The stuff John McWhorter likes, including land acknowledgments

December 5, 2021 • 9:45 am

I usually go wrong when I psychoanalyze John McWhorter, as he’s a complex individual and I know him only through his writings. The last time I erred was when I predicted he’d become less anti-woke when he took up his twice-weekly column at the NYT, expecting that editorial pressure would soften his words or beliefs. I was wrong: his next column was a hilarious and decidedly anti-woke column on the “n-wordhead” rock at the University of Wisconsin.

So I’m loath to explain part of his latest column at the NYT, which is a list of things he likes about progressive antiracism. One thing I do sense about McWhorter is that he’s defensive, but that’s no vice in a black man who spends his time attacking the likes of Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. Perhaps showing us that he actually likes some stuff rather than deploring everything is meant to show us his human side. I haven’t kept up with the reviews of his new book Woke Racism, though I’ve read parts of it and will give a brief take when I’ve finished. In fact, the only one I saw was in the Washington Post, which was not only negative, but mean-spirited (also written by an African-American). That must have stung, and perhaps played a role in what we consider today.

So here we have his latest piece (click on webshot to read; if you subscribe to the NYT you can subscribe to his pieces as well):

There are four things that McWhorter admires about true progressivist changes in race and racial relations. I agree with him about 2.5 of them, and disagree with the other 1.5. The first is the one with which I disagree (McWhorter’s words are indented, and bolding in indents is his).

1.) Land acknowledgments. I find it very odd that in his previous writings, and in his new book, McWhorter properly decries “performative antiracism”: antiracism that really doesn’t accomplish anything to lift up minorities or repair racial relations. He thinks that most of these “performative” acts exist to signal the virtue of the actor, and I agree with him. But among the most conspicuous of the performative acts are the increasingly ubiquitous “land acknowledgments” that are especially obvious in woke academia. Yet McWhorter likes these, and I know that some readers do. His reasons (all bolding is McWhorter’s):

So, after the Thanksgiving holiday seems a good time to point out some other things I appreciate about our times.

One of them is land acknowledgments. There is an increasingly common practice, especially in academic circles, of prefacing public presentations or events with a ritual acknowledgment that the land the event is taking place on was originally occupied and cared for by Native Americans, with a specification of the particular Indigenous nation of that land.

I’m glad this is happening, despite the opinion of some, such as the New York Post columnist Kyle Smith, who called land acknowledgments “the latest in meaningless self-scourging progressive fashion statements.” I’ve always found it quietly dismaying that the land that America occupies was wrested from people who had lived on it for millenniums before, and that today Native Americans represent such as small percentage of our body politic, and so much has been built up on the land, that there’s no realistic way, given the magnitude of the injustice, to reverse it or even adequately redress it. I’ve often thought, “Under this parking lot, right where that subdivision is, whole lives and societies existed that are now utterly lost.” The least we can do is to regularly — yes, ritually — mention this, especially if this least is the best we’re willing to do.

We’ve discussed the flaws in these acknowledgments: that Native Americans continually displaced each other, so whose land is to be acknowledged, and sometimes the land wasn’t even “owned” by Native Americans (most of whom had no concept of owning land, but did use it). I know of one college where they decided to create a land acknowledgment and hired a historian to suss out the past usage of the land. He found that the land wasn’t used regularly by any Native Americans, but very occasionally a few of them hunted on the land. When he scheduled a talk to the school to impart this information, he was deplatformed.

But most of all, land acknowledgments are virtue signals, pure and simple. Native Americans aren’t there to hear them, so they are just liberals telling each other how good they are. And the acknowledgments do absolutely nothing to help Native Americans.  If colleges wanted to actually accomplish something, they’d contribute to the welfare of the tribes whose land they “stole” by giving them money or giving back land (untenable, of course), or do something real. McWhorter is recommending these ritual invocations as history lessons, but imagine what would happen if they had these in Europe? The acknowledgments would go on for hours. If the absence of firm knowledge, the odious history of colonists’ genocide of Americans is best taught in history books where it can be described in broad sweep, not proclaimed at the beginning of every talk referring to a few acres of land.

2.) Television for kids increasingly shows black characters.  

I like what I see on television. Particularly children’s television. I look over my daughters’ shoulders and see a heartening multiplicity of Black stars and characters on their favorite shows that just wasn’t there a few years ago. One that comes to mind: Netflix’s delightful baking show, “Nailed It!” is hosted to perfection by Nicole Byer, a young Black woman. No, I haven’t forgotten that the wonderfully diverse “Sesame Street” has been with us since 1969. But the sheer frequency with which today’s children’s shows (and not just the stuff of public television) are, yes, centering people of color feels different. “Sesame Street” once felt like a televised utopia; today’s fare, especially animated, commercial programming, often presents diversity as something blissfully unremarkable.

I agree completely. I don’t watch kids’ shows, but I do watch the news and some newslike shows like “60 Minutes”, and I’ve also noticed that the commericals increasingly feature black people and black families. When I was a kid all you saw were white people. It’s very heartening to see African-Americans appearing in ads without any notice or emphasis that they are not white.

3.) Television for adults is changing the same way. 

Interestingly, the same thing is happening on popular animated shows for adults: On the long-running “Family Guy,” Blackness has often been played for comedy; but on a recent episode, the main character, Peter, gets a new boss, a Black guy, whose race is incidental. He stood out not for being Black but for trying to squeeze the fun out of at-work birthday parties — you know, like a stereotypical boss. A recent episode of the also long-running “Bob’s Burgers” introduced a character as the game master of a Dungeons & Dragons-style game who was nerdy, charmingly awkward and a Black woman — i.e. a full spectrum of a human being. The hit “Ted Lasso” portrays today’s United Kingdom, where whiteness is hardly default as Black and brown people are part of the warp and woof of all levels of society. A recent “Archer” episode even jokes about today’s Britain, when Lana (voiced, as it happens, by the Black actress Aisha Tyler, who had a recurring role as Ross’s girlfriend on “Friends” back when there was a mild uproar about that show’s lack of Black friends!) wrongly assumes a Black man will stand out in a London crowd.

This is also a welcome change. Although McWhorter notes that these changes could be seen as superficial, like land acknowledgments, they are not: television shows are an important part of the fabric of American life, and we need to realize that American life is multiracial and multicultural.

4.) People are becoming increasingly aware of “systemic racism”. 

The idea of systemic racism — societal inequities rooted in racism of the past or present that represent barriers, in many instances, for people of color — is now common coin to a greater extent.

Sure, I have documented my issues with the way we are taught to think about systemic racism, and to say that opinions about how to address it differ is putting it mildly. The argument for reparations, for instance, is not the utterly settled question some suppose. And controversy will continue over whether the take on systemic racism originating in, and taking a cue from, critical race theory is a useful one.

However, I welcome the increased awareness of the notion of systemic racism.

. . . an undergrad today would be much less likely to see race matters only that far. The racial reckoning of recent years; the cultural decentering of whiteness; and the airing of what is meant by systemic racism have brought about that positive evolution. The other day I heard some white kids — upper-middle-class New Yorkers — casually referring in passing to systemic racism while walking down the street from school, clearly thinking of it as an assumed concept.

But as I recall, McWhorter has previously discussed the problems with systemic racism, and not just with reparations. The problem, which he doesn’t mention but has in the past, is that “systemic racism” is now seen as racism presently built into institutions and societal structures (laws, universities, science, etc), creating present-day bias that is taken to be the cause of inequities (disproportionate representation of “majority” people and underrepresentation of minorities).

So when the white kids in McWhorter’s last paragraph casually refer to systemic racism, are they correct? For example—and I know this well—the underrepresentation of minorities in STEM fields is very often described as a result of systemic racism (or, in the case of sexes, “systemic sexism”): racism pervasive among scientists who, it is said, are biased against blacks, Hispanics, and women (consciously or not). But this is not the case: science is bending over backwards to hire and promote women and minorities, and to urge students to go into STEM. The inequities we see in STEM are simply not due to “systemic racism” in science. Yes, of course a few scientists may be racists (though I’ve never met one), but you will find that in all fields. I would describe STEM as “strongly antiracist”. The inequities are due to racism in the past that put minorities in situations where they don’t get opportunities needed to get into STEM.

You must distinguish—and McWhorter does this all the time—between present-day biases and the residuum of older biases stemming from slavery, racism of the past, and so on. And groups may also differ in their preferences. Here are medical fields which have the greatest imbalance in favor of women (data from the AMA):

  • Obstetrics and gynecology—83.4%.
  • Allergy and immunology—73.5%.
  • Pediatrics—72.1%.
  • Medical genetics and genomics—66.7%.
  • Hospice and palliative medicine—66.3%.
  • Dermatology—60.8%.

I refuse to believe that this is due to anti-male bias in those professions, and I suspect that a large proportion of these inequities is due to sex differences in preference, with women preferring more patient-oriented, hands-on fields than men. (Surgeons and radiologists, whose contacts with patients as humans are minimal, are overwhelmingly male.)

At any rate, I agree with McWhorter that if you construe “systemic racism” as “equities rooted in racism of the past or present that present barriers” then yes, there’s systemic racism. But it’s vitally important, if we’re to achieve more equality or equity, that we distinguish between “present” and “past” biases. This is why I agree only 50% with this contention.

Regardless, I am still curious as to why McWhorter wrote this column. He explains it as follows, and I suppose that’s as good a take as any.

Whether you think of me as a contrarian, as I’m often labeled, or a cranky liberal, as I sometimes refer to myself, I do a lot of complaining about our supposedly brave new world: Cancel culture is real, and out of hand; wokeness frequently oversimplifies and infantilizes us; the term “woke” is broke. But believe it or not, there are things I like about our current era, including, as you know, cheering on “they” as a singular pronoun. So, after the Thanksgiving holiday seems a good time to point out some other things I appreciate about our times.

Reason interviews John McWhorter

November 26, 2021 • 12:15 pm

I usually get bored listening to one person talk for an hour on video, but I found this interview of John McWhorter by Reason (a libertarian site) absorbing and thought-provoking.  If you listen to the whole 65-minute interview, you’ll hear pretty much the entire panoply of McWhorter’s views on race, which are also in his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.  I’ve listened to the whole video, but haven’t yet read McWhorter’s book (much of its draft, however, used to be on his Substack site).

I’m heartened that McWhorter describes himseslf as a “Sixties-style liberal”, which is how I see myself, too. He’s certainly not an “alt-righter” or conservative, but he’s often characterized that way as he doesn’t buy into the standard “progressive” Left views on racism.

Part of the YouTube notes:

That’s New York Times columnist and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter talking about his best-selling new book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. He argues that the ideas of Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, and The 1619 Project undermine the success of black people by sharpening racial divides and distracting from actual obstacles to real progress.

His shortlist for what would most help black America? “There should be no war on drugs; society should get behind teaching everybody to read the right way; and we should make solid vocational training as easy to obtain as a college education.”

Reason’s Nick Gillespie spoke with the 56-year-old McWhorter about what white people get out of cooperating with an ideological agenda that casts them as devils, what black people gain by “performing” victimhood, and what needs to change so that all Americans can get on with creating a more perfect union.

Canadian government denies McGill professor grants on the grounds that his mandatory DEI statements describe color-blind hiring based on merit

November 26, 2021 • 10:15 am

Here’s a renegade scientist described by Canada’s conservative National Post, which must love articles like this.  It is the tale of a person of color—Patanjali Kambhampati, an Indian physical chemist at McGill University who seems quite accomplished. He works on “quantum dots“, which are tiny semiconductors, has published 132 papers, on many of which he was first author, and has an “h index of 37”, which means he’s published 37 papers that were each cited 37 times or more. (The higher the index, the more widely you’ve been cited.)

One other relevant fact besides his scientific quality: he’s been subject to racism since he moved to North America from India at age four. He reports that he’s been verbally harassed, beat up constantly, and has been “harassed by U.S. border guards and racially profiled in Canada, too.”

But his scientific quality, his “person of colorhood”, and his oppressed past haven’t helped him get grants from the Canadian government. Why? Because he refuses to write the kind of woke diversity statement that the Canadian grant authorities demand.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Kambhampati has been turned down for his last two grants because of insufficient diversity statements, which are mandatory. And in Canada, if you don’t past muster with that statement, your grant gets canned without even being evaluated for scientific merit. I quote from the article, and I’ve put his terse diversity statement in bold:

Patanjali Kambhampati, a professor in the chemistry department at Montreal’s McGill University, believes the death knell for the latest grant was a line in the application form where he was asked about hiring staff based on diversity and inclusion considerations. He says his mistake was maintaining that he would hire on merit any research assistant who was qualified, regardless of their identity.

“I’ve had two people say that was the kiss of death,” said Kambhampati. “I thought I was trying to be nice saying that if you were interested and able I’d hire you and that’s all that mattered. I don’t care about the colour of your skin. I’m interested in hiring someone who wants to work on the project and is good at it.”

Kambhampati said he didn’t go public after the first grant was rejected but decided to speak out now because the increasing use by the government of equity, diversity and inclusion, aka “EDI,” provisions, as well as woke culture, are killing innovation, harming science and disrupting society.

“I believe this is an important stand to make. I will not be silenced anymore,” he said.

It is the kiss of death, for prizing merit above race, but being color-blind in your hiring (the now-outmoded view of Dr. King), is not the way to succeed. To get these grants, I’m assuming that your diversity statement has to including some affirmative action, which means elevating members of oppressed minorities above those whose indices of merit used by the school are higher.

As I’ve said, I believe in some forms of affirmative action in hiring, but I do not believe in diversity statements, for they are forms of compelled speech to which you must adhere, and Kambhampati didn’t. He paid the price. What’s even worse than diversity statements. though, is evaluating them as the first step in the grant-giving process, and then deep-sixing your application if the diversity statement isn’t up to snuff.

Like Dorian Abbot at the University of Chicago, Kambhmpati believes in hiring solely on merit.  While I don’t adhere to that 100%, I adhere to it more than I do to the Canadian or University of California hiring systems, which use the DEI statement as a first-step “up or out” gateway to funding.

Because both applications were rejected at the bureaucratic level, it means that neither proceeded to the step where they would be forward to other scientists to review Kambhampati’s proposals.

But Kambhampati said he believes basing his hiring decisions on merit is a valid, moral position to hold.

“I think what’s happened is the woke and the social justice warriors have made a moralistic argument the way the religious right used to make moralistic arguments. And now people are afraid to challenge them. But I think it’s okay to say I believe that equality is a morally valid position. I believe that meritocracy is a morally valid position.”

The salt in his wound is the huge funding that Canada recently gave for a dubious project on preventing cancer using “indigenous healing practices” (for more on that, see the news section in this recent post of mine).  The National Post says this:

Around the same time that Kambhampati’s latest application was turned down, another arm of the government, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, gave Dr. Lana Ray, a professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., a $1.2-million grant to study cancer prevention using traditional Indigenous healing practices. When the award was announced, Ray said “We need to stop framing prevalent risk factors of cancer as such and start thinking about them as symptoms of colonialism.”

As I said, Canada is woker than the United States. In terms of DEI statements and hiring they’re about equal, but to me Canadians seem more timorous about standing up to metastasizing Wokeism. Kambhampati did, but he’ll pay the price, because without outside funding, you can’t do experimental science.

Public university in Massachusetts provides segregated spaces for students to “process” the Rittenhouse verdict

November 24, 2021 • 11:30 am

I found the article below while I was trying to determine if other campuses of the University of California had issued official statements criticizing the Rittenhouse verdict. (They didn’t.) However, the Vice-Chancellor of UC Irvine, who apologized for making such a statement, wrote me a nice response to my email.

Now to the article. Seriously, this stuff is both divisive and insane, and I’m really tired of writing about it.  You can get the gist from the title of the article, which appeared at The Hill (click on screenshot):

Here’s most of the column:

A public Massachusetts university offered segregated “processing” spaces to students following the not guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two protesters demonstrating against the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Last week, a jury unanimously declared Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty on all charges relating to the fatal shooting of two protesters — Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber — and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz.

In response to the verdict, Fitchburg State University’s Center for Diversity & Inclusiveness informed students about the “processing” spaces in an email sent to the student body, according to Fox News.

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“The Center for Diversity and Inclusiveness is creating space for our community to process the ‘not guilty’ on all accounts [sic] verdict in the Kenosha, Wisconsin case where Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois native shot and killed two people protesting the wrongful death of Jacob Blake in 2020,” the email read, incorrectly stating that Blake had been killed.

Blake was severely injured in the August 2020 police shooting, becoming paralyzed as a result.

As Fox News reported, the university said the “processing” spaces would be divided into four different spaces: “Students of Color Processing Space,” “White Student Ally Processing Space,” “Faculty and Staff of Color Processing Space” and “White Faculty and Staff Ally Processing Space.”

In a statement responding to Fox News, a spokesperson for Fitchburg State University acknowledged the error regarding Blake’s condition. The spokesperson also defended the school’s use of what they called “identity groups,” saying organizing in such a way was a “proven educational strategy.” They added that the school planned to also have a “combined session.”

Note that there are not two but FOUR processing spaces, divided up by both position (students vs. faculty and staff) and race (people of color versus pallid allies).

Further, it is very clear that the Fitchburg State University officially thinks that the Rittenhouse verdict was wrong. If he had been found guilty, there would be no “processing spaces”. (I’m still not clear whether the white men Rittenhouse shot were joining Black Lives Matter in the riots, rather than just going there for the fun of it, or even to exacerbate violence.) And the use of “ally” in conjunction with “White” means that the processing spaces are for people who consider themselves allies of Black Lives Matter of the other black protestors in Wisconsin, or of the grieving black students themselves.

This kind of division of spaces (were there puppies, cookies, and coloring books?) truly infantilizes everyone.  Why do you need a space to grieve for a verdict that was probably the correct one given the law, and a verdict that doesn’t at all say anything at all about structural racism. Do you really need to “grieve”? What does that mean? Getting angry about the verdict with your friends? Why do you need a special space to do that?

Finally, if segregation like this is a “proven educational strategy”, where are the data supporting it?  Should we start segregating classes, too: “separate but equal”?

University of California at Santa Cruz also pronounces on Rittenhouse verdict

November 23, 2021 • 11:15 am

Now that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine has apologized for taking a public and official stand on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict (he didn’t like it), will the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) be next? For here’s their own statement, posted on the University website and signed by UCSC’s Chancellor and by the Executive Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

This one is even more over the top than the UC Irvine statement, for it makes absolutely no bones about their opposition to the verdict, calling it a “failure of accountability.”

Dear Campus Community,

We are disheartened and dismayed by this morning’s not guilty verdict on all charges in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The charges included fatally shooting two unarmed men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz at a Black Lives Matter rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. We join in solidarity with all who are outraged by this failure of accountability.

We also acknowledge that this same week the prosecution and defense concluded their case in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man, in February 2020, south of Brunswick, Georgia.

Trials such as these that have race-related implications can cause our BIPOC communities distress and harm. This is harm that is endured everyday through acts of racism, the pervasiveness of white supremacy and a flawed justice system.

We firmly believe in our Principles of Community and our collective responsibility to continue to disrupt systemic racism. It is important to publicly reaffirm our shared values and to ensure that those who are experiencing distress and impact have access to supportive resources. We reaffirm these values each day through our actions in our own spheres of influence. The Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion is here to help support community members in the work of building a more inclusive climate.

If you are feeling impacted by these events, please do not hesitate to reach out to campus services for support. Staff in our colleges, resource centers, and Counseling and Psychological Services provide assistance for students. Our Employee Assistance Program offers counseling and support to employees. If you need to report discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, please contact the Office of Equity and Equal Protection.

Sincerely,

Cindy and Judith

Cynthia Larive
Chancellor

Judith Estrada
Executive Director, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Interim Chief Diversity Officer

Note as well the claim that it is everyone at the university’s responsibility to “continue to disrupt systemic racism.”  I don’t think so. They also say “we affirm these values each day.” Who is “we”? Is it everyone at UCSC on board with this? Did the signers ask everyone if they’re affirming the University’s expressed values? Were they equally outraged when O. J. Simpson was pronounced not guilty for the murder of two people?

This statement should not have been made. Like the UCI one, for which the issuer later apologized, it is an unseemly pronouncement on a jury verdict coupled with a huge dollop of virtue signaling.  It also assumes that the Rittenhouse case was all about white supremacy and race—a proposition of which I’m not yet convinced.

The University of Chicago has (so far) issued no official pronouncements on the verdict. And that’s the way it should be.

UPDATE:  A friend I showed this to wrote me the following:

Here’s one detail about the latest pronouncement: it’s signed “Cindy and Judith.”What does that tell us? The chancellor and vice-chancellor at Santa Cruz appear desperately afraid to be perceived as embodying official authority. In effect, they are masquerading as students––part of the unanimous groundswell against “systemic racism.” Now, how pathetic is that?

UC Irvine Vice Chancellor retracts and apologizes for his official pronouncement on the Rittenhouse verdict

November 23, 2021 • 9:15 am

The other day I posted a statement by the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and “Chief Diversity Officer” of the University of California at Irvine, who took it upon himself to make an official pronouncement about, and criticism of, the “not guilty on all charges” verdict given to Kyle Rittenhouse. Just to remind you, here’s the statement that Vice Chancellor Douglas Haynes issued to the entire UCI community:

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse versus the State of Wisconsin concluded earlier today. The jury returned not guilty on all five counts of the original indictment (a sixth count was previously dismissed by the judge), including the murder of two people and the wounding of a third on August 25 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The relief of the Rittenhouse family in this verdict was met by the heavy burden of the families mourning the absence of loved ones and the continuing trauma of the lone survivor.

The conclusion of this trial does not end the reckoning about systemic racism in the United States. If anything, it has simply made it more legible. Kyle Rittenhouse did not live in Wisconsin, but in Antioch, Illinois. He traveled to Kenosha during protests against police violence in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake while in police custody. Blake was shot seven times in the back. The Kenosha event continued protests in response to the killings of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in St. Louis on March 13, 2020 in Louisville. These multi-racial protests were grounded in a call for racial justice and the end of police brutality. Rittenhouse imposed himself on the protests in Kenosha. His assistance was not requested. It was as much about resisting the calls of protestors as it was to defend property and render first aid.

For this reason, the verdict conveys a chilling message: Neither Black lives nor those of their allies’ matter.

UCI will continue its whole university approach to recognizing and responding to anti-Blackness as an existential threat to our mission as a public research university. Learn more on the UCI Black Thriving Initiative website.

I described why this statement, and similar statements making debatable political, ideological, or moral pronouncements should not be made officially by universities or colleges—either by administrators, departments, or other units of the school. (Such statements should be made privately and emphasized as the personal opinion of individuals.) It has to do with chilling of speech, which has to do with freedom of speech, and you can read more about my views at the original post. The rationale for prohibiting such statements is embodied in the University of Chicago’s “Kalven Report”, passed in 1967.

Well, apparently I’m not the only person who objected to Haynes’s statement, and he has now apologized for what he said—in effect retracted it. It’s not a lame apology either: he admits what he did wrong and says that it’s “uncomfortable and embarrassing to him”. Reader Michael posted it on the original thread, and I’ve now verified that this is a real statement.

Dear campus community,

Last week I shared my reflections on the announcement of the Rittenhouse verdict. Like the national conversation, my message generated a range of reactions and responses. As a university leader and educator, I would be remiss if I did not consider and reflect on this input. Listening is a critical skill that is important to our mission as a great public research university and valued by the many communities that we serve. Here, I want to acknowledge to the UCI community that I am listening.

Two criticisms stand out about my message. I appeared to call into question a lawful trial verdict. I also forced a relationship between the specific facts of the case to the unique dimensions of the racial reckoning in the United States. These criticisms are valid. While uncomfortable and embarrassing, I acknowledge and apologize for these mistakes. I prepared this message out of a desire to emphasize the importance of listening and learning as our society continues to face critical issues that challenge us.

I look forward to our continued campus dialogues in pursuit of inclusive excellence.

Sincerely,

Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D. (Pronouns: he/him/his)
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer
Director, ADVANCE Program
Professor of History

I have two things to say about this. First, Haynes left out the most important part of the apology, which was to say “I am sorry for making an official political statement as a representative of the University of California at Irvine.”  Irvine, like all schools that purport to allow freedom of speech, have to buttress that by another stricture saying that Universities should not suppress or chill speech by making their own statements on politics or ideology.

Second, I don’t think Haynes is telling the truth when he says “I prepared this [presumably the first] message out of a desire to emphasize the importance of listening and learning as our society continues to face critical issues that challenge us.” I think he prepared the message as a sign of personal and institutional virtue signaling, and to show that he objected to the Rittenhouse verdict. There is nothing in his original statement that says its purpose was to emphasize listening and learning!

Despite these beefs, I’ll take the statement, as it’s better than nothing. Someone should send Haynes the Kalven Report, and all free-speech universities should adopt a version of it. In fact, I’m going to do that now.

 

_____________

UPDATE: I sent Dr. Haynes this email and enclosed our Kalven Report.

Dear Dr. Haynes,

I’ve been following your statement about the Rittenhouse verdict and your apology for issuing it, and I want to congratulate you for having the courage to admit when you made a misstep. Further, your apology was not hedged: it was honest and straightforward.

Here at the University of Chicago we have a policy embodied in the Kalven Report stipulating that no university administrator or department can make official pronouncements on ideology, politics, and morality, and I enclose a copy. The reason we do this is that the Kaven Report buttresses our Chicago Principles of Free Speech. If departments, units of the University, or administrators make such official statements, it leads to chilling of free speech: what untenured faculty member or student would dare take issue with an official university statement on, say, politics, or even the Rittenhouse trial?  I really do think that more colleges and universities should adopt statements like the Kalven Report, and I urge you to read it; it’s short and (like your apology) to the point.

I wish you good luck in your endeavors.

Cordially,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Dept. Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

Competing and divergent reviews by The Washington Post and the NYT of the 1619 Project book

November 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

As you probably know, the 1619 Project has produced a book (below), which is an expansion and supplementation of the original essays in the New York Times magazine. It’s selling like hotcakes, too: #4 on Amazon.  Click on the image below to go to the Amazon site:

I haven’t read it yet, and am not sure that I will given the queue of books by my bed, but I did read two reviews of it. The first, in the Washington Post below, is quite critical. The reviewer is Carlos Lazada, identified as “the Post’s nonfiction book critic and the author of “What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.”

The second review appears in the NYT itself, and the paper has a long history of reviewing books by its own writers favorably. That review is at the second screenshot below (you can access the reviews by clicking on the screenshots), and the reviewer is Adam Hochschild, author, journalist, and historian, who wrote a book I read not long ago and liked very much: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial AfricaI would have bet a lot of money in advance that the NYT review would be highly positive, given their history of printing only positive reviews by their bigwig writers and the fact that Nikole Hannah-Jones, the main force behind the book, won a Pulitzer Prize for her first 1619 essay.

The contrasting titles of the reviews show their differential assessments. While both authors like parts of the book, Lazada is unwilling to excuse major claims in the book that are erroneous, misleading, or distorted, while Hochschild largely ignores or minimizes them. More important, Lazada emphasizes that the book pushes an ideological program, especially in a new essay contributed by Ibram X. Kendi.

I’ve always objected to the 1619 Project’s aim to inculcate schoolchildren with distorted and “progressive” Leftist views. It is propaganda and is not counteracted in schools by requiring other books giving other views. It’s the first time I know of that a newspaper has deliberately inserted itself into the school curriculum to push a set of ideological values and dubious “truth” statements.

Hochschild, on the other hand, gives a very laudatory review, picks out a few perfunctory problems, barely mentions Kendi’s essay, which he agrees with, and says it’s the book is a valuable and necessary corrective for racism. It might well be in bits, but if the assertions of Lazada be correct, there’s a considerable amount of distortion and cherrypicking going on. It’s amazing how the two reviews have such different takes on the same contentions of the 1619 Project.

 

First, Lazado’s review. I’ll concentrate on a few issues historians had with the book, and also on its propagandistic aims. Both reviewers’ words are indented:

Together these elements form a powerful and memorable work, one that launched a seismic national debate over the legacy of slavery and enduring racial injustice in American life. It is also a work with a variety of competing impulses, ones that can at times confuse and conflict. This is evident in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” a book that softens some of the edges of the prior magazine collection but also transcends its original mission as a historical corrective, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told.

This is Kendi’s view, but more later. I doubt readers will appreciate being deemed racist if they’re not doing something, which includes paying reparations to the black community. (I favor a form of reparations, but in terms of social benefits, better schools, and affirmative action, not direct payments to individuals who can prove some black heritage.)

One of the contentious assertions of the first 1619 Project was Hannah Nikole-Jones’s claim that 1619, the date that the first slaves arrived in the colonies, was the true founding date of America, for slavery conditioned, she said, every aspect of American life, even being a major cause of the American Revolution. The paper has walked that claim back a bit in the face of historians’ corrections, but the book still waffles on the issue.  From Lozada:

The elusiveness begins where the project begins — in 1619, with the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to reach the English American colonies, and that moment’s proper status in the history of the United States. In his note introducing the special issue, New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein first depicts the project as something of a thought experiment, counterfactual to the common notion of 1776 as the year of the nation’s birth. “What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?” Three sentences later, the question mark is gone, the tone more declarative. The barbaric system of slavery introduced that month is not just the United States’ “original sin,” Silverstein asserts; it is “the country’s very origin.” The project’s broadsheet supplement widens that perspective, declaring that “the goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history, making explicit that slavery is the foundation on which this country is built.” From what-if to no-matter-what, all on the same day.

This hardly settles matters. More than a year later, in an article titled “On Recent Criticism of The 1619 Project,” Silverstein indicated that the notion of 1619 as the country’s birth year should be regarded as a “metaphor” and not read literally. This is why, he explained, the Times had deleted a description of 1619 as our “true founding” that previously appeared in the project’s online presentation. But then, in an essay this month titled “The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History,” Silverstein wrote that the date indeed “could be considered” the moment of the United States’ “inception.”

In the new book version, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Times journalist who conceived of the overall effort and wrote its lead magazine essay, offers a few interpretations. In the preface, she cautions that the project is “not the only origin story of this country — there must be many.” Then, in the opening chapter, Hannah-Jones repeats the text of her original magazine essay and refers to Black Americans as the country’s “true ‘founding fathers,’” as deserving of that designation “as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital.” Some 400-plus pages later, in a concluding chapter, she writes that the origin story in the 1619 Project is “truer” than the one we’ve known.

What might an assiduous reader conclude from all this? That 1619 is a thought experiment, or a metaphor, or the nation’s true origin, but definitely not its founding, yet possibly its inception, or just one origin story among many — but still the truer one? For all the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itself.

Lozada finds the 18 essays “both constructive and uneven”. An example of the latter is the chapter on “Capitalism”, which seems to distort matters (note that Hochschild’s review below accepts the chapter’s contentions whole hog):

Lozada:

Consider sociologist Matthew Desmond’s chapter, “Capitalism.” In his original magazine essay, Desmond argued that many labor-management and record-keeping practices of modern American capitalism originated on plantations, with lasting consequences for the nation’s growth and industry. He indicated, for instance, that the vast increases in the productivity of America’s cotton fields — an average enslaved field worker in 1862 picked 400 percent more cotton than one had in 1801, he noted — flowed from the meticulous efforts to manage every detail and moment of those workers’ lives. “Bodies and tasks were aligned with rigorous exactitude,” Desmond wrote in the essay, describing the “uncompromising pursuit of measurement and scientific accounting displayed in slave plantations.”

Critics of this essay pointed out that some financial and management practices Desmond mentions, such as double-entry bookkeeping, predated the slave-plantation era. More consequentially, they argued that Desmond’s discussion of cotton productivity bypassed the real explanation for the increase. In the new book, Desmond addresses this, but only to a point. Following a detailed discussion of the management of enslaved labor, he again cites the boost in productivity. Then he adds this caveat: “Historians and economists have attributed this surge in productivity to several factors — for example, Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode found that improved cotton varieties enabled hands to pick more cotton per day — but advanced techniques that improved upon ways to manage land and labor surely played their part as well.”

Note what is happening: A different explanation is introduced for an important point of fact, but the overall narrative remains — because “surely” it still holds. Readers should always be open to new historical interpretations, but when revising history, “surely” does not reassure. When facts complicate a story, they shouldn’t be tucked in an aside but taken up as part of that dynamic and contested process of discovery that Silverstein so praised.

Finally, Lozada criticizes the narrative of Hannah-Jones that the maintenance of slavery was a major cause of the American Revolution, which is based almost solely on an offer from the British in Virginia that any slave who joined them fighting the colonists would be freed:

In the opening chapter of the book, titled “Democracy,” Hannah-Jones adds two explanations supporting her interpretation of colonial motives. One involves the Dunmore Proclamation of November 1775, in which the royal governor of Virginia offered freedom to enslaved people if they joined the British side of the fight. (The declaration went unmentioned in Hannah-Jones’s original essay and did not appear in the magazine’s timeline of important events in African American life; now, it is featured in the book’s expanded timeline.) She writes that the proclamation “would alter the course of the Revolution,” appropriate phrasing given that the revolution was well underway by the time of the proclamation.

How influential was this episode in the fight for independence? Here Hannah-Jones narrows the story. She stresses that the proclamation “infuriated white Virginians” and that when you think about it, the revolution was mainly a Virginia thing, anyway. “Schoolchildren learn that the Boston Tea Party sparked the Revolution and that Philadelphia was home to the Continental Congress, the place where intrepid men penned the Declaration and Constitution,” she writes. “But while our nation’s founding documents were written in Philadelphia, they were mainly written by Virginians. . . . No place shaped the Revolution and the country it birthed more than Virginia.” It is a subtle but effective shift: Rather than expand history to encompass the range of the colonists’ rationales, Hannah-Jones limits the universe of colonists who matter. Now, Virginia is real colonial America.

This sounds a bit sleazy to me, but none of this is mentioned in the NYT’s own review. Lozada also criticizes the claim that the civil rights movement was fought almost completely without white allies, but I don’t have time to address that.

Finally—and I know I’m quoting too much, but readers may not have access to the story—Ibram Kendi writes the penultimate chapter with with his denial that American is making progress in racial relations (a claim I’ve always found totally ludicrous), so that the readers need to take antiracist action. Note the one fact Kendi adduces to deny the arc of progress (I’ve put it in bold):

In a chapter titled “Progress,” historian Ibram X. Kendi writes that the popular notion of America making steady, if slow, headway toward greater racial justice is “ahistorical, mythical, and incomplete.” The “mantra” of incremental improvement can undermine efforts to promote real equality. Kendi cites Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which held that the country’s progress against discrimination meant that certain states and counties no longer needed federal approval before amending their voting laws, as the Voting Rights Act required. (The decision unleashed a series of state-level initiatives creating obstacles to voting.) “Saying that the nation has progressed racially is usually a statement of ideology,” Kendi writes, “one that has been used all too often to obscure the opposite reality of racist progress.” The failures of the Reconstruction era led to the “Second Reconstruction” of the 20th-century civil rights movement, a cause and effect that Kendi says is too often “left out of the story.”

That is one action (there are some others, of course), but what we no longer have is blatant segregation (dual water fountains and restrooms, back-of-the-bus policies, segregated hotels), lynchinga, and mistreatment of and bigotry against blacks in every situation. What we do have are the Civil Right Act, the Voting Act, and a strident effort to hire blacks and provide affirmative action in college admissions and hiring. It appears, though, that the aim of both Kendi and Hannah-Jones is to deem all Americans as racists if they’re not antiracist by paying reparations. I favor reparations, but as a moral issue and not a duty (my ancestors, after all, came from eastern Europe around 1890), and not by dispensation of cash to individuals.

Lozada:

Kendi then introduces something else he says is left out of the story — that America requires a “Third Reconstruction” to address the unfulfilled promise of the second. Here the 1619 Project’s project becomes explicitly political. Hannah-Jones fills in the details in the book’s final chapter, “Justice,” where she identifies the racial wealth gap as the most serious challenge for Black Americans. “White Americans’ centuries-long economic head start,” she writes, is what “most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To narrow that gap, the country must embark on “a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”

Among these are a slate of priorities such as “a livable wage; universal healthcare, childcare, and college; and student loan debt relief,” Hannah-Jones indicates. They also include cash reparations for Black Americans — specifically, for those who can document having identified as Black for at least 10 years prior to any reparations process and who can “trace at least one ancestor back to American slavery.” Also suggested is a commitment to enforce civil rights laws regarding housing, education and employment, as well as “targeted investments” in Black communities across the country.

And so the New York Times’s 1619 Project is now enlisted in the service of a policy agenda and political worldview. The book’s concluding chapter underscores that link. “It is one thing to say you do not support reparations because you did not know the history, that you did not understand how things done long ago helped create the conditions in which millions of Black Americans live today,” Hannah-Jones writes. “But you now have reached the end of this book, and nationalized amnesia can no longer provide the excuse. None of us can be held responsible for the wrongs of our ancestors. But if today we choose not to do the right and necessary thing, that burden we own.”

Is this the message that we want to convey to children—that if they aren’t antiracist, they are racist? That is Kendi-an to the bone.   I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s proper.

The NYT’s review:

Hochschild takes a diametrically opposed view, saying that his worries about historians’ concerns “largely melted away” when he read the book. He then lauds the book for showing connections between past racism and present-day acts.  Here’s one example:

Part of the book’s depth lies in the way it offers unexpected links between past and present. New Yorkers, for instance, have long protested that the city Police Department’s “stop and frisk” searches for contraband or guns disproportionally snag people of color. But how many had connected it, as Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander do here, to the slave patrols of the old South, in which groups of armed white men routinely barged into the cabins of enslaved men and women to hunt for stolen goods or “anything they judged could be used as a weapon”?

Is there a direct connection here, or merely an analogy? Connecting two things because they’re similar doesn’t show an ancestor-descendant relationship. And Hochschild accepts Desmond’s chapter without quibbles:

Another contributor, Matthew Desmond, points out that the cotton plantation “was America’s first big business.” On the eve of the Civil War the monetary value “of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation.” That fact alone should silence anyone who claims that slavery is not central to American history.

No, that’s best shown in other ways, not by comparative value.

Hochschild continues:

Moreover, controlling those workers “helped mold modern management techniques.” The plantations’ size allowed for economies of scale. And “like today’s titans of industry, planters understood that their profits climbed when they extracted maximum effort out of each worker. So they paid close attention to inputs and outputs” — easy to do when you compared harvesters according to how far each had progressed down parallel rows of cotton plants. Every fieldworker’s yield was carefully recorded, and rewards or whippings administered accordingly. Spreadsheets tabulated the depreciating value of human property over time. Trade magazines for planters carried management tips on getting the most out of enslaved workers: the best diet, clothing and even the proper tone of voice to use when giving orders.

Does Hochschild, a historian, not realize that many modern management techniques were afoot independently in the North, not copied from slaveholders? And, of course, modern managers don’t dictate the diets of their employees nor whip them. He also buys Kendi’s assertion that Justice Roberts’s comment shows that racism has not waned a bit since the antebellum era.

To be fair, Hochschild does have some beefs about the book. He calls the claim that the Founding Fathers created the American system, and fomented revolution, all to preserve the institution of slavery “going out on a shaky limb.” He bemoans the lack of discussion of slavery in countries outside the U.S., and wishes that there were more about white allies of slavery. (Here he’s really admitting that the main criticisms of historians are correct.) But in the end, he sees the book as a necessary corrective—part of “The Reckoning.”

Despite what demagogues claim, honoring the story told in “The 1619 Project” and rectifying the great wrongs in it need not threaten or diminish anyone else’s experience, for they are all strands of a larger American story. Whether that fragile cloth holds together today, in the face of blatant defiance of election results and the rule of law, depends on our respect for every strand in the weave.

Yes, we do need a corrective to counteract the glossing-over of slavery and racism taught in many American history courses. But I’m not down with distortions of that history, and I’m opposed to calls for action and reparations in a book that will be used widely in schools.  They should have left Kendi out, and also had the book reviewed not by self-picked reviewers but, like science papers, by anonymous but qualified reviewers picked by someone other than the authors.

h/t: Paul

Tish Harrison Warren says that Christian virtues dispel racism

November 14, 2021 • 11:45 am

I subscribe to Tish Harrison Warren’s NYT column for the same reason I sniff the milk when I already know it’s gone bad. Masochism, I suppose.

Today we have a very confused column from the Anglican priest, whose schtick seems to be to take a conventional and approved moral position, inform us how virtuous she is on the issue, and then inform us all how her Anglican faith has buttressed her virtue. I’m not sure what the Times sees in this approach unless it wants to either valorize faith in general or convert people to Anglicanism.

Click on the screenshot to read, or make a judicious inquiry:

Today the issue is racism, which she properly decries, but of course opposing racism is nothing new. The “added value” here is her explanation of how her Christianity helps with her anti-racism.

The first part of the column is her declaration that America is founded on slavery and white supremacy, and that attacks on Critical Race Theory are made by white supremacists to allow white Americans to avoid confronting the sordid past of their race. The last bit is partly true, but the first—that criticizing CRT is a manifestation of racism—is not.

Warren:

I don’t remember the first time I was taught that the Civil War was not fought because of slavery. I am a white Texan, so this idea was simply in the ether, as were myths about “good slave owners” and the “Lost Cause.” I knew that America had a racist history, but when I was a child, the details of what that meant were blurry and vague.

This experience is common. There is objective truth to our nation’s history, based in research and primary sources. But as Clint Smith describes in his book “How the Word Is Passed,” in America we too often tell a slanted version of our history to protect the feelings of white people. Smith highlights how an intentional disinformation campaign, which began shortly after the end of the Civil War, has altered the way much of America narrates our racial past. He looks at the convenient lies that white people often rely on to belittle the horrors of the past, the way we exclude stories that might trouble or challenge us.

I’m wondering if she’s adhering to the claims of the 1619 Project here, as she comes awfully close.  Nothing she says differs from what Nikole Hannah-Jones or Robin diAngelo says.

She then tells us about the aspects of Christianity that help her realize how soaked America is in racism and white supremacy. But before she does that, she says this:


The question before us as a nation is simple: Are we willing to tell the truth about our history or not?

My convictions about this question are deeply shaped by my Christian faith. White Christians do not appear to be any better than the culture at large at truthfully telling the story of America. But the Christian doctrines of sin and grace require truthfulness, even if those truths make certain people feel guilt, shame or discomfort.

First, White Christians are WORSE than others about “telling the true story of America” (i.e. recognizing racism). Look at this article from NBC News (click on screenshot).

 And who could answer “no” to the first question? The problem is that “truth” differs among people. To Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Revolutionary War was fought so America could keep its slaves. Not true. Also to Hannah-Jones, America was founded on slavery, which is the dominant strain in our history. That’s debatable, even among historians. Don’t forget that she also said that America dropped nukes on Japan in WWII even though we knew Japan was going to surrender because, well, we’d made the bomb and wanted to use it. That’s also untrue. So is Nikole-Smith, the truth-teller about America, adhering to her goals?

But I digress. She’s not the only one, as there are debates, even among liberals, about the degree of structural racism in America  and how it influence our history. So yes, we should tell the truth (and, to be fair, many white folks don’t want it told), but a lot of what passes for “history” is debatable, especially around race, for it consists not of empirically verifiable facts but in interpretations of facts.

But then she admits that White Christians aren’t any better than anybody else (and, in my view, probably worse than atheists) in apprehending historical truths. So what good is Christianity if it doesn’t help anybody else but Reverend Warren? She is being personal rather than general, which limits the value of her argument.

Here are the aspects of Christianity that, according to Warren, are supposed to foster anti-racism:

Recognition of evil. 

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world.

I’m sorry, but racism didn’t pose much of a problem for Christianity until  the twentieth century. In fact, many Christians used their faith to support slavery and promote racist attitudes. As for whole communities being racist, well, we have purely secular explanations for that—explanations better than the fact that we’re born sinful.

Truthfulness.

The gospel presented in scripture demands that we “walk in the light,” that we not try to hide or minimize the truth of what’s wrong with us or our history.

Fine. Then why aren’t Christians “better than anybody else” on the issue of racism? As for distorting history, well, let’s just say that the Christian myths that Warren embraces and preaches to her flock are dubious at best. Jesus as a miracle-working son of God/part of God? The Resurrection? If Christians are going to get straight with history, then they’ll have to discard a lot of their faith.

Repentance for sin.

Christian doctrine also understands sin and evil not only as individualistic, voluntary decisions to do evil but also as a communal, atmospheric reality. We are born into communities with sinful assumptions and narratives about the world that drive oppressive and destructive behavior. However unintentionally, we give our assent to these ways of understanding and acting in the world

John McWhorter would have a few words on this paragraph as showing the similarities between Woke anti-racism and religion. The repentance in the former case involves abject apologies by the Sinful.

Anti-idolatry.

The Bible also lends us the tremendously helpful concept of idolatry to help understand racial evil. John Calvin wrote that the human mind is “a perpetual forge of idols.” Our loves are disordered. Our idols, which are often unknown to us, are not usually bad things in themselves, but instead are things that we have loved and exalted too much. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being white. God designed the specific amount of melanin in my skin. But America has — and has always had — an idolatry of white culture and power. Our history makes that clear.

Here she stretches to draw an analogy between political and racial attitudes on the one hand, and false gods on the other. Whether you find that comparison valid is up to you, but it doesn’t move me.

But the main thing that Warren overlooks—probably deliberately—is that the Bible itself has been used to justify slavery, and, as far as I know, says nothing about racism and nothing negative about slavery.  From the preceding link:

“Christianity was proslavery,” said Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slaveholding: It is proslavery.” Some Christian institutions, notably Georgetown University in the District, are engaged in a reckoning about what it means that their past was rooted in slaveholding. But others have not confronted the topic. “In a certain sense, we’ve never completely come to terms with that in this nation,” Pierce said.

Why did Christianity become anti-slavery? Because of secular humanistic morality, which realized that slavery was immoral. The religious, as they so often do (viz., gay marriage) change their morality only after society itself has started changing because of secular morality.

We all know that time and again, the Bible condones or even approves of slavery. (n.b.. Slaves back then were not mostly blacks, but simply conquered people of all hues. But the same principle applies: the Bible doesn’t criticize one population from enslaving others.) The Wikipedia article “The Bible and Slavery” is a good start. God, it seems, didn’t adhere to Christian principles!

In the end, every Christian anti-racist virtue that Warren says dispels racism was ignored until secular society started becoming abolitionist. And if you adhere stricly to the Bible, you would not criticize slavery or racism. Rather, you’d support them!

What we see in Warren’s essay is a great big con job. Like most of us, she deplores racism, and that attitude is great. But since Warren converted to Anglicanism from being a Southern Baptist. she’s found a way to twist her new faith to show that it’s really anti-racist. It’s not, and hasn’t been until it took the lead from humanism.

If Warren wants Christians to tell the truth about history, they should begin with the things they believe about the history of their own faith, and examine what the Bible says about slavery. Then they can start making up stuff.

Scientific American again posting nonscientific political editorials

November 11, 2021 • 9:15 am

I have no idea why Scientific American is publishing editorials that have absolutely nothing to do with science. Yes, they have gone woke, and yes, they’re circling the drain, and while they of course have the right to publish what they want, they’ve abandoned their mission to shill for the progressive Democrats.

The latest shrill editorial is a critique of CRT implying that those who oppose its teaching in schools in whatever form, and are in favor of anti-CRT bills, are white supremacists. If you don’t believe me, read the article below. First, a screenshot from Jesse Singal, who rightly mocks the editorial staff of Scientific American:

I myself am against anti-CRT bills because how CRT is interpreted differs widely among people.  As the authors note correctly, these bills are sometimes construed as meaning that schools can’t teach anything about racial inequality or the genocide of Native Americans. I think school should teach that, but also that they should not set race against race, which, as we know, some schools are doing.

So, contra this editorial, I think there is something to be concerned about: woke teachers, of which there are plenty, propagandizing their students and spreading divisiveness. I’m not going to give all the examples that I’ve posted on this website, including the new curricula at NYC’s private schools that have angered (liberal) parents, California’s original draft of its ethnic studies curriculum that was pretty much anti-Semitic (that’s okay, it’s fine to diss the Jews), and the class where students had to paint their skin colors, or another where they compared their skin color to a chart that was, in effect, a way to measure how oppressed you are. If you think there’s not a problem, look what happened in Virginia. You can’t have your woke ideology and Democratic governance too—not with the sentiments of most Americans being what they are.

So yes, I’m in favor of teaching the very unsavory bits of American history, and are opposed to state laws that, designed largely by Republicans, are meant to prevent such instruction. But what you cannot do is say that CRT is never taught in classrooms, nor that all parents who oppose what’s going on in schools are racists and white supremacists. As Andrew Sullivan wrote last week:

And when the Democrats and the mainstream media insist that CRT is not being taught in high schools, they’re being way too cute. Of course K-12 kids in Virginia’s public schools are not explicitly reading the collected works of Derrick Bell or Richard Delgado — no more than Catholic school kids in third grade are studying critiques of Aquinas. But they are being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it.

And in Virginia, this is very much the case. The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the Youtube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.

A main reason Youngkin won in Virginia is that parents didn’t like this kind of instruction—a curriculum over which they had no say. Maintaining, as the article below does, that Democrats should just “keep it up” is a recipe for disaster down the line. This piece could have been written (and indeed perhaps was written) by “progressive” Democrats. And it doesn’t belong in a magazine about science, any more than an article about the nuances of string theory belongs in The National Review or New York Magazine.

Again, click to read:

Some quote from the Sci Am piece (indented):

The recent election of Glenn Youngkin as the next governor of Virginia based on his anti–critical race theory platform is the latest episode in a longstanding conservative disinformation campaign of falsehoods, half-truths and exaggerations designed to create, mobilize and exploit anxiety around white status to secure political power. The problem is, these lies work, and what it shows is that Democrats have a lot of work to do if they want to come up with a successful countermessage.

Conservatives have spent close to a century galvanizing white voters around the “dangerous” idea of racial equality. When such disingenuous rhetoric turns into reality, the end result is criminalizing educational programs that promote racial equality. [JAC: Criminalizing?] Youngkin, who pledged to “ban critical race theory on Day One,” frequently repeated this promise at his “Parents Matter” rallies across the state in the final months of the campaign.

But in his campaigning, he and others misrepresented what critical race theory (CRT) actually is: a specialized intellectual field established in the 1980s by legal scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda and Stephanie Phillips that emphasizes the unique historical role that legal systems play in upholding and producing racial inequalities in the United States.

The authors need to grasp what Sullivan says above. These authors are promoting a false view of what’s happening: that no aspects of CRT is seeping into public schools.

And here the authors claim that the anti-CRT movement (even the kind of watered-down CRT mentioned above) is motivated solely by white supremacy and racism:

Conservative anti-CRT rhetoric and the accompanying bills introduced and enacted by Republican state legislatures across the country comprise a disinformation campaign designed to manufacture white grievance in the service of white power. These policies reveal the need for researchers and scholars concerned with the quality of democratic debate to treat white supremacy as a disinformation campaign and to incorporate an honest accounting of America’s racial history and legacy of present-day inequality into all levels of education.

. . .Elections never depend on a single factor, and it’s not unusual for the party that captures the presidency to lose ground. That said, the perceived success of conservatives’ anti-CRT campaign will likely further legitimate explicit appeals to whites like those famously used by former President Trump. This will likely have long-lasting consequences. It further organizes U.S. politics around hardened racial and ethnic coalitions: a majority-white Republican Party and a multiethnic, multiracial Democratic Party. The Republican Party promises to maintain white people’s status at the top of the social hierarchy, while anti-CRT rhetoric conveys that this is justifiable.

I am a Democrat and am wary of the racial polarization of schools as it’s happening in many places, as well as ideological propaganda fed to kids. Not everybody who voted for Youngkin was a white supremacist, for crying out loud! Read Sullivan’s article, “The Woke meet their match: parents.” But wait! There’s more!:

Unfortunately, we know from history that white racial mobilization is a potent force, both at the ballot box and in attempts to subvert it.

This disinformation campaign must be directly confronted. Rather than dismissing manufactured concerns over critical race theory as fake, Democrats should embrace the robust teaching of America’s racial history in our public schools and make an affirmative case for why it matters for American values of fairness, equality and justice. Democrats should then focus on articulating how attacks on critical race theory are meant to divide people of all races who otherwise share interests. Rather than dismissing these attacks on CRT as isolated incidents, Democrats should mount their own sustained and coherent campaign to argue affirmatively for diversity, equity and inclusion programs and complementary efforts such as the 1619 Project.

Conservatives are unified around anti-CRT rhetoric. Now it is time for Democrats to form the same united front, to own that racism is real and to call out conservative legislative efforts designed to outlaw the teaching of racial inequality for what they are: a fitting example of how legal systems uphold racial inequality in the United States. This, of course, is exactly what CRT is trying to point out.

The last sentence, about legal systems upholding racial inequality, is absolutely debatable and should not be taught without careful parsing about what you mean by “legal systems.” The problem here is that this kind of facile and dubious assertion is already causing divisions among Americans and playing straight into the hands of Republicans. In the editorial above, the authors are staying “stay the course, full steam ahead”, while every other sensible Democrat is saying, “Wait! What happened? What can we do about it?”

The authors don’t seem to get out much, and really should pay attention to what Sullivan says here:

And if the culture war is fought explicitly on the terms laid out by the Kendi left and the Youngkin right, and the culture war is what determines political outcomes, then the GOP will always win. Most Americans, black and white, simply don’t share the critique of America as essentially a force for oppression, or want its constitution and laws and free enterprise “dismantled” in order to enforced racial “equity.” They understand the evil of racism, they know how shameful the past has been, but they’re still down with Youngkin’s Obama-‘08 impression over McAuliffe’s condescending denials and the left’s increasingly hysterical race extremism.

Instead, the authors take the stance of the Kendi-an left.

But why is Scientific American publishing this kind of debatable (and misleading) progressive propaganda? Why don’t they stick with science?  As a (former) scientist, I resent the intrusion of politics of any sort into scientific journals and magazines. If I want to read stuff like the above, well, there’s Vox and Teen Vogue, and HuffPost and numerous other venues.

I wonder how long Scientific American will last. . . . .

Andrew Sullivan on the election and CRT

November 6, 2021 • 11:45 am

It seems that much of the gubernatorial election in Virginia turned on the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in schools. Youngkin denounced it while McAuliffe deprecated parents’ “rights” to have a say in their kids’ schooling.  After McAuliffe’s loss, upset Democrats accused the Republicans of “dog whistling”: using CRT as a cover for their racism and white supremacy.  In this week’s main article on Andrew Sullivan’s website, he notes that this criticism may have held a wee bit of truth, but in general was wrong.  His thesis:

What has happened this past week, I suspect, is that the woke revolution has finally met its match: educated parents. People can tolerate sitting through compulsory “social justice” seminars, struggle sessions, pronoun rituals, and the rest as adults, if they have to as a condition of employment. But when they see this ideology being foisted on their children as young as six, they draw a line.

I believe you can read his piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below.  But again, I urge you to subscribe if you read him frequently.

The one bit of Sullivan’s column I disagree with is the almost palpable joy with which he greets Youngkin’s victory.  Who can be happy that a Republican, particularly one who may have a covert agenda that may jibe with many Republican stands? But you could argue as well that this is a necessary wake-up call for the Democrats to reorganize, listen to the electorate, and thereby promote future victories. Only a major loss—or, in this case, the repudiation of several Woke initiatives throughout the U.S., could do that.

Dems have also argued that CRT was not being taught in Virginia schools. Well, not in the academic form, but Sullivan dispels that with some data. I’m giving a long excerpt here, for it contains links you can consult. Emphasis below is mine:

Look at recent polling. A big survey from the Manhattan Institute of the 20 biggest metropolitan areas found that the public, 54-29, wants to remove CRT concepts such as “white privilege” or “systemic racism” from K-12 education. That includes black parents by a margin of 54-38. And that’s in big cities. A new Harris poll asked, “Do you think the schools should promote the idea that people are victims and oppressors based on their race or should they teach children to ignore race in all decisions to judge people by their character?” Americans favored the latter 63-37.

And when the Democrats and the mainstream media insist that CRT is not being taught in high schools, they’re being way too cute. Of course K-12 kids in Virginia’s public schools are not explicitly reading the collected works of Derrick Bell or Richard Delgado — no more than Catholic school kids in third grade are studying critiques of Aquinas. But they are being taught in a school system now thoroughly committed to the ideology and worldview of CRT, by teachers who have been marinated in it, and whose unions have championed it.

And in Virginia, this is very much the case. The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the Youtube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.

Matt Taibbi found Virginia voters miffed by “the existence of a closed Facebook group — the ‘Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County’ — that contains six school board members and apparently compiled a list of parents deemed insufficiently supportive of ‘racial equity efforts.’” He found Indian and South Asian parents worried about the abolition of testing standards, as well they might be. And at school board meetings, in a fraught Covid era of kids-at-home, parents have been treated with, at best, condescension; and at worst, contempt. Remember how the National School Boards Association wanted the feds to designate some protests from these angry parents as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” — and then withdrew that request?

The argument continues in the piece, but I’ve given the gist. So long as teachers and schools are pushing stuff that divides the children, so long as they repudiate Dr. King’s emphasis on character rather than color, then for that long the Democrats will continue to lose. Every time a kid comes home saying that she’s learned she’s bad because she’s white, the Democrats let a vote slip away.  As Sullivan says:

. . .  if the culture war is fought explicitly on the terms laid out by the Kendi left and the Youngkin right, and the culture war is what determines political outcomes, then the GOP will always win.

Nobody here, least of all me, claims that we should soft-pedal America’s history taught in full honesty: not only its glories but its abysmal failures, including its racism and the genocide of Native Americans. The textbooks and history lesson do need to be honest. But this is America, the “gumbo of diverse ingredients” that Carville describes, and in the end kids need to see it as it is—and was.  What should be taught are the facts, leaving out the ideology of CRT.

At the end Sullivan embraces the “Youngkin version of Republicanism”, saying that “he hopes it lasts.” I don’t, for I think Youngkin, while savvy about parents and schools, has a raft of Republican horrors up his sleeve. Get set for Virginia to pass a Texas-style anti-abortion bill.