a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
Epistemology [how we know stuff]
Truth, as it relates to any shared understandings of how different groups experience ‘race’ in America, is, at best, the result of argumentation and is consensual (and provisional).
We live in a free country. Therefore, I’m free to express erroneous thinking. I’m certain I do express error at times. I am bringing that up now, not because I’m feeling I’ve recently expressed error; rather, because I wanted to point out that John McWhorter is also free to express error—as here, in this NPR story from a year ago: Linguist John McWhorter Says ‘White Fragility’ Is Condescending Toward Black People.
After agreeing that there is a pervasive system of racism in America, McWhorter wonders if Robin DiAngelo’s approach in her book, White Fragility, is helpful with regard to ending racism:
“But my question is, is it necessary for every good white person to walk around feeling uncomfortable about themselves as abstractly complicit in a racist system before we see political change?”
I surely don’t hear DiAngelo saying that. Her critics’ characterizations often make me wonder: ‘Are they even talking about the same book I read?’
Of course, we are now working as hard as possible politically to dismantle the systemic and institutional artifacts of White supremacist ideology. However, this is not a binary; I’m not sure why McWhorter feels the need to make it one with that straw man.
McWhorter’s curious reading of DiAngelo is one ungenerous mischaracterization after another. The really striking thing, though, is McWhorter’s apparent tone-deafness to our context that is a product of the entry of DJT and MAGA. I don’t think DJT ever meant to do it—witness his banning of anti-racism/sensitivity training; however, I do give him credit for blowing the lid off the ‘race in America’ discourse. I’m not sure who/what else could have done that so quickly. Some very ugly stuff surfaced, demanding our prompt attention.
We live in a time when some significant percentage of Americans do not feel the Civil War was decided properly, and they would like to restart it to produce a different outcome. These days are so fraught with division and negative partisanship that it has become possible to produce a political coalition made up of ordinary Americans, militant White power segregationists, and White Christian nationalists (who served as proxy for millions of White Evangelical Christians), to form MAGA. DJT gave us MAGA‘s idea of ‘America First’ inclusiveness: Richard Spencer and David Duke along with Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Oath Keepers, The Proud Bois, et al.
In saying that, we’re not just talking about the systemic artifacts of racism anymore. No, we’re talking there about the extant forms of White supremacist bigotry/hatred alive and virulent in American society today (e.g., internet radicalization). We’re also talking about a nation willing to play nudge-nudge wink-wink with the ugly and dangerously anti-democratic MAGA phenomenon.
I’ve suggested that the racial strife we’re seeing now is the necessary result of failing as a nation to authentically deal with our history. The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racism and inequality BAD[!]. Sadly, we never honestly embraced a national process of truth and reconciliation to face and heal from our history. We are, therefore, doomed to continue to suffer from it until we do.
Standpoint epistemology [first person experience]
Critical Race Theory uses a powerful tool to help center marginalized voices in the discourse, e.g., story telling, or standpoint epistemology. This tool works in relation to all groups, including whites. While McWhorter stops short of calling DiAngelo a racist, he calls her book racist, claiming it dehumanizes Blacks by somehow making them incapable of dealing with racism themselves, reducing them to helpless children. I don’t know if McWhorter’s error is a product of this fact, but DiAngelo is writing from, and about, a standpoint epistemology that he doesn’t share.
It’s richly ironic that my ‘racial’ group—the group whom CRT correctly claims to have made its experience central in creating ‘Western civilization’—wants nothing to do with being placed in the center of any twenty-first century truth and reconciliation discourse regarding race in America.
There are two common themes I find among those who are basically arguing that it’s time to move on from discourse regarding race. First, the arguments all overlook trauma and its role in Americans’ experience of race. The second flows from the first: critics fail to understand DiAngelo’s important point.
I don’t think many people would try to argue against the idea that Whiteness* (and its subsequent White supremacist ideology) has historically traumatized Black people. In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo indirectly shows that Whiteness has also traumatized white people. The book exposes unaddressed trauma as a part of what prevents collective national reconciliation and healing on the issues of race in America.
*Whiteness is a modern theological construct (cf. J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account).
NOTE: This post has an addendum (here).
Next week: more post-truth. Come and see.
[this post approx. 850 words (3 min. read)]
I never know what I’ve said until I hear the response.
10 thoughts on “being antiracist”
I have spent countless hours on this topic and am close to sharing my view. This post is helping me dig a big deeper and I share some but not all of your views as I understand them. But I will dig deeper to make sure I am clear before I respond. I will say I begin by suggesting if a person can’t argue both sides I don’t believe they are clear. This takes a 2nd tier pair of glasses and I don’t think you can do it at yellow. In this discourse on racism I think it has to start with turquoise. Of course my view is only my view not to be confused with ‘the truth.’
hey now, Andy,
Thanks for reading, and for commenting!
“Truth, as it relates to any shared understandings of how different groups experience ‘race’ in America, is, at best, the result of argumentation and is consensual (and provisional).”
“Provisional.” So, jump in whenever you’re ready, the space is open for your [evolving?] take.
peace and peanut butter,
I look forward to a Turquoise level response to racism and racial attitudes. My brain refused to engage this idea when asked just now. Any foot in the door towards that end with be appreciated. Don’t hold back!
I just dug through an old email thread with childhood friends and a family member from 2012 because this post struck an old chord. One argument used back then was that racist jokes are good because 1) if you cannot laugh about racism you take it too seriously 2) if someone (my white family member) is friends with a person of color on his hunting lease and they like to joke about racial stuff it must be OK for everyone.
No amount of argument held any sway then and while I painted a line in the sand that those “innocent jokes” could no/would not be sent my way anymore, their basic stance has not changed. Now, I hear the refrain that there is no racism in the US and if we just stop talking about it, then it will go away.
And, good friends who are ex-law enforcement will now post that General Milley should resign for his comments about being willing to study and understand Critical Race Theory. These are college educated professionals who are usually quite self-aware of their own shortcomings and willing to laugh about it.
The utter blindness exhibited by these friends and family is dumbfounding to me. When I try to discuss this with them there is this almost blanket refusal to engage at all. Their basic response is the whole idea of racism in the US is preposterous and thus not worth a seconds thought. And, they will try to turn it around on me and say well, if you are not racist why are you bringing it up.
So, if I tell them that as a white male who grew up in a very white little town in New England and then lived in a segregated small southern town that I don’t and cannot understand what a person of color lives through mostly what comes back is guffaws and some silly country saying that is not applicable.
Well, I wasn’t done with that post but apparently something technological was – haha. I was trying to paint a picture of my everyday engagement about racism as a white person and how it is so difficult to have substantive conversations with those around me. On one level my way of dealing with it was to vote with my feet and move to the most unbiased place I could find on the west coast of the US. But, that still doesn’t change the fact I deal with the blindness to racism everyday. What to do? What to do?
Thanks for the post and helping me realize how much unprocessed garbage is still laying around my subconscious. I am reminded yet again of the Rodney King statement, “Why can’t we all get along?” Good question Mr King!
hey now, shastatour,
Thanks for writing and sharing a bit about your context.
A couple years ago when I first began to run into folks who were raising concerns about DiAngelo’s book, it quickly became a sign for me that they were basically admitting that they had zero first-hand experience in trying to work with white people on issues of ‘race in America.’
DiAngelo’s standpoint epistemology rings true with my standpoint epistemology and no amount of intellectual inference or dogmatism that her critics draw upon for their rationalization is able to overturn that. [cf. John 9]
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BTW – is there any way to edit a reply once it is sent? Drives me nuts when I see my typos/grammar errors later and I want to correct them.
Does it have an edit tab by the date and time of your comment?