… sincere activism and playacting, out of a desire to join the civil rights struggle in a time when the problems are so much more abstract than they once were.
The true fault here lies with the school’s administration, whose deer tails popped up as they bolted into the forest, out of a fear of going against the commandments of what we today call antiracism, which apparently includes treating Black people as simpletons and thinking of it as reckoning.
True wokeness would have been to awaken to the tricky but urgent civic responsibility of, when necessary, calling out Black people on nonsense. Yes, even Black people can be wrong. As the Black professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law puts it in his upcoming “Say It Loud!”: “Blacks, too, have flaws, sometimes glaringly so. These weaknesses may be the consequence of racist mistreatment. But they are weaknesses nonetheless.” To pretend this is never the case where racism is concerned is not to reckon but to dehumanize.
I know — you thought, based on what people of a certain charisma are telling you, that the idea is that where race or racism is concerned, Black people are always right. What matters is not what someone meant, but how the (Black) person says he or she feels about it. Anything less is blaming the victim.
The problem is that to subscribe to this etiquette requires consideration beyond what logic dictates. For example, according to the tenets of critical race theory that has such influence on so many these days, each Black person represents a race-wide narrative of oppression that we need to think about regardless of pesky details such as empiricism or even coherence. Or perhaps Black infallibility is just complicated?
Right. All of us, on some level, know that this is nonsense, and readers who think I am making this point only to white people are quite mistaken. I mean all of us. Neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor redlining renders a people’s judgment of where racism has reared its head infallible.
Treating a people with dignity requires not only listening closely and sympathetically to their grievances, but being able to take a deep breath and call them on aspects of those grievances that don’t make sense. And there will be some, unless those airing the grievance are fictional creations instead of human beings.
On race, we should assess, look ahead rather than backward, channel our thoughts and feelings with cortex rather than brain stem, think slow rather than fast — and the notion that this counsel is “white” is science fiction. That goes for both protesters as well as those whom they protest at. Instead, too much of what passes as enlightenment on race these days involves merely pretending that something makes sense out of fear.
How, then, might one live an authentically anti-racist life? In my view, the crucial first step is to renounce the scapegoat mechanism, which has been an important driver of white identity politics and of white radicalization. This requires serious self-reflection and the development of habits that make for peace. That is, it requires the cultivation of virtue.
Musa al-Gharbi argues that “the most meaningful act of resistance to systemic racism would be for its primary beneficiaries to seek ways to give of themselves… rather than attempting to blame, coerce, cajole or expropriate from others under the auspices of anti-racism.” Such an “ascetic anti-racism” is at once simpler and far more demanding than anything on offer from Robin DiAngelo. Anyone desiring to live an authentic, rather than performative, anti-racism should take al-Gharbi’s recommendations to heart — and then make mulch out of books like White Fragility, which have only served to poison our culture.