Robin’s Zugzwang

July 19, 2020 Category: Domestic Politics

Epilogue 4

As we’ve seen, Robin’s speciality is inserting wedges into extant social fissures.  She urges us to draw florescent fault lines where none exist. The idea is that we may then point to them and sound the alarm.  It’s as if one could somehow expose all that undergirds structural inequalities (specifically, those that exist along racial lines) by sowing suspicion.

This approach is based on a heuristic of verging neurosis, whereby everything is seen through a racial lens.  This leads one to conclude that all socio-economic injustice is due to racism. *  It’s not.

Not all structural inequality is along racial lines; yet we’re asked to pretend that it only exists due to racial inequality.  Per the DiAngelo approach, critical race theory (that is: critical theory with a focus on race) mandates that we see racism everywhere.  Thus every instance of (perceived) unfairness vis a vis a p.o.c. is IPSO FACTO due to racism.  Consequently, one is forced to pretend that no other reasons exist for unfair treatment whenever a p.o.c. happen to be involved.  This is absurd. ** Making race the primary—let alone, the sole—explanatory category for socio-economic injustice is not just erroneous; it risks worsening the very problems one purports to be solving.

An ideology of ascribed differences should not trump a recognition of (actual) commonalities—most fundamentally: our shared humanity.  (See my essay on the Universality Of Morality.) Of course, race is a significant aspect of socio-economic stratification in societies where there are power asymmetries rooted in disparities along racial lines; and marginalization occurs along racial lines in different contexts.  But this is not EVERY aspect of socio-economic stratification.  There are important reasons that there are many NON-p.o.c. with lower social status and/or of a lower (economic) class.  To obfuscate this, as Robin and her acolytes routinely do, only serves to inhibit endeavors to address the gamut of socio-economic injustices (spec. issues of class).

Pretending that EVERYTHING can be boiled down to racial identity, and that race-based politics is THE ONLY way to effect socio-economic justice, ends up sabotaging Progressive causes (i.e. causes that seek to remedy socio-economic injustices through structural change).  Consequently, the “it’s all about race” tac is worse than unproductive; it is counter-productive.

Robin may want to remind herself of how (actual) racism works.  For racists, white-ness or black-ness or any other X-ness (where X is a perceived racial category) is caricatured according to a set of racial stereotypes—whether X can be either endogenous (in which case it is exalted) or exogenous (in which case it is derogated).  As a matter of course, any given X is (eventually) rendered a kind of INSTITUTION—replete with a (oft manufactured) legacy and an (oft fantastical) destiny.  This is a problem.  Identity politics is NEVER a good thing; and invariably leads to in-group / out-group thinking: the source of the very societal dysfunction we are trying to address.

In mapping racial inequities from the macro (institutional) level to the micro (personal) level, Robin urges us to frame every interaction as (potentially) adversarial; and so to treat any inter-racial encounter as a contentious encounter.  Thus everything—from the grandest structures to the most quotidian exchanges—is about power asymmetry; and every power asymmetry is based on race.  This goes for things like red-lining or incarceration rates (which are institutional); but it also goes for inter-personal relations.  So every interaction is a PREDICAMENT; and is consequently about negotiating what—invariably—is a racially-charged CONFRONTATION.

By ascribing the worst possible motives to every off-hand remark, every gesture, we are all enjoined to be churlish rather than to engender amity.

Another problem arises from the DiAngelo approach: Socio-economic elites who want to masquerade as enlightened are eager to embrace Robin’s specious creed for reasons that are more perfidious than estimable. It furnishes them with an opportunity to telegraph to the world that they are “woke” …without having to actually do anything to change the defective power structures with which they are ostensibly concerned.  In reality, casting everything exclusively in terms of race is a diversion from ALL THE OTHER REASONS structural inequalities exist—including structural inequalities that exist along racial lines.  So a company need only hold a “diversity training” seminar, and the corporate executives can congratulate themselves for a job well done.  (They may not support universal healthcare or agree with getting money out of politics.  But, hey!  At least nobody will be offended by an uncouth remark.  Mission accomplished.)  By simply hiring some “advisor” to conduct a workshop on “racial sensitivity”, they wash their hands of any culpability in the abiding socio-economic injustices.

Such theatrics effectively serve a prophylactic against GENUINELY Progressive measures (regarding structural change)–measures that would fundamentally alter the incumbent power structures.  Virtue signaling elides the fact that a sanitized vernacular, a milquetoast sense of humor, and carefully vetted phraseology do absolutely nothing to address the root causes of socio-economic injustice, which—rest assured—is not caused by a dearth of propriety.  The notion that structural inequalities exist because of POOR ETIQUETTE is preposterous.  And the suggestion that racial injustices can be eradicated by WEAPONIZING etiquette is downright insane.

But the question remains: Why has this grift been as commercially successful as it has?  Surely, there aren’t THAT many unctuous popinjays anxious to telegraph their “anti-racist” bona fides to the world.

Robin’s schtick holds significant appeal for non-p.o.c. who are hankering to signal their ersatz “virtue” to the world…without having to actually do anything virtuous.  But it also holds appeal to p.o.c. who have been hamstrung by WASPs who exhibit an obnoxious sense of entitlement and are utterly heedless of the structural inequalities from which they routinely benefit.  Indeed, p.o.c. who have encountered this time and time again are—understandably—fed up.  So Robin’s pablum comes off as a breath of fresh air.  Those who are aggrieved can readily map her indictments onto their own experiences, and declare: “Ah! Well, at least SHE gets it.”

But she really doesn’t.  Her concern is limited to episodes in which offense was taken (due to, say, a lack of tact on the part of the alleged culprit).  Such infelicitous interludes do not necessarily indicate personal–let alone systemic–racism. Nevertheless, Robin encourages p.o.c. to posit subconscious biases; then to map such transgressions (often isolated incidents) onto ALL interactions with non-p.o.c., and see every quotidian encounter through the lens of racial confrontation. Each encounter, then, is not an opportunity for human connection; it is a queue to find chimerical subtext that reveals “white privilege”: the mentality that enables the continuation of socio-economic injustices along racial lines.

So how does this boondoggle work?  The claim is that ALL white people—simply by dint of being white—are complicit in the on-going structural inequalities that disadvantage many p.o.c. (never mind the structural inequalities that disadvantage NON-p.o.c.)  And—as if that brazen proposition weren’t risible enough—the directive is for all of us to judge others by the color of their skin.  (So much for the entreaties of Martin Luther King Jr.)

Robin makes the presupposition that all people of a given race have a congenital pre-disposition that serves—often unwittingly—to perpetuate an institutional (as opposed to individual) racism.  This complicity, she insists, INHERES IN the condition of white-ness.  In other words: It is a cast of mind that is inseparable from one’s racial identity.  So the prognosis is as follows: White people can only solve problems of racial injustice by committing to a lifelong program of being less “white” (whatever that means).

What is this contention based upon?

Well, it starts out with some valid observations: Structural inequalities exist along racial lines (whereby some white people benefit simply by dint of their being white).  This is, in part, due to enculturation—which is to say: biases that have been deeply ingrained in virtually everyone (non-p.o.c. and p.o.c. alike) over the generations.  Some of those biases are reinforced by prevailing social norms (as well as by the underlying architecture of our institutions).  Amongst white people, most of those biases pass without notice, as—from their perspective—such exigencies are unproblematic.

This “systemic racism” is often passive, tacit, and abides beneath the surface of things; yet it nevertheless perpetuates socio-economic injustices that disproportionally affect p.o.c.  Consequently, white people enjoy comfort that is often not available to p.o.c.  That being the case, it is easy for them to remain sanguine even as many p.o.c. are forced to contend with the ramifications of those biases.  The problem, then, is that white people tend not to be as motivated to go out of their way to remedy inequitable conditions.  Such insouciance is usually not out of any ill will; it is simply due to the fact that such societal dysfunction doesn’t adversely affect them.  Because the biases are subconscious, no problem overtly presents itself—that is: from their (privileged) point of view.  So they remain glibly aloof.

All of this is true.

But here’s where Robin’s “white fragility” narrative goes haywire:  Because the status quo has racial biases (in favor of non-p.o.c.) built into it, white people are INHERENTLY RACIST.  They are, after all, not inclined to go out of their way to dismantle the systems from which they benefit.  This dereliction amounts to complicity (in the aforementioned “systemic racism”).  Therefore all white people are inadvertently bigoted.  The prognosis put forth by Robin: To be part of the solution, they are obliged to fess up to this INBORN depravity.

Robin’s approach is riddled with logical fallacies.  It combines group homogeneity bias, defensive attribution bias, and—most of all—hostile attribution bias in order to seem plausible.  Here, we find echoes of cultic thinking.  When it comes to accusations of heresy, people’s real intentions are (seen as) entirely beside the point: They have sinned; and therefore must be tarred and feathered in the public square.

In sum: A regime (self-ingratiating) contrition–we are expected to believe–is the primary way to eradicate structural inequalities that exist along racial lines. Even more ridiculous, said contrition is compelled by SHAME; and comes only when everyone becomes chronically irritable.

And so it goes: Robin’s solution to racial injustice is for everyone to relentlessly fixate on race at all times; and, in doing so, to be—like her—as supercilious as possible.  But does this help to solve the problem (structural inequality along racial lines) she purports to care about?  No.

The assumption that the societal dysfunction in question (socio-economic injustices that disproportionally affect p.o.c.) is entirely—or even mostly—a function of inter-personal racism commits a logical fallacy: affirming the consequent.  Here, one assumes an outcome that COULD be explained by a cause (X) MUST ALWAYS be explained by X, as if X was the only possible cause.  Thus X (in this case, personal interactions that cause discomfiture) serves as an exhaustive explanation for the outcome.  (In many cases, such discomfiture arises from the subtext that the complainant imagines dwells in even the most innocuous encounters.)  Hence one is urged to catastrophize every trans-racial interaction.  Such frivolous transgressions (known in the argot as “micro-aggressions”) are trivialities that are treated as miniature cataclysms on a person-by-person basis. **

The fact that socio-economic injustices that disproportionally affect p.o.c. might sometimes be caused IN PART by racism on the micro-level (which is granted) does not entail that focusing entirely on case-by-case offense-taking will solve the wider problem, which is often hardwired into the very architecture of major institutions.  Indeed, the very definition of structural inequality is that it exists independently of personal intentions / attitudes / sentiments; and can abide even were everybody participating in those structures to be racism-free…and have impeccable manners.  In other words: The underlying problem is at the institutional (meso-) level, not the individual (micro-) level.  For the fact of the matter is: The problem is usually not personal; so mustn’t be taken as such.  And no solution can be based on the subjective experiences (personal impressions / sensibilities; or the psychical state) of any given party.

How, then, shall we proceed?  For Robin, the idea is to reduce even the most quotidian interactions to some sort of contentious racial power competition (so as to counteract extant power disparities).  Each interaction is treated as yet another iteration of one-ups-man-ship.  This requires one to impute the worst possible motives to any given bystander at any given moment; thereby accruing the most “call outs”.  The key is to imagine derisory innuendo even where none exists.  The more proficiently one does this, the better one fares in this crucible of acrimony.

In this tournament, the most peevish person wins.

We end up with the following: The more captious one is, the more points one earns.  Participants find themselves in a dialectical joust wherein every remark—no matter how anodyne—is seen as a salvo.  To get this to work, Robin urges everyone to assume some sort of chimerical subtext in virtually any overture—supposing it to be derisive.  This entails presuming ill-intent (i.e. implicit racism) in every encounter: every passing comment, every idiomatic expression, every turn of phrase, every off-the-cuff remark, every wry quip, every social queue, every casual gesture.

This sets up a contorted incentive structure that does ANYTHING BUT foster comity.  Good-faith efforts to bring about trans-racial equity cease to exist.  As might be expected, the most adept practitioners of this stage-craft are able to feign offense at virtually anything; and it is they who end up with the most plaudits for being “woke”.  Those seeking validation are incentivized to play along, or risk castigation.  We end up with a modern version of blasphemy laws.

Is this REALLY how we rid society of socio-economic injustices that disproportionally affect communities of color?  While recognizing the salience of race in the DIAGNOSIS, obsessing over race GOING FORWARD—thereby pitting groups against each other in every conceivable scenario—only serves to drum up resentments.  This not only fails to solve the macro problem (structural inequalities); it ends up exacerbating the dysfunctions that (we claim) we want to solve.

Any approach that demands that everyone be suspicious of each other is guaranteed to degenerate into a crucible of acrimony.  Moreover, using shame as the primary tool by which people are brought into compliance is a recipe for an illiberal society.  Scarlet letters are the mark of a puritanical, authoritarian regime.

Are many white people oblivious to the aforementioned biases, and the socio-economic injustices that persist to the present day?  Tragically, yes.  But being aloof is not the same as being a bigot.  These two problems warrant two different solutions.  Yet Robin pretends that institutional racism will vanish if only we could ameliorate instances of personal racism.

More to the point: One does not generate awareness by casting aspersions.  If the aim IS to generate awareness, the key is to engender good will across racial lines, not to deploy a fusillade of scurrilous—and spurious—accusations based on racial affiliation.

The bottom line is, of course, to fight systemic racism. Robin and her ardent followers seem not to understand that this estimable cause (a cause they claim to care so much about) is predicated on coalition building, something that entails comity; which is simply to say that, when it comes to supporting certain policies (namely, those that abet socio-economic justice), the point is to get as many (otherwise heedless) non-p.o.c. on board as possible.  Shunning all non-p.o.c. for every perceived impropriety is not a prudent way to do this.

Alas, Robin is convinced that if she wags her finger with sufficient vigor at enough people, then structural inequalities along racial lines will magically disappear.  Therein lies the rub: Participants in this charade are not sincerely interested in solving problems; they are merely interested in telegraphing their “woke” bona fides.  (Meanwhile, those of us who seek reality-based solutions are accused of perpetrating “solution-ism”.)

It’s worth re-iterating: The thing about virtue signaling is that it requires no actual virtue.  Robin and her ilk are doing virtually nothing to dismantle the structural inequalities they decry; but, hey, they all posted a BLM square on all their social media pages and recite the pieties-du-jour.  What more could you want?

There is nothing laudable about being insufferably captious; yet, for p.c. aficionados, being insufferably captious is construed as the best way to broadcast one’s anti-racist credentials to the world…even though doing so accomplishes nothing.  In fact, unctuous hand-wringing ends up doing far more harm than good.

Tragically, Robin’s sycophantic followers swallow her approach to “anti-racism” hook, line, and sinker; and so are under the impression that the more persnickety they are, the more they are helping the cause.  It is rather peculiar feat: This self-styled race-whisperer has convinced millions that she has divined the secrets to racism; and that incessant pearl-clutching (coupled with pettiness) will somehow—eventually—eradicate socio-economic injustices (spec. those that disproportionally impact p.o.c.).  Caviling is seen as a way to generate awareness; as if being chronically tetchy were a sign of enlightenment.

What explains the astounding efficacy with which Robin promulgates this artificially-flavored hogwash?  Weaponizing etiquette does nothing to eradicate structural inequalities along racial lines.  But it APPEARS to be a worthwhile measure for those who confuse propriety for probity.  Generally speaking, those who are too obsequious to be principled are apt to conflate etiquette with ethics; believing the former can serve as a surrogate for the latter.  By playing along, one expects to receive plaudits simply—as if one is taking a bold stand simply for sticking to the assigned script.  (The parallels here with cult activity are obvious.)

As is the case with religionists, the designated catechism is associated with some kind of moral foundation.  Hence to be out of step with the latest “woke” protocols—for even a moment—is tantamount to heresy.  And being tone-deaf (with respect to racial sensitivities) even for a fleeting instant is, we are notified, the same as countenancing WHITE SUPREMACY—something that warrants banishment from the public square.  The result of such harebrained hyperbole is to vitiate the vocabulary that is needed to accurately diagnose the problems at hand.  (The same goes for those who, say, equate poor manners with ASSAULT.)

The fatuity of this thinking knows no bounds.  When asked to define “racism” at the Aspen Ideas Festival (second only to Davos in sanctimonious preening by the socio-economic elite), Ibram Henry Rogers (a.k.a. “Ibram X. Kendi”) proclaimed that it refers to “a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.”  (We’ll leave it up to children in Middle School to point out why this ersatz definition is worse than useless.)

Predictably, Robin released a follow-up work to her blockbuster (“Nice Racism”), where she doubled down on her schtick.  (It is no surprise that she decided to ride the wave, and continue to cash in while the market for her drivel is still hot.)  There is, of course, SOME credence to the main thesis: that bigotry often operates behind a veneer of congeniality.  (If one would have had lunch with Heinrich Himmler, one may have found that he had impeccable manners.  Overall, the most dangerous people are the most charismatic.)  As with her magnum opus, “White Fragility”, one finds there is a kernel of truth in much of what she says.  This is routine for charlatans: embed incontrovertible truths within the pablum; as doing so gives the rest of the material a patina of veracity.

Bizarrely, though, Robin ends up engaging in projection.  In this encore publication, she decries “out-woking”…even as she is, of course, the HIGH-PRIESTESS of “out-woking”.  Presumably, this was a gambit to pre-empt suggestions that she is doing precisely that.  (It’s the good ol’ “I know you are but what am I?” defense.)  Thus Robin levels the accusation so as to distract from the fact that she is the most egregious culprit.

All this from the woman who blithely averred that “white Progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.”  The statement is so patently false, one must read it two or three times to believe it was actually submitted.  Certainly, this is not the case with GENUINE Progressives; but perhaps it is partly true of POTEMKIN Progressives like Robin, who have no qualms supporting corporate power even as they routinely broadcast their indignation for politically incorrect Tweets.

In Reality, genuine Progressives aren’t trying to out-woke ANYONE, as they recognize the entire charade is fatuous.  They know that the only two alternatives are not white pride and white guilt—a false choice that Robin declaims.  Moreover, telling non-racist, hard-working, poor, provincial WASPS that they need to “check their privilege” is not the best way to mobilize them behind Progressive causes.  (It is a surefire way to get them to tell you to go fuck yourself.)

Robin’s consideration-via-alienation approach is doomed to failure.  One does not forge solidarity with a certain group of people by shaming them.

Rather than reading the musings of a woman who has openly admitted she has not had many trans-racial relationships in her life (disqualification #1), one would be far better off reading, say, W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin–as I mentioned in the previous Postscript. One might also look to “Without Justice For All: The New Liberalism And Our Retreat From Racial Equality” and “Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological And Material Foundations Of African American Thought” by Adolph Reed Jr. (professor emeritus at U. Penn). I would add to that list virtually anything written by Noam Chomsky. **

There’s no doubt that racial justice is an integral part of socio-economic justice.  We should bear in mind that this is more than about civil rights; it’s about social responsibility.  But the fight against racial injustice only works if it is a common cause, not a mandate to participate in a garish pageant of finger-wagging–where participants are assigned roles according to racial affiliation.  In the end, we’re all in this fight together. In his acceptance speech at the Oscars in April of 2021, Tyler Perry urged everyone to “stand in the middle” (that is: amongst each other); and admonished the audience not to pass “blanket judgements” on those in any given ethnic group.  We can only hope that Robin and her acolytes were listening.

* * *

{* One problem with the hokey new vernacular of p.c. is that it is—at best—inane (using “interrogate” instead of “investigate”; qualifying “experience” with “lived”; inserting a possessive pronoun before “truth”); and often misleading.  An indication of this faulty thinking is the faddish use of “problematizing”, which effectively means trying to figure out a way to treat something—ANYTHING—as a problem (as opposed to identifying actual problems).  Once “problematization” is rendered an avocation (whereby one gets accolades each time something is successfully “problematized”), people are incentivized to conjure problems rather than solve them.  This is why “catastrophizing” is currently en vogue; whereby anything can be seen as a “micro-aggression”.  Hence uncouth expression can even be seen as a form of assault / violence; and we’ve gone completely through the looking glass.  But no matter.  Using trendy lingo is one way to virtue signal.  This is yet another illustration that virtue signaling requires no ACTUAL virtue.  Such cloying verbiage is a reminder that p.c. is all about paying lip service, putting on airs, and—generally speaking—completely missing the point.}

{** For those unfamiliar with Critical Theory, see the writings of the Frankfurt School thinkers–most notably: Adorno and Horkheimer. “One Dimensional Man” by Marcuse is a landmark work. It’s also worth reading anthologies like “The Cambridge Companion To Critical Theory”.}

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