Anne Frank had white privilege?

August 13, 2022 • 1:15 pm

This isn’t a huge kerfuffle, because the morons espousing the thesis in the title aren’t numerous. And the kerfuffle was popularized by the “scandal site” TMZ. Nevertheless, it shows how crazily woke some people are.  Here’s the TMZ tweet which directs you to a clickbait-y article based entirely on tweets. (What would journalism do without Twitter? It would have to be more serious and do investigative reporting beyond scanning Twitter for faux controversies.)

Here are a few tweets and refutations of some of them. The crazy is heavy here (second tweet):

Another tweet and refutation. I don’t think Anne Frank hid behind her “whiteness”; she hid from the Jew-hating Nazis in the annex of an Amsterdam pectin factory.

Here’s someone observing a wider discussion in the UK:

Here’s a rabbi—a rabbi!—who pays lip service to “visible” Jews, but at the same time has to show her virtue, asserting that Jews “grabbed white privilege” (allowed to do so only because of anti-black racism) and thus are “conditionally white.” Grabbed white privilege? How do you do that?

As you see below, even Hannah Nikole Jones of the 1619 Project can see the fallacy of this claim! And that fallacy is simple: in Nazified Europe, Jews were not seen as white–as “Aryans”, the “master race”. Rather, they were an inferior “race”, more or less the equivalent of blacks in the post-bellum South before civil rights came around.  (I would disagree with Jones’s claim, though, that “race is a fiction”, as that needs severe qualification.)

But as I’ve said before, there is no object, no concept, no organization, and no activity that cannot be demonized by some crazied Wokesters. Anne Frank, for crying out loud!

Harvard organization lists 15 traits of “white supremacy culture”

July 12, 2022 • 12:45 pm

Here’s the rundown on this organization, which is in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  The IARA project, under which this “policy portal” falls, is described like this:

The Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project is an initiative of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School directed by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. The goal of this enterprise is to use research, clinical knowledge and policy interventions to promote antiracism as a core value and institutional norm. IARA proposes to further explore and examine how understanding and engaging with institutional history impacts organizations when forging a path forward for racial equity. While the field of racial equity and antiracism is not new, it remains underdeveloped within the context of applied knowledge and implementation for organizational behavior and institutional change.

and the Race, Research, and Policy Portal is explicitly designed to further equity:

RRAPP is a FREE online resource dedicated to summarizing and promoting research publications on diversity, racial equity and antiracist organizational change in private, public and non-profit firms and entities. Many of RRAPP’s resources highlight academic studies, which are often hidden behind subscription paywalls and are subsequently underutilized. RRAPP helps changemakers learn and find the tools they need.

Two of its three goals (besides creating a repository for material on antiracism) are these:

  • GOAL TWO

    To further the field of racial equity, advance knowledge, and promote the implementation of effective interventions, while providing practitioners easy access to nationally significant materials to further sustainable change.

  • GOAL THREE

    Increase the use of this knowledge in the classroom, student research, and in curriculum at professional schools, such as law, business, and medicine; allowing for more dissemination and uptake of important antiracist learning.

That’s all well and good, but if you click on any of the icons below, you’ll see the kind of stuff they want to disseminate.

 

This list of aspects of “White Supremacy Culture” was compiled by Dr. Tema Okun, who you can think of as a lesser known Robin DiAngelo. Okun maintains an entire website, “White Supremacy Culture,” a culture she sees as institutionalized behavior of “white culture” that acts to oppress people of other races. Judging by her photo and bio here, Okun appears to be white; if that’s the case it’s another parallel to DiAngelo.

In this post, she lists 15 aspects of this culture, prefacing the list, in part, with this:

So how exactly does white supremacy culture show up in organizations, and how can it be interrupted? Dr. Okun outlines fifteen characteristics of white supremacy culture and strategies to counter them. As part of the Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) workbook, she builds on the work of numerous researchers and practitioners, including but not limited to Andrea Ayvazian, Bree Carlson, Beverly Daniel Tatum, M.E. Dueker, Nancy Emond, Kenneth Jones, Jonn Lunsford, Sharon Martinas, Joan Olsson, David Rogers, James Williams, Sally Yee, and Dismantling Racism workshop participants. This guide also draws on the work of several organizations, including Grassroots Leadership, Equity Institute Inc., People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Challenging White Supremacy workshop, Lillie Allen Institute, and Western States Center.

Here’s the list:

  • Perfectionism, such as pointing out how a person or their work is inadequate. Instead, expect that everyone will make mistakes and that mistakes offer opportunities for learning.
  • Sense of Urgency, such as prioritizing quick or highly visible results that can exclude potential allies. Instead, discuss what it means to set goals of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in terms of timing.
  • Defensiveness, such as spending energy trying to protect power or defend against charges of racism. Instead, work on your own defensiveness and understand the link between defensiveness and fear.
  • Valuing Quantity Over Quality, such as directing organizational resources toward measurable goals. Instead, develop a values statement which expresses the ways in which you want to work, and make sure it is a living document that people apply to their daily work.
  • Worshipping the Written Word, such as valuing strong documentation and writing skills. Instead, work to recognize the contributions and skills that every person brings to the organization.
  • Believing in Only One Right Way, such as concluding something is wrong with people who refuse to adapt or change. Instead, never assume that you or your organization know what’s best.
  • Paternalism, such as decision-making processes that are only understood by those with power and unclear to those without it. Instead, include people who are affected by decisions in decision-making.
  • Either/or Thinking, such as trying to simplify complex things. Instead, slow down, encourage people to do a deeper analysis, and sense that things can be both/and.
  • Power Hoarding, such as feeling threatened when anyone suggests organizational changes. Instead, understand that change is inevitable and that challenges can be both healthy and productive.
  • Fear of Open Conflict, such as equating the raising of difficult issues with being rude or impolite. Instead, don’t require those who raise difficult issues to do so in ‘acceptable’ ways, particularly if you’re using the ways in which issues are raised as an excuse not to address them.
  • Individualism, such as wanting individual recognition and credit. Instead, make sure credit is given to everyone who participates, not just the leaders.
  • Believing I’m the Only One, such as thinking that if something is going to get done right, then ‘I’ have to do it. Instead, evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others.
  • Believing Progress is Bigger and More, such as defining success as hiring more staff, developing more projects, or serving more people. Instead, make sure your goals speak to how you want to work, not just what you want to do.
  • Believing in Objectivity, such as considering emotions to be irrational and destructive to decision-making. Instead, push yourself to sit with discomfort when people express themselves in unfamiliar ways.
  • Claiming a Right to Comfort, such as scapegoating those who cause emotional or psychological discomfort. Instead, welcome discomfort as much as you can and understand that it is the root of all growth and learning.

My first reaction was that this list, by stereotyping “white culture” and distilling it into fifteen aspects that are all portrayed as negative, is simply racist. But I still tried to see any merit in the list: anything that is characteristic of most white people and also acts—and presumably became part of the culture—because it helps maintain whites in a superior position over people of color (these include Asians). The only one I saw as valid was “Paternalism.” The history of Anglophones and their relationship to blacks, at least, has been one of unremitting paternalism. In the JIm Crow South,, blacks often had to remove their hats in front of whites, defer to them by getting out of their way, and of course all over America adult black men were called “boy” for decades.

The ironic thing is that this very post is also paternalistic, with a white person lecturing not to blacks here, but to her fellow whites about how they are deficient and need to change their behavior. This is not a list meant for discussion but a list to be accepted and promulgated.

You will recognize that there are differences in behavior among cultures, but every one of these “white” characteristics can be seen as important in other some other cultures, too (“perfectionism” and “sense of urgency”, for example, can be seen in cultures of East Asia, like Japan). Other characteristics of “white supremacy culture”, like “power hoarding” or “believing that progress is bigger and more”, are also found in many other cultures, and I don’t recognize them them as especially characteristic of my culture.

Most important, not all of these characteristics are bad. Is “perfectionism really bad? How about “belief in objectivity”? “Sense of urgency”? (You’ve heard about the meeting of health officials in Oregon that was delayed because, says the organizer in an email, “urgency is a white supremacy value.”) The fact is that some of the characteristics in the list above are good, while others can be good depending on how they’re expressed (“worshiping the written word”). “Perfectionism” can be maladaptive by delaying progress or eroding one’s self image.

But the list is meant paternalistically because it implicitly refers to nonwhite groups whose own culture is apparently the opposite of the one described above. And insofar as there are bad aspects of “nonwhite cultures”, as there is of white culture (Ibram Kendi doesn’t think there’s a difference), it’s meant to soothe those who are, for example, chronically late, or those who don’t achieve and can blame that lack of achievement on “white supremacy culture.” It’s a way of deflecting blame for underachievement as well as to make all white people feel responsible for that underachievement.

But in the end, what we see here are mostly individual characteristics, not ones shared by all whites as a way to oppress people of color. It is both racist and divisive to make such lists (imagine making them for other ethnic groups!). What would be more useful is simply to discuss these as individual characteristics that can have good or bad effects depending on how they’re expressed. But then Okun would be out of a job.

This kind of list, promulgated by the “elite” college of Harvard, is the kind of stuff that not only divides humanity into groups in zero-sum competition, but is also ready-made to hand the next election directly to Republicans. They’re already making hay over the “urgency is a white supremacy value” remark; imagine what they will do with a list like this!

Finally, do these people know anything about how to change human behavior? Pro-tip: you don’t do it by telling your opponents that their culture sucks. I can imagine as well what Dr. King would think of a list like this. But of course Dr. King is passé now, for he wanted people judged as individuals, not by their ethnicity.

h/t: David, Luana,

Once again: Was E. O. Wilson a racist? His closest colleague says “no way”!

April 6, 2022 • 10:00 am

The accusations that biologist E. O. Wilson was a racist began with an unhinged article in Scientific American, which gave no evidence at all and, as a sign of its scholarly deficiencies, also accused Gregor Mendel of being a racist! Oh, and, based on semantics alone, it also claimed the statistical “normal distribution” was racist!

Of course, the racist hit-piece mode began before that, perhaps with the horrific death of George Floyd or even before that. And while in some ways the “racial reckoning” is a good thing, it’s also had bad side effects, including the rush to label many famous scientists of the past as racists, when in lots of cases the evidence was either thin or (as in the case of T. H. Huxley, in the opposite direction).

There have since been more scholarly arguments claiming or at least implying that Ed Wilson was a racist (see my post here and an NYRB paper here), as well as some defenses of Wilson, including here and the piece by Wilson’s close colleague Bert Hölldobler I’m highlighting in this post.

The more rational attacks on Wilson, though, have suffered by leaning too hard on Wilson’s association with Canadian psychologist J. Phillippe Rushton, who certainly seemed to have been a racist. Wilson sponsored a paper in PNAS coauthored by Rushton, wrote a favorable review of a paper Rushton tried to publish (but rejected another one), and wrote a letter of support for Rushton when he was about to be fired. (See also Greg’s addendum to my post here.) What people don’t seem to realize is that the paper sponsored by Wilson also had as a co-author Wilson’s protégé Charles Lumsden, whose work Wilson was constantly trying to promote. Rather than supporting Rushton’s ideas, Wilson’s sponsorship could be seen as a way of advancing Lumsden’s career.  And defending Rushton against being fired could be also be seen as a simple defense of academic freedom, or, as Hölldobler does below, as a reflection of Wilson’s own trauma about being attacked on ideological grounds.

All in all, I simply can’t sign onto the slogan “Ed Wilson was a racist” based on what I know of him, what I knew from associating with him, nor from a few guilt-by-association accusations ignoring the possibility that Wilson was probably trying to promote his own colleague Charles Lumsden, not support Rushton’s racism. Nor will I run with those who imply that Wilson supported racist ideas because he was sympathetic to racism.  For right now, it’s best to await further analysis that involves a broad reading of Wilson’s correspondence.

When that full correspondence is eventually sifted (it hasn’t been), we’ll know more. Using my Bayesian sense, for now I’d say that it’s way premature to call Wilson a racist, or imply that he was sympathetic to racism, but we should remain open to the evidence. From what I know of his own work, in fact, I see not a smidgen of racism, which to Wilson’s detractors seems to rest solely on Wilson’s association with Rushton or his advocacy of sociobiology, which Wilson denied promoted racism (see below).

So here we have another defense of Ed against these accusations by perhaps his closest professional colleague, Bert Hölldobler, another ant biologist who shared a floor at Harvard with Wilson.  Bert co-wrote the magisterial book The Ants, with Wilson, and, knowing Bert, I can say that by no means was he an uncritical admirer of Wilson. Bert took strong issue, for example, with Wilson’s late-life conversion to group selection as an explanation of human behavior—and many other evolutionary phenomena. But he was well placed to assess Wilson’s character and the accusations against it.

Hölldobler does so in the magazine piece below published on Michael Shermer’s Skeptic site and Substack site. The two pieces are identical, and you can see them by clicking on either of the screenshots below.  Shermer has a preface in the Substack site that there is more to come:

Note from Michael Shermer: In response to the calumnious and false accusations of racism and promoting race science against the renowned Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, made shortly after his death (so he can’t defend himself) by the New York Review of Books, Science for the People, and Scientific American, I asked his long-time collaborator and world-class scientist Bert Hölldobler to reply, since he worked closely with Wilson for decades. I have penned a much longer and more detailed analysis of the affair, which will be published in the coming weeks. Watch this space and subscribe here.

And Michael prefaces Bert’s piece at the Skeptic site with this subtitle:

Is there vigilantism in science? Was the renowned Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson wrongly convicted of racism and promoting race science in the court of public opinion? Yes, says his long-time collaborator and world-class scientist Bert Hölldobler.

(Hölldobler and Wilson are in the photo below.)

 

Bert keeps a low profile about personal stuff like this, so it’s both remarkable and a testimony to the strength of his feeling about Wilson that he wrote this rather long defense of the man. While Bert doesn’t suggest that it’s possible the PNAS affair was motivated by Wilson’s desire to promote Lumsden rather than Rushton, he does indict Wilson for his favorable review of Rushton’s paper in Ethology and Sociobiology (Lumsden wasn’t an author), which Bert calls “a serious misjudgment”. As for Wilson’s trying to prevent Rushton’s firing, Bert argues—and this may be true—that he was motivated more by trying to prevent others from being persecuted as Wilson himself had been (by Gould, Lewontin, and other Leftist biologists, argues Hölldobler).

And, familiar with Wilson’s own views and his vast record of publication, Hölldobler vehemently denies that Wilson wrote anything that was racist. Indeed, he says, Wilson decried racism.

Read the piece and decide for yourself, but I’ll give a few quotes by Hölldobler. I am not an unthinking fan of Bert dedicated to supporting him or Wilson, but did know both men, admire their work, and think that before you start slinging terms like “racist” against one of the most distinguished ecologists and evolutionists of our era, or implying he was sympathetic to racism and racists, you should read Bert’s piece.

I’ll give more quotations than usual in case you don’t want to read the paper—though you should.

Sadly, there are some quotes that don’t put my advisor, Dick Lewontin, in a very good light. But I don’t reject them, for I know well about Lewontin’s ideological biases.  I also know for a fact that Lewontin despised Wilson and, when I interviewed Lewontin about his life, the discussion about Wilson was the one part he wouldn’t let me put on tape.

Here Bert accosts Lewontin for denying that there was any evolutionary/genetic basis for human behavior:

It was a point that Dick Lewontin himself acknowledged when he showed up at my office the next day, apparently eager to soften what he had said. Although I respected Lewontin as a scientist and colleague at Harvard, I did not appreciate his ideologically driven “sand box Marxism.” When I asked why he so blithely distorted some of Ed’s writings he responded: “Bert, you do not understand, it is a political battle in the United States. All means are justified to win this battle.” In fact, it is nonsense to claim that Ed Wilson’s comparative and evolutionary approach to behavior in any way endorses racism. This was a case of a scientist’s views being distorted to suit someone else’s ideological goals.

The “money quotes” by Bert below are in bold:

I always thought that a basic tenet of collegiality is to first discuss differences of opinion in person, especially when the opposing party are members of the same university, even the same department. The Lewontin lab was located on the third floor of the MCZ-Laboratories (Museum of Comparative Zoology), and Wilson had his office on the fourth floor. What prevented Lewontin, Gould, and other members of Science for the People from coming up and knocking on Ed’s door to discuss with him their disagreements? In a letter written to the New York Review of Books and sent on November 10, 1975, Wilson explained that he felt “that actions of the letter writers represent the kind of self-righteous vigilantism which not only produces falsehood but also unjustly hurts individuals and through that kind of intimidation diminishes the spirit of free inquiry and discussion crucial to the health of the intellectual community.” Thus, Science for the People launched its political war, and as is so often the case with ideologues, they erected a straw man to tear down with bravura.

I could go on with many more apposite quotes. The point is I never found one statement in his writings that would indicate that Ed Wilson followed a racist ideology. This was the invention, or rather the falsehood, created by the International Committee Against Racism (INCAR), members of which physically attacked Ed at the beginning of an invited lecture he was to deliver at a meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). This is intellectual fascism. In fact, even Lewontin made clear that Wilson is not a racist. As Lewontin said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson on December 3, 1975: “Sociobiology is not a racist doctrine, but any kind of genetic determinism can and does feed other kinds, including the belief that some races are superior to others. However, this is very far from Wilson’s intuition. Because Wilson is concerned with the universals of human nature — his chief point is that we are all alike.”

Here’s Hölldobler on Wilson’s defense of Rushton—the pivot on which the accusations of racism rest:

Having now looked at the work by Rushton with greater attention, it is clear to me that Ed could not have paid much scrutiny to Rushton’s work but rather was motivated by the impression he got from Rushton’s own description of his plight, namely, that he was being persecuted by far-left wing ideologues, as Wilson himself had been after publication of Sociobiology. Note too that Rushton had strong academic credentials as a former John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow of the Canadian Psychological Society. Nevertheless, Ed’s recommendation of a manuscript submitted by Rushton to the journal Ethology and Sociobiology, in which Rushton wrongly applied Wilson’s r-K selection model, was in my opinion a serious misjudgment. When Wilson encouraged Rushton to pursue this line of investigation and advised him not to be discouraged, at one point warning him “the whole issue would be clouded by personal charges of racism to the point that rational discussion would be almost impossible,” my guess is that Wilson’s response was colored by his own and painful experience and decision to continue with his work despite vicious attacks from Science for the People, rather than an in-depth examination of the of Rushton’s paper. If we could ask Ed today, I am sure he would say: “I made a mistake, I was wrong.” But a misjudgment made when reviewing a paper for a journal does not make Ed Wilson a racist or a promoter of race science!

Bert points out Wilson’s own arguments that biology does not justify racism:

In fact, in a note to Nature (Vol. 289, 19 February 1981) Wilson wrote “I am happy to point out that no justification for racism is to be found in the truly scientific study of the biological basis of social behaviour. As I stated in On Human Nature (1978), I will go further and suggest that hope and pride and not despair are the ultimate legacy of genetic diversity, because we are a single species, not two or more, one great breeding system through which genes flow and mix in each generation. Because of that flux, mankind viewed over many generations shares a single human nature within which relatively minor hereditary influences recycle through ever changing patterns, between the sexes and across families and entire populations.” In the 2004 edition of his book On Human Nature Wilson wrote: “most scientists have long recognized that it is a futile exercise to try to define discrete human races. Such entities do not in fact exist. Of equal importance, the description of geographic variation in one trait or another by a biologist or anthropologist or anyone else should not carry with it value judgements concerning the worth of the characteristics defined.”

And the money quote at the end. Here Hölldobler assesses the most serious and scholarly attack on Wilson as a racist, the paper in NYRB by Borello and Sepkoski:

In the recent New York Review of Books article, “Ideology as Biology,” by the historians of science Mark Borrello and David Sepkoski, I feel the authors make too much out of Wilson’s encouragement of Rushton which, as I said, was probably motivated more by his own painful experiences with politically provoked distortions of his work and unfair attacks, than by in depth scrutiny of his correspondent’s views. Looking at Rushton’s work today, when most experts agree that these kinds of IQ tests are biased and have to be taken with a grain of salt, Wilson’s positive response to Rushton’s pleas appears to me naive. I assume that he realized this later too, because to my knowledge he never cited Rushton’s work nor mentioned it in conversations I had with [Wilson].

Given Wilson’s numerous articles, books, lectures and public statements, which contain nothing even remotely supportive of racism, it seems unfair to zero in on this limited correspondence with a single colleague to be waved like a red flag to tarnish a scholar’s reputation. This may not be what Borrello and Sepkoski intended, but their disclaimer that they wanted to distance themselves from any scarlet letter activism and “cancel culture,” was gainsaid by the prevailing theme of their analysis that Ed Wilson was closely aligned with a racist, which in today’s culture of hyper-sensitivity to all matters of race and racism, they had to know would scuttle the reputation of one of the greatest scientists of our time. Such self-righteous vigilantism is highly unjust and distortive.

Greg echoed this sentiment in his addendum to my post that you can find here.

Overall, my present judgment is that attacks on Wilson, calling him a racist or implying he was, are tendentious and supported almost entirely by his association with a man who was a racist, Rushton. But in Wilson’s own work, as Bert notes above, there is not a line “even remotely supportive of racism.” If Wilson was a racist, why this absence of evidence, and the guilt-by-association ploy? Yes, Bert says that Wilson’s favorable review of Rushton’s paper was a misjudgment, and one that Wilson would probably admit today. But if that’s pretty much all that the critics have got, then we can let the dog bark but let our caravan move on.

Why is there such a rush to judgment here? Why the winnowing out of a long and productive life of a few bits of equivocal evidence to indict someone as a racist? Is this going to eliminate racism, or accomplish anything—even if such accusations were true (and I’m not convinced they are)?

I’m not going to psychologize any of the authors who attack Wilson or trawl through the history of biology trying to sniff out racism in figures like Mendel and T. H. Huxley, concluding that they were either racist themselves, sympathetic to racism, or “racist-adjacent.” But trying to exhibit your own virtue, or to place yourself on the “right side of history”, can be a powerful incentive. And that, at least, must explain a lot of the recent attacks on famous evolutionary biologists as racists.

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.

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.