Freddie deBoer enumerates the “Good White Men”

June 14, 2022 • 9:15 am

I like Freddie deBoer, and am pondering subscribing to his site, because more than anyone he writes good stuff in a relaxed, conversational style/ I like his anti-wokeness and especially his humor. You can read his column this week for free, but subscribe if you can. Click on the link below; it’s a hilarious piece that also rings true, and should get you thinking about the woke:

deBoer’s aim is to compile a list of “good white men” who are ALLIES to the marginalized but whose accomplishments are largely performative, calling attention to their own moral purity while telling other white men to shut up and listen to those who are marginalized. Of course, as deBoer points out, this means they’re telling themselves to shut up, and their self-promotion is over the top. They cannot resist telling us how good they are.

I have heard of only a few of the 12 men he singles out, but deBoer’s description of their self-aggrandizement is really funny. Nor does he except himself (he’s on his own list!), for by enumerating these big egos who act like “allies” but are really egocentric, deBoer recognizes that he’s putting himself above them, too.

I’ll give an example of his humor with his opening, which I love:

You could be forgiven for thinking that we’re witnessing the end of the era of the white man. Headlines saying such are not hard to come by, after all, and media and academia are captivated by the notion that we white men must soon give way to women and people of color and, like, gray ace demisexuals or some such. So funny, then, and so profoundly American, that some of the most successful self-marketers of the 21st century are white men. They are, in fact, Good White Men.

These are the guys who have carefully crafted personas as ALLIES, as the good ones, as the right kind of white guy. These are the dudes whose every engagement on social media functions to let you know how very sorry they are, but always seem to come out on top in doing so. These are the guys who always stand behind women, ready to catch them when they fall, which they will inevitably do because of fucking patriarchy, man, and if people would just read their bell hooks maybe we’d be getting somewhere!, please like share and subscribe. These are the guys who think all complaints about identity politics, political correctness, and cancel culture are just the dying gasp of reactionary old men, which is why they lie awake at night praying to god that they never get canceled. These are the guys who put their pronouns in their bios in hopes that doing so might get them a little pussy. These are the guys who will harangue you about how white dudes do this and white dudes do that, speaking to you from their blameless white dude mouths in their righteous white dude faces. These are the guys who look at the discourse about white supremacy and patriarchy and see market opportunity.

There’s nothing wrong with being a white man who wants to do good. I am one, after all. The trouble is that the Good White Men believe that white men in general have some sort of inherent badness, that at the very least white men bear a special burden of helping to end injustice and to “center” women, people of color, and other minority groups, to step back and let others speak. Good White Males think whiteness and maleness are problems to be solved. The trouble here is twofold. First, simply by nature of being Good White Men, by the very act of endlessly talking about the sinful nature of other white men, the Good White Men exonerate themselves from the very critique they advance. Constantly complaining about the evil done by white men inherently and invariably functions to contrast themselves with other, worse white men. Being the white man who talks about the poor character of most white men cannot help but shine your own character. No matter how reflexively you chant that you realize that you yourself are part of the problem, no matter how insistently you say that you’re included in your own critique, you aren’t. You can’t be. To be the one who makes the critique inevitably elevates you above it.

He who humbleth himself wishes to be exalted.

Second, standing up and demanding that everyone pay attention to someone else sure is a good way to monopolize attention for yourself. If you go on your podcast, blog, cable news show, or social network as a white man and tell other white men they need to shut up and listen, you are definitionally not shutting up and listening – and, of course, doing so in such a way as to receive credit for doing it. Put another way, Good White Men constantly tell other men and white people to step back and listen but absolutely never shut the fuck up themselves. Each of these guys could walk the talk by just unplugging and no longer filling the airwaves with their opinions, and in so doing cede space to POC and women and whoever else. That they don’t is the most damning indictment of their project.

And here’s a list of the Good White Men. Read deBoer’s descriptions, which don’t dox them but are about as snarky as you can get. Most on the list below are journalists, and I’ve heard only of Chris Hayes and Chase Strangio,

a.)  Adam Davidson

b.) Dan Froomkin

c.) Chris Hayes

d.) Eoin Higgins

e.) Michael Hobbes

f.) Angus Johnston

g.) Jonathan Katz

h.) Will Stancil

i.) Jason Stanley

j.) Chase Strangio

k.) Will Wilkinson

l.) Freddie de Boer. As I said, he doesn’t exempt himself.

And at the risk of overquoting, I’ll show you what deBoer says about Davidson, commenting on one of Davidson’s tweets:

deBoer:

I could give you the context to this tweet, but honestly… do I have to? Would it matter? This is it, here, this is the goods; this is the Good White Man in his Platonic form. Davidson here is engaged in an act of supposed self-criticism – it turns out that this is somehow about Jeffrey Epstein and thus also about rape culture, or whatever other abstraction is hot right now – that in fact functions to lionize Adam Davidson and advance his brand. He’s so very sorry, everybody, and it cannot escape your notice that he’s more sorry than everyone else; that’s what an advanced being he is. He apologizes, but only in the context of referring to some earlier, fallen self, and in doing so he inescapably valorizes his current self. Hey, you guys, you know who else is like that earlier Adam Davidson who didn’t care enough about child trafficking or whatever the fuck? You. That’s right. Adam Davidson is better than you, and he has the apologies to prove it. Such a strange quality, apologies have – the lower you stoop, the higher you climb. Useful, that. I bet Adam is crying in front of some waiter right now as he explains why he shouldn’t have to pay for his meal. Adam: if you’re receiving thousands of digital strokes for making an apology, it’s not a real apology.

He who humbleth himself wishes to be exalted. Adam Davison humbleth himself more relentlessly than any person in media that I know of, and for this he believes that he should be exalted.

The piece really is a hoot, but it has a serious purpose: to call attention to the purveyors of Performative Wokeness, whom I encounter constantly. These are the people (almost all white) who call attention to their purity, either directly or indirectly—with the latter coming through gestures that look good but accomplish nothing for social justice. In the end, it’s a way of showing off, for the admirable people who truly care about social progress put their shoulder to the wheel and ignore who gets the credit. I, for one, am tired of them, and I’ve renewed my vow to not genuflect or be cowed by such people, and to call attention when necessary to the uselessness of their self-promotion.

Another example. Chase Strangio is the gender rights lawyer for the ACLU, and how did he come to public attention? By calling for the banning of Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters.  Getting that book banned was a “hill he would die on.” Imagine—an ACLU lawyer favoring banning a book! He is a transman, but so what?  This is an example of someone urging censorship and violation of free speech because he doesn’t like the speech. (If you think Shrier’s book is “hate speech,” I urge you to read it.)

We should be made as hell and vowing not to take this any more. Social justice is great, but performative social justice is obnoxious and should rightly be reviled and mocked.

20 thoughts on “Freddie deBoer enumerates the “Good White Men”

  1. He certainly has an engaging style. That said, if his description of Hobbes is anything to go by we might want to take the rest with a grain of salt. Hobbes is no longer co-hosting You’re Wrong About and his description of the show is very off, imo.

  2. When people of wokeness say things like “stopping the circulation of this book is a hill I will die on” I wonder how much they mean it. How much money, for example, would someone like that be willing for pay for stopping that book? My guess is not much, and that in that sense they’re not fully sincere, though I might be wrong on this. It’s just that Twitter activism is so easy, so they do it. But if they had to sacrifice something they actually care about, I imagine they wouldn’t.

    1. As my friend Paul Viminitz puts it, lots of people will die, and have, for the right to speak their thoughts. But very few are willing to risk death, on a hill or anywhere else, to prevent other people from speaking theirs. The most they will do is try to intimidate other people, like publishers, into doing their dirty work for them.

      Dying on a hill is just one of those buzz-phrases that tries to impart a heroic flavour to hum-drum zero-sum bureaucratic infighting. Nursing unions grieve against hospital-employer requirements that they be vaccinated against influenza to protect vulnerable patients. Given that flu vaccine is only modestly effective, and given that a hospital can take only so many grievances to arbitration given budgetary constraints, somebody in management asks (and did), “Is this really a hill we want to die on?”

      The idea that little Chase Strangio is going to 100% die on a hill is ludicrous. When the shooting starts she will remind her commanding officer that she’s really a woman and women don’t have to do combat. Wombs and eggs are precious, you know.

  3. I admire Freddie DeBoer, but his point here is hardly original. A few years ago, a speaker at a computer science conference in California asserted publicly (and apparently with a straight face) that the “Diversity” campaign should make a point of recruiting more white men—as “allies”. That goal is precisely what the requirement for Diversity Statements in academic employment brings about, or aims for. In a similar vein, Howard Jacobson’s novel “The Finkler Question” (Man Booker Prize, 2010), satirized the social points that British Jews could gain by apologizing for the existence of Israel.

  4. In my understanding of the term (or at least the way I prefer to think of it), “wokeness” by definition entails performative-only and virtue-signaling aspects, making “performative wokeness” redundant.

    If you’re doing actual work while eschewing those aspects, then in my view you’re not “woke” (which seems nearly an epithet) but a traditional progressive activist.

  5. Maybe my ears are stuffed, but I have no problem with Chris Hayes (I watch him nearly every night). Who bothers me? Andrew Sullivan comes to mind. And Jason Stanley’s “How Fascism Works” is excellent (though when it comes to this subject Timothy Snyder might be a stronger writer).

    1. This is a thoughtful and powerful essay. Three of DeBoer’s theses ought to be engraved on stone tablets:
      “The inevitable long-run impact of these trends – treating disability as just another identity class used for social positioning, and sowing intentional confusion about whether disabilities are harmful – will be to reduce society’s material accommodations for the disabled.

      Those who suffer the most from this development will be the most severely disabled, while those who are most responsible for this development are those who have the least severe impairments and thus will suffer the least.

      “Stigma” is not among the top one hundred problems of the average severely disabled person. “

  6. I still think “Chase Strangio” is a character from a Thomas Pynchon novel.

    Freddie’s got nothing if not a tart pen.

    1. I enjoyed the first comment on Substack in response to the post: “Jesus, Freddie. Leave something for their families to bury next time”.

      Yes, Freddie’s post is over-the-top and not particular original; critiquing these particular targets is like spanking a cow’s arse with a banjo. But goodness, he spanks with gusto!

      1. >That’s right. Adam Davidson is better than you, and he has the apologies to prove it. Such a strange quality, apologies have – the lower you stoop, the higher you climb.

        Mic drop.

  7. That was a fun read! Although to confess, I was cringing at times.
    I do totally agree with this point: “Can it really be true that there’s genuinely nothing wrong with that “woke mob,” that it represents the first and only political tendency in the history of the republic to have no problems, to never make a mistake?” [My emphasis].

  8. We should hold a contest to come up with a pithy general term for the sort of “Good White Man” de Boer describes. Or is “Good White Man” already good enough?

    1. SNAG, for “sensitive new-age guy.” Not exactly the same animal and from an earlier decade, but just as mockable. Christine Lavin even wrote a song about them.
      She says women aren’t into them though. Rather, “Bald-headed Men.”
      “Testosterone turns a bushy-haired boy
      into a chrome dome.
      Testosterone’s what makes a man a man.
      The more he’s got, the more he can
      Do the things that make the women go, “Oy-y-yy!!”

  9. The trouble with de Boer’s commentary here is that the behavior of someone who is really genuine in their attempts to practice what they believe is identical to someone who is “performative.” de Boer suggests that you can tell they’re doing it to elevate themselves because they get praised. But wouldn’t you expect someone doing the right thing for the right reasons to receive praise?

    So de Boer ultimately is proposing, humorously or not, pure cynicism: there is no way to be a decent white man. Try to be decent and you deserve to be called out for being fake.

    I think when de Boer decides that every white man who tries to walk the walk must be “performative,” it’s likely simple projection.

    1. Are those two people’s behavior identical? A person who was genuine in their attempts to practice what they believe in terms of social justice might simply donate to good causes, get a high paying job to donate more (Peter Singer style), volunteer, etc. Would they be on Twitter trying to take down the “bad” white men and writing post after post about how cancel culture doesn’t exist?

      On another note, I don’t know anything about Michael Hobbes, but the use of “sneering shithead” in that sentence is superb.

  10. “Social justice is great, but performative social justice is obnoxious and should rightly be reviled and mocked.”

    Theories of ethics and social justice have been rigorously studied and debated for millennia. Systems of thought have emerged that are the basis for the constitutions and laws of nations that seriously aspire to serve both the general good and the rights of individuals. But what has lately emerged under the label “social justice” is just a parody, not informed in the least by what came before. Current theorists apparently know as little about justice as they do about science.

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