Robin’s Zugzwang

July 19, 2020 Category: Domestic Politics

Epilogue 5

In the preceding analysis of Robin DiAngelo, I mentioned a tell-tale sign–nay, a bright, red flag–that someone is completely full of shit.  They claim that anyone who disagrees with them, simply by disagreeing with them, proves their point.  (A rhetorical boondoggle is known as the “Kafka trap”.)  This is not a glitch in the “white fragility” theory she propounds; it is the primary feature.  When it comes to accusations of “white fragility”, the Kafka trap is—quite literally—the THESIS.

And so it goes: Acolytes of Robin would take the present refutation of her prognosis as corroboration for her prognosis.  Heads I win, tails you lose.

I also noted that Robin’s prescriptions serve as little more than an elaborate distraction from the crux of the problem with which she purports to be so earnestly concerned.  An indication that someone has dubious motives is as follows: They are looking to divert attention from the actual culprits (in this case, corporatists who are perfectly happy to telegraph their ostensibly liberal credentials); redirecting animus TOWARD those who are sincerely trying to solve the problem.

In her latest book, “Nice Racism”, Robin does precisely this.  She declares that—in the event they happen to be white—even the most well-intentioned Progressives are responsible for “the most daily harm” to p.o.c.   While they cause harm in ways that are “less obvious”, their trespasses are actually “more insidious” than overt racists.

While it is true that racism is often hidden behind a veneer of congeniality (one might call it “bigotry with a smile”), Robin is taking this concern to extremes—sounding the alarms about the newest bogeyman: “nice racism”. In other words, she’s pointing out the obvious: unethical people are sometimes quite charismatic.  This is where things become perversely ironic.  According to Robin, those perpetrating “nice racism” are guilty engaging in virtue signaling.  She levels this accusation even as she is the primary EXPONENT of virtue signaling. This is a perfidious response to the waves of criticism she has gotten since her crusade began. It involves what is known as “reaction formation”.

In this (rather blatant) act of projection, Robin blithely ascribes the very dysfunction she fails to recognize in herself to those who she is so eager to induct.  By flipping the script in this way, Robin tries to exempt herself from the accusation that SHE HERSELF in engaging in precisely this kind of nonsense (i.e. putting propriety over probity). Robin’s “I know you are but what am I” tac is a transparent attempt at deflection. 

There is irony upon irony here. For this is not just a matter of projection. Robin urges all white people to walk on egg-shells, then accuses them of being racist for, well, walking on egg-shells. So she scoffs at those who are guilty of what she dubs “nice racism”.  Never mind that the prescription of her previous book was effectively “nice racism”. She mandated it; now she denounces it.

Let’s review Robin’s zugzwang. 

First, the part we can all agree on. Racial injustice cannot be divorced from socio-economic injustice; as it is a key factor in creating certain structural inequalities in the United States (as well as in other imperialist / colonialist powers of the modern age).

So far so good. But racism is far from THE ONLY factor contributing to socio-economic injustice.  There are plenty of privileged p.o.c. who enjoy oodles of socio-economic status; and plenty of non-p.o.c. who suffer from grievous socio-economic injustice. So clearly, there are other important factors that must be taken into account…if, that is, we TRULY want to eradicate ALL structural inequality.

To make the point, let’s use a metaphor.  Say that p.o.c. were more likely to be the victims of a certain disease than non-p.o.c. (though it could technically afflict anyone).  Would medical professionals be less apt to treat a non-p.o.c. who had the disease than they would a p.o.c.?  Of course not.  Yet according to Robin’s logic, we are obliged to focus almost entirely one p.o.c.–whether or not they are in danger of being afflicted–simply by dint of the fact that they are, on the whole, more susceptible to ending up afflicted. This would be a contorted application of the Hippocratic Oath.

The parallels with socio-economic injustice should be clear: p.o.c. are more likely than non-p.o.c. to be adversely impacted. This disproportionality is due, in large part, to systemic / institutional racism.  Therefore, Robin’s thinking goes, we must take measures to help even p.o.c. of high socio-economic status. In doing so, we are forced to indict even non-p.o.c. of low socio-economic status.

And so we have a mandate that all white people apologize for BEING white.  No kidding.  Think this characterization is hyperbolic?  It’s not.  Case in point was an NPR headline: “Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.”  Hanks had recently called for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre.  Not good enough; as his gesture failed to make up for the fact that he had the gall to build his stellar career playing “white men doing the right thing.”  Shame on him for portraying characters that coincided with his actual race; doing things that we are all urged to do in the fight against socio-economic injustices.

We’ve gone through the looking glass.  There is an awkward dissonance between rhetorical commitments to equity (which we are enjoined see as entirely PERSONAL in nature) and the realities of socio-economic injustices (which are largely INSTITUTIONAL in nature).

Hence Robin elides what is fundamental: Structural inequalities exist for a variety of reasons—SOME of which are racial in nature.  To fail to address ALL of those reasons is to be delinquent.

Yet the myopic approach–reducing EVERYTHING to race–is the mission Robin has assigned her fawning acolytes.  There are perks for those who play along. The most sycophantic identitarians are showered with accolades for participating in this charade. So they are incentivized to be as unctuous and captious as possible. Participants earn cachet for following the assigned choreography, dutifully reciting whatever pieties are currently prescribed in the p.c. catechism.

We end up with what Matt Taibbi laments as a “moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society.”  What Taibbi is referring to is a bevy of self-appointed constables–ornery schoolmarms who patrol the public square, adjudicating all private interactions. Their charge is simple: To vociferously enforce the latest protocols; and “call out” anyone who fails to toe the line.  Such functionaries see their efforts to sanitize the agora as a noble act; and identity politics as the only path to racial comity.

Behold a cadre of sanctimonious magistrates who use virtue signaling as jet propulsion.  These identitarians assiduously divvy the demos into demographic camps, each of which is jockeying for prominence.  They divide in order to unite; and then pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Zealots of this creed mistake their histrionic posturing for serious activism; and see the weaponization of etiquette as the promotion of ethics.  After all, they have been anointed (in their own minds) as the arbiters of acceptable conduct. They are impelled–and compelled–by empty gestures rather than substantive policy proposals; thus confusing propriety for probity.   The more unctuous and captious they become, the more intrepid they fashion themselves to be.

Bystanders are encouraged to look for every feasible—and even infeasible—reason to be offended by anything at any moment, no matter how trivial.  It’s as if one could make society more civil by overloading it with frivolous grievances; and civil society might be held together with contrived indignation.

The proposition that we can expurgate racism from society by constantly obsessing over race—and indiscriminately shaming bystanders based on their racial profiles—is nuts.  It’s worth noting that the prelates of identity politics exude a sense of entitlement that is surpassed only by the caricature (of all white people) that they so glibly propound.

There is nothing so obnoxious as WASPs with a sense of entitlement; but it does not follow that TO BE a WASP is to—ipso facto—have a sense of entitlement.  Homo sapiens of any stripe are capable of pathological narcissism.  A higher level of melanin in the epidermis does not inoculate one from such conceit—a fact demonstrated by such figures as Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, and Clarence Thomas.

In order for Robin’s ideology to have purchase on credulous minds, one must first be convinced that the fundamental organizing principle of society is racism.  All judgements must be performed through this warped lens.  Of course, the reasoning for using such a lens implodes the moment one tries to apply it to ANY society that is majority p.o.c. (the majority of which STILL deal with their own versions of racism, not to mention egregious socio-economic injustices).  Tragically, such bunkum has passed academic muster since Barbara Applebaum pioneered “Critical Whiteness Studies” more than two decades ago. (Applebaum made her name by enumerating the various ways that ALL white people are secretly racist.)

So we hear about “white credentialing” (which is rightfully decried as ethno-centric), yet hear nothing about the most important—and valid—credential of them all: our shared humanity.  Averring that we are all one human family is, we are notified, ALSO veiled racism.  That’s right: Appeals to human solidarity is just an excuse to be secretly racist. (!)  You’ve been warned.

Proponents of this deranged ideology could walk by a potted plant and see virulent racism lurking beneath each leaf. *  Alas, perfidious academics—who masquerade as serious scholars—operate under the aegis of “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), which has become the bête noire of right-wing expositors.

As mentioned in Epilogue 3, CRT is a spin-off of “Critical Theory”. Its tenets would come as a surprise to the entire Frankfurt School (Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse)…not to mention Karl Marx, Max Weber, Erich Fromm, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and all the rest.  (I do not include in my roster of luminaries either Lukacs or Lacan.) More on this in Epilogue 6.

We might look back further in history, noting that Frederick Douglass praised Abraham Lincoln for being “the first great man that spoke within the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color.”  Robin and her acolytes might take note.

Sowing suspicions—and resentments—means that everyone is urged to monitor everyone else for every piddling impropriety; and promised that they will earn plaudits for each public denunciation.  This oleaginous regime of “call outs” is one step away from China’s (palpably Orwellian) social credit system.

Robin’s duplicitous ideology presents us with a rather daffy creed.  We are notified that things like logic, objectivity, empirical evidence, and the scientific method are suffused with White Supremacy (and are patriarchal in nature).  The search for—or even just the acknowledgement of the existence of—Truth?  Yep.  That too is a mark of (clandestine) White Supremacy.  Even moral principles THEMSELVES are seen as “WHITE”, especially if they are—gasp—UNIVERSAL.  How so?  Well, you see, White Supremacy (and patriarchy) permeates EVERY ASPECT of Occidental culture—nay: anything that can be tenuously associated with the Enlightenment or “the West”.  (Hence logic, objectivity, evidence, science, and universal moral principles are all tools of Western Imperialism!)  Here we find all the hallmark traits of a paranoid conspiracy theory.

Alas, this manic view isn’t limited to unscrupulous academics; it can be found on the shelves of best-seller kiosks, in tracts by other race hustlers like Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In her PhD dissertation for the University of Washington in 2004, “Whiteness In Racial Dialogue”, DiAngelo argued that “universalism” is a “master discourse of Whiteness in practice.”  How so?  Well, you see, to posit universals is to “posit that White interests and perspectives are objective and representative of all groups.”  So recognizing universal principles—or any sincere attempt to be objective, for that matter—is really just a sneaky way for white people to engage in some hegemonic project to promote their own interests / perspectives AS white people.  For the more fanatical ideologues, objectivity ITSELF—along with industriousness, punctuality, and rational thinking—is believed to be a diabolical scheme to advance white supremacy.  To engage in ANY of these virtues, then, is to be too “white”.  All this seems to make sense to DiAngelo (and her ilk), as elsewhere she has insisted that “there is no objective, neutral reality.” **

This is, to put it mildly, a flawed dialectic.  According to such thinking, having basic epistemic standards like, say, recognizing facts (or even the difference between right and wrong) is seen as some kind of hegemonic enterprise (on the part of non-p.o.c.); and thus discriminatory against p.o.c.  Thus impartiality—nay, all of science—is effectively a promulgation of white privilege.  This is, of course, bonkers.  And to make matters worse, it distracts from any focus on the ACTUAL problem: the structural inequalities that continue to exist along racial lines.

In their fervor to de-center “white-ness” (that is, eliminate ethnocentric thinking that favors non-p.o.c.), proponents of Robin’s ideology seek to demonize anything that THEY happen to associate with “white-ness”, irrespective of how pro-social such things might be for EVERYONE.  (Spoiler alert: There is nothing inherently “white” about ANY of the aforementioned ideals.)  In doing so, they end out propounding the stigmas that stem from the very ethnocentricity they decry.  (The irony here is painfully obvious to everyone but them.)

The result of all this blinkered thinking: Everyone finds themselves engaged in a “war of position” whereby each group is vying to define “truth” at the expense of everyone else.  It makes one wince to think that anyone would consider embracing such a demented (and stultifyingly cynical) epistemic theory.

The consequences of adopting this weirdly-distorted worldview are dire.  Otherwise valid diagnoses (there REALLY IS misogyny; and there REALLY IS white privilege) are vitiated to the point of nullity.  For if ANYTHING can be seen as bigotry, then the indictment becomes utterly meaningless; and those who are genuinely seeking to address such dysfunctions are deprived of crucial vocabulary.

We know we’ve gone completely down the rabbit hole when Robin opines that even inter-racial marriages can be covertly racist, as racial mixing is often “inauthentic”.  You read that correctly: According to Robin’s rules-of-the-road, miscegenation is veiled racism.  (So shame on mixed-race couples!)  This is not hyperbolic; it is quite literal.  Other signs of White Supremacy: perspicacity, punctuality, diligence, and industriousness.  Robin even suggests that SMILING TOO MUCH is racism in disguise.  At this point, it seems she has no marbles left to lose.

The suggestion that a non-p.o.c. can be less racist by being “less white” is analogous to the suggestion that one can be less homophobic by being less straight; or that one can be less misogynist by being less male.  Clearly, those who make such zany pronouncements do not understand what makes bigotry bigotry.  As anyone with a modicum of common sense knows, what makes some (ostensibly) straight people homophobic isn’t their (purported) heterosexuality; and what makes some men misogynistic isn’t their (verging) masculinity.  (The problem with male chauvinism isn’t being male; it’s being chauvinist.)  It is an INSECURITY ABOUT his own masculinity that makes a man bigoted, not masculinity per se.  After all, not all masculinity is toxic.

Alas, those who see the world through the Applebaum / DiAngelo lens could look at a scented candle and see a scourge of racism.  Thus WASPs are bigoted simply by dint of BEING WASPs.  Just being who they are is a crime for which they owe penitence—and, ultimately, restitution.  All white people are complicit simply for being white; and for their wily whitely ways.  (Replace “white” here with “Jewish”, and one finds oneself with the foundation for Mein Kampf.)

And so it goes: Robin will continue to hawk her premium anti-racism kits in hotel conference rooms across the country, and churn out her artificially-flavored hogwash with impunity; and for exorbitant fees.  Her scam employs the oldest formula in the book: Create the (impression of) an ailment, then offer the (alleged) cure.  Cults have been using this gimmick since time immemorial; and it continues to be staggeringly effective.

But what of the merits of her sociological approach? Robin posits race as the only metric for socio-economic stratification, and thus the sole factor in explaining / combating socio-economic inequalities.  All injustice is reduced to RACIAL injustice, whereby p.o.c. are the de facto victims (by dint of their race) and non-p.o.c. are the de facto culprits (by dint of their race).  We thus go from “race plays a role in structural inequalities” (correct) to “ALL structural inequality boils down to race” (preposterous).  We are presented, then, with a one-dimensional assessment of a multi-faceted problem.  As if such reductionism weren’t bad enough, Robin is also a race essentialist (what is referred to in common parlance as “racist”).

It is no revelation that socio-economic stratification exists in ways that confer on-going benefits to some groups rather than others. It is also well-established that structural inequalities in the U.S. abide due IN PART to the nation’s long history of racism.  Okay, then.  So what are we to make of THAT aspect of structural inequality?  And what are we to do about it?

Systemic racism exists for identifiable reasons: prevailing perceptions, attitudes, and social norms; as well as an array of deeply ingrained biases—many of which are (implicitly, if not explicitly) racial in nature. ***  Such biases are even embedded in a few of the seemingly innocuous idioms found in our demotic language.  These are issues of socialization / enculturation…which are themselves largely due to institutional exigencies.  In other words, systemic racism—which sometimes manifests on the inter-personal level—is primarily a by-product of institutional racism; as our psychical activity (all our habits of thought, biases, stereotypes, etc.) is heavily influenced by the institutions within which we operate (shaping, as they do, our day-to-day lives).

Most of all, then, inequity—racial and otherwise—exists at the INSTITUTIONAL level; and must be addressed as such.  For example, there are barriers-to-entry that were originally put in place to favor certain communities (while marginalizing others); and much of this was done along ethnic lines—be it prejudice against Latinos or Jews or East Asians or anyone else.  The question now is: How shall institutional inequities be dismantled?  Put another way: What measures shall we take to rectify the inequitable state of affairs that we now face, considering it is built into many of our social structures?

The answer: Work to change institutions (incumbent power structures) so that the underlying causes of said inequities are eliminated.  How is that to be done?  Supporting Progressives—and ONLY Progressives—running for public office.  And how shall we define “Progressive”?  By the kind of policies being promoted.  Put bluntly: It’s the policies, stupid.

The question remains: How are we to get people to do this?  Well, by overcoming dysfunctional kinds of socialization / enculturation—a feat that can be accomplished by generating awareness about political issues (NOT by going to one of Robin’s workshops).  After all, the problem is systemic (not personal), so the solutions must be systemic (not personal).

But WHAT policies?  Universal access to quality education and healthcare is a start.  That entails treating such things as public goods.  Anyone who does not actively support such legislation is not serious about rectifying structural inequalities.  Here’s the good news: The REAL solution doesn’t require anyone to go to a single DEI seminar.  Here’s the irony: Many (most?) of Robin’s most ardent fans support corporate Democrats over Progressives.

The idea is that we are all in this together, as fellow citizens; so should proceed accordingly.  Alas.  Instead of seeding the landscape with pearls of wisdom, Robin sprinkles it with dragon’s teeth.  It seems not to occur to her and her acolytes that stirring up acrimony is no way to foster amity; and it is the worst possible way to bring everyone together to pursue a shared vision.  Festering resentment, which Robin PRESCRIBES, can’t help but lead to hostility; and does nothing to solve the problems that she purports to care about.

Instead of working to pass policies that would rectify socio-economic injustice, participants in this charade are adjured to cavil—finding even the dimmest flashpoint for effrontery around every corner.  Such theatrics—effectively, choreographed tetchy-ness—creates a paradox that might be referred to as predatory victimhood.  Thus captiousness is treated as a social palliative; and being unctuous is seen as a mark of compassion.  (Such an approach brings to mind the old sports adage: The best defense is a robust offense.)  The result: The (alleged) bullied become the (actual) bullies.

Robin confuses the splenetic with the irenic.  Her “comity via alterity” / “amity via acrimony” approach to race relations is a surefire recipe for discord.  She can’t seem to grasp the crucial difference between celebrating our differences (good) and obsessing over our differences (bad).

A message to those who have been taken in by Robin’s grift, yet are still open-minded enough to consider their folly: Try reading “Leave The World Behind” by Rumaan Alam; and picture everyone in the story conducting themselves according to Robin’s prescriptions (as opposed to how they actually conduct themselves).  One will quickly find that this narrative modification would defeat the entire spirit of Alam’s inspiring work.  The exercise serves as an illustration of how boneheaded Robin’s approach really is.  Yet her grift will continue so long it remains so lucrative.  The corporate speaking circuit pays Robin obscene rates to babble at a lectern for an hour; so she will continue to laugh all the way to the bank; and the rest of us will be forced to clean up the mess.

* * *

{*  We encounter a similar derangement with those who see sexism around every corner.  Anything that does not hew to post-modernist sensibilities is decried as “hetero-normative”, and thus contributing to the patriarchal order.  According to proponents of this worldview, such things include science, math, and basic logic.  This manufactured neurosis parallels Robin’s treatment of racism.  Proponents could look at a glass of orange juice and see a scourge of misogyny.  Thus the existence of anything and everything they happen not to like is attributed to sexism.  Why would any man support Bernie Sanders?  Sexism.  Why didn’t Progressives support Hillary Clinton in 2016?  Sexism.  (That the same voters vociferously supported Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush—often over male counterparts—is completely disregarded.)  But this goes beyond political theater.  Why would a man hold the door open for a woman?  Sexism.  Why accuse female corporatists of corporatism?  Sexism.  Why is the sky blue?  Sexism.  Just as with Robin’s acolytes, we see delusive ideologues becoming the very thing they claim to be against.  In this case, the tell-tale sign is paranoia coupled with misandry.  Hence the pejorative “Bernie Bros” (which—nonsensically—included women of color like Briahna Joy Gray and Nina Turner).  It’s enough to make Kafka blush.}

{** If being on time is something that only WHITE people do, then one is forced to concede that only white people are capable of common courtesy.  This, it would seem, is an extremely racist belief.  But in Robin’s world, holding such a view is how we COMBAT racism. It is sometimes even proposed that objectivity itself (any recognition of facts, of universal principles, of right and wrong) is a hallmark of WHITE SUPREMACY.  Meanwhile, proponents consider studiousness and scholastic aspiration to be a “white man’s game”.  But here’s the problem: To associate such things with white-ness is to—ipso facto—denigrate all p.o.c.  It is a perverse irony that some of those who most vociferously tout “anti-racism” are the most racist interlocutors in the agora.}

{***  As non-p.o.c. have heretofore been the majority in the U.S., it is a statistical inevitability that the way non-p.o.c. tend to think about—and do—things has been normalized over time; and thereby come to be seen as “normal”.  Meanwhile, certain things that vary from those norms are seen as “ethnic” or “exotic” or even “deviant”.  This is a consequence of the familiar juxtaposed with the foreign; and occurs in every country on Earth.  For most non-p.o.c., such a disparity in characterization is based—in large part—on sheer statistics rather than on a sense of superiority.  That SOME people construe normality (an accident of history) as superiority (as if by divine ordinance) does not indict ALL non-p.o.c.  The point is for non-p.o.c. to recognize that, in being non-p.o.c. in a context of social norms that historically CATER TO non-p.o.c., they have it easier than p.o.c.; as they can feel accepted / normal (within that context)…even as non-p.o.c. feel as though they are obliged to conform to such norms in order to be accepted to get by.  When there IS racism, then, it overwhelmingly impacts p.o.c. Insofar as this disparity happens to exist, it gives non-p.o.c. an advantage. The question, then, is: How shall this disparity be addressed?}

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