A NYT op-ed: Liberal Michelle Goldberg decries the “social justice industry”

November 16, 2021 • 12:30 pm

What is happening to the New York Times? Are they really walking back their “progressive” philosophy by criticizing—or rather, allowing one of their liberal columnists, Michelle Goldberg to criticize—the “Social Justice Industry.” (She says that the SJI is “often derided as ‘wokeness'”; and note that she said it, not me!)

This column by Goldberg stunned me, as she is not only a Leftist, but a “progressive” one.  Still, according to Wikipedia, she has criticized progressive Leftists before (though she’s nearly always criticizing the Right):

Goldberg, a progressive, has sometimes criticized strains of intolerance within the left’s discourse. In 2013 in “The Nation,” Goldberg criticized the public and media reactions to a racist tweet by Justine Sacco, who was fired for tweeting “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She wrote, “Almost any of us could be vulnerable to a crowd-sourced inquisition.” In a July 17, 2020, column in the “New York Times,” headlined, “Do Progressives Have a Free Speech Problem?” Goldberg wrote, “The mass uprising following the killing of George Floyd has led to a necessary expansion of the boundaries of mainstream speech…. At the same time, a climate of punitive heretic-hunting, a recurrent feature of left-wing politics, has set in, enforced, in some cases, through workplace discipline, including firings.”

In 2014, Goldberg wrote a piece for The New Yorker, titled, “What is a Woman?,” about the conflict between transgender women and some radical feminists. It was criticized by Jos Truitt in the Columbia Journalism Review on the basis of Goldberg’s support for trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).

Now she’s writing a column that could have been taken from this website, criticizing the excesses of the progressive Left because they play into the hands of conservatives at a time when the Democratic grip on governance is in peril, and because some of these excesses do nothing to further real social justice. Click to read.

Goldberg’s bête noire here is the American Medical Association’s pamphlet and website “Advancing Health Equity: a Guide to Language“, which I wrote about previously, highlighting Jesse Singal’s criticisms of this ultrawoke document, which does nothing beyond suggested Wokeifying of medical lingo. Here are several examples of how whole phrases are supposed to change. Bad conventional phrases on the left, new “progressive” alternatives on the right:

Goldberg is quite critical of this (as any rational person would be), and says it’s not really been widely adopted.  For example, the CDC, when talking about Covid, uses the term “vulnerable populations” (the new version is “oppressed populations”, which isn’t even the same thing), and still uses forbidden violent language like “combatting the virus” or “an army against the virus.” (I presume such language is considered “triggering”.)  And Goldberg then indicts the Social Justice Industry as injurious to the Left (my emphasis)

Like most other reports written by bureaucratic working groups, “Advancing Health Equity” would probably be read by almost no one if it did not inadvertently advance the right-wing narrative that progressive newspeak is colonizing every aspect of American life. Still, the existence of this document is evidence of a social problem, though not, as the guide instructs us to say instead of “social problem,” a “social injustice.” The problem is this: Parts of the “diversity, equity and inclusion” industry are heavy-handed and feckless, and the left keeps having to answer for them.

I’m gobsmacked by this paragraph, especially the last sentence, which is of course true. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe had to answer for another heavy handed issue: Critical Race Theory. Now it’s true that the formal CRT isn’t taught in secondary schools, but there’s no doubt that ideas taken from it—harmful and divisive ideas—have seeped into school curricula throughout America.  In this case, though, Goldberg doesn’t see even that:

Consider the endless debate over critical race theory in public schools. In certain circles, it’s become conventional wisdom that even if public schools are not teaching graduate-school critical race theory, they’re permeated by something adjacent to it.

“The idea that critical race theory is an academic concept that is taught only at colleges or law schools might be technically accurate, but the reality on the ground is a good deal more complicated,” wrote Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic. Across the nation, he wrote, “many teachers” have started adopting “a pedagogical program that owes its inspiration to ideas that are very fashionable on the academic left, and that go well beyond telling students about America’s copious historical sins.”

In truth it’s hard to say what “many teachers” are doing; school curriculums are decentralized, and most of the data we have is anecdotal. But there was just a gubernatorial election in Virginia in which critical race theory played a major role. If the right had evidence of Virginia teachers indoctrinating children, you’d think we’d have heard about it. After all, school there was almost entirely online last year, offering parents an unprecedented window into what their kids were learning.

Well, Ms. Goldberg, I was with you until that last paragraph. We have enough documentation (the California state proposed ethnic studies program, for one), that we now have enough data (i.e., a flurry of disturbing anecdotes) to worry about schools being marinated in ideas derived from CRT.  Do I need to mention the many examples of race-shaming in public schools, or the sudden Wokification of elite private schools in New York City? You can find enough anecdotes, letters from irate parents, and newspaper reports to show that yes, Yascha Mounk is right.

But even if we agree with Goldberg that CRT and its offspring aren’t really a problem, she does note that the indoctrination of teachers, as documented in training slides, is a problem. She’s not that bothered, though, by antiracist training or teaching—she simply thinks (and she’s right) that it doesn’t work:

Such training would be worth fighting for if it had a record of success in changing discriminatory behavior, but it doesn’t. As the scholars Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev wrote in The Economist, hundreds “of studies of anti-bias training show that even the best programs have short-lived effects on stereotypes and no discernible effect on discriminatory behavior.” Instead of training sessions, they suggest that employers should focus their diversity efforts on concrete efforts like recruitment.

And with that I agree. For a while we were told by the Provost here that faculty might have to undergo equity training, but the pushback from our faculty was so hard that this idea has vanished. Despite repeated studies showing that anti-bias training doesn’t alter bias, people keep on paying consultants to deliver that training.  As they say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Goldberg finishes on a high note, arguing that all this posturing and policing is just hot air. No substantive work is done, no minds changed. And that is what “wokeness” is: the set of words and performative assertions that have no effect on the problems they’re supposed to remedy:

But substantive change is hard; telling people to use different words is easy. One phrase you won’t find in “Advancing Health Equity” is “universal health care”: The American Medical Association has been a consistent opponent of Medicare for All. The word “abortion” isn’t in there either, though it would advance health equity if more doctors were willing to perform one.

Excellent points and good writing!

Finally, Goldberg dismisses the argument that documents like the AMA’s “medspeak” report are Orwellian, for she says that truly Orwellian efforts would compel doctors to use them instead of allowing people to laugh at them. Her response:

But it does irritate me, because [the AMA’s language policing] is so counterproductive. “It’s not scary, it’s just ridiculous,” is not a winning political argument.

Note that she doesn’t say, as many do (even here) that we should ignore this stuff and keep bashing the Republicans. After all, they’re a bigger danger. But I tell you what: the biggest danger is that they’ll regain power in a year or three, and we can’t do anything to let that happen. What occurred in the Virginia gubernatorial elections is a shot across our bow.

As for Goldberg, she seems to be an open-minded and rational Leftist, and I admire her more after reading this piece. I’m surprised they let her run it, but then again they’re publishing McWhorter as well as articles on Leftist infighting that wouldn’t have appeared two years ago.

35 thoughts on “A NYT op-ed: Liberal Michelle Goldberg decries the “social justice industry”

  1. CRT is a convenient boogeyman for the Right. And it worked in Virginia.

    “Well, Ms. Goldberg, I was with you until that last paragraph. We have enough documentation (the California state proposed ethnic studies program, for one), that we now have enough data (i.e., a flurry of disturbing anecdotes) to worry about schools being marinated in ideas derived from CRT. ”

    One proposed program and a “flurry of disturbing anecdotes” is now “enough data”? I don’t think so. I was taught anecdotes are not data. Is a flurry bigger or smaller than a tussle? Especially when one considers the source (Fox News, OAN, Newsmax) which run the vast majority of the CRT stories. This is perhaps the most unscientific sentence I’ve read on your blog (An I read you every single day!). I do worry that harmful and divisive ideas have seeped into school curricula throughout America, but I am much more worried about the ones coming from the Right.

    1. It’s going to be hard to get data when school boards are trying to hide curricula, and suing parents who try to get them, or when teachers are telling students not to talk about their schoolwork with their parents.

      1. … school boards are trying to hide curricula, and suing parents who try to get them, or when teachers are telling students not to talk about their schoolwork with their parents.

        Please show your work.

      2. With respect.
        McAuliffe had to answer for his own dishonesty and arrogance.
        Claiming CRT controversy was “manufactured by Trump snd Youngkin (it wasn’t) and accusing a parent of being “racist” for having the temerity to ask him how he would address their concerns (and that is not even touching his biggest gaffe of all, “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should teach”-which he only doubled downonafter it was used againsthim). And they is a career politician.
        I have never ran for office and even I was shocked. In any other field of work this would be considered gross incompetence.

        1. “If the right had evidence of Virginia teachers indoctrinating children, you’d think we’d have heard about it.”

          I hear it all the time.

        2. “CRT is a convenient boogeyman for the Right.”
          “Nobody said it doesn’t mean exist”.
          Wow. Someone has got short memory!

    2. A flurry of disturbing anecdotes is certainly enough data to “worry” that something important is going on. And that’s all our host said. He didn’t say it proved anything. Many important discoveries have been made on the strength of a single case, penicillin for one. Of course many anecdotes turn out to be just random noise. But if you don’t have your ears on, you’ll miss the signal.

      It’s not unscientific to notice stuff and raise an alarm about what it means. (Edit: changed “wonder” to “raise an alarm about”

    3. Lol.
      So I guess you are going to deny there is such a thing as “long COVID” because, after all, the “anecdotes” have been reported by individual sufferers?
      Sounds very much like a scientology attacking modern pschiatry, because, dah, if a disease cannot be diagnosed by a blood test or X ray, of course it doesn’t exist! (Just like CRT doesn’t, in schools, according to the media and their policies allies.)

  2. As I started to read, I wondered if Goldberg had run into the anti-woman aspect of the gender sub-strain of Wokeness. As for the incorporation of CRT or its derivatives into institutions, there was a story the other day (with video) of a man denied monoclonal antibody treatment because he was white. It’s not a joke that CRT is in medical schools and hospitals. Everyone who reads the news knows what happens if you step out of line. And if we don’t think CRT is in schools, than why is the 1619 Project a school curriculum? While I don’t necessarily care for his style, James Lindsay’s twitter has examples almost everyday of Woke curricula in schools. Don’t forget what Loyola said about getting the children. They want an army of little Jesus-freaks of Wokeness.

  3. I’m going to break with my normal habits and suggest a book I have not yet read: The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times’s Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History

    It is alleged that for more than a century the New York Times has chosen to manipulate its reporting to favour its own views. Perhaps ‘woke’ has run its course as an earner so the Gray Lady is firing an anti-woke ranging shot to see how that is received?

  4. “Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory”1,300 times in less than four months. Why? Because critical race theory (CRT) has become a new boogie man for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.”

    “To better understand how widespread these efforts are to ban critical race theory from U.S. classrooms, we did an assessment of anti-CRT state legislation. Here’s what we found:Eight states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, and South Carolina) have passed legislation.”

    Direct links to the legislation passed and proposed are provided in this article from the Brookings Institution. Note that the Louisiana House Bill 564 ” would ban “divisive concepts” from being taught in public schools and public postsecondary institutions.”

    Divisive concepts. In Louisiana. Think about that. The bill started as a ban of CRT but it sure doesn’t end there.

    1. Just finished watching, and participating, in Texan Jim Hightower’s “Chat & Chew” podcast. One of the other featured guests, both Texans (I live in Ohio), remarked that “Texans fought in defense of slavery twice”. Absolutely true, first in the 1830s to restore it, then in the 1860s to maintain it. But I suppose even mentioning that fact will be out of bounds in educating Texas’s schoolchildren. I am no fan of CRT, but whitewashing our history is not the remedy. I’m betting, or at least hoping, that the average white kid in Texas, and Louisiana, recognizes that.

      1. Texas declaration of secession is brimming with defense of slavery and vile racism.
        That is straight up history. It is not CRT. And no law can ban it because “the truth is the ultimate defense”.

    2. Lol Brookings? The hilari-ite Brookings?
      And to teach about “white privilege”, “white fragility” etc in fact is teaching CRT (even if you don’tmentionitby name), AND teaching something divisive. The two are not mutually exclusive, rather, CRT is CRT BECAUSE it is divisive.

  5. Here is a bit of anecdata that is not merely typical but stereotypical. A new Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the UW College of Engineering (who has, of course, no background whatsoever in Engineering) explains the office’s goals as follows on a University website: “Science and engineering impact all aspects of people’s lives, and there’s great opportunity for the UW Engineering community to lead by example. It’s important to get comfortable with discomfort, to recognize the ways that engineering has reinforced oppression throughout history, to ask questions of our work, to prepare ourselves for tough conversations when they arise, and to help people who don’t think DEI applies to them understand how and why it does. ”

    As Michelle Goldberg accurately points out, the feckless, overreaching rhetoric in the Social Justice industry is a great help to the conservative establishment of the conventional Republican Party. Providing that service to the Right has long been the historical role of the performance Left, from Robespierre to the Weather Underground to the window-breaking exhibitionists called “anti-fa”. The difference today—and it is very peculiar—is that the performance Left has managed to lodge an entire DEI nomenklatura in the management level of academic institutions and now even of commercial firms. Indeed.com, a prominent employment notice website, lists over a 100 open positions under the category “Vice President Diversity Inclusion”. The nomenklatura corresponds to a very profitable independent consultancy business, naturally. The latter’s brisk trade in moronic but often required “Diversity” agit-prop trainings is almost as much a godsend to Republican electoral prospects as were the “defund the police” charades of the last couple of years.

    The Goldberg column in the NYT might signal a turn of the tide in what could be called the center-Left —except, unfortunately, I suspect it is occurring both too slowly and too late. Maybe too late to avoid a Senate led by Mitch McConnell in 2023 and a President Youngkin after that.

    1. I find the following sort of argument – which I see all over the place here and amongst people with a more tolerant, classical liberal mindset than the Woke Left – very odd. It goes kind of like this:

      “The toxic Woke Left has captured virtually every mainstream institution, including the Democratic Party, which really concerns me, because it could cost them at the polls 😭”

      It’s kind of like someone in 2016 saying “Geesh! Trump is horrible! And the worst part is he may cost the GOP the White House!”

      This Woke insanity is destroying the country and they have captured the Democratic Party: the Democrats therefore deserve to lose and lose big and hopefully they will in at least the next two election cycles.

      I don’t think most people that say the reason they’re concerned about Wokeism is that it could hurt the Democrats are being honest; I think they’re saying this because of social pressure to signal that they’re still a good liberal despite being strongly opposed to Wokeism, and feel compelled to say “But I’m still rooting for the Democrats!”, as though you can oppose Wokeism while voting for the political party of Wokeism.

      I think most of these people are going to hold their nose and vote Republican because they know that it’s the simplest and most people effective means available to attempt to stem the tide of Woke insanity.

      They’ll never admit it but it will be evident in election outcomes. And it’s not because they’re being duped by an imaginary Woke bogeyman, it’s because they recognize Wokeism is a very serious threat that must be opposed, and in most elections, opposing Wokeism means voting Republican.

      1. Thanks for your accusations of dishonesty. I have never voted Republican and never will, so you’re dead wrong about that. Also, many of us mourn the death of the center-left where many of us resided, which is increasingly squeezed between the Trumpian Right and the Wokeists.

        Readers: if you decry Wokeism and that’s made you vote Republican, weigh in below.

        But you’re right about Woke insanity. What you’re wrong about is that it’s made most of us vote Republican. There is indeed evidence that the follies of the Woke left have played into Republican hands, as it did in the gubernatorial elections in Virginia.

        Now do you want to apologize for accusing most of us of dishonesty?

        1. Joseph M. seems to live in an ideological bubble where wokeism is the greatest danger facing the country. Apparently, he is unconcerned with the authoritarian Republican Party, whose base is white Christian nationalism – root of its ever growing anti-democratic tendencies. Any society is faced with multiple challenges. It is unlikely that one political party will have policy stands that coincide exactly with the views of any voter. I will repeat what I’ve said before. Wokeism is an annoying boil on the ass that should be excised. The Republican Party is a malignant cancer that threatens the ideals of this country – a democratic country that rejects religiously based authoritarianism.

          1. Historian, this is about the gazillionth time that you’ve said this. If the concentration of Wokeismon this site is, in your view, grossly misguided, I don’t know why you keep reading and posting here–unless it’s to remind us that we’re concentrating on the wrong thing.

            How many times do I have to tell people that I’m more interested in Wokeism than parroting the gazillions of people who go after Republicans, and that is my niche? Seriously, I don’t want to hear this any more, because it’s equivalent to telling me that I keep writing about non-issues.

            1. I thought I was agreeing with you. Since you always vote Democratic then it would seem that you consider other issues more important than Wokeism. Otherwise, why do you vote Democratic? This does not contradict your desire to write about Wokeism rather than the other issues.

          2. By highlighting the excesses of the Democrats, this remains thee only site even-handed enough to gives arguments to counter my friends on the right. Hasn’t changed their minds in most cases, but at least they can’t pull the “But your side never talks about that” conversation ender.

            There is certainly enough visible incorrect information, stupidity, and intolerance in the Democratic party to just let it slide.

      2. Voting Republican because of Wokeism is the dumbest take I’ve heard for a while. The GOP right now is a completely broken party believing in all sorts of ridiculous things like the Big Lie. They can’t even keep their own people in line if they think it might piss off Trump. State media, aka Fox News, is going all in for Putin. The GOP don’t dare question it.

        The Democrats aren’t the party of Wokeism as most of the politicians don’t believe in it. They pander to Woke elements in the base more than I would like. Even in the worst case, Wokeism is not going to destroy our democracy. On the other hand, many in the GOP seem to like authoritarianism. Our democracy isn’t safe even if Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024.

  6. Here’s a personal anecdote for your consideration. I recently attended a concert at a local high school (which shall remain nameless) and my ears perked up when I heard the announcer say, “That was a performance by those who identify as female. Next we’ll hear a piece by the choir of those who identify as male.”

    1. Yeah, this stuff even shows up here, across the Atlantic. I find it outright crazy when people suggest it wouldn’t exist. Are they living on a Mars colony? Also, it‘s suspicious that people with a very strong haven’t-heard-haven’t-seen attitude appear to be most oddly motivated to argue with great vehemence that nothing took place, and it’s all a myth.

    2. As someone who sang alto in the choir when I was in eighth grade, I sure didn’t identify as female. Seems a bit sexist to me!

    3. Virtually all forms you have to fill out now ask for your “sex assigned at birth” instead of your sex.

      We all know this insanity is going on just about everywhere and nothing is gained by pretending it isn’t.

  7. Many on the Left now are going with the “CRT is only taught in law school” defense as if the first use of a name defines it for all time. CRT has clearly evolved to encompass a larger meaning in a larger context. The proponents of the “anti-racism” movement refer to it as CRT, don’t they? If so, they can’t expect their enemies to just drop it. They can’t dodge accountability for their broken theory by claiming that the name we’ve been using for while is now the wrong one. AOC is trying to do this with “Woke” by claiming that the really cool kids don’t use that word any more. McWhorter seems to be buying into it, based on his latest newsletter. We can’t let them dodge this way.

    1. ‘AOC is trying to do this with “Woke” by claiming that the really cool kids don’t use that word any more.’

      Well, one must be “cool,” at all costs, so as not to be “irrelevant” (in relation to the American mass pop culture, I guess).

    2. We are precisely where we were in 2005.
      “Of course we are not teaching creationism. We are teaching INTELLIGENT DESIGN”!

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