Elite Private Schools, Race, and Fear of the Woke
Also some ironic positions on capitalism.
Somehow I managed to stumble into reading Bari Weiss’ piece at City Journal about a group of “dissident” (her word) parents upset about anti-racism policies at their elite Los Angeles private school: The Miseducation of America’s Elites. The piece is part of a current crop of breathless histrionics about “wokeness” that some on the right are focusing very heavily on cultural issues these days, especially as tied to race. In these narratives, the victims tend to be white folks. In the Weiss piece, they are rich white folks who just want to get their kids into elite universities.
While I am not an expert on these things, this all sounds like a repeat of worries about “multiculturalism” when I was younger as well as various concerns about “political correctness” and is linked to arguments against affirmative action as well. It is a particular front in the culture war where those who have held the default position of power and normalcy are being confronted with the unpleasantness of American history and of its present.
While the Weiss piece and its boosters don’t mention current context, I would note that just this last year the country went through a paroxysm of protest linked to real, ongoing racial injustice. See my posts Thinking about the Injustice that Feeds the Flame and An Uncomfortable Comparison.
The essay, and some supporting pieces I read about it, are amazing to me for their hyperbole and their lack of self-awareness. I am not going to make a blanket defense of everything described in these articles. I will admit in the abstract that attempts as addressing these issues can be mistaken or ill-conceived. But I also know, as a professional educator and administrator that one person’s complaint about a class or curriculum, out of context, is often highly incomplete and frequently misleading (especially when it is an upset parent describing a version of an offense told to them by their children). When people complain about these kinds of things they rarely provide a balanced view and it should be noted that Weiss’ piece is based primarily on the point of view of those who are doing the complaining. It is not a comprehensive attempt to actually investigate the claims.
To hear some tell the tale, such as the National Review George Leef, Weis has provided a “disturbing essay” and worse, Red State tells us:
Some of the schools are teaching capitalism is evil and that American is a bad country, but that’s not even the half of it. They’re completely fixated on race and everything is viewed through that lens. But the parents are afraid to speak up publicly about it for fear of getting tarred as racists, that they will be booted from the private schools and even from their jobs if it’s know that they’re opposing such “wokeness.”
The horror! (and, of course, the exaggeration).
The framing of these stories get under my skin and I think I have figured out why: I find it frustrating and off-putting when people in privileged/powerful positions don’t want to admit that yes, race and other factors do matter in their position in life, almost certainly. And it would be nice if people could admit that.
Let’s underscore here: the schools in this piece cost $40k-$50k a year in tuition (not to mention all the ancillary costs of a private school). These are parents with jobs good jobs and some level of influence. They also have the ability to educate their children at a panoply of options.
I further find it problematic when attempts at dealing with US history or other downsides of our system are framed as saying that America is a “bad country” or similar formulations. To teach that America has a racist history is simply teaching the truth and covering up that fact is not productive in the long run. Likewise, to teach that unbridled capitalism is nothing but sunshine and roses is a lie that also has long-term consequences.
To my mind, it seems that every cry of “political correctness” or “cancel culture” along with disparaging deployment of terms like “social justice warriors” and “wokeness” primarily attempts to avoid hard conversations about the long-term problems that race and class represent in US history.
I am of the position that one can acknowledge both the positive and the negative of American political development. But I also know that pretending like it is an unvarnished ride of positivity is just incorrect.
Accuracy should matter. And as I often note: proper diagnosis of problems is necessary for proper solutions.
I think the baseline problem is this: a drive of the ego so strong that people are unwilling to admit advantages, which translates into the need to ignore injustice. And as that injustice is ignored so that the privileged won’t feel bad about themselves, and then the past is not reckoned with and the injustices allowed to fester.
Can “wokeness” be more performative than substantive and therefore go too far? The answer is yes because almost everything can go too far. Is everything described in Weiss’ piece spot-on and immune from criticism? No. But I think that the issue at hand is more one of what the overall issue is rather than micro-level criticisms.
I think all of this is worth talking about, because I think that a major variable in our current politics is race and especially the relative decline of power of white males. I think, for example, that explains Trump’s success and the behavior of the contemporary Republican Party as much as any other variable.
There is no denying that roughly a half-century ago, white, nominally protestant, heterosexual males had almost all the power. They defined “normal” and they were dominant in almost all ways. That has changed over the last fiftyish years (and continues to change) and hence this kind of backlash.
Let’s start with the opening paragraphs of Weiss’ piece:
The dissidents use pseudonyms and turn off their videos when they meet for clandestine Zoom calls. They are usually coordinating soccer practices and carpools, but now they come together to strategize. They say that they could face profound repercussions if anyone knew they were talking.
But the situation of late has become too egregious for emails or complaining on conference calls. So one recent weekend, on a leafy street in West Los Angeles, they gathered in person and invited me to join.
In a backyard behind a four-bedroom home, ten people sat in a circle of plastic Adirondack chairs, eating bags of Skinny Pop. These are the rebels: well-off Los Angeles parents who send their children to Harvard-Westlake, the most prestigious private school in the city.
Let’s start with the absurd language here. These are not “dissidents” nor are they “rebels” because this is not a planning meeting to overthrow the school’s administration nor a meeting of the oppressed. No, these are parents who are unhappy about certain aspects of their private school’s curriculum and because they want what the school is selling in terms of prestige. They don’t have the courage of their convictions to pull their children out and educate them elsewhere.
Dissidents and rebels meet in secret because they fear the power structure and have no other viable options. These parents meet in secret because they don’t want to deal with possible criticism and, more than anything, they don’t want their privilege threatened.
This is not a profile in courage nor is it about a silenced class. These people could talk all they want, but they don’t want to.
Also: there are ten of them. Since some (all?) of them are couples, we are talking about less than ten families. The whole article quotes maybe a dozen (I did not count) parents from multiple schools in more than one state. Not exactly a groundswell.
By normal American standards, they are quite wealthy. By the standards of Harvard-Westlake, they are average. These are two-career couples who credit their own success not to family connections or inherited wealth but to their own education. So it strikes them as something more than ironic that a school that costs more than $40,000 a year—a school with Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s right hand, and Sarah Murdoch, wife of Lachlan and Rupert’s daughter-in-law, on its board—is teaching students that capitalism is evil.
First, they may be “average” for the population of the school, but if you are paying $40k/year for private school you are in the wealthy category, whether you inherited the wealth of not.
This is like saying that a given group of NFL players are “average” for the sport without acknowledging that they otherwise elite athletes relative the broader population.
But, it’s not about wealth, it is about race:
For most parents, the demonization of capitalism is the least of it. They say that their children tell them they’re afraid to speak up in class. Most of all, they worry that the school’s new plan to become an “anti-racist institution”—unveiled this July, in a 20-page document—is making their kids fixate on race and attach importance to it in ways that strike them as grotesque.
BTW, there is one example (via the linked text above) about the evils of capitalism, but that’s it. The article is otherwise about race, probably because it is impossible to take seriously anti-capitalist concerns from a group of people as financially well-off as the group in this article. Especially since they aren’t being forced to send their kids to any particular school.
I would note that the anti-racism policy that Weiss shared from the school hardly strikes me radical. And, to be honest, the objections to it strike me as people not wanting to confront the real history of racism in the country nor the degree to which contemporary power structures have been shaped by our past.
On this count, from the Weiss piece:
“I grew up in L.A., and the Harvard School definitely struggled with diversity issues. The stories some have expressed since the summer seem totally legitimate,” says one of the fathers. He says he doesn’t have a problem with the school making greater efforts to redress past wrongs, including by bringing more minority voices into the curriculum. What he has a problem with is a movement that tells his children that America is a bad country and that they bear collective racial guilt.
“They are making my son feel like a racist because of the pigmentation of his skin,” one mother says. Another poses a question to the group: “How does focusing a spotlight on race fix how kids talk to one another? Why can’t they just all be Wolverines?” (Harvard-Westlake has declined to comment.)
I suppose if it was that simple, that would be great. But all of this reeks of a simplistic approach to race that wants to say “well, that is all behind us, so let’s pretend like we are all starting from the same place.” It is the call for simplistic colorblindness. But, of course, not only is it not all behind us, even if it is better, we can’t pretend like it is all fine now (as last year clearly demonstrated–indeed, the George Floyd settlement and the Derrick Chauvin trial were in the headlines this morning on NPR as I was making my coffee).
To take a simple example: it was only in 1965 that we can say that all US citizens had access to the ballot. And it is still the case that various rules disproportionately affect citizens of color today.
Or, we know that various practices around home loans systematically discriminated against Blacks. This had clear effects on inter-generational wealth creations and transfer. Likewise, educational opportunities have hardly been uniformly equal.
I get it that people want to think that their personal successes are truly their own. But it is rare that outcomes are wholly the result of self-creation (and are arguably none are, since even the most hard-working, hardscrabble individual can’t claim they created their own genes).
Back to capitalism and markets:
“The school can ask you to leave for any reason,” said one mother at Brentwood, another Los Angeles prep school. “Then you’ll be blacklisted from all the private schools and you’ll be known as a racist, which is worse than being called a murderer.”
One private school parent, born in a Communist nation, tells me: “I came to this country escaping the very same fear of retaliation that now my own child feels.” Another joked: “We need to feed our families. Oh, and pay $50,000 a year to have our children get indoctrinated.” A teacher in New York City put it most concisely: “To speak against this is to put all of your moral capital at risk.”
I have to admit, complaining that the school can “ask you to leave for any reason” is an article that also complains that these schools teach “the evils of capitalism” is just almost more than my irony meter can take.
I find it unlikely that such a situation would lead to regional blacklisting, for that matter (what school administrator has time to worry about where parents who leave their school go?). And the notion that being labeled a racist is worse than being labeled a murder is, well, something.
If these parents don’t like the curriculum and believe in capitalism, they can (and should) take their money and go elsewhere, yes?
Quite honestly, the level of elitism and entitlement is amazing:
The atmosphere is making their children anxious, paranoid, and insecure—and closed off from even their close friends. “My son knew I was talking to you and he begged me not to,” another Harvard-Westlake mother told me. “He wants to go to a great university, and he told me that one bad statement from me will ruin us. This is the United States of America. Are you freaking kidding me?”
I am guessing the parents themselves are major source of these feelings, since it is likely they are railing at home about the curriculum. And who knew that kids might be worried or embarrassed about what their parents might say in public about their school or teachers?
All of this reminds me of a piece I read in Time about the college entrance scandal: The White Fear That Drove the College Cheating Scandal Has Only Gotten More Acute.
As I spoke with dozens of parents of children in elite, private high schools in order to better understand their mindset, they complained again and again how it had become harder than ever to get into selective schools. Thanks to an explosion of applications and an emphasis on offering slots to the “freakishly remarkable,” as Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business, has described it, America’s elite universities now prize unicorn-type prodigies, as opposed to the smart and hard-working kids that were supposedly the holy grail in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Slots at top universities were becoming scarce to rare; a scarcity the universities encouraged in order to get their all-important acceptance rates to previously unimaginable lows. Stanford’s is so low—4 percent—it no longer bothers publishing it.
These trends affect all college applicants, regardless of socio-economic background. But affluent parents, even those whose kids had the “hook” of being a legacy or recruitable athlete, felt things were further stacked against them due to a shift in the culture that had led universities to focus on building freshman classes that reflect the world we live in. In other words, diversity had evolved slowly from just a buzzword into an institutional priority in higher ed. The result was that wealthy white parents were freaking out.
Inherent in all of this is the clear notion that elite status requires getting into very specific schools and not because the education one received from those places is necessarily superior to elsewhere, but rather because the school itself confers status that other schools do not. There are plenty of high-quality universities in the United States to provide stellar educations. But, of course, a limited number of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. degrees are given year.
And, of course, this si the main reason these parents spend what they do per year to send their kids to these kinds of schools.
Back to Weiss and some point-by-point commentary.
Power in America now comes from speaking woke, a highly complex and ever-evolving language. The Grace Church School in Manhattan, for example, offers a 12-page guide to “inclusive language,” which discourages people from using the word “parents”—“folks” is preferred—or from asking questions like “what religion are you?” (When asked for comment, Rev. Robert M. Pennoyer II, the assistant head of school, replied: “Grace is an Episcopal school. As part of our Episcopal identity, we recognize the dignity and worth common to humanity.” He added that the guide comes “from our desire to promote a sense of belonging for all of our students.”)
No, power in America comes from having parents who can pay $40k-$50k a year for their children to attend elite-level private schools which will propel those children into elite-level universities (and all the commensurate advantages that such a scenario implies).
To illustrate this point I would ask: who is powerful in the US? A poor, woke person who can speak all the lingo or a rich person who thinks that being woke is a joke?
And beyond all that what, exactly, is wrong with wanting human beings to use inclusive language (save for the discomfort of having to learn new ways to talk?).
There is a weird sneer going on here when quoting a person saying “we recognize the dignity and worth common to humanity” and “our desire [is] to promote a sense of belonging for all of our students” as if that proves how heinous they are.
The problem is, of course, promoting the dignity of all, as well as true inclusion, requires acknowledging for some at least, that they have not always acted inclusively or, more likely, that they consider themselves the “normal” standard to which others ought to conform. That normality is power, even if it is unacknowledged (at least until someone makes them uncomfortable about that power, instead of simply accepting it).
One Los Angeles mother tells me that her son was recently told by his friend, who is black, that he is “inherently oppressed.” She was incredulous. “This kid is a multimillionaire,” she said. “My son said to his friend: ‘Explain it to me. Why do you feel oppressed? What has anyone done to make you feel less?’ And the friend said: ‘The color of my skin.’ This blew my mind.”
What blows my mind is that a Black male who is a multimillionaire still has to worry about the police in ways that a typical white kid does not, regardless of size of bank account.
Note these examples from a 2016 CNN piece:
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of three black Republicans in Congress, revealed Wednesday that he had been pulled over seven times over the course of one year. “The vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reason just as trivial,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
For anyone who glossed over it above, Scott is a Republican.
Dr. Brian H. Williams, a black trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, who treated the police officers shot in Dallas last week, told CNN that while he has tremendous respect for police, he also fears them at the same time.
“Clearly when I’m at work dressed in my white coat, the reactions I get from the individuals and officers I deal with on a daily basis is much different than what I would get outside the hospital in regular clothes,” he said. “And my fear and some mild inherent distrust of law enforcement that goes back to my own personal experiences over my entire life, as well as hearing the stories from friends and family that look like me that have had similar experiences.”
For some additional examples of why we need more work on inclusion and the promotion of dignity, google Amber Ruffin (a writer on Late Night with Seth Meyer) and her encounters with the police (here is one about skipping in Chicago). See, also, her book with her sister, Lacey Lamar, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism.
Back to Weiss’ parade of horrors:
But physics looks different these days. “We don’t call them Newton’s laws anymore,” an upperclassman at the school informs me. “We call them the three fundamental laws of physics. They say we need to ‘decenter whiteness,’ and we need to acknowledge that there’s more than just Newton in physics.”
I have no strong opinion about using Newton’s name in this context, but calling them “the three fundamental laws of physics” is hardly a grave injustice (nor an inaccuracy). And, to be honest, there probably is something to be said for not making it sound like everything good came from white dudes in Europe (something we tend to do).
Brentwood, a school that costs $45,630 a year, made headlines a few weeks back when it held racially segregated “dialogue and community-building sessions.” But when I speak with a parent of a middle-school student there, they want to talk about their child’s English curriculum. “They replaced all the books with no input or even informing the parents.” The curriculum no longer features classics such as The Scarlet Letter, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies. New books include: Stamped, Dear Martin, Dear Justice, and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.
Mostly this strikes me, as “oh no! They aren’t reading the books we read as kids!” (FWIW, I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird until I was in my forties, and I have never read Little Women). And since when do parents get consulted about curriculum? If parents want to set curriculum, there is always the home school option Not to mention, books can be read outside of school requiring them.
I could go on, but this post is ridiculously long (and has taken up my blog-related mental space for multiple days now). Again, I am not an expert on the politics of race, but I am certainly interested in the ways in which various factors shape party and electoral politics and I think that while these stories are ostensibly about other things, they are window into contemporary politics.
All of it reminds me of the notion that when you are in a position of privilege, moves towards equality can feel like oppression. But having to tolerate a curriculum one doesn’t like (when one could easily move their child elsewhere) is not oppression.
And talking about it as if these people are in an authoritarian government only able to meet in private is patently absurd and is comparison that belittles real oppression.
Great write up. Long read, but comprehensive and informative. Well worth the time. Just to confirm, is Bari Weiss the writer who left the NYT complaining it was becoming too woke?
This has been the Republican raison d’être since 1965.
By definition, rich peoples problems.
I hadn’t read this when it popped up on a new aggregator, nor have I read the article at the Atlantic on private schools, your summation has me feeling that Weiss and others are writing satire without knowing it.
I wish I could remember where I picked it up, probably @Teve since I regularly appropriate his bon mots, but it was something to the effect that people don’t correct, they over-correct.
Correction causes push-back, over-correction justifies that push-back.
There are real issues with cancel culture, and real issues with absurd over-corrections, and it’s absolutely true that no white person can safely discuss these issues, but the problem is less the over-woke and rather more the racist twats. Yet another area where moderates either take fire from both sides, or find themselves associated with people they despise, and are effectively removed from a conversation that is two camps, neither terribly smart, yelling at each other.
Here’s an example. A few years ago a midlist YA writer who’d been caught up in a whitewashing issue (a cover meant to show a black character ends up looking awfully pale) over which she had no control, wrote a heartfelt piece about how she was going to stop writing Black characters because she was too white to ‘get it.’
I pointed out two things: One, she was being unintentionally racist by asserting that Blacks – alone among humans – could not be understood by a white writer, a position any plantation owner in 1860 would have endorsed. And two, that if she took out her calculator and looked at the net effect of white writers eschewing Black characters she’d find she was very effectively segregating kidlit and disappearing Black characters from close to 90% of books.
Guess who was attacked as a racist?
So, yes, there is a problem, not interestingly enough with actual Black people, but with guilty, panicky white people desperate to find safe harbor and therefore endorsing any half-baked notion that seemed to offer them safety.
@Loviatar: Yes, Weiss was the one who quit the NYT last year. She appears to be creating a brand for herself.
And thanks for sticking with it–it just kept growing.
@Michael Reynolds: I think part of the problem is that we can’t even agree that correction is needed.
(And yes, discussing these things is fraught–this very much occurred to me as I was writing this).
@Steven L. Taylor:
I have this perhaps naive belief that we should teach the truth.
We’ve had a couple of centuries of, ‘we’re the good guys!’ propaganda, but the way to correct that is not to swing to, ‘no, we’re the bad guys!’ The correction should be: here’s what happened historically, this is what we know. The US is neither uniquely good nor uniquely bad. History does not fit into some neat moral binary, and the insistence that it must is the core of the problem.
I have watched stuff like this play out among white people. I am now convinced that confronting the racial history of America will result in most, if not all, white people experiencing guilt and shame. You can just present the facts with little valence, and they (we) will feel it.
It’s unavoidable, but it isn’t that helpful, either. You have to get to a place where you can ask, “Ok, what part of this is on my hands? And what can I do about it?” The answer is “not nothing, but not a lot, either” and “There’s some stuff, but it’s more about being more curious about people, and that’s just generally a good thing.” Fundamentally, clearing the shame opens up a lot of new possibilities, and enriches one’s life. (Speaking as a white person, which I am).
I just watched the movie “Soul”. It has a black protagonist. Most of the other characters are black. It’s set in NYC, and travels in black neighborhoods. Jazz is important. Did I watch it because I felt guilty? No, I watched because I love that stuff, and it was funny and touching. Also I love jazz. There was a time in my life, though, where I would have probably passed, thinking that there’s nothing there for me. That was dumb of me, and also racist, in the small sense, not in the Bull Connor sense.
Rich white people are often very inward-focused, caught up in knowing the “right people”, who usually are also white. Lifting their eyes up will help quite a lot in so many ways.
Excellent assessment, Steven. Thank you.
An Amazing Level of Elitism and Entitlement – the new American Creed
I’d welcome more “wealthy white parents… freaking out” if it weren’t true that, despite meaningful advances in allyship, wealthy whites didn’t still hold almost all the cards when it comes to wielding political power. Push-back is inevitable and (pace Michael) whether it is justified doesn’t matter much.
@Jay L Gischer:
I don’t think guilt or shame is called for, simply an acknowledgment of reality. Collective guilt is a very dangerous idea. I speak as one of those who killed Christ and whose ancestors were very nearly annihilated for that supposed crime.
Life has been easier for me because I’m a white male. That’s just a fact, but not one I caused any more than I caused myself to have the advantage of being tall. I don’t feel guilty about being tall, or healthy, or roughly symmetrical in my features, but do those things give me an edge? Sure. Obviously.
@Michael Reynolds: There’s a basic problem that most white people have in that they don’t know any black people. That’s a structural thing more than a personal choice in most cases. It makes stuff like writing black characters harder.
What Ta-Nehisi Coates said about this was, “Go to a black barbershop”. Just hang out, and listen. You’ll hear lots of different opinions about stuff, most of which you have heard before.
As a principle, rather than a specific, I have resolved to take note of the black people who cross my path, and what they say, how they act. I think a lot of white people feel this would make them racist. I get it, but I’m working on “counter-racism”. The desired space is noticing differences, but not caring about them, I think.
I try to worry less about “what will other white people think?” than “What would Ta-Nehisi, or Byron, or Moji or JimBrown, etc, think?”
I’d be willing to bet the farm that what Harvard-Westlake is teaching is closer to the truth (that capitalism has a complicated history mixing good and bad) than what (as @Jay L Gischer notes) Bari Weiss’ selection of parents “feel” it is (that capitalism is only bad).
Well, people are idiots, that goes without saying, and there’s a great competition to claim victim status. The degree to which these white parents have been victimized can only be observed using a scanning electron microscope.
The Newton one cracked me up. What are they going to do about units? DC resistance has been measured in ohms since forever. Cycles per second for frequency are now hertz. Units have all been named after dead white European men, all of whom had the same advantages Newton did, and that were denied to women and people of color. (Just as a note, Newton’s first law of motion wasn’t original. Galileo said something pretty close, and Descartes formalized it.)
I can’t prove, and don’t care enough to try, but that meeting of ten people in somebody’s backyard sure sounded made up.
Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for this excellent analysis.
I plan on sharing this with several people who seem to be struggling with the idea that white privilege ACTUALLY EXISTS! I don’t think I’ve ever seen these ideas presented in a completely reasonable (as in totally NOT off-putting to Trump-types) way that was less about trying to induce shame (as so many of them would claim of any conversation on this topic) and more about encouraging a thoughtful reconsideration of the facts. Like, “okay….we aren’t trying to shame you, but here’s the deal, y’all.”
But I think the best part is that it kind of latches on to the anti-elite sentiment that lots of people who need to get this message have. Like, “look at these rich people complaining…WAH.”
So I will definitely pass this on in hopes of getting these points into some very thick skulls!
I get so frustrated when I hear people (mainly white males) INSIST that things are “equal” now when all I have to do is talk to my Black friends and hear stories of how most have been stopped for “DWB” (driving while black) and how they keep their legal documents in the visor so that they won’t have to reach into the glovebox and risk an officer thinking they were pulling a weapon. (I share this because hearing these two stories is what changed everything for me personally.)
So thank you again for laying out the situation in this way. Hopefully it will enlighten a whole bunch of folks!
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA,
Thank you Steven, you have thoroughly schadened my Fruede.
Um, no. Not even.
One can start by not voting for fascists, no matter how good of a tax cut they give.
I have a few anecdotes that tie into this discussion….
My 92 year old father in law moved in with us in July. He’s an old school racist from Florida. Did 40 years for the Railroad, then was a reserve deputy, and finally stopped working 10 years ago. Due to a screwed up family dynamic, we took him in because other relatives were, literally, abusing him. He’s a good guy mostly, except for the racism, to which he sweats he’s not racist.
Anyway… my wife calls him, “her reprogramming project”. She tried to explain BLM to him, but went over his head. BUT… what has worked has been film and TV projects. With her, he watched, “Hidden Figures”, “Selma”, “Moonlight”, “If Beale Street Could Talk”, “42”, “Fruitvale Station”, “The Hate you Give”. After “Selma”, he turned to my wife, with tears in his eyes, and say “I had no idea it was this bad for blacks.” It’s been interesting having these discussions with him, and seeing 80 years of bullshit and misinformation slowly, very slowly, peeling away.
It was a massive breakthrough to hear him say “You know… That Obama fellow turned out to be a good president, didn’t he?” That was huge, because he could never say a nice thing about Obama, even though he agreed with most of his policies. I suspect there are many in his demographic that would be full fledged Democrats if not for the racism.
To give you the idea of the family dynamic my wife escaped, her sister said, in 2009, after Obama’s election, “That Obama is creating racism. There was no racism in Florida before he got elected. It’s all because of him”. That’s verbatim.
The people complaining about “woke”, are the same who have been complaining since 1965, and even before.
@Jay L Gischer:
My kingdom for the edit button. ARGH.
@Jay L Gischer:
I once went to a black barbershop and they sent me away saying that they didn’t cut white people’s hair — so who is the victim of systemic racism now?!?
They were two blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn, and what they said was something like “we could do it, but… we don’t get a lot of practice with floppy hair, so it might not be good. How about Julio’s three blocks over, or the this other place over there? Tell them we said ‘hola’”
So I went to Julio’s and if I was exposed to different views while just sitting there I didn’t understand because there were all in Spanish.
It was a little odd realizing that there were places that didn’t cater to my needs. I’m still getting over it.
Dr. Taylor has written three posts this morning, can anyone identify a throughline in all three posts?
I have my thoughts, but I was wondering what others thought.
I’ll post the same question in each thread.
I can safely discuss these issues. I’m a bit of an exception, I guess.
Don’t take this the wrong way, Michael. I’m not shaming you.
Maybe it’s your shaved head?
You’re a writer. You should understand communication more thoroughly than this. You’re outspoken. Your style can be confrontational. You’re a hammer. But sometimes, different verbal tools are needed to discuss things.
I don’t think you’re racist. You have met Eddie irl, I’m sure he doesn’t think you’re racist either. But part of dealing with America’s legacy is people showing they understand that it exists.
If you’re not willing to reach into the toolbox to get something other than a hammer, why would a person see you as different from anyone else?
@Gustopher: Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think Coates meant it quite that literally. It was more about, “make a little effort to learn about the people around you”. At least that’s how I took it.
I mean, just Tuesday we were eating (socially distanced!) lunch and the cook was telling an amusing story to the manager and the waiter (there’s only one right now). It was in Spanish, but it was clearly amusing. All of them are people who’s name I know.
This is tricky.
I am now convinced that confronting the racial history of America will result in most, if not all, white people experiencing guilt and shame.
Guilt and shame aren’t really the right terms to describe white people’s reactions to America’s racial history. In the 50s and 60s black families lost between 3 to 4 billion in wealth due to predatory housing–and this was only in Chicago. White America doesn’t need to feel guilt or shame. They need to shut up about achievement and making it on their own whenever the consequences of racism are invoked and fix the theft gap.
Will this happen? I mean, it is sort-of happening. But the blowback is that a certain type of white person is falling apart and so they’re turning to obvious frauds like Weiss and the anti-woke team for comfort.
I’m a hammer here. As you say, I’m a professional, so I have quite a range of tools, which I use where appropriate. Or do you imagine that I talk to 14 year-olds the way I’d talk to you or James? And by the way, no one has ever had an issue with my portrayal of race, gender or class in my actual work. On the contrary, my readership is disproportionately POC, gay and trans.
The issue is never with the readers – they’re not idiots. The issue is with panicky white people who until a few years ago had never spent five minutes thinking about race, which is not a description that fits me.
And of course you’re safe discussing whatever, you’re anonymous here. I’ve publicly discussed a number of issues within the kidlit world, and have been attacked despite having been proven objectively right. I’m sorry, but you don’t know the sea I have to swim in. At one point – not making this up – I was simultaneously attacked by two different factions of the autistic community, each alleging that I favored the other, despite the fact that I literally did not know there were factions and had precisely no opinion on either.
It may also be a reflection of Peter Terchin’s observation that we have reached what I would call “peak elitism”–we have more people than ever competing for too few elite spots. This could make for an interesting next decade with various categories of elites warring with each other for the trappings of eliteness. I wonder how the camps will break out. My guess? Old money v. new money–a time honored tradition with petty bourgeoisie and sordid social climbers (such as the Trumps) against their “betters” clambering after a place on the ladder.
I have no doubt that you have different tools that you use elsewhere.
I wasn’t talking about here, and I’ve referenced situations in the real world in many posts here, including in discussions with you. I’ve also always been careful to say that I’m not entirely sure why, as a white person, I can say things that other white people can’t. I suspect that it’s my overall demeanor. That is what I am saying–everyone leaks information about themselves, and likely won’t know how unless someone points it out to them.
Well, you’ve been shown to be wrong in several discussions here, yet you double down. I’m skeptical that you willingly admit you’re wrong anywhere.
The most telling example was the discussion between you and Steven about partisanship. Steven made clear that he was discussing mass human behavior at the voting booth.
You accused him of not understanding how people work. You argued that you create characters that helped readers through tough times. Great! But that doesn’t mean your view is the final word on human behavior. In fact, the overwhelming evidence suggests that you’re wrong about aspects of behavior in the voting booth. And yet…we are still having this discussion.
Your writing has done good for some people, but that’s not a qualification for explaining all of human behavior.
The point I’m making, Michael, is that no one has a perfect worldview. You’re not a bad person. You’re not a bigot. But you have flaws. So do I. So does Steven.
Snap your fingers. At the moment you heard that sound, you were wrong about something. Always remember that.
Also, it seems reasonable to think that if your tone seems disrespectful toward me at times, you are likely coming across as disrespectful in other situations as well even if you don’t mean it that way.
@Gustopher:..I once went to a black barbershop and they sent me away saying that they didn’t cut white people’s hair…
I deliver the weekly Carbondale Times newspaper to two of the back owned barbershops in town. More than a few times I have seen white guys sitting in the chairs getting a buzz from a black guy. Come on down to Sleepytown!
Coates is an incredible writer. But like some other excellent professional writers (cough…Gladwell…cough) sometimes their writing skills seem come at the expense of rigorous thought.
And then there are others, Taleb and Hitchens come immediately to mind, whose personalities overshadow their ideas to the point that it amplifies their mistakes and buries arguments that would otherwise be persuasive.
Literally no one here has admitted as many errors in life as I have. I go on about my fuck-ups at such length it irritates people. The resumé I send out to people – on the rare occasions I do – includes, among other things, my mug shot. I’ve many times admitted that I was a sociopath before meeting my wife. I advertise all my faults because why? Because in my later years I’ve become devoted to the truth. I used to rationalize that while absolute honesty was required internally, I was free to lie to others. I discarded that approach as soon as it was safe to do so, and I simply don’t lie to anyone anymore.
I’ve said mea culpa for my youthful flirtation with libertarianism, I’ve confessed that I voted for Nixon in 1972, I’ve even put on the hair shirt because while I could have been useful to the world I was busy looking out for me.
You’re mischaracterizing my disagreement with Steven. Without restarting it, he’s characterizing human behavior one way, I’m characterizing it in another way. I believe in the primacy of individual choice and individual responsibility, and I trace human behavior back to that starting point. He looks at groups, populations, I discount that approach and insist on individual responsibility.
Now, am I sometimes a wee bit pointed? Obviously. Can I be a prick? Guilty. But afraid to admit when I’m wrong? Not even a little. The whole reason I come here is to find out if I’m wrong, and when I am, I thank the person who showed me the truth, and I beat myself up because it means I missed something in beta-testing my ideas. I’m not here to be right – what would be the point? To impress people I don’t know and who don’t pay me? Dude, I have people ready to kiss my ass any time I allow it.
@Kurtz: This incident was decades before Coates was on the scene. I just find it amusing that his example is something that I’ve actually accidentally done and got an entirely different experience than he thinks I should.
And, for the record, I don’t think the folks in the black barbershop were racist, and if my hair were shorter, I’m sure they would have just pulled out the clippers.
I seldom get to use the story when it starts from an actual barber shop, or as a silly response to the “get to know other people” argument. Coates (White liberal America’s Black friend) is totally right in the general, and if I had short hair at the time he would have been right in the particulars.
Usually, it’s just one of my favorite stories to pull out when bright-eyed and bushy tailed white idealists are saying that we’re all the same regardless of race. We’re obviously not in countless ways from hair texture to the ability to look good in yellow (no, white people, that yellow shirt does not look good on you), to life experiences and upbringing and values. There’s a whole lot of overlap, but the differences are real — they don’t mean other groups deserve less respect, but part of respect is acknowledging differences and being cool/mindful/tolerant/delighted/baffled-in-a-whatever-dude-sort-of-way about them. Minimizing the differences is saying that the differences aren’t valuable and implying that everyone should be white male cisgender easily-mistaken-for-straight (I mean, it’s pretty good in this country to be a white man, so go for it if you get the opportunity…).
It’s like “all men are created equal” — it’s obviously not true. It’s a decent starting point, but it gets you only part way there.
@Mister Bluster: Sure, a buzz is easy. Thinning out and layering long, luxurious locks of thick, hair so it looks good and isn’t too heavy… I appreciate someone knowing their limits.
White people can absolutely discuss race, cis folk can discuss trans folk, men can discuss women and straight folk can discuss queer folk.
They just can’t be a hammer about it, because they’re probably at least a little wrong.
Privileged assholes can’t discuss those things. And while we can’t do much about the privileged part, we can definitely do something about the asshole part. Be prepared to be wrong, and willing to listen to how wrong.
Clueless, privileged white folks discussing things outside of their experience is fundamental to every group gaining equal rights in this country. We’ll get it wrong more often than we would like, and it’s going to be cringeworthy at times, but that’s what progress looks like. It’s cringeworthy.
Read about Lincoln’s views on race. Holy fuck was that man Racist with a capital R. But he was better than a lot of his contemporaries (just because they’re inferior doesn’t mean they should be enslaved), and he was willing to make being less worse a priority.
And that’s progress. And it’s good.
I kind of wonder what this country would be like if everyone learned of the racist writings of Abraham Lincoln in high school. Teach the glorified version in middle school, and then in high school get to his desire to send all the blacks back to Africa, but not knowing how to make it happen. And then the writings where he recognized the value of the black soldiers in the Union army (he still wanted them separate, but he grew a lot over the course of the war).
Tear down the mythological hero and build up the real hero — a flawed man, cringeworthy by today’s standards, who made the country a better place despite his flaws.
The throughline for me is race.
It is how America’s original sin (our treatment of our non-white citizens) has so corrupted our institutions that a certain percentage of our population will say or do anything in order to maintain their place at the head of the line.
The racial throughline in this thread; Dr. Taylor ‘s entire post.
I am definitely not mischaracterizing it–you are discounting it (your word). Why? Because of a pre-existing belief. But your belief has zero data to show that it’s true in this case. Partisan ID is the single most predictive attribute of voting behavior. And it holds for the vast majority of consistent voters and those who participate intermittently.
Here’s the thread. Interestingly, when I went back to check that I wasn’t mischaracterizing it, I noticed that Taylor also used the term “double down.” I am criticizing your mental process about aspects of your thinking about political actors, not that you include your mugshot in your resumes or are open about your previous incarnations as a criminal and fugitive.
Phrases like, “literally no one here has admitted as many errors in life as I have” are more than a little Trumpish. But it’s not the point, because I am not challenging your character or your bona fides in the realm of social liberalism. But you’re using your honesty in one area to defend an unrelated tendency of yours.
My initial criticism in this thread was to point out that people may pick up on things from you that you don’t realize you’re communicating.
In fact, “I’m sorry, but you don’t know the sea I have to swim in” is that point I’m making. You criticize the tactics of the woke crowd, but you don’t acknowledge how and why those behaviors developed.
You’ve been incarcerated, a first-time convict has to learn how to behave in prison to protect themselves. For those who were incarcerated for a long time, little behaviors like where one holds his hands persist for years after they get out of prison and aren’t facing the same dangers. In a society where people’s intent is often hidden, individuals in marginalized groups learn similar defense mechanisms. Those behaviors aren’t that easy to turn off.
Understand that you do not swim in the seas they do everyday. Are you an ally to your trans kid? Yes! Are you an ally to marginalized groups? Yes! But assuming that people should automatically accept that you are ignores that many marginalized people have been burned by those who claimed to be on their side and are in a much more precarious position than you are.
The reasons for the behavior of the woke: the traditional avenues of demanding political change are closed off for marginalized groups, political discourse designed to hide the persistent patterns of discrimination, and the intellectual basis for much of the seemingly outrageous behavior is a result of post-modernists never figuring out how to resist diffused power exerted through modern institutions that appear to promote liberty. Whether you want to admit it or not, individuals are heavily influenced by environment.
In the other thread, you were denying behavior that is consistent and true for 90+% of voters to defend your cult of personality frame. Additionally, in that discussion and here you are defending the notion that people have agency and are responsible for their behavior.
That’s fine, until you deny observed behavior that threatens to shake those beliefs, even if they aren’t mutually exclusive. Then it’s not fine. And it really doesn’t matter that Taylor was talking about mass behavior, because mass behavior in politics is overwhelmingly one way to the point that your denials are irrational. That attitude is something you criticize in religious people.
I am not being critical of your character or your intelligence, but pointing out that your thinking process is causing errors even if that process also helped you find success. This isn’t about you being a prick. It’s about your arrogance. Writing fiction that inspires people facing personal difficulties doesn’t prove the veracity of your views on human nature or that you have some special insight into human behavior. Inspiring others to action often requires distorting reality a bit. But don’t confuse that with objective truth.
This was a dense post (and I’m not referring to its length). It drifted in and out of various issues – sometimes I think this was intended, other times inadvertent. I have a lot to say about this topic, but the medium is suboptimal.
One thing I will note is the focus on Kendi’s conceptualization of the problem (and solutions). Indeed, the entire movement is now known by his framework: antiracism. I think this is problematic…..not because Kendi’s thesis is wrong per se (though I do have my disagreements – a topic for another day), but because it narrows our perspective on the problem and thus limits the range of possible solutions.
To be sure, I think Kendi’s voice ought to inform this discussion (societal, not this post), but I think the movement disadvantages itself when his voice (or its echo) is the only one being heard and listened to.
Yes, the attempts at a colorblind society are futile. Now, the same philosophical traditions that criticized the notion until the 1960s are defending it so that they can call Democrats racist. Systems aren’t neutral and it would be best if people realize that.
It’s interesting to me, because people point to physical characteristics that are pretty well understood genetically to justify beliefs about more complex traits like intelligence and behavior about which we have much less genetic understanding. We don’t measure intelligence all that well, so understanding the genetics of it is not in the cards at present.
Most of all, the consensus among geneticists is that race isn’t a biological category which renders defenses of people like Charles Murray moot.
This is fair (and I would agree). I would also agree that it is not as focused as I would like.
So you agree with James Joyner that there’s no such thing as stochastic terrorism? After all, Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh can’t be responsible for causing other people to do things — those other people all have individual responsibility for their actions, right?
If that’s really the core of your disagreement with Dr. Taylor — which I doubt, by the way — then he is very right and you are very wrong.
This statement is remarkable: