Robin’s Zugzwang

July 19, 2020 Category: Domestic Politics

Epilogue 3

It is incontrovertible that there are structural inequalities that exist along racial lines in the United States. (They exist for reasons that are obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.)  Given that all p.o.c. must be accorded the full compliment of civil rights, how are we to rectify this regrettable exigency?

Like anyone else, p.o.c. range from idiots to savants; and everything in between.  And, as with all other homo sapiens, they run the gamut from the morally dubious to the morally upstanding; and everything in between.  So the point is not to heed any p.o.c. whatever he / she happens to say.  Rather, it is to heed the words of those who demonstrate both erudition and rectitude.  This requires us to exercise sound judgement when considering any given point of view.

One person does another person no favors by lowering their standards in a gambit to ingratiate themselves.  Coddling is not a sign of respect…any more than is patting someone on the head and saying “Good boy/girl!”  Lip service accomplishes next to nothing; and often does more harm than good.

Robin DiAngelo seems not to understand any of this. She doesn’t recognize that one does not build multi-ethnic coalitions by pandering.  Alas. Between every cloying asseveration, Robin puts whiteness at the center of the universe, and fashions THAT as a viable way to attenuate the white privilege she sees around every corner.

Robin presents us with this game; and then maligns anyone who fails to play along.  Just as absurd, she is under the impression that scolding is somehow a means of edification.  Little does she realize: We cannot tsk-tsk-tsk our way to enlightenment. One cannot at the same time reach out to people and pillory them for chimerical crimes.

Let’s be clear: There is almost nothing more cringe-inducing than white Americans of high socio-economic status (which the majority of them did not earn) with a sense of entitlement.  It’s obnoxious.  It’s perfidious.  It’s grating.  But here’s the thing: The problem with structural inequality is not a scourge of IMPROPRIETY.  And one does not address such societal dysfunction by indiscriminately leveling accusations at every white bystander.  (As if to add to the perfidy, the message is: “If you disagree, you’re proving my point.  Your defensiveness is evidence of your guilt!”)

Robin’s double standards are risible: All white people must stop being “sensitive”…while all p.o.c. are encouraged to be as hyper-sensitive as possible.  This is Ms. DiAngelo’s recipe for inter-racial comity. According to this theory: Systemic racism would dissipate if only white people would stop being so darned psychically “fragile”. Paradoxically, Robin propounds this observation…even as she urges white people to be “vulnerable”.

The ramifications of this are made quite clear: Any white person should be indicted for racial biases the moment he / she exhibits any sign of “fragility” when the topic of UNIVERSAL white fragility is broached.  As a matter of course, Robin exhorts all white people to engage in “call out” / “call in” culture…as if one could somehow shame people into good will.  (Memo to Robin: Shame is an engine for compassion in roughly the same way that anxiety is an engine for serenity.)

It should go without saying: Seeing every human being first and foremost in terms of racial category is NEVER a good idea.

But this is how Robin insists we perceive the world. This has a slew of daffy repercussions. As far as Robin is concerned, the movie, “The Blind Side” is…RACIST.  What?  Well, you see, the story reinforces black stereotypes and is therefore (covertly) “anti-black”.  Never mind that the film is based on ACTUAL EVENTS; and was produced by an African American: Broderick Johnson.  Robin’s take-away from this inspiring film is that that the only value Michael Oher (an aspiring football player) had was his ability to generate money for the NFL…and entertain white people.  Never mind that it is ROBIN who is cashing in on racial stereotypes.  And never mind that Leigh Anne Tuohy ADOPTED Michael, and soon came to care about him–nay, came to LOVE him: seeing him, above all else, as a member of her family.

The ironies here are mind-numbing. Only through the grotesquely contorted racialist lens that Robin employs could anyone possibly be so captious about such a heart-warming story. 

If Robin wants an example of what racial comity looks like, she might consider looking to Leigh Anne Tuohy.  As things currently stand, Robin isn’t half the human that Anne is. All Robin has left to do, then, is project her own white savior complex onto everyone else who ACTUALLY IS making a difference; and scoff at them for it.

So what’s really going on here?  It’s hard to say for sure. Robin’s overtures are–if nothing else–a sop to the “woke” commentariat, who plaudits she covets (for her own ego as well as for her own wallet).  Her preachments–boorish, petty, shallow, and spurious–may seem sagacious to the naive; and extolled by the self-appointed constables of political correctness; but they are dismaying to those of us who have actually spent significant amounts of time living amongst p.o.c.; and genuinely care about them.

But this isn’t about expanding one’s sphere of empathy (to the person next door, let alone to encompass all mankind). Human solidarity is inimical to Robin’s perfidious approach to race relations.  She exhorts us to be aware; but for her, awareness is artifice–some oleaginous thing.  This isn’t just a matter of being intermittently skittish; it’s about being chronically churlish.  It’s amity via acrimony.  Harmony via discord.  And so we have Robin’s audience standing aghast when a caucasian happens not to laugh at a p.o.c.’s joke.  For, you see, racial bias is the only feasible explanation for such an infelicitous event.  That cursed caucasian–heedless of the discomfiture he has wrought by his humorlessness–must be rebuked: scolded for is insolence. This is how Robin brings people together.

And so it goes: Shaming bystanders for frivolous transgressions is the name of the game.  But we must wonder: Is this the best way to unleash the better angels of our nature?  To tap into our shared humanity?  To forge human bonds across ethnic divides?

Apparently. For Robin, the best defense is a robust offense.  So being irritable isn’t enough; one must be captious.  Sowing resentment will make systemic racism go away.

The problems with Robin’s approach should seem obvious to anyone with even a modicum of common decency. Etiquette does nothing to help one see the humanity in another; it merely behooves one to POSTURE.  After all, political correct-ness is entirely performative.  It’s about putting on airs; keeping up appearances; telegraphing to bystanders that one is “with the program”.  This is moral dereliction masquerading as “woke”.  For propriety isn’t probity.  Virtue signaling, it turns out, requires no ACTUAL virtue.

Robin thinks she’s doing society a favor by exhorting all white people to be assiduously unctuous in every quotidian interaction with p.o.c.  The irony is that she ENGAGES IN prejudice in a gambit to ATTENUATE prejudice.  Put another way: She deigns to expose certain biases by amplifying other biases.

Good things rarely happen when we focus more on our differences than on what we have in common.  While it is important to celebrate diversity, it is also important to begin from a recognition of our shared humanity.  For without that recognition, everything else–no matter how well-intentions–is built on vapor.

In the end, this boneheaded “anti-racism” crusade is far more about Robin than it is about anyone else.  She essentially proclaims: “I’m racist, therefore ALL white people must be racist; even if covertly.”  She blithely avers that anti-p.o.c. bias INHERES in every caucasian soul; because, as far as she can see, THAT is the best way to mitigate racism.

Robin treats every human interaction as theater, as if socio-economic justice were somehow rooted in the way that people comport themselves.  So, according to her, the primary vehicle for racial bias is faulty DECORUM.  It makes sense, then, that the pageant virtue signaling in which she urges non-p.o.c. to participate is little more than bouts of performative indignation.  It’s activism as theatrics.  Such pageantry is integral to carrying out Robin’s program of DE-whitening.

It is no secret that some of the most pedestrian social norms are based in such things as misogyny, homophobia, and racism.  It does not follow that everyone who blithely participates in those social norms are themselves guilty of those iniquities.  To see toxicity in every anodyne gesture does nothing to ameliorate the severe socio-economic injustices that (undeniably) exist.  It’s very difficult to take bold stands–or do anything to make a difference–while walking on eggshells.

For p.o.c. and non-p.o.c. alike, Robin encourages hyper-sensitivity to even the most frivolous of transgressions, as if dyspepsia were a gateway to empathy.  Little does she realize: Shaming people for being born a certain way is NEVER justified.  And aggravation rarely leads to harmony.

Robin uses racialist vernacular as a matter of course—peppering her asseverations with phrases like “white dynamic” and “white experience” and “white voice” and “white frame of reference” and “white worldview”.  It’s as if addressing white privilege (which tragically exists with far too many non-p.o.c.) can best be accomplished by employing gross generalizations.  (She even posits a “white collective”, as if the world’s Anglo-Saxons were like the Borg.)  So far as Robin is concerned, the only identity that really matters is GROUP identity, a surefire recipe for the perpetuation of tribalistic thinking.

Robin indicts all non-p.o.c. for reciting from the same ol’ script.  Her solution to this is to assign everyone a NEW script to recite.  Recourse to an innate moral intuition?  Universal moral principles?  Human solidarity?  Bah humbug.  EVERYTHING stems from socialization.  What’s all this based on?  Well, you see, Robin claims to have observed a “reflex” in all white people (in the entire world, I guess?) that incriminates them; rendering them IPSO FACTO culpable in all anti-p.o.c. racism.  What are we to make of this bold assertion?

Robin seems to think being divisive is a way of being constructive.  Making gross generalizations about ANY group of people–especially according to racial category–is objectionable.  It takes a kind of hallucinatory gall to glibly do so about “black” people AND “white” people…while pretending that one is doing something to vitiate racialist thinking.  Quite the contrary: Robin’s hyper-racialist pontification only serves to keep race-based alterity IN TACT.  As (African American) linguistics professor, John McWhorter (Columbia University) put itin a piece he did for The Atlantic in July 2020, Robin has taught non-p.o.c. “how to be racist in a whole new way.”

It is no secret that institutionalized prejudice is a telltale sign that inequity is afoot.  What’s incredible is that Robin’s (purportedly) anti-racist program is ENTIRELY COMPRISED of prejudices.  According to her logic, one expands the sphere of empathy by being tendentious (as if being petty was the best way to foster good will).  We’re asked to believe that JUST the right combination of posturing and histrionics will somehow, someday, magically generate awareness about structural inequalities along racial lines…rather than, well, just annoying the majority of bystanders.  Rather than generate awareness, Robin ends up distracting people from much-needed focus on REAL solutions to the problems she pretends to care about.

This is worse than hawking snake-oil that does nothing; it’s hawking an irritability-booster to alleviate racial biases.  Want to engender trans-racial fellowship?  BE MORE CHURLISH.  Want to eradicate racial divisions?  BE MORE CAPTIOUS.  This is the perfidy of Robin’s zugzwang.

From whence did this inordinate fixation on race come?  It is certainly not warranted by the recognition that racism—nay, SYSTEMIC racism—has been a key factor in socio-economic injustices that disproportionately impact p.o.c.  Common sense makes that incontrovertible.  Rather, it seems to have something to do with (what has come to be known as) “critical race theory”.  CRT began as an offshoot of Critical Theory (that is: it was Critical Theory with special focus on racial issues).  The theory—developed, in part, by Derrick Bell during the 1980’s—was relatively straight-forward: American culture was fraught with so much anti-p.o.c. racism because racism had become institutionalized: effectively baked into social norms.  In other words: racial inequalities were largely the result of STRUCTURAL inequalities.  Hence, many of the ad hoc measures being taken to promote civil rights failed to alter the underlying machinery that accounts for the socio-economic injustices that disproportionately impact p.o.c.  This was simply an attempt to elucidate the structural inequalities that existed along racial lines.  After all, critical theory was about how power structures impact how we perceive the world; and thus how we behave.

Since Bell’s death in 2011, however, CRT has undergone an odd mutation; and is now a vulgar distortion of Critical Theory. (More on Critical Theory in Epilogue 6.) It is now a marked departure the spirit of the civil rights movement embodied by Martin Luther King Jr.  The contention NOW is that anti-black racism is ENDEMIC TO American culture—and thus PERMEATES American culture to its very core; and is thus inextricable from the very existence of the United States.  Consequently, even all the civil rights activism in the world will never succeed in remedying the problem.  This derangement is so severe that proponents could look at a jar of mayonnaise and see White Supremacy.  Hidden agendas are thought to be everywhere—behind every innocuous gesture, behind every offhand remark.

Thus we are admonished to suspect some sinister scheme lurking beneath the quotidian activities of our daily lives.  When one is determined to see subliminal signs of X everywhere, then one will soon discover that one will, indeed, see subliminal signs of X everywhere.  Orange-tinted glasses, whether optical or ideological, will guarantee that everything appears to be orange.  Accusations of “racism” are deployed with abandon, and the term becomes vitiated to the point of nullity.

And so it goes: Any hiccup in a bystander’s psychical equilibrium is catastrophized.  Even a fleeting moment of discomfiture is treated as a micro-cataclysm; its purported cause a micro-aggression.  (We encounter a similar phenomenon when, say, an unwelcome glance is characterized as a form of “sexual assault”, and is put on par with rape.)  Participants in this zany charade make a vocation out of being offended; then proceed with their next witch-burning campaign.  Scarlet letters are assigned with promiscuity, and shame becomes a social currency: a system of debits and credits (depending upon who is doing the shaming and who is being shamed).  By participating in her recommended program, people can’t help but enter into any interaction with a chip on their shoulder, thereby exacerbating the very divisions from which the inequities arose in the first place.

We wind up with a cottage industry of offense-taking, which—as Robin DiAngelo reminds us—can be extremely lucrative.  The result of all this is a round-robin of endless recriminations; and—all the while—nothing is done about structural inequalities, least of all those that exist along racial lines.  Socio-economic inequalities persist…even as everyone is adjured to never offend each other.

To be clear, the zany form of CRT is anti-Marxian; as it proceeds from a race-obsessed identity politics—something that is completely inimical to Marxian ideals.  Marx’s primary concern was socio-economic stratification.  Indeed, the spirit behind a socialist commune is that IT DOESN’T MATTER who one is (ethnographically); as we are all part of the same human family.  (In other words, we’re all in this together.) Marx, more than anyone else, realized that power structures exist regardless of who happens to be offended by what.

So WHAT OF that nebulous, inborn affliction called “whiteness”?  And what, exactly, would it mean to be “less white”?  Dancing better?  Using poor grammar?  Any answer invariably devolves into racist tropes (against non-p.o.c. in some cases, against p.o.c. in the others).  Robin takes certain dysfunctions found amongst non-p.o.c., and posits them as racial markers.  It’s as if white people who are conceited and self-absorbed were simply being too “white”.

So non-p.o.c. are exhorted to exorcise their “whiteness”, purging themselves of demons they were—one and all—given from childhood.  And—here’s the key—they were inculcated with these demons via the only power in the universe: socialization.  We are thus presented with a modern-day version of the exorcism; just replace medieval priests with propounders of critical race theory.  This seems to make sense once we assume that everything under the sun is just a social construct.

Countenancing such pablum requires one to suppose that hubris inheres in all white people and/or that deficiencies inhere in all black people.  For example, some say that being “less white” in America means not articulating oneself adeptly in Standard American English–as if being well-spoken (using proper elocution / diction, having impeccable grammar, or availing oneself of scholarly exposition) were things of which only WHITE people were capable.  Hence being “less white” entails that a person–black OR white–be sloppy with pronunciation, or allow oneself to slip into shoddy grammar, or deliberately refrain from employing advanced vocabulary.

This is not only fatuous; it is mendacious.  It is a semiotic swindle that both fetishizes whiteness while derogating blackness…in the name of attenuating whiteness.  Using such traits as signifiers for RACE perpetuates the very stereotypes that we’re supposed to be overcoming.

Socio-economic injustices that disproportionally impact p.o.c. are ameliorated not by expunging the bogeyman of “white fragility” from the universe; they are ameliorated by re-configuring institutions.  Doing so entails structural change (that is: change on an institutional, not a personal, level); something that is primarily done via concrete public policy initiatives (e.g. effecting universal public healthcare).  No seminars required.

Taking appropriate measures (like, say, ensuring universal access to high-quality public education and ending iniquitous incarceration protocols) does not require treating p.o.c. like simpletons who are in need of 24/7 cozening.  One does not empower someone by incessantly pandering to them.  Anyone who is serious about significant change will be focusing on, say, curbing the stratospheric budget of the (obscenely bloated) military-industrial complex, and re-allocating those funds to real solutions.  Reciting pieties ’til the cows come home will do nothing to fix institutional racism.

Those who aren’t genuinely concerned with virtue, or solving problems, or even having a serious discussion, are inclined to jump at the chance to be validated by like-minded peers…while glibly patting themselves on the back for being “woke”.  (The enticing thing about virtue-signaling is that it affords one the opportunity to congratulate oneself for being chastened.)  The rest of us are left to clean up the mess they leave behind.

In the meantime, Robin and her ilk will continue raking in money as they convened more over-priced workshops, each of which is a weird cross between an AA meeting, an Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate”, and a Maoist struggle session.  During these daffy play-acting confabs, those who are eager to show the world how “anti-racist” they are are afforded a golden chance to peacock.  During that time, no genuine human connection is forged; but everyone is reminded of one of two things: how ashamed of themselves they should be (if a non-p.o.c.) or how resentful of others they should be (if a p.o.c.)

Question for Robin: Is it possible to be a good person and white?  Robin seems to grapple with this question in the most ham-fisted of ways; and, in the end, only ends up being condescending to those she claims to uplift.  (But no one is expected to notice, you see, because everyone’s enjoined to keep up appearances.)

We might also recall the fundamental epistemological problems with Robin’s moralizing.  She seems to not apprehend the ideal of objectivity; for which she erects more straw men to set ablaze.  As she sees things, the problem with objectivity is that nobody can ever achieve it to perfection, as all humans have biases.  No shit.  Somebody should inform Robin that objectivity is something we STRIVE for, knowing—all the while—that our approach is inevitably asymptotic.  (Memo to Robin: Just because we cannot meet a standard PERFECTLY does not mean we shouldn’t shoot for it.)  So, according to Robin, due to the fact that nobody could ever possibly be completely impartial, the solution is to simply BE MORE partial.  Presto!  Racism is defeated with some dour hand-wringing.

In addition to committing the elementary mistake of confusing causation with correlation (discussed earlier), Robin proceeds to confuse objectivity (an admirable epistemic ideal) with neutrality (a rhetorical cop-out).  Does 2+2 = 4 or 6?  Let’s just say 5 and call it a day.  This is a reminder that dissimulation is often passed off as diplomacy.  But that’s okay.  For Robin, this isn’t about seeking Truth (there’s no objectivity, remember); it’s about putting on airs.

It’s all about optics.

So what’s the connection between Robin’s peculiar fetishization of group identity and her contempt for objectivity?  She explains herself thus: “Tackling group identity also challenges our belief in objectivity.”  How so?  “If group membership is relevant [which, per Robin, it MUST be], then we don’t see the world from the universal human perspective.”  So much for cosmopolitanism and universal principles and all that.  The only alternative, then, is seeing the world (and fellow human beings) “from the perspective of a particular kind of human.”  So far as Robin is concerned, we have no choice but to see the world through a tribal lens.

She then insinuates that having a racial viewpoint ISN’T to be biased; it’s just being realistic.  So non-bias is derided while certain biases are seen as estimable.  And there we have it: In addition to setting a Kafka trap for every non-p.o.c. on the planet, Robin makes everyone characters in her own Kafka-esque farce.  It’s enough to give one semiotic vertigo.

Some grifters peddle serums.  Others peddle crystals.  Robin peddles a numinous “anti-whiteness” as the cure-all for an affliction that she sees around every corner.  (To reiterate: It’s not that SOME white people have a sense of entitlement; it’s that TO BE white is to have a sense of entitlement.)

In the title of her book, Robin asks (rhetorically) why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.  The question answers itself: It ACTUALLY IS hard to talk about racism.  Yet talking about racism come all-too-easy for Robin; and THAT should be cause for suspicion.  It’s NOT SUPPOSED TO BE easy to talk about such things.  They are complicated, difficult topics.  And comporting ourselves differently does nothing to address the underlying societal dysfunctions that abet socio-economic injustices.  Power structures don’t care about poor manners.  In fact, they often subsist under the pretext of congeniality.

As she continues to posture, Robin indiscriminately casts aspersions at anyone who has the gall to breach the protocols that she has proclaimed sacrosanct; thus gas-lighting anyone who is caucasian…while pitying p.o.c. at the same time.  Consequently, she manages to engage in perfidy from two different angels, simultaneously.  By weaponizing etiquette, she guarantees that we will miss the forest for each leaf on each tree.

When she isn’t busy clutching her pearls, Robin may want to check out W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls Of Black Folk” or the essays of James Baldwin…or perhaps even opt to live in a working class black neighborhood for a few years. She’ll quickly learn that one does a marginalized group no favors by patronizing them.

Instead of wagging her finger at everyone else, Robin may want to start educating herself. Want a non-divisive approach to mitigating systemic racism?  Look to Heather McGhee’s new book, “The Sum Of Us”.  McGhee doesn’t talk about white people having to expunge their ineffable “whiteness” in order to combat structural inequalities across racial lines.  Rather, she focuses on solidarity: coming together and forging bonds based on our shared humanity.  That is the approach we to which we should all aspire.  Because THAT is what ultimately matters.

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