Why Are We Talking About X When Y is So Much More Important?!

A perennial question.

In the discussion section of yesterday’s post, “Is Traditionalism Inherently Racist?” @Michael Reynolds observed, perhaps tongue in cheek, “Just a reminder that climate change is coming, AI experts are warning of Skynet, viruses and resistant bacteria are still hunting us and thousands of nuclear warheads are aimed at hundreds of targets,” causing @DK to muse, “And wouldn’t it be nice if we could get Republicans and ex-Republicans as worked up about climate disaster, rampant income inequality, our embarrassing and crumbling transportation grid, unaffordable healthcare, near-daily mass shootings and other real threats as about Mexican-themed graduation sashes and other culture war distraction nonsense du jour.”

It’s a variation of a theme I’ve seen with some regularity since starting the blog more than twenty years ago: Why are you posting about this (comparatively trivial) thing when this other (potentially more important) thing is happening?

The short answer is that I blog about things that I find interesting enough to comment on. These tend to be some combination of things that I have some expertise or personal experience with, things that amuse me, or things that piss me off. Observant readers will have noticed that I practically never comment on developments in nuclear physics, for example, or the happenings in the great state of Utah.

Additionally, there’s a certain communitarian aspect to blogging. Posts are often inspired by the conversations taking place around other posts. Indeed, that was the case here.

It’s true that I had three postings in as many days inspired partly by a controversy over a Colorado girl’s fight to celebrate her Mexican heritage by wearing a doodad around her neck at her high school graduation.

The first of these—which by the way argued that the school (along with another school denying a boy a right to wear an “I joined the Navy” doodad) should have allowed her to wear said doodad—used the incidents to discuss the degree to which such events were a public forum for individual expression versus a collective event. Secondarily, it argued for equal treatment and nondiscrimination on viewpoint.

The follow-up was inspired by the first student’s defiance of not only school officials but a judicial order. My focus wasn’t on the doodad or her Mexican heritage—which I still think she should have been allowed to wear without all the drama—but on her hijacking of the event. What was supposed to celebrate the collective achievement of 76 graduating seniors instead became all about her. This inspired a conversation about whether graduation is one event or 76 events that just happen to take place in a particular location at the same time.

The third post, inspired by the discussion section in the second, wasn’t about the direct controversy at all but the much bigger question of when it’s reasonable to impute racism. It’s the sort of discussion I most want to have here, moving beyond a given happening in the news into helping understand honest divides among reasonable people.

The culture wars are actually pretty important. They’re perhaps not existential in the way climate change is but they’re more immediately threatening to our society. Yes, a lot of it is ginned-up bullshit to feed the outrage machine at Fox News or to scare old white people into donating money to “conservative” causes. But a lot of it is also just fundamental misunderstandings that make it impossible to have conversations.

In this particular case, I think it’s harmful to throw around words like “racism” and “bigotry” to describe the dominant culture’s intense desire to preserve longstanding norms. At the same time, I acknowledge that there’s a disparate impact even if it’s completely unintentional.* While I doubt anyone’s mind was changed in the back-and-forth yesterday, I do think we got insights into how people with different lived experiences see the issue. Which, maybe, is a small step toward an eventual shared understanding.


*A separate post, perhaps later today, will dive into this issue in a broader context.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Race and Politics, Society, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Keep it up. For my taste, OTB provides far and away the best front page posts and provokes the best conversations of any blog on the internet. I may not agree with everything, and my interest level in some subjects may vary, but as Joseph Smith said, “This is the place.”

  2. Charley in Cleveland says:

    This is an excellent distillation of today’s communication problem – especially as to how points are diverted by what about-ism. In re racism and bigotry, the anti-woke mongers are delighted when Marjorie Taylor Greene’s nonsense du jour is labeled *racist* instead of just ignorant. Racists don’t believe they are racist, and labeling them as such just ends whatever productive dialog might have emerged. Labels are the speed bumps of communication.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    It is a sad fact of human nature that very few people are interested in examining their own biases or trying to understand the real state of mind of others, but rather endlessly replay their assumptions and stereotypes. An example of this was illustrated yesterday. At least a few people imputed racism in the administration’s banning of the Mexican flag stole. There was a belief bordering on certainty that all the proferred explanations were just excuses and, either consciously or unconsciously, the school officials didn’t ban anything until the flag came up. Two or three times I pointed out that despite the stole ban, the students were allowed to prominently display Mexican flags (on their mortar boards) and several did just that. The reaction from the people who were certain that it was the flag and inherent racism that triggered the administration’s ban? Crickets. Not even an acknowledgement or a rationalization. Many (most?) people don’t want a discussion. They want a forum to vent.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    For the record, my snark was not about @Joyner’s choice of topic, I was just amused that we’d managed, IIRC, 58 comments on a topic that, as @MarkedMan: suggests, we’d kind of worked over pretty well.

  5. DK says:

    @Charley in Cleveland: Having grown up in and around Marjorie Taylor-Greene country with these clowns where I got to know them quite well being bussed across the county to integrate schools that were still segregated well into the 90s: these people know full well they are racist (and homophobic, and anti-immigrant, and openly hostile to non-Protestants, etc etc). Not only that, they will explain to you why and how their racism et al is justified.

    Declining to spit truth about their bigotry is not going to stop them from being extremist, bigoted azz holes. Never has, never will.

    Sorry to burst the bubble of well-meaning people who still want to believe you can reason with fascists if you just offer soothing platitudes about their “economic anxiety.” They have to be outvoted and that’s it. Losing is just about the only outside force that changes them.

  6. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: nothing the American intelligentsia adores more than gnawing on the bone of racism in the USA. No country in the world I am certain spends more time in public (generally futile dialogues of the deaf) discourse on own-racism (versus accusing some neighbour of being prejudiced or racist agains themselves).

    It is the substitute for other countries discussions of class resentement.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: Never let it be said that Lounsbury will ever pass up a chance to criticize Americans (or liberals).

  8. Gustopher says:


    It is the substitute for other countries discussions of class resentement.

    Any time class resentment comes up, we are told by our betters that it is class warfare and bad.

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: Now, now, you should hardly believe everything you’re told, even if you acknowledge soi-disant “betters”…. although quite why you would give that horrid Greene person such dignity even mockingly escapes me.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: As by the rather large number of posts I make no comment on at all, clearly I do pass up many a chance for both, as a strictly factual matter.

    But really even restricting yourself to that minority of posts I do comment upon, you see this is your confirmation bias in operation, plus the selectivity of subjects of this blog – as you lot collectively do adore talking about yourselves, even on the odd occasion when something foreign comes up, invariably it is dragged into either some American self-criticism or reinterpreted into an American subject. And of course you pay no notice to my constant unkindness to a certain JKB and his drooling inverted Bolshevism… No, rather as like response to Reynolds, illustratively, “deviationism” you have a rather near zero tolerance for deviation from a certain set of dare we say ideologically correct positions and modes of expression within a proper lane for the Left Bobo intellos. And anyone taking the piss out of the Left intello Bobo proper moral positions is of course a terrible right deviationist of the worst sort.

    But since the commentariat here has become over the past two decades virtually a Left-Left echo chamber, barring Mr Andy and perhaps to a lesser extent Reynolds, and given the oeverall of course anyone in the right deviationist lane tends to stand out.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:


    It is the substitute for other countries discussions of class resentement.

    A feature not a bug, for some people. Imagine how hard it would have been to convince dirt poor Southern Whites to die for the plantation owners had the issues been framed around class rather than race.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste likens the American system of racism to the Indian caste system. I was disappointed she didn’t also discuss the British class system as a caste system.

    At heart racism is classism with relatively visible markers of class/caste, as opposed to accent, speech, family names, dress, neighborhood, etc.

  12. Gavin says:

    Of course class warfare is framed as A Bad Thing To Discuss…. by the people who will lose when it’s discussed.

  13. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: well yes. And yet USA remains rather trapped in that logic, even if the Left have inverted the positioning.