank God you’re nothing like those awful NKVD-woke people who insist on shooting back on their own allies instead of targeting their enemies.

    4
  55. wr says:

    @JKB: “Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson”

    Have you ever quoted anything written after, say World War 2?

    5
  56. Gustopher says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Is Gustopher or Jon’s (or others) goal to get me to throw my hands up and say “Fine, I’m an oppressor”, and walk away ticked?

    I’m not sure I have clear goals. I just think that in order to change things, we have to understand them, and our role in them.

    The word “oppressor” fits. It’s also bold and shocking, and in a learning environment is probably meant to make you initially reject it, so that when you get to the point where you are seeing how you contribute to maintaining a culture of oppression, it has more impact.

    I was only 2/3rds joking when I used the word “micro-oppressions” — yes, it’s a dumb play on “micro-aggressions”, but also there’s a huge difference between the average person’s role now and a slave-owner in the 1850s (although JKB assures us that they were fine people who protected their property…) or Tucker Carlson right now spewing his replacement theory shit.

    If the term “oppressor” bothers you, find another term.

    I tend to look at myself a bit more unflinchingly than others tend to. There’s racist shit that pops up from time to time to surprise me, and a bit of transphobia here and there — and I’m ok with that. I’m not delighted by it, or proud of it, but I accept that it is there and when I recognize it that means that I can choose not to act on it. Which is a good thing.

    (I am probably less racist than average, and certainly less racist than anyone who says that they don’t have a racist bone in their body… but it’s there)

    The degree to which you recognize that you contribute to a problem is the degree to which you can choose to change that problem directly.

    Everything else depends on other people, which is also worth trying, but ultimately harder.

    1
  57. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    And a gender bias, and don’t even et me started about what trans people get to put up with in medicine.

    Read an article at TAC today that said liberals were “pushing” drugs and surgery on children. Manichaean thinking, if we don’t oppose it, why then we must be actively supporting it.

    1
  58. dazedandconfused says:

    A certain willful ignorance is a common feature of ingrained fear and loathing. Ever see the counter protesters with their “ALL lives matter!” signs? They see “Black lives matter” and read into it “White lives don’t matter”. Same thing is at work in this. Ask any of them and they will swear they aren’t racist, and really believe that, even though they go nuts every time they see a black person getting uppity.

    1
  59. R. Dave says:

    @James Joyner: DiAngelo is a huckster. NHJ is a journalist, earnestly trying to apply an idea but doing so poorly in some instances. Kendi is, among other things, an academic and quite probably more emblematic of CRT.

    You have a more charitable view of NHJ and Kendi than I do. The former strikes me as an egotist who engages with her subject matter and her critics in a slipshod and dishonest manner. As for the latter, sure, he’s an employed as an academic, but he seems to spend more time selling books and doing TV appearances than he does engaging with other academics who critique his work. Also, many of the philosophical claims and policy prescriptions he advocates are incredibly bigoted and authoritarian, so….

    2
  60. R. Dave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Ah, writers and their royalties. Always wanting to get paid for their work. So unfair.

    1
  61. mattbernius says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:
    I know what you are saying. In terms of real talk, I’m (at 46, as a cis-gendered straight white male) honestly working my way through all of that. I wish I had a good answer to the questions you are asking. I don’t. What I can share is my personal thinking on this topic.

    First, I think these discussions are so difficult via text. Nuance is lost and those of us who are trying to resist binaries end up having to pursue them. So before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge your frustration and the fact that despite that you’re staying engaged.

    Is Gustopher or Jon’s (or others) goal to get me to throw my hands up and say “Fine, I’m an oppressor”, and walk away ticked? Or should I continue to support BLM, criminal justice reform, the Obama Foundation, reparations efforts in Congress, and other causes? Call it a semantic dodge all you want; to me it seems like a great example of what Carville was talking about the other day. I inherited my privileges, and I recognize that and actively support doing something about it. It just seems like some of the more fervent CRT supporters are more concerned about flagellating whites and virtue-signaling how woke they are than they are about supporting actual change that builds everyone else up to the level of advantages that white male Americans are born with.

    I completely understand it’s not fair and difficult to feel that way. When I get to that space, I honestly have to remind myself that this is what my Black and other PoC colleagues feel on a pretty regular or daily basis (i.e. why do I have to be perfect–i.e. a model “minority”–or why do people see me as a threat–aka. “the talk”). I think a lot of us white folks who are struggling this are coming to it at a relatively late stage in life. My colleagues of color, for better or worse, they’ve built up their coping tools.

    I would also ask why we tend to gravitate to the most fervent CRT folks and think “they are talking about us (personally).” I’m not trying to be a jerk in saying that, but I think it’s worth asking “why am I taking that criticism so personally?”

    Again, I think what you (and I) are dealing with is real. And it’s still pretty new. And therefore things come out sideways and often hurt (in part because we’re acculturated to binaries). This gets to:

    As others have pointed out repeatedly, if nothing else it’s really bad messaging and lousy politics to question the motives and insult the people you need to make change real. Calling someone an oppressor makes it personal, and is a losing strategy.

    I also struggle with this because, on the one hand, I see how it’s true. And being an incrementalist by nature, I think any progress is ultimately important.

    Yet on the other, putting myself in the place of my colleagues of color, it’s another reminder that everything has to be couched in a way that doesn’t make us white folks–especially more progressive ones–feel bad about ourselves. Which, to some degree, proves the overall point.

    It also runs me back right to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and seeing the critique of White Progressive allies who want change but not too much, not too fast, and not to threatening. I see a lot of myself in that. And that’s a challenge. But it’s also one I keep recommitting to work through because, at a minimum, that’s my attempt to reconcile my role in perpetuating systemic racism.

    And for some folks, I know, that will not be enough. But I ultimately need to be able to find my own path and acknowledge my own limitations while still trying to do some small amount of good in the world.

    Also, if you or anyone here (including lurkers) ever want to discuss these topics offline and in a safe space, please reach out. This is my name and I’m relatively googlable. 🙂

    2
  62. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    So the question is, how can we change society make it easier to do good things and less easy to do bad things?

    Shouldn’t be too hard. Proceed.

    1
  63. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:

    First, the effect of gerrymandering is an obvious and real problem engendered by the fact that the Democratic Party has made essentially no serious effort on state legislatures. One of the groups I helped to fund, and still do, is all about those races. It’s mostly writers but I’m sure they’d be happy to take your contribution. As to voter suppression laws, let’s see what effect they have. I’m not convinced they won’t be as much a spur as a bridle.

    Second, were you to check my Twitter feed you’d find I maintained radio silence on anything to do with progressives for the entire Trump administration, up to today. And spare me the ‘hippie punching,’ bullshit. Hippies weren’t sanctimonious, self-appointed thought police.

    What effect do progressives have on the 2021 vote? I mean aside from helping to spread various attacks on Joe Biden? I suspect Charlie Cook is right, mostly because he knows far more than either us about elections. He thinks they cost seats. Go be cranky at him.

    2
  64. EddieInCA says:

    Blacklist
    Blackmail
    Black sheep of the family
    Master Bedroom
    Sold down the river
    Master/Slave (in computer hardware)
    Peanut Gallery
    Freeholder
    Grandfathered In
    Cakewalk
    Lynch Mob
    Blackball

    Most Americans have no idea how much systemic racism is in our everyday language. It’s so prevalent, it’s not given a second thought most of the time.

    5
  65. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kylopod:

    It’s all “I’m not a racist!” and that’s the end of it.

    This kinda falls back into the virtue ethics vs. deontology thing I was talking about. Right now we try to break everyone up into either the racist camp or the non-racist camp, and the racist camp gets permanently banished.

    This is bad for several reasons:
    1) It denies the possibility of change over time.
    2) It allows allies a pass for when they do something racist because unless it’s bad enough to warrant permanent banishment, we have to pretend it wasn’t really racist.
    3) It leads to Huck Finn style “if I’m in hell for good I might as well go the whole hog” reactionism.

    So again, the question shouldn’t be “are you racist”, but rather “what are you doing to stop doing racists things”. Because every one of us has done things that we realize now were racially motivated. I know I have. I’m not proud of it, and think I’ve gotten better as time goes by. I’m sure I’m doing things now that, in hindsight, I’ll realize were racist and I just don’t appreciate the reality of what I’m doing yet.

    2
  66. Mimai says:

    When trying to identify solutions to most problems, it is typically useful to articulate well-defined endpoints and then work back from there…..both to develop/implement the intervention(s) and to track progress. This problem-solving structure allows us to, among other things, make changes along the way and know when the problem has been solved. [please indulge me this simplified version]

    Among the many challenges facing our reckoning with racism is that we either do not define the endpoints or we vehemently disagree on what the endpoints ought to be. To take a well-known example, Kendi’s conceptualization of the problem includes a well-defined endpoint, from which he works backwards to propose (less well-defined) interventions.

    This is what makes Kendi’s antiracism so alluring to many and so noxious to many others. But it’s even more complicated than that, because his conceptualization/solution has morphed into THE conceptualization/solution (not dissimilar to what happened with Xerox, Q-tip, and Google).

    On net, I think this a bad development, as it constrains our thinking about definitions, causes, and solutions to racism. And it also creates a false dichotomy and sorting mechanism that human brains can’t resist, in general and particularly wrt to others (see black/white and in/out group thinking).

    Left in the wake are people with good intentions who are genuinely struggling on how to engage with this topic – in their own minds and socially. Add social media as the primary channel by which this topic is discussed, and, well, here we are.

    1
  67. Mimai says:

    @Mimai:

    I see Stormy Dragon is kicking round similar ideas. Which reminds me of another thing about Kendi’s conceptualization.

    His book tends to frame it similar to what Stormy Dragon says when they write: “So again, the question shouldn’t be “are you racist”, but rather “what are you doing to stop doing racists things”.

    It’s interesting to note then that the title of Kendi’s book is “How To Be An Antiracist”. Essentialist thinking is tough to kick.

  68. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mimai:

    If Kendi’s basing things on how well the achieve some pre-defined endpoint, then he sounds more consequentialist than deontological.

  69. Mimai says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, that was my (perhaps poorly articulated) point. His writing is often framed as racist/antiracist acts, but his book title is framed as racist/antiracist people.

    I don’t think this is a merely academic distinction (not to suggest that you do). When it comes to issues like this, humans too often think in people terms as opposed to act/behavior terms.

    This framing is not particularly helpful if one is truly trying to generate/implement solutions. Sadly, because solutions are hard and blaming is easy, we get much more of the “you are racist” commentary.

  70. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson”

    I can’t check your Twitter feed, because I’ve never wasted my time on Twitter — which is why I don’t have a bug up my ass about these people who exist solely on Twitter. If you stopped seeking them out, you’d never know they existed.

    And yes, Republicans will claim they’re the face of every Democrat. That’s what they do, that’s what they always do. If it wasn’t 20 year-olds at Oberlin, it would be anyone else they could think of.

    You’re playing the Republicans game. And you’re doing exactly what you accuse those progressives of doing.

    3
  71. mattbernius says:

    @Mimai:

    Among the many challenges facing our reckoning with racism is that we either do not define the endpoints or we vehemently disagree on what the endpoints ought to be.

    This gets us to a similar problem as serious abolitionists (like Miaram Kaba) have noted–systemic racism (or policing/prisons) is so embedded in our society that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Which is why this remains a multi-generational effort with no easy solutions.

    Or as one activist has said “the solution is easy–we just need to change everything.”

    Though for what it’s worth, this is the issue with any number of wicked problems (climate change is another one that immediately comes to mind). And you are right that for many, not being trained to deal with such big an issue, the tendency is to throw their hands up and not try to do anything.

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  72. Mimai says:

    @mattbernius:

    not being trained to deal with such big an issue, the tendency is to throw their hands up and not try to do anything.

    Yes, resignation (which often leads to motivated ignorance) is often a result.

    Another result is conflict between incrementalists (like yourself) and revolutionists who are otherwise seeking the same outcome (I almost said “on the same team” but am trying to move beyond that unhelpful, but oh so alluring, framing).

    Still another result is slight differences in how the desired outcome is defined, which leads to further division among likeminded people…

    Still another result is that the desired outcome is agreed upon but the solutions are not. Unrealistic/destructive solutions are often highly attractive.

    And don’t get me started on the differences between those who sit on the sidelines vs. those who are actually engaged on the ground. Lots of cheering/booing, not enough skin.

  73. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Gustopher: Congratulations on being less racist than most. I think your whole response is a better example of woke virtue-signaling than any right winger could come up with.

    In the end I believe we’re on the same side, regardless of labels we attach to it. Actions speak louder than words.

    Genuine question for you: Is there anything I could ever do or say that would lead you to agree I’m not an oppressor?

    If the answer is no, I was born a white male and will never be able to shake the stain and disgrace of that, isn’t that the exact sort of generalizing we should be against? I am fully aware that deciding someone wasn’t good enough because of their skin color (or gender, or sexual orientation) is the core problem here. Do you think this is a case of turnabout being fair play? I think we’ll get further addressing the issues if we treat this as a case of thinking that two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Follow up, if I (or anyone else) is irredeemable, why should I bother trying? Especially if I have to atone for, well, everything? If I donate more to African American causes than LGBTQ does that mean I’m being extra oppressive to LGBTQ?

    @mattbernius: I have no problem with bringing up the idea of the double standard about not daring to offend white male sensibilities in these sorts of discussions. I’ve used variants of the same example myself. Where I think certain people need to be more careful is moving from a perfectly apt GENERAL example, to the individual. I agree 100%: this is what POC have to deal with all the time, and if someone doesn’t agree with that hitting them over the head with that sort of examples is appropriate and potentially illuminating.

    However! Going back to the original article, the idea that all whites are oppressors is what conservatives think CRT is. Thus *I* think we need to be very careful to not fall into that trap and to explicitly push back against what I hope is a (willful) misinterpretation. Once the light bulb goes on for someone, I think it’s counterproductive to continue to insist on using emotionally loaded terms like “oppressor” to describe them.

    1
  74. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Essentialist thinking is tough to kick.

    Identity politics is a form of strategic essentialism (Spivak).

    Before the rest of this gets read, I want to emphasize that I’m not calling anyone out here in a personal manner. My goal is to emphasize the ease with which a person can psychologically separate themselves from oppression.

    This immediately popped into my mind when @HL and I had our row. Both he, and at the bottom of the thread, @Michael Reynolds discussed some survival mechanisms Jews developed over time to deal with threats.

    @HL used the example of being taught to avoid self-pity from a young age. @MR applied that to black people not having had the time (enough generations) to successfully develop those strategies. Michael then cited the invention by black people of the most influential forms of American. Neither raised the issue of the exploitation of those pioneering artists at the hands of record company executives who rook ownership of the intellectual property rights and kept the lionshare of royalties.

    I don’t think I noted in that thread the irony of those comments from people who decry those sorts of strategies in contemporary politics.* Nor did they seem ready to understand that they were endorsing a key concept developed by one of the most important thinkers in post-colonial studies.

    *I can’t think off the top of my head whether @HL has taken aim specifically at identity politics or not. I know he was involved in threads during the Floyd protests, but I don’t specifically remember his positions. Though it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think he isn’t fond of identity politics.

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  75. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Unfortunately my tribe has yet to fully transition from the surviving mindset to thriving mindset. An oppressor implies a victim no? Well Im not a fucking victim. I wasn’t a slave, my dad wasn’t a slave, his dad wasn’t and slave and his dad’s dad’s dad also was not a slave.

    This does not mean there are no challenges to being a black man in America–there are many. There are also many unexploited opportunities and unforced errors because too many of us still believe white guilt is the only catalyst of change. I don’t give a shit if the white man feels a guilty and self flagellates or not. There are still moves to make to increase our power and influence in this country–but its a harder row to hoe when most of your soldier are out marching, protesting, and trying to shame white people into changing their ways.

    Tell me, where any out group–anywhere in the world has used shame to move from being an out group? What pisses me off about progressives and conservatives is one completely leaves out personal accountability and the other can’t talk about anything else but that. Tell me how Im ‘oppressed’–I did exactly what I wanted to do today. I did the same yesterday and Im going to do the same tomorrow. If someone were to stop me from doing what I want to do–I don’t give a rats ass why. Maybe they don’t like men with rather large hands–its not really my business. Either way, Im going to plot a course to get what I want.

    I don’t have a whole lot to do with slave boaters. You want to stay on the slave ship? Enjoy. Im out and am going to conquer whatever I set my fancy to. Funny, you never find slave boater ire and the Africans that sold us over here. Last I checked, the white man didn’t go through Africa with Armies rounding up slaves–they pulled up to a port, provided payment, and departed with their cargo.

    I do not have a majority view here but my view is not an insignificant minority. You can dislike Clarence Thomas, wish Tim Scott would STFU, and still think white progressives have lost their damn minds in their framing about race and its role in society along with the remedies.

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  76. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I’d lean more toward have listened to someone who claims to have read it and talk about what that person has said than either have read or talk about it directly.

  77. Kurtz says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It’s interesting that CRT comes up in a blogpost the day after we discuss the differences between nurture positions prior to the 20th century and postmodernism.

    There are “Black ways of knowing,” based on lived experience, that are different from science, logic, reason, and other white constructs, but just as valid.

    This is an example of the difference. This is a textbook pomo criticism of the Enlightenment, including Locke’s blank slate. This is applied specifically to race, but it’s an example of social constructivist vs. Enlightenment individualism.

    The thing is that properly understood, things like “systemic racism” are actually the escape from collective guilt. They’re about how well meaning people can end up doing horrible things anyways because even if they’re doing the right things locally, the system is set up in such a way that it adds up to a bad global result.

    +1

    I’ve argued here in the past that one of the things about bureaucracy is that it allows a dispersion of responsibility so thin that blame cannot be assigned. And when consequences do come, it is rarely the ones who ostensibly get paid the most to take responsibility whose head rolls. Even if they get fired, they get a parachute and the others get a leather football helmet.

    Libertarians would look at that paragraph and say, “Ha! I warned you about bureaucracy!” My reply is self-evident: large private organizations are structured the same way. And the difference, the monopoly on force held by the government, isn’t enough of a difference once one incorporates power wielded in the private realm.

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  78. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    Good call on strategic essentialism. I understand the wisdom of this in theory. But in reality it often backfires (eg, “you hypocrite/manipulator/etc”) and/or gets co-opted by opposing groups (eg, nativists). Didn’t Spivak wind up renouncing the term? I haven’t kept up, did she also renounce the tactic? Or perhaps just refined it?

  79. Mimai says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I appreciate your comment. Indeed, it reflects a tension inherent to this issue. Oppressed vs. agentic. Discussion almost exclusively focuses on the former. Rarely on the later. And I think our “conversation on race” is worse for it.

    Unfortunately, this tension can be uncomfortable to sit with, let alone work with. Hence, it and especially the people who give voice to it are frequently dismissed, shouted down, etc. As if talking about agency somehow steals from the reality of oppression. Racism is not zero sum.

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  80. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz: A quick note to acknowledge some very good comments you’ve made over the past week.

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  81. Chip Daniels says:

    I think most Americans, white Americans at least, don’t really grasp what life under oppression looks and feels like.

    Most of us have these Hollywood images of what “oppression” looks like- Hunger Games, Cold War East Bloc drabness, any given sci-fi dystopian stuff with people huddled together in barbed wire camps.

    But its not like that. Daily life in any given repressive regime is actually astoundingly normal and banal…at least for a large segment of society.

    In Haiti under the Duvaliers, Indonesia under Suharto, Cuba under Castro, Chile under Pinochet…in each of these places, there were plenty of middle class and well to do people who lived freely, read what they wanted, listened to what they wanted, and experienced no hunger or privation and never had any unpleasant experiences with the police.

    And in the pre-civil rights era America, likewise, most white people experienced only freedom and prosperity, and police abuse was a rare and negligible issue.

    I think what a lot of us white people need to grasp is that we can be living in the midst of an oppressive state and never experience it.

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  82. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Ah, thanks. I’m often not so happy with how I think about things. A little twinge of, “you’re missing something here, dude.” This is even more true of comments.

    I’m not sure if Spivak renounced it or not. I can’t find a reference to it. Wrt modifying it, I wouldn’t be surprised. The best philosophers are much like the best scientists and best writers–reconsider, revise, reconsider, revise.

    We see the backfiring of approaches like SE all the time on this forum. Most of us here are sympathetic to a lot of causes associated with the Left. But the tactics deployed often result in criticism by those who consider themselves allies.

    I’ve tried to explain this before and warn against using the language of the Right to criticize those tactics. I don’t know that it really matters, but there are probably more effective ways to voice criticism without alienating activists and becoming an example the Right can point to as a means of dismissing those on the Left.

    Postmodernism is both fairly and unfairly maligned. Strategic essentialism, as one of the attempts to push theory toward praxis has had mixed results. And when it hasn’t worked, it was worse than failure, it was counterproductive.

    On the other hand, because we live in a nation that successfully took the political theory of the time into the real world, there is a real tendency is to reflexively dismiss criticism of that tradition. So even if some of the postmodernists had legitimate insights into drawbacks within the Enlightenment, overcoming inertia is a significant problem..
    Thus, for a lot of people, activists just come across as shrill and performative and become the target of criticism on both sides of aisle.

    You referenced a language barrier the other day. Are you from Germany? Do you live in the US? (I understand if you prefer to decline an answer.)

    Also, are you a fan of Star Slate Codex? At times, you reminded me of his approach so much that I have wondered if you are him. But maybe it’s just the psychiatry connection.

    1
  83. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    Comment sections are hard. Especially if trying to have a nuanced discussion of complex issues. The amount of time it requires to write the context that is naturally conveyed in real life discussions is impractical. This community has some social capital to draw on, but even that isn’t enough in many cases. Still, we must muddle through.

    I understand what you’re saying about using the language of [insert outgroup of choice]. And I also understand what you’re saying about being co-opted by said outgroup and used as a cudgel against one’s ingroup members. We should all be cognizant of this.

    And yet, I cannot control what they do. I can only try to speak as plainly and honestly as I can. If they bugger that up, well, that’s on them, not me. I can’t let their nefariousness dictate my engagement.

    Re language barriers: I live in the US. I am not from Germany, though I have spent a fair amount of time outside the US, and my last major pre-COVID travel did take me through Germany (Munich). I don’t recall the exact context of my point, but it was likely about the language barrier that exists between any two (or more) humans….even, nay especially, when they ostensible speak the same dialect.

    Yes, I do know Scott A. No, I am not him. I appreciate his manner of thinking and wish that it were more widespread. But alas…

    1
  84. PT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I laughed

    1
  85. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    And yet, I cannot control what they do. I can only try to speak as plainly and honestly as I can. If they bugger that up, well, that’s on them, not me. I can’t let their nefariousness dictate my engagement.

    This is true. I think my approach would be to maybe use different language. But as has been noted here many times by various regulars, no matter what language is used it will be co-opted or an equivalent cudgel will be deployed.

    I haven’t read enough of Scott’s writing. But what I have read, I like a lot. I haven’t ventured into the comment section much. I think I was led to it by a story about a patient.

    IIRC:

    A pt. couldn’t shake the worry that she had left her curling iron on. It got to the point that she would leave work to check on it. It became not just a strain on her mind, but a problem for her professional life. Every approach tried and failed. Until her psychiatrist suggested bringing it with her to work and leaving it in her car. That worked.

    Then again, maybe it was a different blog.

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  86. DrDaveT says:

    I think the most visceral objections are around these precepts, which are all highly interrelated:
    * Our nation was built on the back of slavery.
    * Systemic racism always has been, and still is, embedded in American society.
    * White people are oppressors who continue to play a role in perpetuating racism.
    * White people should be aware of the privilege and benefits they enjoy solely due to their skin color.

    So, tonight on the NYC area news there was a story about how the land the Empire State Building is built on was acquired, and who lived on it at the time, and what compensation they didn’t get because they were black.

    My (very elderly) mother-in-law’s reaction to the story was “Oh, for heaven’s sake, that’s over. It was all a long time ago.”

    There are vast numbers of Americans who are capable of understanding that indefensible acts were committed, but not that the consequences of those acts persist to this day. They simply refuse to accept that the oppression never really ended, that the oppressed never really had a chance to compete as equals. Because that would make them complicit, and that’s not something they are prepared to believe.

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  87. Kurtz says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Your mother-in-law is canceled.

  88. Gustopher says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Genuine question for you: Is there anything I could ever do or say that would lead you to agree I’m not an oppressor?

    Genuine answer: die and have any estate squandered by your heirs.

    I think it’s a bad question, but that’s the answer right there.

    There’s no way to function in society without oppressing someone at least a little bit. Does everything in your home come from ethically sourced materials and working conditions? Are you sure?

    If you do more to lift people up than hold people down, does that mean you’re not holding people down?

    You might say that the good outweighs the bad, and therefore it’s all good, but does it? Ultimately that’s the same as saying that if you killed one person but you fathered three more, so on net, you’re not a murderer because you have created more human life than you have taken. On the surface, that sounds like an absolutely ridiculous analogy, but the question is this: does the good erase the bad, or does the good just outweigh the bad?

    I find the notion of a binary oppressor/not-oppressor, racist/not-racist useless because it’s wrong. It rounds people up or down, and excuses anything rounded down. As Jesus might have said: we’re all sinners, baby. That’s the hippie, communist, “love thy neighbor” Jesus, rather than the right-wing “you’re doing it wrong” Jesus. (Or is Jesus supposed to be without sin? I mostly know him from Jesus Christ Superstar, and he seemed to have some intemperate rages towards lepers, so at least there I think he was also depicted as a sinner)

    You find the notion that everyone is an oppressor useless because it doesn’t separate people neatly into groups of good and evil.

    Is Just Another Ex-Republican an oppressor? I think that’s a bad question. How much does Just Another Ex-Republican contribute to oppression? That’s a better question.

    Is this all random pedantic bullshit? Maybe. But it’s random pedantic bullshit that echoes a schism in America about personal responsibility for societal problems.

    No one is saying that you have to sell all your possessions and give them to the poor (except Jesus, in the eponymous Woody Guthrie song to the tune of Jesse James), but you can be a little less worse. Just a little. A gentle nudge in the right direction. Maybe later, a little more.

    But, if you’re a good person, if you’re not an oppressor… well, you’re done, aren’t you? You don’t need to do shit.

    ——
    I think my entire knowledge of Christianity comes from a song by Woody Guthrie, Jesus Christ Superstar and Preacher Casey’s speech in The Grapes of Wrath. Mayyyybe the Charlie Brown Christmas thing.

    1
  89. Gustopher says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: Also, why does it matter whether I think you’re an oppressor? At a fundamental level, why does it matter that some people approach social justice from the “were all sinners” angle when you approach it from the “if I tell myself I am good, I will start acting like I’m good” angle?

    (at least, I think that’s your angle, but it’s very alien to me, so I am likely misrepresenting it)

    Why Wouldn’t you just roll your eyes and say “of course we’re all racist oppressors who have a problematic relationship with our recycling, you fucking hippie,” and then look at goals and intent?

    If you ask me whether you’re an oppressor, I’m going to say yes because of course you are. You live in a society that has an underclass, so unless you’ve gone off the grid and are living in the wilderness eating roots and berries, you’re an oppressor.

    Should I lie?

    You’re better than Tucker Carlson, likely, and almost certainly better than a slave-owner. Probably somewhere between better than most and as not good as you think you are.

    1
  90. Mimai says:

    @Gustopher:

    20% racist free?

    More seriously, and to connect this to other discussions, I think you and Just Another Ex-Republican (and others, including Stormy Dragon) are disagreeing on whether to center this within the person or the behavior. Oppressor vs. Oppressive behavior. This is not a minor distinction – it has a big impact on potential interventions/solutions and perhaps an even bigger impact on recruiting/mobilizing potential allies. (relevant to prior discussions about vaccine hesitancy)

    There seems to be a fair range of opinions on this framing wrt racism. Which is interesting because there is more expressed consensus when this framing is applied to other issues. To take one example, felon vs. (convicted of / engaged in) felonious behavior. Here’s another, addict vs. addictive behavior. Etc…

    Now, we could have a very lengthy and perhaps pedantic discussion of the nuanced differences among these, and we might even convince ourselves that the framing is appropriate in certain circumstances but not others. Yet, I suspect that our inconsistent use of this frame is more to do with the topic and the people/behavior involved than these highly considered nuances.

  91. I am super-late to this party, but I want to comment on this from the OP:

    I’m 55 and went to public schools in Texas and Alabama and those on US military bases in Missouri and Germany from 1971-1984. At least by 4th grade and quite likely earlier, we spent considerable chunks of time in social studies classes learning about slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and the like.

    I am 52 and when to public schools in Texas and California. While, yes, we were taught that slavery existed, was part of the Civil War (although that whole “states rights” thing was also taught) and some about civil rights, I honestly think it was mostly glossed over.

    I certainly do not recall any of it being especially salient into 4th grade (I did spend 2nd and 3rd grade at a private Catholic school, if that matters–although being small town Texas, my 3rd grade teacher at that school was a Baptist).

    Granted, I am going full anecdote here, but I don’t think any of it (slavery, Jim Crow) was really taught in any substantial way. I don’t think I was aware, for example, of the Cornerstone speech until I was an adult. I learned about Tulsa via NPR when I was a professor.

    (My fairly strong memories of HS history is that we never even got to the Jim Crow era with any substance).

    Indeed, the main way history was taught to me was via the valiant stories of white men, with an occasional reference to the occasional female or person of non-white deviation.

    (There was also very little of substance about the treatment of native Americans).

    3
  92. It seems to me that we have never fully come to terms with, nor acknowledged our past (or, really our present).

    I still maintain that most of the belly-aching about “wokeness” in the broader culture at the moment is about a lot of white people not wanting to have to deal with any of this and, more importantly, it is a reaction to their perception that they are losing power.

    3
  93. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It seems to me that we have never fully come to terms with, nor acknowledged our past (or, really our present).

    This is one of the things I was gesturing at in previous comments. I hear this a lot, but rarely is it ever specified. What does it mean to “fully come to terms with” or acknowledge our past?

    I ask this as an honest question, because this full reckoning seems so central to our societal discourse on race. If it is indeed central – to understanding past/present and to efforts to address/redress – then it needs to be specified. Or at least better specified.

    As do the outcomes, ie, our vision of a less racist future society. I think this is a discussion worth having. And it would be best to have a lot of different perspectives on this. Unfortunately, the social climate is so poisoned that such discussion is damn near impossible.

    Moreover, and I mentioned this previously, I think the wholesale acceptance of Kendi’s thesis does more harm than good. His is an important voice. And his framework is worthy of serious consideration. But it pains me to see his framework become THE framework, which effectively shuts down the discussion on causes, symptoms, and solutions. And excludes a lot of really thoughtful people from the discussion table.

  94. DeD says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Good morning, Michael. I assert that the economic prowess of the U.S. has is foundational in the industries developed and maintained by southern slavery. Also the urban industries that exploited laborers later on. Basically, America’s economy was built on slave labor and exploitation of workers. (Geezus, I sound like a SWP cog!) Where am I wrong?

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  95. @Mimai:

    I hear this a lot, but rarely is it ever specified. What does it mean to “fully come to terms with” or acknowledge our past?

    This is a fair question, and I am sure I do not have a full answer.

    Some thoughts:

    -The fact that a lot of white people do not understand that a lot of black people have to give their sons “the talk” is evidence of our lack of acknowledgment. I certainly was unaware of this phenomenon for some time. And I have two friends (a black couple and black/Asian couple) whose sons are contemporaries of mine who have related having to do this. One of the mothers recently related a story to my wife about her son’s recent encounter with the police that underscored this.

    -Understanding that the past impacts the present. Even if one wants to argue that problems with race have been all solved (and clearly, they have not), you can’t ignore the cumulative effect of centuries of racism, semi-slavery after the Civil War, Jim Crow, redlining, segregated schools, and a host of other problems, and then act like we are all in the same place right now.

    -I think we have to admit a) the the Civil War was really about slavery (many people are in denial about this).

    -I think we have to admit, as per @DeD‘s comment that you can’t ignore how much was literally built by slaves and slavery-adjacent practices.

    -I think that part of the problem is that our national story about all of these things is that they were just mistakes akin to bumps in the road in otherwise glorious tale of freedom, liberty, and democracy.

    -A specific example: people shouldn’t watch HBO’s Watchmen to see the Tulsa massacre and assume that it just hyperbole for a comicbook story.

    3
  96. DeD says:

    @Richard:
    “To reduce everything to skin color is silly and ridiculous, not to mention racist . . .”

    But the irony, though . . .

    4
  97. mattbernius says:

    Richard:

    I would never want my children to be taught they need to treat others different based on the color of their skin.

    This is the usual “colorblind” dodge. And it too often gets used to handwave away the fact we also have hard data that demonstrates that for generations, including to today, people are being treated differently for the color of their skin at the individual and systemic level. And that so much of that mistreatment is sewn into the history and present of our country.

    And that also means, that to achieve true equity, we may in fact have to treat others differently because of those historic and present wrongs.

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Going back to the original article, the idea that all whites are oppressors is what conservatives think CRT is. Thus *I* think we need to be very careful to not fall into that trap and to explicitly push back against what I hope is a (willful) misinterpretation. Once the light bulb goes on for someone, I think it’s counterproductive to continue to insist on using emotionally loaded terms like “oppressor” to describe them.

    After reflection, I agree with your point that “oppressor/oppressed” is an unproductive framework for discussion. In part, to @Jim Brown 32’s point it takes agency away from Blacks and other people of color.

    That said, the fact remains that on a continuum, almost all of us who are here and white, have and continued to benefit from a system of intergenerational oppression. To @DeD’s point:

    I assert that the economic prowess of the U.S. has is foundational in the industries developed and maintained by southern slavery. Also the urban industries that exploited laborers later on. Basically, America’s economy was built on slave labor and exploitation of workers.

    I would argue in countless ways, from redlining and the concentration of poverty, to the tax code being set up to benefit people whose wealth is not accumulated via labor, these economic systems continue to this day. There’s also the political oppression through things like felony disenfranchisement and voting laws designed to depress the political power of majority-minority neighborhoods. There’s the startlingly desperate results in the medical system and health outcomes (which again we can tie back to issues of concentrated urban poverty and even things like the highway project and environmental racism). There’s education and pay gaps. The list goes on and on…

    Your mileage with what it means to work to help eliminate that may vary. But no fact is going to change that, especially if you’ve reached some level of middle or beyond success, some of that is owed to the benefits that you’ve acknowledged. And said system is going to continue to make it harder for folks who are not white to reach that same level.

    We’re all bound up in that system. And as I mentioned, anyone’s desire to actually engage and work to dismantle it is a personal choice.

    Last point and then I need to get back to working on a workshop deck…
    @Mimai:

    Another result is conflict between incrementalists (like yourself) and revolutionists who are otherwise seeking the same outcome (I almost said “on the same team” but am trying to move beyond that unhelpful, but oh so alluring, framing).

    This is something I’ve struggle with a lot over the last year as I’ve tried to find my way in the most diverse organization I’ve ever worked in and really tried to listen to colleagues who are far more revolutionist than I am. At the same time, I’ve also found that trying to move past binaries has helped a lot–and I’m beginning to see how there are some people who can be both at once. I think the best prison and police abolitionists have learned to occupy that space. No one will call Mariame Kaba an incrementalist, but she still seems to see the work*, to some degree as necessarily incremental, in part because of the sheer amount of work to be done.

    * – that’s my interpretation of her writings. I strongly recommend “We do this ’til we free us” as I think it has been one of the most useful things I’ve read to truly begin to understand the abolitionist movement in a way that I can see myself as a member.

  98. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think that we (not sure whether this we is Americans, or people) don’t seem to do well with non-binary thinking.

    Can we be a great country if we are founded on genocide and slavery? A lot of people would seem to say no.

    Thomas Jefferson wrote some great words that he didn’t even approach living up to. A slave-owner who speaks about freedom.

    Lefty woke folks want to cancel him, the folks on the right want to excuse him (he was a very good slave owner, and surely no one knew that slavery was bad).

    The number of people who take a (IMHO) reasonable view (Jefferson was a very flawed, contradictory man who espoused beliefs that he didn’t live up to, and which we are still trying to live up to) appears to be vanishingly small.

    I think schools should teach the racist views of Lincoln. Maybe not immediately, but by 8th grade or so, everyone should know that this genuinely great man was … problematic. He wanted to ship all the former slaves back to Africa, because he didn’t think blacks and whites could live together (extra credit: look at the next hundred years after the civil war… how wrong was he?) and that blacks were inferior.

    Of our great historical figures, he’s the one where the good outweighs the bad so clearly that almost no one wants to rename things named after him. He’s the one praised almost unreservedly by Democrats and Republican partisans. He’s the one where we can take little baby steps towards acknowledging that some of the great people were not perfect.

    And then by high school we can focus on Jefferson and Washington. And maybe come to acknowledge that some of the great people weren’t even all that good.

    And then that great things can be built atop a history of genocide and slavery. Because if they can’t be, what are we trying to do here?

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  99. Gustopher says:

    @Richard:

    I would never want my children to be taught they need to treat others different based on the color of their skin.

    But what about your children being taught that others treat people different because of the color of their skin, and that people with different skin colors have different experiences because of this?

    I think that’s perfectly reasonable.

    But, from there you kind of have to treat people differently based on their experience. You can have a cartoon of George W. Bush as a Curious George inspired monkey, and it might be juvenile and dumb, but it’s fine. Do it with Barack Obama on the other hand… not so good.

    Same action. Very different result based on the experience of living with a different color skin.

    Also, your children should be taught to keep their Irish friends in the shade.

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  100. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Imagine that….when one asks an educator for a solution to a problem, the answer is “more and better education”! (I kid, I kid)

    Seriously though, these are good thoughts. And I think that any reckoning would have to include these items. More and better education is necessary, but not sufficient (not to suggest that you were proposing an education-only solution).

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  101. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Mimai: @DeD:

    First things first. @DeD is right on here.

    Now, I will do my best to keep this brief. No promises.

    CRT and Critical Legal Studies are linked, or at least they were at the beginning. They still share the same philosophical source material. But both have grown large enough that there are different strains of them.

    The best analogy I can think of is the umbrella term classical liberalism. First, the theorists under that term didn’t all agree. Second, the practical implementations of classical liberalism in the form of legal structures differ, in part due to differing ideas of those theorists, also for a variety of other reasons.

    Look at broad themes of CLS:

    -indeterminacy of law due to the nature of language, decision-making based on an opaque ever-shifting mix of broad principles and peculiar circumstance, and juridical practices (these can be separated from indeterminacy as well.)

    -law as a reflection of the interests of the dominant socioeconomic/political class/es

    -(originally) all law is political – – > (after development) law and politics interact bidirectionally in multiple, inscrutable ways that resist detangling

    -law assumes an idealist (libertarian free will) form of freedom of the individual rather than seeing the individual as a product of a web social, political, and economic influences (borrowing from Kant – – > PoMo)

    fuck brevity.

    Now, look at how closely CRT hews to those ideas.

    -indeterminacy: legal abolition (with one exception) replaced by Jim Crow and segregation replaced by red-lining and white flight, poll taxes replaced by multiple avenues of voter suppression and poorly funded government services except for the police and carcereal apparatus (the exception to abolition) that manage to enforce not the equal protection of the law, but unequal application of it. All of this under the guise of blind justice/colorblind policy.

    -law reflects the interests of the dominant classes: it’s tempting to just apply the list from above. But this is where one starts to see how the tightly woven law can’t be re-sewn into a different fabric.

    The assumption of individual autonomy requires a shared experience between adjudicator and subject, and between citizens. Not only does the law reflect the interests of the dominant race/sex/gender/class/sexual orientation*, it requires the law to deny the existence of a separate lived experience.

    *another term sneered at by the Right and some left-leaning commenters here: intersectionality

    -free will idealism: mostly in the previous section. But there as an additional link between CLS and CRT here. One of the responses to CLS from established jurists is criticism on the focus on narrative, but the law is supposed to be about uncovering facts. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking about wrt shared facts.) But let’s use the math thread instead.

    Specifically DNA/genetics, intelligence, and the “math mind.” Hmmm… What’s more plausible: a whole bunch of genes with tiny effects on intelligence that increase in influence topping out around 60% for adults or those genes determining from birth whether someone can learn the concepts and procedures of math?

    So we see two ostensibly objective social institutions–law and science–priviliging one group subjectivity over another.

    The research is clear, yet plenty of people walk the halls of power and wear robes, believing the latter. Why would they do that? Well, personal fucking experience, that’s why. (also reflected in the thread yesterday by people on both sides of the ideological spectrum.)

    But personal experience has no place in law, the robed sages insist. Damn, I forgot what color robes some of them wear.

    And thus, law can’t be separated from socioeconopolitical forces. And no amount of revision of law can erase the flaws in its own foundational documents. Nor can it provide restitution for the cumulative generational effects of inequity and inequality.

    The only way out is to recognize that it isn’t only the fabric we weave, but the very threads we continue to use.

    And that’s just the first step.

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  102. mattbernius says:

    @Kurtz, just wanted to say I really appreciate your thought provoking posts.

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