Robin’s Zugzwang

July 19, 2020 Category: Domestic Politics

Epilogue 6

As we’ve seen, Robin DiAngelo treats civil right activism as theater; and makes participation in her pedagogic regime a kind of religion.  Her creed is primarily comprised of “non-falsifiable” tenets, each of which is treated as revealed truth.  As a prelate of woke-ness, she promulgates her pablum as if it were some sort of sacred doctrine.  On queue, her fawning fans genuflect after every fatuous dictum.  Those who fail to toe the line are deemed heretics, then summarily tarred and feathered in the public square.  For what?  For being insufficiently “anti-racist”.

What is fascinating about charlatans is their uncanny ability to persuade credulous followers that they are founts of wisdom. As we’ve seen, Robin DiAngelo passes off specious polemic as serious scholarship…all the while pretending that she is furnishing us with vital tools for combating racial injustice.  Yet, instead of critical analysis, we get sermonizing. Instead of penetrating insight, we get vapid moralizing.

So far as Robin is concerned, racism can be tsk-tsk-tsk-ed into oblivion.  All white people need to do is take a look in the mirror and wag their fingers at themselves until they get their acts together.

And what of all those high-priced corporate seminars? It is now quite clear that “racial sensitivity training” (DEI training in the argot of the industry) not only doesn’t work; it actually exacerbates the very dysfunction that it purports to ameliorate.  It has become increasingly apparent that–for the corporations that hire Robin–conducting such interventions is more a PR stunt than a sincere attempt to remedy the ongoing problems of systemic racism.

Indeed, “diversity” seminars only succeed in deflecting attention from STRUCTURAL inequalities (problems that exist on an institutional level), and focusing it instead on etiquette (which exists on an inter-personal level).  Institutions with horrible records when it comes to perpetuating socio-economic injustices can simply wave away criticisms by pointing to the fact that, “Hey, at least we’re TRYING to address these problems.  Look!  See how much we care?”

This is nothing more than a feint.  Such initiatives are—effectively—ass-covering measures when it comes to possible race-related litigation. It’s also a nice touch when it comes to burnishing the company’s image.  After even a thousand workshops, Goldman Sachs will still be Goldman Sachs, Facebook will still be Facebook, and Raytheon will still be Raytheon.  The tax evasion will still be conducted with impunity, the most destructive forms of malfeasance will persist, and social media will wreak havoc on our public discourse as much as ever. Meanwhile, corruption at the highest levels will continue…even as Bobby has learned to be more polite to Sally while chatting around the water cooler.

And so it goes: Holding DEI conclaves enables large corporations to keep up appearances.  Put another way, convening “diversity” seminars is virtue signaling on an institutional level. Structural problems go un-addressed even as one employee has learned how NOT TO OFFEND another employee during quotidian interactions.  This amounts to a whole lot of self-ingratiating pablum.  Deep-seated personal biases are not changed by fleeting interventions.  And focusing on PROPRIETY does absolutely nothing to change the highly problematic architecture of the underlying power structures.

The DEI-industrial complex is a bonanza for hucksters.  Companies across the U.S. have been hornswoggled—and in some cases, strong-armed—into spending over $8 BILLION each year on DEI “training”.  Practitioners earn well over half a billion dollars annually on “consulting” fees.  This boondoggle has done absolutely nothing to attenuate structural inequalities (let alone to stymie racism), but has been a boon to right-wing polemicists; as they have been served a sumptuous feast of (ostensibly) “Lefit-ist” idiocy on a silver platter—bounteous amounts of fodder to use as ammunition against ACTUAL Progressivism.

On the policy level, OF COURSE we must consider the role that race places in the abiding structural inequalities that plague our society. But on an interpersonal level, the ultimate goal is to STOP fixating on race.  DiAngelo-inspired “diversity training” programs do the opposite.  That fact alone should be enough to give us pause.  Imagine trying to eliminate homo-phobia in the workplace by requiring that everyone fixate on everyone else’s sexuality.

Robin prescribes a meticulously choreographed regime of posturing to all non-p.o.c.; as if by magic this will make structural inequalities vanish. We don’t prevent racism–on either the personal or institutional level–by obsessing over racial differences any more than we prevent bacterial gastroenteritis by drinking disinfectants.

Robin’s approach is not a matter of over-egging the pudding; it’s more akin to trying to make a garden more fecund by drenching it with chemical pesticides. I suspect that Robin has never once, for even a moment, helped a p.o.c. and non-p.o.c. feel closer to each other.  After all, she’s not in the business of showing people how to forge human connections.  Her approach to inter-racial interaction is quite simple.  Step #1: Everyone fixate on race.  Step #2: Feel slighted / ashamed.  Rinse and repeat. One may as well try to end misogyny by insisting that, henceforth, everyone fixate on everyone else’s gender.

Again, the key is to engage in gross generalizations.  Robin’s schtick is to claim that all white people have been socialized into racial biases; and so have “internalized” a perception of racial superiority.  (While SOME non-p.o.c. may be like programmed robots, most are not.)  Robin makes declarations like “white people are invested in the racist status quo”; as in ALL white people, everywhere, all the time, irrespective of circumstances.  Intent is beside the point.  Agency is irrelevant.  The result of this wacky indictment: Even those who are CLEARLY not racist are complicit; simply due to the paucity of melanin in their epidermises.  (Read this sentence aloud without laughing: “Due to his fare skin, Noam Chomsky is invested in the racist status quo.”)

All this is from a woman who claims that she first TRULY realized that she was white (“in the abstract sense”) when she was 34—that is: when she read Peggy MacIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack”.  Upon reading that essay, Robin claims to have had an “out of body experience”, after which she “felt so loudly white that I didn’t even want to go outside because everybody could see that I was white.”  These are the words either of a person contending with a severe neurosis and/or of a person who is completely full of shit.

In considering how to proceed when we encounter Robin, we must ask: How are sane people supposed to respond when she makes cringe-worthy statements like: “Even before I took my first breath, as my mother carried me [during] pregnancy, the forces of race were operating”?  That someone who makes such idiotic assertions enjoys mainstream attention is a sad commentary on the deteriorating caliber of our public discourse.  (It’s worth nothing that the racist-from-the-womb trope is only ever used BY racists.)

Robin and her acolytes fail to see that collective pride and collective guilt are both dangerous, especially when instantiated along ethnic lines.  Whether praising or shaming ENTIRE ethnicities for inborn character traits, one is engaging in the very thing we should all be looking to eradicate.

Robin’s theory makes perfect sense if we assume that the world is populated solely with brainwashed zombies; and—shorn of autonomy—homo sapiens were incapable of engaging in any cognition beyond that of Pavlovian dogs.

“Whiteness” is thus put center-stage.  Rather than expand the sphere of empathy / inclusion, we are adjured to de-construct (“de-center” in the argot of the practitioners) that ethereal bogeyman, “whiteness”.  What is “whiteness”?  Well, anything any white person happens to feel or think or do, irrespective of motivation.  Good will is entirely beside the point; if a non-p.o.c. feels or thinks or does it, there’s something suspicious going on.  We soon find that “white privilege” is a rather slippery term; as all privilege all the time, everywhere, in every possible context, is understood to be INHERENTLY white.

Hence it is not the privileged non-p.o.c. who are white; it’s the privilege ITSELF that is white.  So even in the cases where p.o.c. have managed to accrue socio-economic stature, their privilege is STILL ascribed the menacing quality, “whiteness”.  For whiteness is not an identity, it is an ETHOS; an ethos that permeates (on might say, INFECTS) society-at-large.  It is not so much that certain white people happen to have privilege; it’s that privilege PER SE is a reflection of whiteness.  And that “whiteness” is an affliction from which nobody can truly escape. 

This theory is based on the reification fallacy, according to which an abstraction (in this case, “whiteness”) is presumed to take on a material existence (i.e. in the form of non-p.o.c. going about their daily lives).  This is not only a one-dimensional heuristic; it is a distorted lens through which to see the world.

By seeing things through this kind of lens, one proceeds as follows:  Want to eradicate homophobia?  Insist straight, white men be less straight.  Want to eradicate racism?  Insist straight, white men be less white.  Want to eradicate misogyny?  Insist straight, white men be less masculine.  (Thus the problem with straight white men is that they are straight and white and men.)  The logic here should sound disturbingly familiar; as one need only change the qualifiers if one deigns to reprise many of the worst atrocities in human history. * In such cases, it was not the qualifiers that were wrong; it was THE LOGIC.  Yet, according to Robin DiAngelo, in looking at instances of tribal conflict, the underlying logic was perfectly fine; the perpetrators needed only adjust the qualifiers, and everything would’ve been a-okay.

Begrudging people for who they are, rather than how they think and what they do, leads us down a very dark road.

Robin bases her latest book on an earth-shattering revelation: Even people who seem NICE might be racist.  In other words, impeccable manners do not preclude bigotry.  Robin seems to think that this is a news flash. She then lets us in on her astonishing discovery: Hollow congeniality is not a sign of upright moral character.

Robin pretends that she is somehow offering the world groundbreaking insight when she points out that racism is not about being NOT NICE, or even about being mean.  What is truly astonishing, though, is that some people actually buy her books, thinking they are going to be treated to a sumptuous feast of erudition. So they pay exorbitant fees for her seminars—clamoring to treat a disease they are notified can never REALLY go away.  (See Roman Catholicism: atonement for original sin.) When white people fess up to their inborn “fragility”, they are on the road to redemption; no need to worry about STRUCTURAL inequalities.

This is all based on a familiar gimmick: believe, and you will see.  If someone is looking for (what they surmise to be) implicit X, they will tend to find it EVERYWHERE; which is simply to say that what they think they are finding is not something that’s worth looking for.  Like the quixotic search for aether, one is guaranteed to find X wherever one looks if one is determined to find X wherever one looks.  For Robin, X = racism.  Look at a kitchen sink for long enough, and one is bound to find some anti-black bias…or misogyny…or whatever one is hell-bent on seeing…hidden beneath the surface of things.  Put on purple-tinted goggles; and—lo and behold—the entire world will look purple.

Never mind the pathologically censorious attitudes engendered by Robin’s prescriptions.  Never mind the enjoinder to be as tetchy as possible.  Never mind the breath-taking pettiness of it all.  Robin primes people for a tribalistic impulse along ethnic lines.  This is rarely a good thing.  It’s bad enough to gaslight people one by one; but gaslighting an entire race is a surefire recipe for race-based antagonism.  That NEVER ends well.

Predictably, Robin’s workshops have been shown to do far more harm than good.  It’s no wonder.  The only thing she accomplishes—other than filling her own bank account—is creating lots of pointless racial tension.  To what end?  To increase [y]our “racial stamina,” she explains.  (Such cringe-inducting locutions are cause for concern.) Bear in mind that this is from a woman who states that whenever she cries, she only cries alone in a corner.  Why?  Because when white women cry openly, she explains, it endangers black people. (!)

When considering the behavioral regime that Robin prescribes, another red flag emerges: The pressure to conform to an assigned choreography.  Well-meaning bystanders find themselves having to play along to get along; thereby acquiescing to even the most fatuous demands. They do so out of fear of being tarred and feathered in the public square.  (Comply, lest you be ostracized!)  Others are just shamed into silence. This is not the m.o. of anyone who has moral principles on their side.

As most of us already know, it is not a scourge of in-artful phrasing that is responsible for the existence of structural inequalities. But in Robin’s world, racial injustice can only be remedied by weaponizing etiquette. This invariably leads to an intellectually and artistically stifling environment in which comity is replaced with chronic suspicion. Non-p.o.c. are notified that if they want racial justice, they must forever walk on eggshells.

Robin’s strategy is to be excruciatingly patronizing toward p.o.c., and then pass it off as deference.  It’s as if oleaginous pandering were the primary tool for mitigating socio-economic injustices.

Meanwhile, the raft of frivolous indictments Robin urges us to countenance only serve as a distraction from the (REAL) racism that continues to plague the U.S. agora, and do (REAL) harm both in America and abroad.  The most obvious case of this is the support amongst many Democrats for the Judeo-fascist regime presiding over the theocratic ethno-State, Israel–which continues its campaign of brutal occupation in Palestine.  Robin would rather highlight a white person failing to laugh at a black person’s joke in the break-room than call out those who endorse ethnic cleansing in the Levant.

I don’t use this example randomly.  Here in the U.S., many who are on board with Robin’s program are guilty of a far more malignant racism—as they accuse Palestinian rights activists of anti-Semitism.  Such “woke” actors will denounce “implicit racism” at every turn while abiding crimes against humanity in Gaza and the West Bank.  That’s the problem with virtue signaling: It requires no ACTUAL virtue.

Robin’s cloying charade diverts attention away from serious racial problems, furnishing Potemkin Progressives with a way to broadcast their (much-coveted) liberal bona fides. **  It seems to escape them that to be anti-racist is to be against ALL forms of racism.  One can no more claim to be against SOME forms of racism (therefore “anti-racist”) than one can refrain from eating only certain kinds of meat and claim to be vegetarian.

This approach to system racism turns civic responsibility into an oleaginous virtue-signaling pageant.  Hyper-sensitivity is seen as a kind of empathy.  Social media exacerbates the histrionics, as it enables proponents of Robin’s approach to be narcissistic while pretending to be philanthropic.  (Non-p.o.c. are invited to be proud of their humility, as if simpering was a bold gesture.)  Robin’s cohort is convinced that being unctuous is somehow a mark of rectitude.

This is wrongheaded.  When it comes to promoting good will, we should aspire to empathy, not frangibility; sapience, not peevishness. We might also harken back to the lessons of Critical Theory–something that is worth a brief digression, especially in the wake of a recent mutation: “Critical Race Theory”.

Critical Theory began with the Frankfurt School (M. Horkheimer, T. Adorno, H. Marcuse, et. al.); so it is important to appreciate its contribution to Progressive thought.  Regarding the present topic, there are five key things to note about the Frankfurt School.  First: They recognized the universality of morality.  Second: They did not look at everything–or ANYTHING, for that matter–through a racial lens. In other words, they did not consider race to be the most salient feature of any given person.  They were, after all, humanists.  Third: They held that progress involves each person’s realization of his/her (Kantian) autonomy.  They contended that freedom is inextricably linked to Pure Practical Reason (in the Kantian sense).  Fourth: Their theories have no necessary connection to post-modernism or moral relativism.  And fifth: They championed deliberative—and, above all, participatory—democracy.

The Frankfurt School is best known for addressing the dysfunction of mass-produced pop culture (read: hyper-commercialization, and consumerism run amok); with all of the shallowness (superficiality) and narcissism endemic thereto.  In this vein, they aimed to expose false consciousness, and remedy the delusive thinking that has proven to be so deleterious to the commonweal.  (This is where Herbert Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” is instructive.  Lord knows what these thinkers would have thought of more recent developments like social media and Reality TV!)

For the Frankfurt School, freedom was not simply the ability to do what we want. The point was to emancipate ourselves from our socially-imposed subservience to the ever-present “culture machine”.  The Frankfurt School enjoined us to liberate ourselves from the intoxicating illusions generated by that machine.  This would NOT be accomplished by fixating on social constructs (like racial demarcations); it would be done by tapping into our shared humanity.

While anti-Semitism has certainly played a role in the Right’s contempt for the Frankfurt School, the primary reason for their abiding derision is the contention that capitalism undergirded—nay, lead to—fascism.  According to this thesis, the so-called “West” has gone awry due to prizing instrumental reason (read: productivity, and thus material wealth) over Pure Practical Reason (read: moral principles).  The problem, then, is that socio-economic status has become the sine qua non of American life. We bask in our false consciousness; and human solidarity (that is: forging genuine human connection) plays almost no role.

In sum: Rationality must be about morality, not just about utility.  The fact that Marxian ideals defined the Frankfurt School’s approach to this (contentious) subject has, of course, incensed right-wing expositors to no end.  (This continues to be the case to the present day, especially when it comes to Critical Theory.)  The Frankfurt School had identified the shortcomings of Capitalism. They were, after all, Marxian thinkers: a virtual guarantee that they would be vilified by those with fascistic (spec. plutocratic / corporatist) proclivities.

That brings us to Critical Theory. Proponents are concerned with elucidating the biases that are hardwired into repressive institutions—legal and social; especially with respect to marginalized groups. So Critical Theory–in its original form–has a lot to say about how we might address structural inequality. NONE of it has to do with identity politics.  The upshot of all this is that Robin DiAngelo’s dubious asseverations have nothing whatsoever to do with Critical Theory.

The present author is an avid fan of the Frankfurt School; yet—like anyone familiar with (the original incarnation of) Critical Theory—finds Robin’s schtick to be odious.  I harken back to Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse. Surely, had one peddled the fatuous theory of “white fragility” (or the hobgoblin of “white complicity pedagogy”) to those esteemed thinkers, they would have either cringed or chuckled; probably a bit of both.

The dirty little secret of Robin’s grift is that she gives some racists (those who limit themselves to denouncing racism against p.o.c. in the U.S.) a convenient “out”.  For she offers a way for them to telegraph their “anti-racist” credentials within a delimited purview.  This misguided praxis is designed to ensure no bystanders are ever “offended” on social media channels…extolling the BLM movement (which seeks to shed light on racism in America’s legal system) even as they derogate the BDS movement (which exists to combat a kind of racism that causes the death and suffering of millions of innocent people in a far-away land).  The inconsistency is glaring.

This Kafka-esque approach to “racism” assures that the forest continues to burn…even as Robin urges us to prune one of the shrubs. Those who participate in this theater-of-the-woke decry racism in one context, and in the very next breath EPITOMIZE it.  (“I’m against THIS kind of ethno-State over here; yet perfectly fine with THAT kind of ethno-State over there.  But hey!  At least I’m honoring the p.c. protocol du jour.”)  Unless one is against ALL forms of racism, one forfeits one’s right to fashion oneself as an anti-racist, no matter how impeccable one’s manners happen to be.  As Robin asserts in her latest book: Being nice has nothing to do with it.

This hypocrisy is a tell-tale sign of the deficiencies of Robin’s daft approach. In surveying the current political landscape, one wonders how many self-styled “anti-racists” support AIPAC and the DMFI…all the while congratulating themselves for dutifully posting a BLM icon on their social media profiles.  Such perfidious actors unabashedly support “Third Way”, the DCCC, the DLC, and Neoliberal economic policy; yet are careful to never say anything that offends the sensibilities of the self-appointed constables of political correctness.  Proscribing one kind of fascism (at home), it seems, excuses them from supporting another kind of fascism (abroad). This all seems to pass muster…so long as they mouth the right pieties.

And so those who claim to be “woke” decry racism in their own back yard, even as they abide Revisionist Zionism in Palestine. Such hypocrisy is rarely called out by the aficionados of identity politics.  (After all, they attended one of Robin’s “diversity training” workshops; so they MUST be “tuned in” to the travails of the oppressed!) The lack of consistency in the application of moral standards is breathtaking to behold.

One can only speculate as to how many Ohioans who voted for Shontel Brown over Nina Turner on August 3, 2021 had Robin DiAngelo on their bookshelves.  It’s likely the same contingent that spent years castigating Bernie Sanders while championing [insert corporate Democrat here].  Suffice to say: Nobody who fails to actively support universal public healthcare (and refuses to vote for the politicians who are serious about making it a reality) REALLY cares about helping marginalized communities.

These faux activists vociferously support even the most corrupt (read: right-wing) Democrats, thereby perpetuating the very (plutocratic) system that is the source of the problems they purport to care about: a system that is far more responsible for socio-economic injustice than “white fragility”. There is nothing remotely Progressive about giving Neo-liberals a free pass in electoral politics. And that goes for those who fashion themselves as “anti-racist” simply because they happen to be mouthing the assigned pieties.

It was not poor etiquette that led to red-lining. And it is not poor etiquette that is responsible for voter disenfranchisement. Want to empower p.o.c.?  Get money out of politics, ensure healthcare is treated as a public good, and give every public school in the nation equal funding.

Weaponizing etiquette does nothing to eliminate structural inequalities along racial lines.  But one would never know this after reading “Nice Racism”. Robin has capitalized on the (deliberate) conflation of propriety with probity.  She has thereby furnished anti-Progressives with a way to masquerade as Progressive. Those of us who actually care about effecting socio-economic justice refuse to play along.

* * *

{*  Take Rwanda as a case study.  For the Tutsis, the problem with the Hutus is that they were Hutu.  For the Hutus, the problem with the Tutsis is that they were Tutsi.  In 1962, the perceived problem was Hutu privilege; so guess what happened.  In 1994, the perceived problem was Tutsi privilege; so guess what happened.  In NEITHER case did socio-economic advantage exist along demographic lines; but that’s not how the aggrieved saw it. Note: This is not to say that when people think in such terms, genocide is inevitable; it is simply to point out that, with DiAngelo’s approach in perceived inequities, a similar logic is at play.  Thinking of individuals primarily in terms of their membership in a demographic category is the root of the ensuing resentments / animus.  Of course, unearned socio-economic advantage exists in EVERY country; and may exist along various axes of domination / marginalization. But identity politics is NEVER a good idea.}

{** Unsurprisingly, Potemkin Progressives get salty when they are called out for not being genuine Progressives.  They despise genuine Progressives, and support politicians who have nothing but contempt for Progressives (while actively supporting anti-Progressive policies); yet they have an aneurism whenever anyone has the audacity to point out that they are REALLY NOT Progressive.  The simple retort to their objection is: One gets to pick one’s ideals, but one isn’t allowed to dictate what words mean.  One can’t routinely eat meat and (truthfully) call oneself a vegetarian.}

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