Slapgate and “respectability politics”: should role models behave especially well?

April 8, 2022 • 9:30 am

You’ve surely seen this video of comedian Chris Rock being smacked onstage at the Oscars by Will Smith, who won a Best Actor award later in the show for his performance in “King Richard”.  Smith not only assaulted Rock, but cursed him out from the table after the incident. The reason: Rock made a joke about the alopecia (baldness) of Smith’s wife Jada.

Lots of people have weighed in on this, with most of them criticizing Smith for his unprofessional behavior. One of the most quoted detractors was former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who wrote a piece on his Substack site called “Will Smith did a Bad, Bad Thing“. (Jabbar is black.) Jabbar called out Smith for many things, deeming the slap “a blow to men, women, the entertainment industry, and the Black community.” But the part that got the most attention was Abdul-Jabbar’s assertion that the slap played into stereotypes about black violence and emotionality:

The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro wasted no time going full-metal jacket racist by declaring the Oscars are “not the hood.” What would she have said if Brad Pitt slapped Ricky Gervais? This isn’t Rodeo Drive? Many will be reinvigorated to continue their campaign to marginalize African Americans and others through voter suppression campaign.

Comfort to the enemy? That already implies that the audience was predisposed to fit this violence into a racist narrative. True, black-on-black violence is much in the news, but anyone who fits the narrative of two show-business stars into a “hood” scenario is already predisposed to think badly of black people.  Here’s what Martin Luther King’s daughter said in a pair of tweets:

The trope that Smith’s assault reinforced stereotypes is taken up in this article from yahoo! Life, which also criticizes the idea that individual actions should reflect on their community or group. Click on the screenshot to read:

A quote from the article:

 “When I think of respectability politics, what I imagine is this idea that people, but Black people specifically, are only deserving of respect and should only be valued if they behave in a certain way and adhere to certain guidelines,” anti-racism educator and diversity & inclusion consultant Janice Gassam Asare tells Yahoo Life.

The idea that an individual’s actions can represent an entire group furthers the notion that people in marginalized communities can “behave” and “respect” their way out of oppression.

The article criticizes “respectability politics”—not just as instantiated by Smith’s slap, but also by other blacks who have called for better behavior from their community to raise the image of African-Americans:

Another recent pop-culture moment that focused on this idea came in 2021. That’s when comedian and actress Mo’Nique was accused of upholding respectability politics in an Instagram video in which she critiqued young Black women for dressing down in public, namely by wearing bonnets outside of their homes.

“Our young sisters in head bonnets, scarves, slippers, pajamas, blankets wrapped around them and this is how they showed up to the airport,” she said. The Precious star argued that the trend didn’t align with her vision for young Black women.

“When did we lose our pride in representing ourselves? When did we slip away from ‘let me make sure I’m presentable when I leave my home’?” she asked.

Bill Cosby is also famous for chastising some blacks for both behavior and clothing that, he said, tarnishes the image of the race.

Finally, the “white gaze” noted in Bernice King’s tweet above refers to “what white people think,” something King deplores because it plays into “respectability politics”. The article mentions white celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis and Bette Midler, who re-tweeted Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism with approbation. An example:

And there’s other criticism for the approbation by white people of Abdul-Jabbar’s conclusion:

The white gaze can be referred to as the general assumption that the intended audience for anything is white, and that all behaviors are to be adjusted for the perception and comfort of white people.

In this case, Abdul-Jabbar’s critique of Smith drew further complaint after his post was shared by prominent white celebrities, including actresses Bette Midler and Jamie Lee Curtis. Both women drew backlash for appearing to support Abdul-Jabbar’s piece and the implication that Smith “perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.”

Those celebrities don’t understand “the layers and the nuance of our experiences,” says Gassam Asare. “But hearing that from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was off-putting to me, because it’s a classic example of ‘you can’t do certain things in front of white people.'”

The point is not to excuse Smith’s behavior, she notes, but instead to decenter whiteness in regard to morality.

“Very few people are saying violence is OK,” she says, “but I think it’s problematic when someone as notable and with as big of a platform as Abdul-Jabbar plays into this respectability idea.”

In general I agree with the article’s theme on the grounds that no one person’s actions should be taken or seen as a reason to denigrate a group. But let me qualify this a bit, for there are some group behaviors that I see as worthy of criticism. When I see a Middle Eastern man in comfortable clothes, followed several steps behind by a woman loaded with babies and dressed in a burqa, I can’t help but see that man as participating in a form of misogyny promoted by some forms of Islam. Every culture has some behaviors that can be seen as not conducive to societal well-being. Not every person in such cultures adheres to the bad behaviors, but nobody can deny that there are such differences. If you want to consider America, our callousness about universal health care is widespread, and a politician who denigrates it could be seen as “acting American.”

But there is no way that one should see Will Smith’s actions as somehow characteristic of black men. It was simply a human being reacting in the wrong way to a slight on his wife. (Smith does have a reputation for a bit of a temper.) And of course Chris Rock reacted with the utmost decorum, not by starting a brawl. Doesn’t that counteract Smith’s behavior, even for bigots? When I saw the slap, I didn’t even think about the race of the Smith. The notion that the violence was it was a “black thing” arose only when I read this article.

Yet I do want to bring up one thing that struck me (pardon the expression). In the past, and even today, black people who make it big are often encouraged by fellow blacks to behave in a certain way because they are “role models”. When Jackie Robinson became the first black major-league baseball player, he was told by his manager, Branch Rickey, to behave very politely, and not react to the inevitable racial slurs he encountered on the field.  In the movie I just watched coming back from Chile, “King Richard,” Smith himself plays Richard Williams, and is seen encouraging his daughters to dress well and behave properly, because, he said, they can be role models for millions of little black girls who aspire to playing tennis. And, in the last scene, this view is vindicated.

Of course, if someone has no interest in being a role model for their group—and they don’t have to have such interest—then this whole point is moot.

My question is whether “respectability politics involves hypocrisy when it comes to “role models”? Are you supposed to behave better than others so you can be a “role model” for a group—if that’s something you want to be? Why can’t you just excel in tennis and forget about trying to look or behave better than anyone else?

And that goes for all other role models as well. Yet we know that even playing into that “role model” behavior reflects a form of bigotry that does exist. Racism isn’t gone, and there ARE those who will take advantage of an ill-timed slap to denigrate a group. The question is whether it’s worth emphasizing this as a form of behavior modification, as Abdul-Jabbar did in his article.

Or perhaps all this musing about the behavior of “role models” is simply misguided. A “role model” could simply be someone like Venus Williams whose success demonstrates to other members of their ethnic group (or gender, or whatever) that they, too, can achieve—that bigotry is no longer enough to hold people back from success. Perhaps Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager who signed Jackie Robinson, was wrong in telling Robinson not to react to racial slurs on the field, thinking that any backtalk would just make racism more entrenched. Even if it did, then maybe Robinson didn’t feel like toeing the line to placate bigots. And perhaps, since racism is still with us, Abdul-Jabbar is just continuing the tradition of Branch Rickey, reminding people like Smith that, like it or not, they are seen as representatives of the black community and their actions can either lessen or entrench racism.

In the end, I guess I would want to say, “Nobody should have to be other than who they are to avoid fulfilling the hopes and expectations of bigots.” Yes, we should all try to behave civilly, but not tweak our behaviors because we have a certain gender or ethnicity. Yes, both individuals and groups differ in behaviors, but bigotry is imputing negative traits to an individual based solely on membership in a group. And that cannot be condoned.

But in the end, there’s still that nagging Branch-Rickeyish doubt in my mind, one that I quell by convincing myself that bigotry is not lessened when a black man wears a suit and behaves politely.  (I suspect that John McWhorter might disagree.) And even if it were, is everyone supposed to be a representative of their group?

Two readings on academic snitches

March 25, 2022 • 10:32 am

The internet is moribund on the ship today (It happens), so instead of writing a longer post, I’ll simply call your attention to two pieces worth reading. Both are criticisms of academic culture; one comes from the Left and the other from the Right.

Laura Kipnis is a liberal and a professor of Media Studies at Northwestern University, and she’s has been subject to more Title IX investigations than any academic I know.  This is because she treads dangerous ground: her speciality is writing about relationships on campus and the tortuous nature of sexual harassment policies that monitor them. Because she’s a critic, even though she harasses nobody she gets in repeated trouble simply for writing about what happens to other people. But she’s never been found guilty of anything.

Kipnis’s distinguishing trait (beyond her superb writing skills and dry humor) is that she won’t shut up about these investigations, but turns them her own books and articles. And when she does that, she gets even more Title IX violations for writing about them. In 2017 the New Yorker had an article about Kipnis called  “Laura Kipnis’s Endless Trial by Title IX,” but she’s still clashing with campus authorities, this time for creating an online Google survey about love during the pandemic. For that she got entangled with the campus’s Human Subject Research Board, which ultimately exculpated her. (I wonder if I could get into trouble with my online political-opinion “surveys”?)

Kipnis’s latest piece is in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below:

Here’s the introduction, which is a good example of how to draw a reader into an essay. It also shows one of Kipnis’s appealing traits: weaving her own persona into her pieces, even if they’re about more general topics—like the prevalence of snitching in college.

When I read about the downfall of the University of Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, fired after an anonymous complaint about his consensual though “inappropriate” relationship with a subordinate, my first thought was “What kind of idiot uses his work email for an affair?” Then I recalled that I myself am the kind of idiot who persists in using my university email account for everything, despite pledging at least once a year to tear myself away from this self-destructive habit. Schlissel, c’est moi. The next time I get in trouble, will my employer emulate the classy behavior of the Michigan Board of Regents and release troves of my own embarrassing emails for my enemies to savor and mock?

My next thought: Who was the snitch? I knew none of the players, but my inner Hercule Poirot went right to work, assembling likely suspects in the drawing room of my imagination (betrayed spouse, disappointed paramour, assorted foes and rivals, maligned underlings), cleverly disarming them with my continental charm until the culprit was exposed — most likely by the irrepressible look of creepy satisfaction playing across his or her face. To bring down an apparently much loathed and vastly overpaid university president, even for the stupidest of reasons: what ecstasy!

Among the questions prompted by Schlissel’s termination is whether higher education has, on the whole, become a hotbed of craven snitches. From everything I’ve heard and experienced, the answer is yes.

Her question then is why, when the Left used to be dead set against “snitches” (remember the Army/McCarthy trials and Hollywood blacklisting, both vigorously protested by liberals?), now seems to glory in it, creating what Kipnis calls a “carceral campus”? To wit:

. . .First let us pause to consider our terms: Was Schlissel’s narc a “snitch” or a “whistle-blower”? Whistle-blowers are generally attempting to topple or thwart the powerful, and Schlissel was certainly powerful. But the reported offense was, in the words of a lawyer I spoke with, “a nothingburger.” Let us provisionally define snitching as turning someone in anonymously, for either minor or nonexistent offenses, or pretextually. Also: using institutional mechanisms to kneecap rivals, harass enemies, settle scores and grudges, or advantage oneself. Not to mention squealing on someone for social-media posts and joining online mobs to protest exercises of academic and intellectual freedom.

This last is a variant of the “social-justice snitch,” a burgeoning category composed of those who want to defund the police and reform the criminal-justice system but are nevertheless happy to feed the maws of a frequently unprocedural and (many say) racist campus-justice system. There are, to be sure, right-wing students and organizations dedicated to harassing professors whose politics they object to, but that’s to be expected. What’s not is the so-called campus left failing to notice the degree to which the “carceral turn” in American higher ed — the prosecutorial ethos, the resources reallocated to regulation and punishment — shares a certain cultural logic with the rise of mass incarceration and over-policing in off-campus America. Or that the zeal for policing intellectual borders has certain resonances with the signature tactics of Trumpian America, for which unpoliced borders are equally intolerable. But what care social-justice types about fostering the carceral university if those with suspect politics can be flattened, even — fingers crossed! — expelled, or left unemployed and penurious?

The major answer—this is a spoiler alert, but Kipnis also gives so many bizarre episodes of snitching that the article will make your jaw drop—is this: social media, and the responsiveness of universities to social-media complaints or mobbing (even when the accused have done nothing wrong) gives people a way to get back at those they don’t like or who stand for someting they don’t like. This form of revenge is promoted by the swollen bureaucracy that colleges have created to deal with complaints of harassment and bigotry, bureaucracies that often lack work to do and so leap upon specious complaints.

Has anyone stopped to ask whether this is actually what we want the world to look like? Take, for instance, the complaints about gendered-speech missteps that are lately swelling the allegation coffers and occupying the swarms of bureaucrats and deanlets on call to aid every manner of snitch. Title IX offices have become the go-to for reporting pronoun errors or faculty members who accidentally misgender students (even when it involves reading a name off a roster, in one case I know of). Or for using a trans author’s pre-transition name on a syllabus, even when the book in question was published under that name: An older queer art-history professor at Pennsylvania State was turned in by younger queer students for doing just that a few years ago. The phrase “It’s generational” is often heard about this surge of accusation, a cliché meant to reconcile the apparent contradiction of gender-nonconforming progressives deploying the campus carceral apparatus to enforce their ideas of progressivism and queerness.

The lawyer Samantha Harris, who often defends speech-infraction cases, told me that N-word violations are also now a snitch’s paradise on earth. There are still, it seems, occasional old-school types (often leftists) who persist in thinking that there’s a distinction between quoting James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr. in full and hurling an epithet. The college-admissions consultant Hanna Stotland, who specializes in “crisis management,” told me that the snitching impulse is taking hold among younger and younger students. She used to have two such cases a year; she’s had 20 in the last two years. N-word offenses are a cottage industry here too. High schoolers squirrel away incriminating texts, or videos of friends at age 15 singing along with rap lyrics, then forward them to admissions committees when the friend (or frenemy, rather) gets an athletic scholarship or is admitted to an Ivy. Colleges are so quick to act on the intel, says Stotland, that they’ll sometimes retract an offer without even giving the accused student a chance to respond.

Of course to want to snitch on somebody like Don McNeil (the NYT writer fired for using the n-word didactically), you also have to claim that what’s been said offends you, causes you palpable “harm.”. But these often faux claims of “harm” are themselves promoted by colleges and by the media willing to take action against the accused. If you can get back at someone whose views you dislike by saying you’re “offended,” even if you really aren’t, well, as Church Lady said, “Isn’t that convenient?”

You can see why, although Kipnis leans Left, she repeatedly gets into trouble. It’s because she Speaks the Truth and also has moxie. She concludes this way:

These are a mere smattering of the hundreds of stories I’ve heard. There are obviously thousands more that people are too ashamed or cowed to disclose. I’m no psychic, but I can predict what will happen when this essay is published. My inbox will be flooded with cases of specious and horrific overblown accusations, sent by people who’ve been warned that if they talk about what they’ve been through, even when accused of verifiably false stuff, they’ll be punished — charged with “retaliation,” then face expulsion or job loss. These effective gag orders mean that administrators will get to keep operating with no public scrutiny, turning ostensibly liberal institutions into cell blocks.

My plan is to feature this new crop of stories in a regular column, or maybe a website, dedicated to the Academic Snitch of the Week. Hey, I know — if we run low on cases, we’ll solicit anonymous reports. Warning: We will be naming names. Of the snitches.

*****************************

A reader called my attention to the story below, reported mainly on right-wing sites that often indict colleges for the same stupidity that Kipnis describes. To find out about this stuff, you more or less have to visit these sites once in a while, for “mainstream media” simply doesn’t care much about injustice done by social-media snitches.

Here’s what the reader wrote me with the links:

I thought you may find this interesting (in a sad way) as it  concerns a scientist having what sounds like serious negative professional repercussions for a party costume.

I can’t find any mainstream media addressing this event. Like most people, I am familiar with the racist history of blackface and believe white folks ought to err on the side of caution. However, in addition to the event being 13 years ago, she was dressed in a costume because (I assume) she was honoring the celebrity [JAC: Michael Jackson], not because she was engaging in racist demeaning mockery. Considering the nature of her life’s work, it sounds sadly ironic that she is being publicly criticized by her employer . She sure sounds like exactly the kind of scientist any research university and university hospital would want on their staff. It appears she has a history of mentoring African scientists. She has so far declined to make a long groveling apology.

There are lots of these stories, but this one is particularly striking because the punishment is way out of line with the offense. The offense, as my correspondent wrote and the articles below report, consisted of wearing a Michael Jackson Halloween costume (including darkening her skin) 13 years ago. Yes, a bad decision, even back then (but much more so now). But worth getting raked over the coals about, and forced to undergo “reflection and reeducation”? No way.

There are two similar pieces about it, one in The College Fix and the other in The Daily Wire. You can ignore them because they’re from the Right, but the story they tell is true. It’s also summarized in Wikipedia. Click on the screenshots to read the tale:

From The College Fix:

and from The Daily Wire:

The scientist at issue is Julie Overbaugh, and she is indeed a top female scientist, a decorated researcher at “The Hutch” and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her Wikipedia biography, which details her accomplishments and awards, has a section called “Advocacy for diversity in science” immediately followed by a newer section called “Resignation”. This will be a blot on her career forever.

Overbaugh’s is guilty of a single unwise by not “violent’ decision 13 years ago to dress as Michael Jackson in one of her lab’s annual “themed Halloween parties. The theme was the best-selling 1982 album “Thriller”, so it would not have been a stretch for Overbaugh to dress as Jackson. The mistake was the darkening of her skin, not donning a hat and a silver glove.  I’ll let Wikipedia give the details:

In early 2022, Overbaugh was placed on administrative leave from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A photo of a Cancer Research Center Halloween Party from 2009 was anonymously distributed that allegedly showed her wearing blackface while dressed as Michael Jackson as part of a group “Thriller” costume. While determined to be an isolated incident, and although an interview of her peers and coworkers failed to reveal any pattern of inappropriate behavior “of any kind in the past or at any time while employed at Fred Hutch”, Overbaugh ultimately agreed to step down from her role as a Senior Vice President at the Center. She was also removed from all leadership duties in order to engage “in an education and reflection process” after publicly apologizing for her past action in a town hall meeting. As described by the President of the Hutch in the town hall: “Julie has offered to step down from her role and Senior Vice President of Education and Training and I have accepted her resignation”. “She will continue to be a prominent investigator at the Fred Hutch in the Human Biology Division working on viruses that affect so many people around the world”.

And the reaction by her bosses, taken from The Daily Wire:

As The Federalist noted, the incident didn’t occur at UW Medicine, yet its CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey and Equity Officer Paula Houston sent an email to staff announcing Overbaugh’s punishment for the “racist, dehumanizing, and abhorrent act” of “blackface.”

“Ramsey and Houston claim that the UW Medicine community was ‘harmed’ by the 13-year-old photo that most staff didn’t know existed until reading about it in the Feb. 25 email. ‘We acknowledge that our community has been harmed by this incident and the fact that 13 years elapsed before action was taken,’ they wrote. ‘We are convening a series of affinity group meetings in the next few weeks to provide spaces for mutual support, reflection, and response,’” the Federalist reported. “Neither Ramsey nor Houston explained how the photo ‘harmed’ anyone. Indeed, beyond one confirmed complaint, it’s unclear if anyone even cared about the old photo.”

Forced into re-education because she “harmed” the community! Apparently the community, and Overbaugh’s bosses, have no capacity for even a bit of forgiveness after 13 years. The words and punishment are harsh, way beyond what was deserved.

The statement issued by the Hutch is here, talking about her required “education and reflection process” after having being removed from her administrative posts. (Thank Ceiling Cat she can still do research!)

So, as journalist Jesse Singal noted in a series of seven tweets, her blackface was “not a good idea” (I suspect we all agree about that given the history of blackface), but the punishment was seriously disproportionate to the offense. You can read Singal’s tweets by clicking on any one of them below:

It’s this kind of stuff that makes me think the American academic world has gone off the rails.

Texas Lt. Governor proposes abolishing tenure in his state’s universities, as well as banning teaching CRT

February 22, 2022 • 1:00 pm

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has issued a statement describing his plans for the next session of his state legislature. Click on the screenshot to enlarge what’s written below. You will immediately realize that he is a Republican. (He’s been Lieutenant Gov. since 2014, and was re-elected in 2018).

As you see, he’s calling for the elimination of tenure, a mainstay of academic freedom. What about already-tenured professors? He says that they’ll be reviewed annually instead of every six years. Regular reviews for professors with tenure, or at least full professors, aren’t that common. After some years as a tenured associate professor, you’re evaluated for promotion to full professor, but once you make that, you’re at the top, and there’s no reason to “review” you except for your department to let you know how they think you’re doing or if you’ve committed some grievous offense or been grossly incompetent. Firing a tenured professor is very difficult.

So what Patrick is proposing here is to tell all new hires that they have is no employment security, and you’d better be careful what you say. You can be let go for reasons not specified in the above.

Finally, Patrick is “outraged” by a vote of the Austin campus’s faculty “in support of teaching critical race theory”. That, and his note that the UT system is being taken over by “tenured, leftist professors” shows you that he’s concerned more with ideology than with politics.

But his statement above is grossly distorted.

Re the CRT resolution, the Austin American-Statesman actually reported this on February 15:

The Faculty Council at the University of Texas approved a nonbinding resolution Monday defending the academic freedom of faculty members to teach about race, gender justice and critical race theory.

The resolution, approved 41-5 with three members abstaining, states that educators, not politicians, should make decisions about what to teach, and it supports the right of faculty members to design courses and curriculum and to conduct scholarly research in their fields. The UT Faculty Council is an organization that represents the faculty members at the university.

Faculty members approved the resolution partly in response to legislation around the country seeking to limit discussions involving race in schools, colleges and universities. The resolution expresses solidarity with K-12 teachers in Texas who are seeking to “teach the truth in U.S. history and civics education.”

Patrick has clearly misrepresented the resolution, which was not only nonbinding, but was also not at all “in support of critical race theory.” What it supported was the right of faculty to teach that (or about race or gender justice); it did not give support to specifically teaching CRT! In other words, Patrick lied.

The UT Austin resolution was itself a response to the Republican-controlled state legislature—you know, the one that passed the unconstitutional “fetal heartbeat” antiabortion law—trying to prevent topics from being taught in secondary school:

The Legislature last year enacted restrictions on teaching certain topics in K-12 public schools, in an effort to target critical race theory — largely taught in colleges and universities — a Republican catch-all for what some see as divisive efforts to address racism and inequity in schools.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3979, which limits how teachers can discuss race and current events in social studies courses, and then expanded the restrictions to any subject in grades K-12, including ethnic studies courses, with the passage of Senate Bill 3 during a special session. Other states, such as Iowa, have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory and “divisive concepts” in higher education as well as K-12 education.

The Texas laws don’t mention critical race theory directly, but they forbid schools from requiring in courses concepts such as that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and an understanding of the 1619 Project, a New York Times series examining the role and legacy of slavery in the founding of the U.S.

There was no ban on teaching anything in higher education, i.e. in colleges. So Patrick’s call for teaching CRT to be cause for eliminating tenure in colleges is not only fatuous, but punishes something that’s already legal to do. And, as we know, “CRT” really is a slippery concept: it runs through teaching honest history about oppression in America to the full-blown Kendi-an version that calls for Constitutional Amendments to monitor racism everywhere.

That’s one reason why I oppose any of these anti-CRT bills. The the other is that you have to be very careful about telling people what’s legal and illegal to teach. It’s a violation of the First Amendment to teach creationism in science classes, and I wouldn’t favor teaching Holocaust denial in history classes, but that matter can be dealt with by universities themselves, not by the legislature, which is a blunt instrument.

Finally, the Academic Freedom Institute wrote an excellent response to this Teas proposal explaining why tenure is important and why banning teaching some subjects in college is a bad thing to do. Click on the screenshot to read their statement:

In case you’re not in academics and have forgotten or don’t realize why we have tenure (most jobs don’t), it’s because it’s a way to preserve academic freedom. To quote the AFA document (I’ve put the crucial part in bold):

Tenure protections for university faculty were adopted throughout American higher education in the twentieth century precisely in order to protect faculty from the efforts of politicians, donors, university administrators, and other faculty to suppress ideas that they do not like. The lieutenant governor’s proposals strike at the very heart of the academic enterprise by prohibiting the teaching of certain ideas, thus immunizing contrary ideas from intellectual challenge. This, in effect, establishes campus orthodoxies and forbids the expression of dissent. Few things are more toxic to intellectual life.

To fulfill their missions, universities must be places where controversial ideas can be freely debated and where ideas are tested and supported through the consideration of evidence, argument, and analysis and not by subjecting them to popularity contests at the polls, in legislatures, or anywhere else. A free society does not empower politicians—or anyone—to censor ideas they do not like and silence scholars of whom they disapprove.

. . . Tenure provides valuable practical protection for that freedom of critical inquiry. Principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech are empty platitudes if they cannot be effectively secured. If professors can be fired for teaching ideas of which the legislature disapproves, then state universities will cease to be engines of intellectual discovery and progress. If professors can be dismissed for teaching ideas that a majority of the Texas legislature dislikes today, then they can likewise be dismissed for teaching a completely different set of ideas that a different legislative majority in the future or in a state with a different political or ideological coloration finds objectionable. True intellectual diversity requires the freedom to think, teach and write without the threat of political reprisals against those who voice dissenting opinions. Academic excellence is impossible where politicians, administrators, other faculty, or anyone else place limits on what ideas can be discussed in a college classroom.

It’s manifestly clear that Lt. Governor Patrick is trying to get professors fired for teaching “liberal ideas”.  But what it shows as well is that assaults on freedom of speech, as well as on academic freedom, come from both ends of the political spectrum. Here’s a Right-winger trying to restrict speech, and the Left often tries as well (see here and previous 19 pages).  There is no ideological monopoly on authoritarianism.

The vexing issue of emoji colors

February 14, 2022 • 9:30 am

It was understandable when emojis became “diverse”; after all, if you’re sending an emoji of yourself, you want it to look at least reasonably accurate. Using the new choices I have on email, though, this is the best I could do for a Jerry emoji:

Hi! I’m Jerry!

That pretty much sucks, as my hair isn’t brown, it’s gray, but there’s no gray hair to be had (is that ageism?). I don’t wear tee-shirts like that, either. But at least my glasses are reasonably accurate, and my skin tone, which is sort of sallow, is okay too. But I’ll never use this thing, as I rarely use emojis except in personal emails, and those are limited to 1) smiley face, 2) cat smiley face, 3) cat smiley face with hearts, 4) cat face with tears, and 5) the mallard drake emoji (there are no hens, which seems to me a kind of sexism, as I can’t represent Honey).  And I almost never use any emojis in professional correspondence.

But when this diversification started—and there are tons of “people” emojis—the result was predictable: some people felt left out, as there’s only a limited number of possible human features, including skin color, that can be cobbled together.  And each emoji has to be approved by an Emoji Czar.

And so, using your tax money, the increasingly woke National Public Radio (NPR) recently published this article (click on screenshot to read):

The issue, of course, is that some people don’t see themselves as “accurately represented” (we’re talking only about skin tone here) because they fall between the six options available, which include “Simpsons Yellow”.  Here are a couple of beefs from the NPR piece:

Heath Racela identifies as three-quarters white and one-quarter Filipino. When texting, he chooses a yellow emoji instead of a skin tone option, because he feels it doesn’t represent any specific ethnicity or color.

He doesn’t want people to view his texts in a particular way. He wants to go with what he sees as the neutral option and focus on the message.

“I present as very pale, very light skinned. And if I use the white emoji, I feel like I’m betraying the part of myself that’s Filipino,” Racela, of Littleton, Mass., said. “But if I use a darker color emoji, which maybe more closely matches what I see when I look at my whole family, it’s not what the world sees, and people tend to judge that.”

This is screwed up in so many ways. What Racela apparently means by saying that he “presents as pale” is that he “looks white”. But if he uses the whitest emoji, he’s betraying his Filipino genes, which are more apparent in the skin color of his family.  This raises important questions:

a. Why does he need to present the skin tone of his whole family when he’s writing a personal email?

b.  What is the importance of “people judging” here? And what are they judging? His failure to represent the color of his family in a personal email, or the color of his family itself, which people presumably don’t know. It’s unclear because Heath isn’t speaking clearly.

c. Is this really important? Seriously? Someone needs to get a life, including the authors of this woke NPR piece.

Another beef:

“I use the brown one that matches me,” said Sarai Cole, an opera singer in Germany. “I have some friends who use the brown ones, too, but they are not brown themselves. This confuses me.”

Cole is originally from California and identifies as Black and an American Descendant of Slavery. She said that while she was not offended when a non-brown friend used a dark emoji, she would like to understand why.

“I think it would be nice if it is their default, but if they’re just using it with me or other brown people, I would want to look into that deeper [JAC: a “deep dive”] and know why they’re doing that,” she said.

Once again, do you need to subject your friends to an inquisition—make no mistake, that’s what Cole’s “looking deeper” really means—to find out why, if they’re not “brown people,” they’re using brown emojis. Is this transracialism, like Rachel Dolezal, a sign of solidarity, or something darker in meaning?

But wait, there’s more: the problem of “emoji-switching”, or “passing as yellow”:

Jennifer Epperson, from Houston, identifies as Black and said she changed her approach depending on who she was talking to.

“I use the default emoji, the yellow-toned one for professional settings, and then I use the dark brown emoji for friends and family,” she said. “I just don’t have the emotional capacity to unpack race relations in the professional setting.”

Ah, the emotional labor of “unpacking race relations” by using colored emojis in an email! The solution here is simple: stop using emojis in professional settings. Is that so hard? Nobody expects you to “unpack race relations” (whatever that means; it’s really just postmodern jargon) in a work-related email. In fact, there’s no need to use emojis in professional emails. They started as a way to convey emotions lest your words be misunderstood, but you can be properly understood if you just write clearly.

Finally, we have the whole issue of “representing yourself” by skin tone alone, as though that is the most important aspect of yourself that you want to show the world. Forget about the content of your character; you have to get the color of your skin precisely right. More beefing, to the point where I might suggest a therapeutic intervention:

Zara Rahman, a researcher and writer in Berlin, argues that the skin tone emojis make white people confront their race as people of color often have to do. For example, she shared Sarai Cole’s confusion when someone who is white uses a brown emoji, so she asked some friends about it.

“One friend who is white told me that it was because he felt that white people were overrepresented in the space that he was using the emoji, so he wanted to kind of try and even the playing field,” Rahman said. “For me, it does signal a kind of a lack of awareness of your white privilege in many ways.”

Rahman, who in 2018 wrote the article for the Daily Dot, “The problem with emoji skin tones that no one talks about,” also challenges the view that the yellow emoji — similar to the characters from The Simpsons — is neutral, because on that show, “there were yellow people, and there were brown people and there were Black people.”

She said there was a default in society to associate whiteness with being raceless, and the emojis gave white people an option to make their race explicit.

“I completely hear some people are just exhausted [from] having to do that. Many people of color have to do that every day and are confronted with race every day,” Rahman said. “But for many white people, they’ve been able to ignore it, whether that’s subconsciously or consciously, their whole lives.”

You know, I’ve never experienced white guilt when using an emoji, but perhaps it’s because the only human emojis I use are the smiley or frowny faces in Simpsons Yellow.  Now I see that I’ve either been a good antiracist by not using emojis like the white one I made above, for I’d only be flaunting my privilege; but I could also be deemed racist when using the yellow one, as I’m either denigrating “yellow people” (presumably Asians) or, worse, assuming the very identity of an Asian.

What all this shows is that NPR needs to curb its wokeness, and stop publishing these kinds of article about people having nervous breakdowns about their emojis. But, importantly, it also shows clearly the racialization of the entire country: the fact that the most important thing you need to say about yourself—the key to representing yourself—is is the color of your skin. And as long as people feel that this is their defining characteristic, that’s how long this mishigass will continue and our society will keep engage in identity politics along color lines (even though color is a “social construct.”)

I’ve written too much, I fear, but this kind of stuff both amuses and angers me. It makes me realize how permeated society is by racialization, how important it is for people to be represented by their skin color, and, in the end, makes me despair that this division isn’t going away any time soon. But that’s the subject of the next post.

In the meantime, if you want to read more emoji-beefing, click on the article below from The Verge, or read Rahman’s 2018 article from The Daily Dot.

On Biden, McWhorter, and the n-word

February 13, 2022 • 12:45 pm

John McWhorter has written a lot about the “n-word” in his New York Times pieces, and his new column should be the final word on it. But of course it won’t be. Perhaps McWhorter had ha his say, but the critics will keep up the mobbing and pressure on those who use the word in even a didactic sense.  Those people, including NYT science columnist Don McNeil and a Chicago high-school teacher, are almost inevitably fired, no matter how long ago the word was used.

The crucial aspect of this mobbing is that intent doesn’t matter. It makes no difference to the Woke Word Police whether you use the word as a racist slur (that’s never okay), to quote Mark Twain, or in a law-school exam question as an example of a defamatory slur. All that matters is that the word was uttered by a white person.  But of course, as McWhorter notes in his latest piece, intent does matter, and always has. Here’s how we know that. Black people use the word repeatedly, both in rap videos and as a sign of affection. Dave Chapelle uses it as a synonym for fellow blacks. Those are okay, because the intent isn’t scurrilous! So intent does matter!

Click to read. I’ll give just a few quotes. (McWhorter mentions another case about the Slate podcaster Mike Pesca who was fired for using the word twice on his podcast as a “mention” rather than as a “usage”—the distinction that McWhorter draws between didactic uses and racial slurs. People are getting fired for “mentions” as if they were slinging slurs.

Headings are mine; McWhorter’s words are indented.

Onblack fragility“:

I suppose the idea behind this new idea — that the problem isn’t just using the N-word as an insult, but uttering it in any context, including quoting someone else — is that the old approach was insufficiently antiracist. But it is a strange kind of antiracism that requires all of us to make believe that Black people cannot understand the simple distinction between an epithet and a citation of one. Missing that distinction, or pretending to, is at best coarse. And we are being instructed to carry on as if this coarse approach is a kind of sophistication.

Plus, the assumption that Black people are necessarily as insulted by the mention as by the use implies a considerable fragility on our part. An implication that I reject and resent. If all someone has to do to ruin your day is say a word — even in the process of decrying it — your claim on being a strong person becomes shaky. I made the same point last week in a somewhat different context, and I realize that some are affronted by my calling their fortitude into question, but I am mystified by how comfortable so many of us are in giving white people this power over us.

On the performative nature of overreaction:

If all this falling to pieces served some larger purpose, perhaps there would be room for classifying it as a useful new standard. If people thought, for example, that it would help make Congress pass a reparations bill or force the Supreme Court’s right-leaning majority to rethink the Voting Rights Act, then they’d be making some kind of sense.

But none of that will happen, and this real life is all we have. Hypersensitivity for its own sake is self-destructive. It exerts a drag on the momentum of engaging in actual political activism, and even in our imbibing the wonders of this existence that we are all granted a spell of.

Why the use/mention distinction is valuable and why the “intent doesn’t matter” trope is risible:

But acquaintance with the straightforward use/mention difference is, or should be, a badge of membership in a modern society. Anyone who’s willing to process Black people referring to one another with the N-word, as a term of endearment or a form of word empowerment (and many, including me, are, even if we don’t use it this way ourselves) understands that a spoken or written instance of the N-word can mean more than one thing. As such, they should be able to appreciate, if not embrace, that quoting a savory rap lyric or comedian’s routine that includes the word or just referring to the word to note its prior application are not the same thing as deploying it as an insult.

Our current nervous social contract on this word requires us to act as if there is no such difference. But all of us, Black, white and otherwise, can see past this. The sky won’t fall if we admit it. It’s time to stop putting people in the stocks for mentioning the N-word when they’ve done nothing history will judge as wrong.

 

Reuters has an article on Biden’s utterances, which, sadly, have been turned into videos in which he appears to use the word repeatedly as a racial slur. That’s heinous.  These “fake news” videos were, of course, produced by acolytes of Trump: “The Committee to Defend the President”. Reuters, acting as Snopes, says what we have here is a MENTION, not a usage. And that’s clear from this 45-second video.

Two seconds into the [fake, pro-Trump] video, the narrator says that Biden “repeated the N-word twice on camera,” while on-screen text reads, “We don’t need any more [N-word] bigshots” – C-SPAN 6/5/1985”

As presented, the video implies that the words spoken by Biden were his own opinions, when actually he was quoting a white legislator and trying to expose the comments as racist.

It is not the first time that this quote is taken out of context to criticize Biden ( here ). Reuters Fact Check recently debunked a misleading compilation of Biden footage that included this clip, visible here

The alleged quote was part of a confidential staff memorandum that Biden referenced on several occasions ( bit.ly/38kHeMo ) at William Reynolds’ nomination for becoming Associate Attorney General on June 4 and June 5, 1985. Moments captured on camera of Biden mentioning the quote are visible here ( cs.pn/2ZRBRSz , minute 1:29:15) and here ( cs.pn/3fUto6x , minute 17:14).

During the two-day hearing, Biden quoted these words from a white legislator who opposed the Louisiana redistricting plan in 1981, a case that was criticized for being biased against Black people. Biden mentioned the case to argue against Reynolds’s nomination ( here ).

The obvious aim of this post is to support of McWhorter: Biden is using the word didactically, as a “mention” that is, in fact, meant to cast aspersions on Reynolds. Biden should suffer no opprobrium for this. But, you know, if it wasn’t Biden but an obscure reporter whose utterances were uncovered after a few decades, he might be fired.

I’d like to ask those who maintain that “intent doesn’t matter” if Biden’s usage here is morally equivalent to him using the n-word as an insulting racial slur. Would they say “yes”? No rational person would agree, and I don’t think Biden’s impeachment is impending. It’s just that when the current liberal President is shown to have used the n-word in the past, and in the way shown above, the distinction between “mention” and “usage” suddenly becomes very clear.

Time Magazine tries bullying its readers into Wokeness

February 10, 2022 • 12:00 pm

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

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

I am not making this up. Click to read:

Dr. Nolan is very disappointed in us.

The problem:

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

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

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

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

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

So I’m one of the bad ones for Nolan:

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

And so we have is our second task:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

h/t: Mark

Chicago teacher fired for using racial slur didactically

February 9, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Does intent matter when you use a racial slur, or the offense taken? I think one must consider intent, though the NYT and many other venues take the hard line that if someone’s offended by hearing a racial slur, the slur-er deserves to be sanctioned. (That’s why science writer Donald McNeil was fired for using the n-word didactically in a discussion. The NYT staffers were offended and couldn’t bear it because they were “harmed” and felt endangered.)

And now we have a case in Chicago also involving uttering the n-word in a discussion where it was not intended as a slur. This time it was a teacher in a Catholic school, Mary DeVoto, who suffered the ultimate penalty short of death: she was fired. The article appear in both the Chicago Tribune (paywalled for most) and in NBC News below (click on screenshot):

From the Tribune:

It was one terrible word that ended Mary DeVoto’s nearly 42-year career at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and she said she wishes she’d never said it.

During a Jan. 28 discussion in her world history class, she used the N-word during a talk about Native American culture, where the conversation with students had evolved into sports team names, such as the former moniker for the Washington, D.C. professional football team. [JAC: The former “Washington Redskins” team, now the “Commanders”.]

A student asked why the former name was offensive, and DeVoto said she was “trying to emphasize that that is as abhorrent (to Native Americans) as the N-word, which I used in full,” she said Thursday.

“I can’t believe it came out of my mouth,” she said.

DeVoto was pulled out of her classroom that day and suspended, then fired this past Monday. An online petition to seek her reinstatement has been established by her family, while some parents of McAuley students are applauding the decision by administration of the all-girls Catholic high school in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood to fire DeVoto.

The classroom discussion was captured on an audio recording, which was quickly shared on social media and resulted in DeVoto’s suspension and later dismissal.

School officials declined requests for comment Thursday, but issued a statement to the Southtown saying it “does not condone this language and is deeply saddened by the hurt and pain this has caused our students and community.”

“With the intent to emphasize the abhorrence of slurs, the teacher wrongfully compared and egregiously miscommunicated two racial slurs, including using the N-word in its entirety,” the school statement said.

Devoto met with school administrators offering to apologize or do anything she could to “fix it”, but it was too late. They canned her. The reason they gave was this:

In a statement announcing DeVoto’s termination, the administration said the firing was made more necessary “because of a subsequent conversation with the teacher in which the same racial slur was communicated in its entirety several times despite clear and formal directives to stop.

“The N-word is never acceptable in any gathering of, or setting with, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas,” the school said.

So I guess she uttered the word explaining her actions to the administration.  You can bet your bippy that DeVoto would never have used that word again had they kept her on. And the proper sanction for the use of this word is not firing—not unless it’s used as an insult. It wasn’t. She should have been called into the Principal’s Office and told that she should apologize to the school and never say that word again. Is uttering this word, even didactically, enough to end your career. How crazy has this country become when a single word can do this, regardless of intent? At long last, have people no sense of forgiveness and empathy?

Yes, of course the word is deeply offensive. But punishing people severely for using it didactially seems to me extreme, and I say this as a Jew who’s been called various names like “Hebe” and “kike”.  I would not ask for someone to be fired who called me any of the many pejorative terms for “Jew.” There must be some understanding, and there must be some forgiveness.

In the end getting a teacher fired who used the n-word didactically, seems to me to be an exercise of power—the power to punish to the utmost someone who says a word that offends you.  Yes, if DeVoto told a student she was a “dirty n—“, of course that’s a firing offense. But people seem unable to calibrate different usages here. There are no gradations on the punishment dial.

At the end, in another sad part, DeVoto’s daughter has begged for “retraining”:

DeVoto said she founded a diversity club at the school in the 1980s to “give a voice to children of different ethnic backgrounds.”

In a statement, the school said it has, over the past two years, “enacted a comprehensive, multitiered plan to foster a community that honors the dignity of every individual,” and that faculty and staff have attended training sessions focused on culturally responsive education.

Stephanie Rahman, a 2006 McAuley graduate and one of DeVoto’s three daughters, said she and her family hope the school reconsiders its decision to fire her mother and that, as an alternative to firing, DeVoto could take part in additional training the school has provided.

What kind of “retraining” are they thinking about here? Aversion therapy, as in A Clockwork Orange?  Our land is now horribly polarized, and there seems to be no empathy to temper that polarization.

Every day I get more depressed about the future of America.

Is Cancel Culture on the way out?

February 4, 2022 • 12:45 pm

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was founded in 1913 to project Jews from defamation and discrimination and to fight anti-Semitism in America. It was once a widely respected organization, admired by both Jews and non-Jews.

Sadly, under the Presidency of Robert Greenblatt, who worked for Obama, the ADL has become much more woke: it’s going the way of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and Amnesty International, i.e., down the drain.  And under Greenblatt’s presidency, the ADL changed the definition of “racism” to one much woker—a definition that did not permit people of color to be accused of “racism.”  That, of course, is a tenet of CRT and wokeness—”racism equals power plus privilege”.

But somehow the changed definition reverted to the old one shortly after Whoopi Goldberg made her comment that the Holocaust wasn’t based on racism. Here’s a tweet showing the change:

I believe that this was the ADL’s old definition of racism when Greenblatt took over (the reference to Livingston’s 2021 book may have been added when the tweet reverted)

And then, some time under Greenblatt’s reign (which continues), the definition became the one below, undoubtedly a PoMo or “woke” definition that allows only whites to be racist:

After Whoopi Goldberg’s statements, suddenly the second definition was changed back to the first one, as the tweet above notes.  In the first definition, of course, Nazis can be racist towards Jews, which whey were in any meaningful sense of the word “racism”.  In general I’d prefer the word “bigotry” instead of “racism”, as the former word isn’t connected with the fraught and contentious word “race.” But so be it.

The change seems to me an improvement, and kudos to those who made the ADL ditch the new version for the old one.

Below, a good discussion about Whoopi’s cancellation by Mika Brzeninski of MSNBC, emphasizing that the cancel culture may have gone too far with the two-week suspension of Goldberg (a suspension I disagree with). Now I’m not sure what Whoopi really believes, as she walked back her apology a bit on the Stephen Colbert’s show. But in the interest of civility, let’s assume she at least has learned something about what the Nazis construed as “race”, and won’t put her foot in her mouth again. If “race” is really a social construct, as many believe, then of course the Nazis can construct Jews as a race.

Have a listen.

 

Both of these items were sent to me by reader cesar, who saw in them a sign that perhaps “Cancel Culture” is abating. I’d like to think that, for that culture it’s divisive and poisonous, but I’m not as optimistic as cesar. After all, these are but two incidents in a tsuanmi of wokeness and cancellation that I document frequently.

But maybe, just maybe. . . .

On this site, at least, perhas we can try to develop more tolerance. We’re all flawed human beings, just like Ed Wilson, and right now I’m working on my own tolerance, which is easier to fix than one’s flaws! But one thing I insist on is that while we shouldn’t try to demonize people so much, we should certainly fight like hell against ideas we consider bad or mistaken.

Quick review: “Woke Racism” by John McWhorter

February 1, 2022 • 10:30 am

The complete title of McWhorter’s new book is Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, and we’ve talked before about some of the contents that McWhorter posted on his earlier Substack column.  The book isn’t yet out in paperback, but I got a hardback copy several weeks ago from interlibrary loan. (I have no more room to put books on my shelves–not even 2 inches of space.) The book is available now only in hardcover, but you can either wait until the paperback appears this fall, get it from the library, borrow it, or buy the hardbound copy for $18.01. But don’t wait to read it.

I recommend it most highly. (You knew I would.) It’s a short read—187 pages of text—and written in a simple but punchy style. McWhorter doesn’t pull any of those punches, either, describing the performative character of “woke racism” in a way that only a black man could get away with. (For instance, he says that a lot of people’s offense is simply a lie.)

You can get a taste of the style from the Amazon site “look inside” feature, and the topics from Table of Contents. Here are the contents and then a table from the first chapter which shows the contradictory nature of what McWhorter calls “third wave racism” (Electism):

A screeenshot, since I can’t transcribe it:

The lens through which McWhorter views “wokeism” is as a religion: a real religion, not just a metaphor for religions that worship a God. Although I don’t think this trope is absolutely necessary for McWhorter to make his case, but it does add considerably to our understanding of the phenomenon. The “Elect” (his word for the “woke”) will brook no dissent, believe in an original sin (racism, of course), demonize those who are against them, cast them to a social-media hell (or worse: getting them fired or banned), have a common set of tenets that, as shown above, contradict each other (cf. Christianity: God is loving but if you don’t accept him you’ll burn forever), and have a set of inerrant prophets, including Ibram Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Their words are not to be questioned; the prophets are to be worshipped and evoked as often as possible.

The book is not intended for The Elect because, as McWhorter asserts, their minds aren’t open. That’s true, just as my book Faith Versus Fact wasn’t intended for fundamentalist religionists. In both cases our books were intended for either those on the fence, those with open minds or, in McWhorter’s case, for those who already dislike Wokeness but want a critical analysis of its flaws as well as some bucking up. Wokeism may, for instance, repel you for reasons you don’t understand, and McWhorter supplies those reasons.

There are several, and since this isn’t a full review, I’ll just touch on them. First, “Electism” (or, as I prefer, “Wokeism”) is largely performative: it is a show of virtue without really accomplishing anything to lessen the inequalities that have plagued black people.  How, for example, does firing a professor who explicates the “fill-in” word in Chinese “ne-gah” (just as “like” is a fill-in word in American English), accomplish anything to eradicate racism? We know of dozens of such performances. Academia is full of them, and they’ve spilled over into society at large. I see them every day.

Don’t get McWhorter wrong: he does see inequality of blacks and whites as a serious problem, but also thinks that black people have to lend a hand in helping us fix it. I’ll mention his solutions below. But by laying out the arrant stupidity (well, “misguidedness”) of performative Electism, he not only helps us understand it, but also to fight it and to stop flagellating ourselves as irreparably broken racists. In this sense it is heartening. It doesn’t aim to perpetuate racism by mitigating white guilt, but to show that much of that guilt is unwarranted.

In fact, McWhorter’s notion is that Electism actually harms black people in several ways. One way, which I’ve seen at my own university, is by infantilizing them: treating them as an especially sensitive group that must be coddled rather than respected. Once you realize how this infantilizing is done—and it’s done by both blacks and whites, but is especially odious when by whites—you can see signs of it everywhere. And this infantilizing leads to lower both the expectations we have for black achievement as well as the standards that we hold everyone to. It is, in fact, the very reason why the meritocracy is being dismantled, and why colleges and schools are getting rid of standardized tests. But this doesn’t help black people. How could it? It may get more of them into universities, but McWhorter claims that, in the elite schools at least, poor secondary-school education plus a culture not based prizing learning leads to many black students being underprepared, and either dropping out of or changing schools.

Another virtue of the book is that, like Mill’s “On Liberty,”  McWhorter constantly anticipates the objections of the Woke and defuses them in advance. These include the idea that McWhorter must be a self-hating black, that we need affirmative action for all minorities, whether or not they’re disadvantaged, and that affirmative action must be based solely on how one is grouped racially. It must also last forever.

The initial chapters describe the phenomenon of Electism, make the case that it’s a real religion, and give many examples—you’ll be familiar with some—of how Electism plays out in everyday life. It’s horrifying to see what the Elect have gotten away with, but of course they get away with their shenanigans for one reason only: white people really don’t want to be called racists, and will do nearly anything to avoid that label.

Electness meets the road in the last two chapters. Chapter 5 contains McWhorter’s recommendations for how to really help black people. They may sound too few, or too silly, but the more one thinks about them, the more they make sense. In his view, there are only three correctives.

1.) End the war on drugs

2.) Teach reading properly (he recommends phonics, and knows whereof he speaks)

3.) Get past the idea that everybody must go to college

Each of these has wide ramifications that you can imagine if you think about them. But you needn’t, for McWhorter gives the rationales in detail. Sadly, none of these things are being emphasized or accomplished by the Woke, and none of them are the subject of the performative wokeism we encounter every day.

The last chapter deals with people who oppose performative wokeism but still want to help black people. What do you do when the Elect come for you? McWhorter sees acting on his advice as critical, for Electism is no longer a problem with colleges alone. It’s plagues all of American (and much of British and Canadian) society.  McWhorter’s suggestion includes not engaging the Elect (they won’t listen), do not apologize for your actions or views if you advance them in reason good faith, and, most important, stand up to the woke. Don’t buy their bullshit, don’t let them make you feel guilty, and, if you disagree, just say so and walk away. And build your own group of like-minded people who are also antiracist.

That, of course, requires that you “out yourself” as an opponent of the Elect. I have already done so, but what do I have to lose? I don’t use Twitter, I have my own platform here, and I’m retired. Nobody can fire me. But there are many who do have things to lose. McWhorter’s advice is to stand up for your principles, even if you suffer by doing so. Just as atheists did, the more one “comes out”, the more heartened your ideological confrères become, and the more likely they’ll be to join you.  The Elect, of course, will deem you a racist simply for opposing their mishigass. Don’t let them get away with it.

McWhorter finishes the book by addressing those who agree with his arguments:

The Elect will ever be convinced that if you join these brave, self-possessed survivors, you are, regardless of your color, a moral pervert in bed with white supremacy.

But you aren’t and you know it.

Stand up.

Buy and read this book. Surprisingly, the professional reviews have been good (it even got a star from Kirkus!), and it’s selling quite well. Don’t miss out.

Oh, and let me add that, as you might expect, the book is wonderfully written with simple and stylish prose. But if you’ve read McWhorter before, you’ll expect that. He’s a national treasure, a man whose voice is especially urgent as America tears itself apart over racism.

 

Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends

January 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’ve written several posts trying to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT) as it is understood by scholars (see here and here, and here, for instance), and I won’t reiterate the definitions, which, of course differs from scholar to scholar. There is no “approved” definition.  But the variants all have certain things in common, including the concept of “white privilege,” intersectionality, systemic racism, and, usually, reparations and the complicity of oppressors (in this case, white people) in oppressing minorities. CRT is identity-centered rather than individual-centered.

I was going to write a corrective to the misconceptions of the Left about CRT, which are actually distortions because anybody who cares to can find out what CRT really is.  Likewise, the Right distorts CRT in an attempt to minimize the extent of racism. Both ends of the political spectrum, in fact, tailor their own definitions of CRT to meet their goals

Mona Charen at the Bulwark (see first article below) has written a sensible article on CRT (click on screenshot) which makes these points. It turns out that the Right-wing concept is closer to the real CRT than is the Left-wing version, but both sides distort what happens when an dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.

Like me, Charen, doesn’t think there should be any laws against CRT on the books (most of them have been confected  by Republicans). In my case, given the various conceptions of CRT, telling schools what’s legal and not legal to teach infringes the freedom of teachers to teach what they think is best. (Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense: CRT is not evolution, which is a “theory” that happens to be a true theory as well, and, unlike CRT, one can’t with any rationality debate the truth of evolution.)

So, as Charen notes, the Left (including, recently, Paul Krugman) characterizes CRT simply as the idea, which is true, that there was slavery and oppression of black people for centuries, and that there is still racism, and both the history and current racism injures minorities and violates the tenets of our democracy. As we see below, most Americans agree with these claims. But they are not CRT!

.Charen (my emphasis below):

The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida’s new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin” mangles the facts. The law, CNN claims, is a response to critical race theory, which the network defines as “a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. The term also has become politicized and been attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that’s a threat to the American way of life.”

Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone in describing CRT in such an anodyne fashion. Paul Krugman argues that most people don’t know what CRT is (which is true), but goes off the deep end claiming that Republican “denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.” [JAC: I think there’s some truth in what Krugman says!] One news outlet suggested that anti-CRT bills “may make it even harder to discuss African American history,” and it is common to see anti-CRT bills described as “efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom.”

If you were judging by much of the mainstream press coverage, you would think that CRT is just a movement to ensure that the history of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow is not neglected in America’s classrooms. But 1) large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching those things, and 2) that’s not what CRT is.

So what does Charen see as the “real” CRT? Here:

In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, rejects the notion that racism is a character flaw in some individuals, declaring instead that “White identity is inherently racist.” That marks a dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of racism.

Critical race theory adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as “affinity groups” wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” An official email explained that, “This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.”

And, contra Krugman and Scientific American, this kind of stuff, and not just the history of racism and slavery is actually taught in some schools.

In Virginia’s Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject “color blindness” and to “address their whiteness (white privilege).” Each teacher was exhorted to become a “culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.” The training strayed into racial essentialism like this: “To the African, the entire universe is vitalistic as opposed to mechanistic. . . . This precept suggests that African Americans have a psychological affinity for stimulus change, often exhibit an increased behavioral vibrancy and have a rich and sometimes spontaneous movement repertoire.”

Democrats often object that CRT is “not taught in K-12 schools,” which is evasive. It’s true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberly Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but affinity groups, “anti-racism” (in the sense of rejecting the ideal of color blindness), and other CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” as aspects of “white-supremacy culture.”

I’ve given other examples, such as the Smithsonian’s ill-advised (and now removed) characterization of white and black “culture”, and explicit demonizing of whiteness in classrooms, which is divisive and sometimes traumatic, and the recounting by students and parents in New York’s fancy prep schools about the divisive propaganda those schools purvey. There is no shortage of examples.

Republicans and righties aren’t immune, either, attacking perfectly warranted and sensible school units on racism. Charen gives the example of Republicans attacking a school district in Tennesee because on grade had a “Civil Rights Heroes” module that the plaintiffs said was “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican [sic]”. There’s little doubt that their attempts to ban teaching CRT in schools is motivated at least in part by racism and a continuing attempt to efface American history.

So a pox on both ideological houses, especially because both Republicans and Democrats agree (as do I) that the nature, history, and damage of racism need to be taught.

It’s so easy—and remunerative—for progressives to characterize opposition to CRT as straight-up racism, and for conservatives to reach for heavy-handed, overbroad laws to restrict teaching they resent. But it is possible to oppose CRT for non-racist reasons, in fact for pro-national unity reasons, and even if Republicans are not making the case well or at all, it still needs to be made.

Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism, and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (87) and Republicans (85) say textbooks should include the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and slightly higher percentages want children to learn about the theft of Native American land.

That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do get partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of “white privilege.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.

This is getting long, so I’ll refer you to Eric Kaufman’s long survey of the divisions in America about CRT (click on screenshot below). A lot of it is age-related, with young people approving the teaching of “dictionary CRT” while older people oppose it.  Kaufman draws a distinction between “cultural liberalis” (those “classical liberals” who oppose the strict construal of CRT, and “cultural socialists” (those who stress the importance of identity groups over individual rights and favor the teaching of CRT). The ratio of the former to the latter in the U.S. is now 2:1, but Kaufman thinks as the young people of today age, they’re going to remain cultural socialists.

(You can see Kaufman’s full data and analysis here—in a much longer article.)

The cultural socialists on the Left apparently include the editors of Scientific American. A comment the other day on my post “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year,” went as follows.

The commenter:

This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.

I have the article below, which I’ll send to anyone who wants it (it’s in the paper edition). Scientific American makes the mistake of conflating CRT with “reality”, using the construal that CRT is simply teaching about racism and its history in the classroom. The article (no link):

Here’s the abstract:

Abstract:

The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.

I won’t go on except to say that the editorial flirts with the classical definition of CRT, but then says that that all it does is teach us our “true history” and that it “teaches children about reality.”  This is a good example of how the Left deliberately misconstrues CRT so that they can call people who oppose the theory “racists.” But that’s not true.

The title tells all.