“Racist” for attacking white people and #notallmen and generalised stuff

And interesting take on an attempt to discredit the appointment of Sarah Jeong at the New York Times who has been attacked for historic tweets saying “white men are bullshit” and “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” others say these statements were parodies of hate received online as an Asian woman.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox:  In defense of Sarah Jeong

Conservatives are up in arms over the New York Times’s latest hire: a tech writer named Sarah Jeong whom they allege to be racist against white people.

Jeong, who currently works at the Vox Media site The Verge, was hired by the Times editorial board to work on technology issues. On Thursday, shortly after the hire was announced, conservative publications dug up old tweets of hers containing statements like “white men are bullshit” and “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

The campaign to use these tweets to get her fired seems to have failed. The Times issued a statement saying that Jeong had meant these tweets satirically — a parody of the hate she has received online as an Asian woman — and that they were standing by her.

But to some conservatives, like National Review’s David French and New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan, Jeong’s tweets are bigger than her: They reveal a rot in the progressive movement, that “social justice warriors” have become totally okay with racism so long as it’s directed at white people.

“The neo-Marxist analysis of society, in which we are all mere appendages of various groups of oppressors and oppressed, and in which the oppressed definitionally cannot be at fault, is now the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media,” Sullivan writes. “That’s how … the New York Times can hire and defend someone who expresses racial hatred.” (Note: The liberal media is not neo-Marxist.)

Both his piece and French’s misunderstand what racism is and how the so-called “social justice left” approaches the world — and the anti-Jeong vitriol you’ve seen from the right speaks more to its failings on race than it does anything about Jeong.

The basic thrust of both Sullivan and French’s argument is that if you subbed in any group other than “white people” for what Jeong wrote, then it would be obviously offensive. “#cancelblackpeople probably wouldn’t fly at the New York Times, would it?” Sullivan asks, rhetorically.

The only reason lefties aren’t offended by this obvious race-based hatred, the argument goes, is that they see the world entirely through the lens of power. Since whites as a class have it, minorities by definition cannot harbor racist attitudes toward them.

The problem here, though, is assuming that Jeong’s words were meant literally: that when Jeong wrote “#cancelwhitepeople,” for example, she was literally calling for white genocide. Or when she said “white men are bullshit,” she meant each and every white man is the human equivalent of bull feces. This is expressly Sullivan’s position: He calls her language “eliminationist,” a term most commonly used to describe Nazi rhetoric referring to Jews during the Holocaust.

To anyone who’s even passingly familiar with the way the social justice left talks, this is just clearly untrue.

“White people” is a shorthand in these communities, one that’s used to capture the way that many whites still act in clueless and/or racist ways. It’s typically used satirically and hyperbolically to emphasize how white people continue to benefit (even unknowingly) from their skin color, or to point out the ways in which a power structure that favors white people continues to exist.

I get that white people who aren’t familiar might find this discomforting.

I suspect that it isn’t this simple.

Maybe ‘anti-white’ and ‘anti-male’ comments are at times ‘used satirically and hyperbolically’, but I also think that some do actually believe the satire and hyperbole to be how things actually are, and attacks on white people and males can be exactly that, ‘us versus them’ type attacks.

What makes these quasi-satirical generalizations about “white people” different from actual racism is, yes, the underlying power structure in American society. There is no sense of threat associated with Jeong making a joke about how white people have dog-like opinions. But when white people have said the same about minorities, it has historically been a pretext for violence or justification for exclusionary politics.

This is why Sullivan’s use of “eliminationist” to describe Jeong’s words is, to my mind, particularly ill-chosen.

Maybe, but it’s complicated.

Jeong’s tweets, in context, clearly fit this type of rhetoric. When she writes “dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” she is not, as Sullivan accuses her of doing, “equat[ing whites] with animals.” Rather, she is commenting on the ubiquity of (often uniformed) white opinion on social media — a way of pointing out how nonwhite voices often don’t appear or get drowned out in social media discourse.

I’m a male, and I’m a ‘white person’, and I feel that my opinions are ‘drowned out in social media discourse’. I feel like I’m a minority of one – and in social media in particular I have very little power, and my words certainly have far less power than many others. But this may be straying from the thrust of the article.

I want to close on some more recent history: a similar debate that happened online in 2014.

The issue then was gender. A number of feminist writers had a habit of writing about “men” on social media without qualification like “most” or “the majority of.” This was partly for simplicity’s sake, and partly to point out how widespread a lot of sexist practices are.

I call bullshit on this, especially saying it is “for simplicity’s sake” – I think that generalisations are often either lazy or intended as blanket criticism.

And while ‘a lot of sexist practices’ and other negative practices may seem to widespread, that doesn’t mean that a majority of  the generalised majority are guilty of these practices, nor approve of them, nor remain silent about their opposition or disapproval.

This led to a lot of responses from men they didn’t know, saying something along the lines of “not all men are sexist, and you’re the real sexist for saying they are.” National Review, French’s publication, published an entire column making a basically similar argument.

The feminist writers responded that this was a distraction. It was obvious they weren’t talking about literally every man in context, and it was clear these men were butting in on conversations about gender to derail them with a pointlessly persnickety objection rather than dealing with the substantive conversation about sexism. So the feminist writers responded by turning the phrase “not all men” into a point of mockery, using it as an example of men sidetracking feminist arguments that made them uncomfortable.

The feminists won this argument; today, feminists still complain about “men,” and “not all men” is mostly used as a punchline rather than a serious argument. But the conservative responses to Jeong boil down, essentially, to the same thing: They’re saying “not all white people” are bad and Jeong is a racist for implying that they are.

My guess is, a few years down the road, we’ll remember the Jeong episode in roughly the same way we remember the #NotAllMen controversy today.

I think differently about this.

I think there’s a real danger that by using generalised ‘men’ and ‘white people’ rhetoric, and ridiculing ‘not all men’ and ‘not all white people’, that activists for change are alienating many people who would support positive change but get annoyed by being blamed for things they are barely if at all responsible for.

Of course not all social justice warriors resort to generalised attacks.

 

“Whiteness”, decolonisation and dumping capitalism

Max Harris writes about Racism and White Defensiveness in Aotearoa: A Pākehā Perspective

More accurately that should be ‘one Pākehā’s perspective’.

I want to talk about an aspect of whiteness in Aotearoa New Zealand. And when I say “whiteness”, I’m not just talking about skin colour. I’m talking about the power, privilege, and patterns of thinking associated with white people.

I think that there are a wide variety of ‘patterns of thinking associated with white people’ – whatever ‘white people’ means.

Whiteness is connected to economic power and class — and is probably least understood by those it privileges. Most white people seem blind to its existence, while most non-white people are not.

Sweeping generalisations. Harris speaks for himself, fair enough, but not for ‘white people’. He doesn’t back up his ‘most white people’ and ‘most non-white people’ claims.

I think for those of us who identify as Pākehā, or grew up in Pākehā-dominant spaces, there’s a special responsibility to strive to be aware of our own advantages in Aotearoa New Zealand.

While I have no problems with the term Pākehā I don’t identify as Pākehā. I identify as a New Zealander. I don’t think I have any special responsibilities based on someone else’s pigeon holing of me.

White advantage is maintained in many ways: through intergenerational wealth, discretionary decision-making, and everyday racism.

Some people may take advantage of racial privileges – and not just ‘white people’.

One aspect of how racism is talked about in Aotearoa is white defensiveness in response to discussions of racism. By white defensiveness, I mean an anxiety, closing-down, and insecurity among white people and white-dominated institutions when racism is raised.

Perhaps some people feel some of those things. I don’t.

I see at least four types of white defensiveness.

First, there’s Denial: kneejerk responses that attempt to deny that there is racism, rather than taking claims seriously or considering its roots.

The second type of white defensiveness is Diversion. This is where, in instances in which facts about racism or colonisation are raised, the conversation is derailed through a claim that Māori themselves are guilty of some other wrong.

A third form of defensiveness is Detriment-centring. That’s where there’s a focus on the disadvantages faced by Māori, but without any acknowledgment of the advantages or protective factors which flow from being Pākehā.

The fourth form of defensiveness is the demand to Move on. This is where defensive demands are made for discussions about racism to end.

Let’s move on this discussion.

This discussion isn’t meant to demonise white people, or Pākehā, either. It’s about being honest and open about our advantages — and thinking about how to dismantle the system that produces them.

Dismantle the system?

Pākehā people can, and should, remain proud of our heritage and roots. But we also need to be aware of the injustices of the past and present, and how we may have contributed to them.

One very valid question is how all this relates to class and New Zealand’s system of capitalism.

Dismantle the system of capitalism?

We need to talk more about class in this country — to speak back to another lamentable and longstanding myth that we are somehow class-free. Fortunately, a new generation of activists in New Zealand is breathing fresh life into that conversation.

I think that class in a new Zealand perspective is a largely different different thing – I wouldn’t call it an issue.

There’s a need to support Māori-led efforts at decolonisation: the process of understanding and undoing the negative effects of colonisation, and recentring indigenous views.

Decolonisation? Harris doesn’t explain what that might entail.

We all must also push for a different economic order, given the way that the twin forces of capitalism and colonisation have amplified the power of whiteness.

He associates capitalism with whiteness – it is not just white people around the world who have benefited substantially from capitalism, and who continue to benefit from it, despite it’s shortcomings.

Harris seems to be suggesting dismantling ‘colonisation’ and capitalism.

Dismantling systems of oppression, including those based on race and class, is important for the powerful as well as the powerless.

While this is an interesting discussion there is a major omission.

Dismantling colonisation, capitalism and systems of oppression are a big deal.

But Harris makes no attempt to explain how this dismantling would happen, who would decide what is dismantled and how, nor what would take their place.

Many things in our world and our country are imperfect, but dismantling your house, or dismantling your country, must be retrograde steps unless you have somewhere else you can live.

It’s all very well to pile on ‘white people’ guilt, and to condemn colonisation and capitalism, but without any attempt at viable alternatives it seems to be a half cocked argument.

Like our form of democracy both colonisation and capitalism have some crap aspects, but they remain worse than everything but all the alternatives – unless perhaps Harris can suggest something better.