Time Magazine tries bullying its readers into Wokeness

February 10, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I guess if Newsweek is the right-wing weekly of choice, then Time Magazine is its woke equivalent. The article below (free; click on screenshot) is about what one might expect from the Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley Law School—in this case Savala Nolan.  But it’s about the most offensive and authoritarian piece of Woke claptrap I’ve ever read.

It’s not enough that Nolans’ piece hectors all white people to “do the work”—and that means doing the “work” she recommends, which means filling yourself with guilt—but she also instructs us that we must get our friends, family, and loved ones involved as well. And if they don’t become our “allies” in the journey to full guilt (and thus expiation), then we should punish them!. Those are the “tough conversations” we’re supposed to have. “If you don’t start reading Kendi and DiAngelo right now, and discuss them with me, then you’re a bad person and not serious about racism.”

I am not making this up. Click to read:

Dr. Nolan is very disappointed in us.

The problem:

I know a lot of white people. A lifetime of private schools, three years at an elite law school, a job in academia, a house in the suburbs, my own family—I’m surrounded. The vast majority of them are progressive and, as of the last couple years, eager to be allies. They were sickened by George Floyd’s murder. They posted photographs of Breonna Taylor’s gentle, sweet face. They set up recurring donations. They bought books, and they bought them from Black-owned bookstores, and then they read them with pens in their hands. Books like Me and White SupremacySo You Want to Talk About RaceWhite Fragility, and The New Jim Crow. They were hellbent on personal transformation, on becoming not merely not racist but anti-racist, not only benign but of benefit. And God bless them for it. I applaud them (silently), and I don’t take their willingness for granted. But, very often, these white people and their efforts disappoint me. They frustrate me. They make me sad.

They disappoint and frustrate and sadden me because their work—as earnest and crucial as it is—frequently fails to demand the participation of the white people with whom they have the tightest, most honest, most intimate relationships. Their husbands, their parents, their wives, their children, their best friends. The people with whom they have the most currency, the most likelihood of creating a long-term trajectory of change. The people who are most exposed and connected to their (racialized) desires and fears, their conscious and unconscious beliefs, their choices and preferences—the heartwood of the very racial hierarchy they say they want to address. Time and again, I’ve observed white people approach “the work” with heartfelt intensity—but no clear, persistent will to spread it to the most significant white people in their lives.

The books she lists, which constitute part of “The Work,” give you an idea of what she is hectoring us about: embracing full-on Critical Race theory.

But The Work is not enough, for it’s only begun when we limit it to ourselves. We need to rope all our white friends into sharing The Work and hence The Guilt—which is the penultimate goal of The Work (The ultimate goal, of course, is power and then reparations.)

I’m not opposed to learning about racism and anti-racism (who would be in these fraught days?), and I devoted a lot of last year to reading about racism before the 1950s—a time when it was much more pernicious than now. I wanted to try to feel how authors like James Baldwin and Richard Wright reacted when they encountered full-on Jim Crow. And I continue to read, but I’m not going to be forced to read books that have the goal of infecting me, a second generation Jew descended from the Ashkenazis of Eastern Europe, with the original sin of guilt. That doesn’t mean I reject anti-racism—only the antiracism of the performative sort that isn’t out for equality, but for self-proclaimed virtue.

So I’m one of the bad ones for Nolan:

Because here’s the truth: whiteness is not a solitary state. Whiteness is a system. Whiteness is a social phenomenon—as in communal, collective, community-based, and often family-based. Whiteness is rooted in relationships. Its rules and benefits are built and transmitted, in ways subtle and overt, between white people. Its habits and behaviors are only so powerful because they’re enacted by many white individuals, together, at the same time and across time. If you want to untangle the net, you have to work in tandem with other white people. A white person who “does the work” in isolation is like a pianist playing in a sealed room. They hear the music, and that’s great. They may be personally transformed—but they shouldn’t expect the world to start dancing.

And so we have is our second task:

. . .They also risk seeing a side of loved ones that they don’t want to see—the side that maybe doesn’t care about their own relationship to white supremacy enough to interrogate it, or is so undereducated that they don’t believe they have a relationship to white supremacy worth investigating. No one wants to peer too deeply into a loved one’s shortcomings. That’s human, and it’s understandable. I myself pick and choose which aspects of white supremacy I am willing to surface when it comes to my white friends and family. But I have to believe that there are white people who resist doing the work when it’s proffered to them by near-strangers, but who, on hearing from a sister or son or spouse that their failure to engage would impact a cherished relationship, just might show up. So why can’t more well-meaning white people insist and demand that their family members join them, or face some consequence? No risk, no reward.

I know that what I’m suggesting—asking for—is going to be unattractive for many white folks. In the microeconomic sense, at least, giving up comfort and privilege chafes against most people’s self-interest. There is little incentive for any white person to insist that another white person address how white supremacy shows up in their lives. There is little reason to risk the harmony in your dearest relationships in the name of something that, you believe, barely even impacts you.

In other words, we must collar all our friends and haul them into The Conversation. (This will do wonders for one’s social life.) And what if they don’t want to have The Conversation? Then we must make them Pay the Price, which means Make them Feel the Guilt:

What should this cost look like? Cutting ties or the silent treatment isn’t realistic, nor is it proportionate, nor, for the most part [JAC: “for the most part!’], desirable. But how about something? How about, for instance, honest, repeated conversations? How about good old-fashioned I-statements, now and again? Such as, “When you mostly ignore opportunities to do anti-racist work, I feel worried that we have a different world view or a different set of values.” Or perhaps, “I know we’ve talked about this before, and you’ll make your own choices about how you spend your time. But when you stay out of this fight, so to speak, I feel surprised and confused. I know you care about justice.” There’s no need for a scorched-earth approach to racial politics, especially between people who love each other. We can be more subtle, more nuanced, and more gracious with each other—even as we hold the line, even as we persist. And by “we,” I mean all of us—but I mostly mean you. White people. Because this is your work. These are your relationships. This thing—whiteness—is yours, not mine. You make it, not me. If you mean well, don’t let someone else’s white apathy make you apathetic.

. . . If we want this cooperative, connective transformation—and I believe we do—it’s time to increase the heat. That increase needs to come from white folks, and it needs to be directed at the white people they love more than anything. It needs to be real, and sustained, and, not to get too misty about it, rooted in love. Love for the relationship (no scorched earth necessary) and love for something bigger. Bigger than power, bigger than privilege, bigger than whiteness. Otherwise, I fear an unabating status quo. I fear a waste of effort and good-will. Many white people are working, but so long as they work without implicating their closest bonds, I fear we’ll lose much of the harvest. We can’t afford that anymore.

Somehow I think that Dr. Nolan has missed the class on “how to win friends and influence people.” Her whole argument is hostile, consisting of “you must agree with me or you’re a bad person” combined with, “and if you do agree with me, then get everybody you know to as well, and punish them if they don’t.”

Now there is something useful in the article, but it boils down to this: “If you see friends being racist, call them out on it.”  Nolan would disagree, for that’s not really what she means. She wants us to get everybody to help us Dismantle the Entire System and sign onto every aspect of Critical Race Theory. And we must be ridden with guilt, for only then can we, and the world, be saved.

I don’t know how to cure the problem of inequality, but I do know that you can’t bully people into it. Can you imagine someone following her script in the Sixties? Well, that’s not the way the Civil Rights bills were passed. It wasn’t guilt—at least not in my view—but the dawning realization that it’s immoral to treat other humans in ways that we wouldn’t want to be treated. It was the sit-ins, the dogs and truncheons and the fire hoses of the other side; the vileness of segregationists like Bull Connor and George Wallace, the killing of Emmett Till, combined with the persuasive powers of Civil Rights leaders. You would never see Dr. King writing an essay like this one. (Well, King’s been press-ganged into posthumous advocacy of CRT, and since he’s dead he’s unable to object.)

This article won’t work for the same reason that Bias Training doesn’t work: it makes people resentful by telling them they’re bad, and it increases the problem by making society more divisive. Of course we have inequality, and of course our Republic can’t hold its head high until we fix it. But trying to remedy it this way is like trying to cure a headache by knocking someone unconscious with a sledgehammer.

If you want to see John McWhorter’s simple tripartite solution to inequality, go here. Maybe it won’t work, but it’s sounds a damn sight more effective than the bullying prescribed by Nolan.

h/t: Mark

44 thoughts on “Time Magazine tries bullying its readers into Wokeness

  1. I know it’s not the epitome of Socratic discourse, but last night’s South Park episode (new season, episode 2) skewered this approach beautifully.

  2. “When you mostly ignore opportunities to do anti-racist work, I feel worried that we have a different world view or a different set of values.”

    I’ll try that at our next dinner party with friends (in 2023?) and let you know how it goes.

    Sheesh.

    1. If I was asked this I think I’d consider responding that, “yes, apparently we do have a different world view or a different set of values.”

    2. Yes, that sentence stuck out as particularly obnoxious, and rather passive-aggressive as well. If this is Nolan being more, subtle, nuanced, gracious and rooted in love, one wonders what her scorched earth mode is.

      Since my few friends are all Chinese, and Ms Nolan doesn’t mention them, I’ll try this technique on some white acquaintances at the gym. In the Covid era, it should be an effective means of achieving social distancing.

    3. “I feel worried that we have a different world view or a different set of values.”

      Such a statement could only be uttered by a committed racist.

    4. And Ms. Nolan, when you mostly ignore opportunities to do anti-covid work, *I* feel worried.

      Or maybe when you mostly ignore opportunities to do animal rights work, I feel worried.

      Or maybe when you mostly ignore opportunities to help save the environment, I feel worried.

      Or perhaps when you mostly ignore opportunities to give blood, I feel worried.

      Turn about is fair play after all, right? I mean you can’t be good unless you are devoting 110% of your time to activism on each of these issues, right?

      There are many many good causes. Implying to people that only yours counts and spending ones’ free time supporting any other worthy cause (or, y’know, even not being activist) is evil, is a sure sign of a fanatic. A sign of a cult.

  3. Having repeated conversations trying to convert people to your political views would be as obnoxious, and as effective, as trying to convert them to your religion.

  4. Wokeness, totalizing and totalitarian, is engulfing the entire culture. NPR just posted a piece about the societal implications of different “skin-tone emojis”, citing a so-called “study” on this truly vital topic from the U of Edinburgh. One looks in vain for evidence of an imminent end to this madness.

    1. What’s your distinction between a cult and a religion? One is organised enough to fill out their tax returns while the other isn’t?

      1. The level of authoritarianism, I’d say.

        It’s a continuum but think North Korea’s leader worship vs. New Zealand’s latest MM craze. Cults shut off your access to outside information, religions do not. Cults capture and control your resources, religions ask for them. Cults use physical force or material coercion to prevent you from leaving or questioning doctrine, religions use social pressure to prevent those things instead.

        Various movements can have some cultish traits but not others. As I said, continuum. But the extremes are qualitatively and substantively different from each other.

  5. I’ve said I am not entirely comfortable with calling Wokeness a religion, but I think it completely appropriate and correct to call it a cult. A utopian cult. (“Dismantle the Entire System”? Cockamamie Barn Burners!) Can you imagine your spouse suddenly talking this way? What a nightmare! One of my best friends lives in Maryland a stone’s throw from the District, and all her neighbors are like this. Luckily, things have finally worked out, and she and her husband are moving down here to Florida this month.

    1. One thing is for sure, CRT may demand maximum guilt from people who have never hurt a soul in their lives, but having achieved that state I think our host is incorrect in assuming you will have salvation; I think the point is to inflict permanent, everlasting guilt on the ‘oppressor’ class with all the benefits that may bring to the ‘oppressed’. It is vengeance not salvation we are dealing with here.

  6. Sure we can talk about race, as long as I get to mention the views of Tom Sowell, John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Jason Riley, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams…

    But I have a feeling that any such “conversations” would exclude these viewpoints…

  7. I guess I’m just a bad person, condemned to Hell. Because I don’t, and didn’t, do any of those first-level things she sullenly credits white people with doing in the first paragraph you cite. Sure I was disappointed at George Floyd’s killing and was glad the State of Minnesota was able to get a conviction for murder. But I wasn’t sickened by it….not nearly as much as I was sickened by the largely unpunished orgy of social breakdown and mob violence instigated by Black Lives Matter that followed. Honestly, I thought you’d all gone mad down there, especially when your big cities started defunding the police. And, for my fellow Canadians, I’m not sickened by the Residential Schools, either. Curious and inquiring — we do need to know the truth — but not sickened.

    Contrary to what she says, I don’t think my “whiteness” is my problem. I think social dysfunction among the underclasses in both countries is their problem. I will paraphrase her: This thing—dysfunction—is yours, not mine. You make it, not me. If you do seek to better yourselves, don’t let your failures be blamed on someone else’s apathy toward you.

    So, if Saval Nolan doesn’t mind, I think I’ll just sit out the rest of the “work” and hold precious the friends and family who have my back, since Nolan clearly doesn’t. And I’m grateful for our host’s efforts to spread the anti-Woke word, one mind at a time.

  8. You are too charitable. I don’t understand what this person is saying, at all. Maybe it’s obvious when you are American (I’m not), but this makes no sense to me. I see a zealous call to proselytise for something.

    But the content of this theology has proven elusive to me. I read Delgado et al early on, many years ago. I read Crenshaw, too. I know the (legal) academical side of CRT. But since the days on pharyngula, I cannot make out what it is, these people want in concrete terms. It’s an impenetrable wall of buzzword smoke, through which one has to walk blind-folded and self-flogging. It truly is, and always was, the posturing virtue signalling it was described on urban dictionary about a decade ago. You are now two presidents later, and it still came to nothing but the dismantling of the economic left. The one true achievement I grant the woke is the complete and total victory of neo-liberal capitalism. They made Trump possible, and they helped the rich in the war on the poor.

  9. I don’t do tough conversations. I am proud that I can’t. I can ask tough questions. What is this all about? what is the bottom line? No one is listening when I talk so what kind of change can come from talking?

  10. “Well, that’s not the way the Civil Rights bills were passed.” But of course, as Dr. Nolan would explain,
    the Civil Rights bills were not merely inadequate, they were evil because they seemed to represent progress, thus preventing the instant achievement of universal D, E, I—the goal of the recommended incessant brain-washing and supervised correct thought.

    The spread of language like Nolan’s in academia teaches us something important. We used to dismiss the leaden, totalitarian language of the Komsomol and the Maoist Red Guards as something imposed from above. Maybe there is a considerable mass instinct to submerge oneself in this kind of wave,
    even without direction from above. An outbreak of this instinct seems to be what is happening, at least on campus. Another version of it, with different superstitions, is happening in the GOP.

  11. At the back of my mind is the question about how soon even more greatly Woke people will turn against the ‘weaknesses’ of Saval Nolan. It seems to be a feature that virtue signalling has to escalate the scale of signalling to be seen as still virtuous.

    In which case I’ll just sit this out.

  12. John McWhorter’s three part remedy is indeed more useful and will actually do something beyond creating mass guilt. There’s another way that this piece ties to McWhorter’s book. Savala Nolan is saying that every true believer must proselytize—must get into the faces of family members, colleagues, and friends to badger them, too, to “do the work” and share the good news of anti-racism. McWhorter argues that the “Elect” (his word for the woke) comprise a new religion, a religion with its own unique prophets and sacred texts. At first I didn’t think that McWhorter needed to use the religion metaphor to make his case. But after reading this piece in Time I can see his point.

  13. This whole trope that:

    – You must agree with me, and
    – You must do what I do or what I tell you to do, OR

    QED you are a Bad Person.

    … is simply BS. It doesn’t appeal to anyone. It is false.

    If I don’t agree with you politically (and this is all politics), then I don’t agree with you politically, full stop.

    Demonizing one’s political opponents is not an effective tactic for winning them over. (Ms. Nolan.)

  14. Does anyone here know enough about the administrivia of the advertising industry to know how to document the consequent decline in readership of “Time”?

    1. I don’t Mr. G., but (as I’ve mentioned before in comments) Time is the poster child for the decline of (some. many?) decent brands. If you find one, compare a 1970s issue of Time vs today’s. Since the 80s it has gone down faster than a crashing plane. From a serious, international respected publication* then, for decades now it has been a celebrity rag, a moral panic of the moment siren, just garbage. Seeing it in my dentist’s waiting room depresses me more than the dentist.

      D.A.
      NYC
      *Admittedly I was a child then (1970s) so more easily impressed intellectually. But I think you’ll still find it decent for the times.

      1. Time was going down hill in the 1950s. A fellow student asserted that Post was a magazine for people who couldn’t read and Time was for those who couldn’t think. Every few years I scan the occasional out-of-date issue to remind myself how hopeless it is.

  15. Ms. Nolan,

    I await your definitions of:

    Whiteness
    Equity
    Hate Speech

    Please provide clear and succinct definitions.

    Also, let’s try this on:

    It’s Time For White People Black People to Have Tough Conversations With Their White Black Friends and Relatives About the Importance of Education

    Would that ever be acceptable these days? Why not? Why is stereotyping white people OK?

    I’ve held my tongue for the most part over the policies here in Minnesota, last spring, for the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines. These policies were overtly racist. If you were a white person, you had to wait about two more months to be eligible for vaccination (this, even despite that fact that the vaccinations were all free (government sponsored) and dispensed in centers that were specifically sited* to make it most easy for BIPOC to access them — and still a large section of the BIPOC population refused to get them (and still do)). I wonder how many additional white people died because of this? I did not object to this policy (what benefit could I possibly have expected from such a tactic?). I get it that more BIPOC had jobs that made them vulnerable to infection. Fair enough; but the job criteria were already in place. And they were not race specific. (*The sites were about as inconvenient as could be for me; and I took our oldest, worst car when I went, because of the level of street crime locally. But still, I eagerly and assertively sought out vaccination.)

    1. I think she already has enough on her plate providing her ongoing live demonstration of what normal people mean by “asshole”.

    2. “It’s Time For White People Black People to Have Tough Conversations With Their White Black Friends and Relatives About the Importance of Education.”

      (Apparently the line-through won’t copy.)

      For those so inclined, James Lindsay at New Discourses holds forth on “Critical Education: What Is Culturally Relevant Pedagogy?” 2/7/22

  16. The huge flaw here is that all white people do not go to private schools, elite universities, or wind up with jobs in academia. More than the “woke” realize have lousy low paying jobs and very difficult lives. It is very true that they don’t face day to day racism, people of color have very different experiences than these people; anyone with the slightest awareness fully knows this. And of course white people are no more angels than anyone else, and many are, indeed racist. But we are also not uniform; there are huge differences among white people – “whiteness” only exists in the minds of the “woke”. Being a progressive used to mean that you looked for as much commonality among people as you could, and unite everybody possible to solve problems. “Wokeness” violates this principle in more ways than I will say. Time to outgrow it.

  17. If Ms. Nolan wants to fight systemic racism, why is she offering solutions that do nothing to address actual social systems? Instead she wants to call forth a quasi-religious awokening on every white sinner in the land through “tough conversations.” Those won’t do a damn thing except give the person calling for them a sense of moral superiority. Genuine racists won’t engage in them and anyone who does will be left with little beyond masochistic guilt. Nolan in her own way is abetting racism by advocating fake solutions that will only prolong problems, not solve them. Beware of anyone who thinks societal problems can be solved by shaming sinners.

  18. What is most odd to me here is that Newsweek is the right wing news and Time is the woke. This blows my mind. When did the reversal happen?

  19. As I mentioned to Prof. Coyne when I alerted him to this “essay,” I was so angered by this that I immediately cancelled my subscription to Time.

    1. When I’m listening to a lecture/discussion online, it happens not infrequently that the verbiage of the speaker’s/participants’ introduction(s) mentions to-the-effect their being on some List produced by Time Magazine. Surely not a few of them grit their teeth when hearing that, for the sake of comity not replying that they were powerless to prevent that.

  20. Maybe should Dr. Nolan should consider leaving? Because “whiteness” is (let’s be honest) just cute way of saying white people, people mostly descended from one little corner of the world. And if she really doesn’t want to live among them, she’ll be pleased to discover that most of the world’s countries have very few of them.

    Of course, their taxpayers usually don’t fund quite such generous perches as the one she occupies at Berkeley. But fortunately, many have low enough costs that I’m sure she could afford food and writing instruments for the rest of her life. Send postcards from Costa Rica about how awful it is to have light skin privilege there, and how backward the locals are for having a gendered language. About the glorious lack of racist white policemen in Guatemala, or maybe Uganda.

  21. I already sense that words like “racist” and “racism” are losing their sting from overuse. The concepts these represent have become so fuzzy as to become somewhat meaningless. Nolan’s piece calls people like me racist. I shrug my shoulders. The accusation is to me as water to a duck.

    I wonder, though, that in the not-too-distant future the terms may come to connote a virtue instead of vice, meaning something akin to “anti-anti-racists” (i.e., people opposed to wokeness). All that would be required is for the woke to continue identifying decent people as racists and a sufficient number of those decent people to appropriate the words and begin identifying as such. This kind of semantic shift is common, and a powerful tool for negotiating in/out group relations. Think of words like “geek” or “nerd.” (Of course I realize the gravity of the historical baggage is greater for “racist” than these, but the principle is the same). It’s plausible that one day people may say, “I’m a total racist!” meant in the way we hear today, “I’m a total nerd / I’m a tech geek.” Used to be to call somebody a freak was pejorative. Today, it is often used in high praise for skill or achievement, e.g., “In his heyday, Tiger was a freak on the golf course.”

  22. “on hearing from a sister or son or spouse that their failure to engage would impact a cherished relationship, just might show up”. Yeah, because people always respond really well to that sort of coercion! Not.

  23. We humans can be a stubborn species, especially when it comes to the schooling of our own young ones. Still, to me, it’s difficult to imagine that teaching parenting curriculum would be considered more controversial than teaching students Critical Race Theory or Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, the latter which is currently taught in public schools in my province.

    I would like to see child-development science curriculum implemented for secondary high school students, and it could also include racial- and neuro-diversity, albeit not overly complicated. It would be mandatory course material, however, and considerably more detailed than what’s already covered by home economics, etcetera, curriculum: e.g. diaper changing, baby feeding and so forth. I don’t think the latter is anywhere near sufficient (at least not how I experienced it) when it comes to the proper development of a child’s mind.

    For one thing, the curriculum could/would make available to students potentially valuable/useful knowledge about their own psyches and why they are the way they are. And besides their own nature, students can also learn about the natures of their peers, which might foster greater tolerance for atypical personalities. If nothing else, the curriculum could offer students an idea/clue as to whether they’re emotionally suited for the immense responsibility and strains of parenthood.

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