White progressives must stop worshipping at the altars of false gods when it comes to race
As a subscriber to The New Yorker, I get daily dispatches from the magazine’s humor section, “Daily Shouts.”
Yesterday, I read a piece called “A Day at the Church of White Guilt” by Randall Otis and Josh Johnson, both writers for “The Daily Show.”
I couldn’t believe it. The so-called “liberal media” — my media — was finally, finally poking fun at what’s going on with so many white people.
To give you just a taste of the brilliance:
Thank you to Otis and Johnson for writing this, and thank you to The New Yorker for publishing it. For having the courage to overcome the fear of being cancelled and to call out the cult of “White Fragility.”
I can only hope other publications grow a sense of humor and follow their lead. While it is hilarious to watch all the white people who have become Charles Mansonized by DiAngelo’s book, it’s also scary. The book is brainwashing some of the smartest people I know, and a few who are not that smart, but are in positions of power and influence — so the danger is real.
I also want to thank John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, who has written more than a dozen books on language and on race relations, for also being among the few willing to publicly challenge wildly popular yet misguided ideas on race.
In 2018, McWhorter, also a contributing writer at The Atlantic, wrote a piece for that publication called, “The Virtue Signalers Won’t Change the World” in which he says: “Social concern and activism must not cease, but proceed minus the religious aspect they have taken on. One can be fervently dedicated to improving the lot of black Americans without a purse-lipped, prosecutorial culture dedicated more to virtue signaling than to changing other people’s lives.
“Progressives can battle a War on Drugs that creates a black market that tempts too many poor black men into lives of crime. They can fight for free access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives for poor women and phonics-based reading instruction for kids from bookless homes. They can stand against Republican attempts to discourage the black vote via a sham concern for all-but-nonexistent voter fraud. The struggle must, and will, continue.
“But the black person essentially barred from the polls gains nothing from someone sagely attesting to their white privilege on Twitter and decrying that ‘no one wants to talk about race in this country’ when America is nothing less than obsessed with race week in and week out. One may consider President Trump a repulsive, bigoted excrescence without morally equating anyone who didn’t prioritize his racism enough to deny him their vote in 2016 with those who cheered a lynching 100 years before.”
This week, McWhorter appeared on “The Takeaway with Tanzina Vega.” The morning radio news program co-created and co-produced by Public Radio International and WNYC did a segment called, “Who Does the Acronym BIPOC Actually Serve?”
If you haven’t heard BIPOC yet, it stands for black, Indigenous and people of color, and is, according to Sandra E. Garcia’s June 17th story in The New York Times, “now ubiquitous in some corners of Twitter and Instagram.”
The story notes: “As a phrase, ‘people of color’ dates back centuries… and is often abbreviated as POC. The other two letters, for black and Indigenous, were included in the acronym to account for the erasure of black people with darker skin and Native American people.”
However, the story continues, “If the intention was to help spell it out, some aren’t getting the message. On social media, many assumed the term stood for ‘bisexual people of color.’ Others read it as ‘biopic,’ the shorthand for a biographical movie.”
N.B. If you noticed above that Times style calls for the capitalization of “Indiginous,” but not “black” — good observation. That may soon change. On June 19 — Juneteenth — The Associated Press, according to an announcement on its website, made a change to its style and will now capitalize both terms.
I am all for educating ourselves and recognizing distinct and diverse histories, cultures, and experiences. But with regard to acronyms like BIPOC, I think the most important question is one Vega asked McWhorter: “How much do you think these terms matter to the people they’re actually referring to?”
“To be honest, I think there’s often a disconnect between the conversations that we have — media people, academic people, college-town people — and other people, where labels evolve in perhaps a more organic fashion and aren’t looked at with such fine distinction. ‘People of Color,’ last time I heard, wasn’t good enough because it didn’t individualize various people of color enough and sounded ominously like ‘colored.’ So there are some problems there.
“But then I also worry about this idea that the new term BIPOC is wrong because it doesn’t individualize enough, because I think it’s natural to language that we genericize to an extent. So we say ‘plant’ and we’re not talking about roses versus daffodils versus maple trees. I’m not sure we can make an exception for that when it comes to groups of human beings.
“For example, there is a marvelous array of Indigenous/Native American communities in North and South America, so many different communities, but I wonder if it’s possible to have a way of referring to all of them that also gets into the individuality. We have to generalize to an extent.
“But then again I get the feeling these conversations that we’re having here often are quite different from the conversations that the vast majority of people involved in the name are having, or frankly — even though I’m indulging in the conversation myself — even consider significant.”
Vega replied, “I have to agree… I think there are conversations that are happening on social media and among the media ourselves… When I bring those issues to the people who aren’t in the media, they’re like, “What are you talking about?”
This is an exchange between a Latina woman and black man. They seem to agree that “the vast majority of people involved” don’t see these terms, or the debate around them, as particularly important.
Vega then asked McWhorter whether he saw the capitalization of both terms by the AP as a significant move. He replied frankly: “No.”
He continued: “I don’t have any problem with it. It feels natural to me. I’ve always kind of wanted to capitalize [Black] myself because it refers to a group of people with an identity and a history. And, so, sure, as far as I’m concerned, if you want to capitalize the ‘B,’ good, I’ll happily go along with it. I’ve always liked ‘Black’ as a term better than African-American, but that’s a whole different rant.
“But honestly, I’m more interested in ending the war on drugs and reforming the cops than in capitalizing a letter. I understand that surfaces matter. I understand that gestures matter…But it’s the more substantial things that I think will really change how race works in America.”
That seems to be Otis’s and Johnson’s point as well.
While I’m encouraged to see “left wing” media outlets, like The New Yorker and PRI, publishing and broadcasting voices that challenge the efficacy of books like “White Fragility” and terms like BIPOC —I continue to see the terrible damage the culty thinking is doing.
In this moment, it might feel really good to apologize for your “unconscious bias” or to come up with the next trendy phrase or acronym, but my fellow progressives need to think about unintended long-term consequences.
How good will it feel a year from now if capable leaders, educators, and students at progressive institutions all over the country start bailing because this stuff has gone so far off the rails?
What if the biggest supporters of those institutions start pulling out their money because they feel cancelled? What if those institutions become less diverse both in terms of ideas and demographics?
What if the evangelizing of “White Fragility” and “antiracism” results in true progressive allies turning away? Adopting more conservative points of view? Giving to more right-wing causes? Or, worst of all, voting for Donald Trump in the next election?
Don’t say it can’t happen because I’ve seen up close and personal that it is happening. And it will continue to happen until more people on the left, like me, stand up and speak out about how we must stop being so woke and wake up to the danger of worshipping at the altars of false gods when it comes to racial justice.