BLACK FRAGILITY AS BLACK STRENGTH? TRY THESE BOOKS INSTEAD.

The next entry in the KenDiAngelonian universe is out. But why not branch out?

Fish don't know they're wet. And either do a lot of us when it comes to how we think about race.

Here are three pieces of advice for living.

1. What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.

2. Always trust your feelings.

3. Life is a battle between good and bad people.

Do you see these three tenets as wisdom, or as something a person should be taught out of? I need not even ask.

But why, then, does enlightened America embrace the idea that where black people are concerned, living by these three tenets is cognitively healthy?

* * *

The tenets are the heart of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt's brilliant The Coddling of the American Mind from a few years back. They analyze these as counsel given to students, today, in general. However, this extends to black America as a whole.

Of course, the usual suspects will have a hard time recognizing themselves in these tenets when spelled out. However, they are the fish who don't know they're wet. They've never known anything but those tenets, and thus see them as a normal way of being. They don't know that these tenets are "a thing."

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker – as in melodramatic claims of injury at seeing the N-word written "n*****" on a test, or hearing a Mandarin expression that sounds like the N-word, and calling it trauma. Or the whole idea that a black person living today is the vessel of a "trauma" inflicted on black people over multiple past generations.

Always trust your feelings – as in the watchcry that impact trumps intent, such that if a black person feels something said or done as racist, then it simply is, and no questions can be morally asked, because black people's feelings are in themselves a kind of truth (an outgrowth from the Critical Race Theory we are supposedly so remiss in discussing these days).

Life is a battle between good people and bad people – as in that America is full of "racists," such as white people menacingly united in preserving their "white" interests (á la rhetoric Robin DiAngelo is fond of), such that Ta-Nehisi Coates watched the firefighters killed on 9/11 and found himself numb to the suffering of people whose type otherwise could have been responsible for "shattering" his black body.

* * *

So, these three tenets do underlie an awful lot of thought about, and by, black people. The only question is: How does race and racism make these three tenets sensible? To wit, do race and racism teach us something we didn't know about what constitutes healthy human psychology?

Of course there are times when race and racism shed valuable new light on things.

Abolitionism called on America to honor its philosophical ideals

The Civil Rights movement later taught America that racism is more than dirty names, violence and formal segregation. I once knew a woman of literally 100, white and wealthy, who genuinely thought that race in America had not been a problem until Martin Luther King "stirred things up" – and she was a Democrat! Her view is much less likely in people of younger generations.

In my own academic world, the study of speech varieties spoken by descendants of victims of plantation slavery and colonialization, such as creole languages like Haitian, Papiamentu, and Jamaican patois, helps show that there is nothing erroneous or inadequate about nonstandard language. Creoles also reveal things about how languages emerge, change, and mix together.

But what does this teach that we didn't know?

1. What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.

2. Always trust your feelings.

3. Life is a battle between good and bad people.

What new frontiers of psychotherapy practice does this little list of homilies provide us with?

Let's face it: none.

Oh, as for those who will object that these tenets, or I, am oversimplifying, I might add this. There is a certain type who, faced with an argument that doesn't taste good to them, consider it nonsense unless dotting every i, crossing every t, covering all gray zones, and couched in an academic format that would leave it unread in any case (and they still wouldn't agree with it!). Academics, in particular, get this a lot, as if having a PhD means you are required to always express yourself in terms accessible only to a few. I dismiss that feint. The same people will deem someone a racist at the drop of a hat and feel no need to dot or cross anything or acknowledge nuance. Realistic discourse requires a degree of generalization, on all sides, and everybody knows it deep down.

* * *

So, getting back to our sheep, as the French for some reason say, these homilies are nonsense when applied to any person, black or not. They represent a way of thinking about race that settled in after about 1966, when the Race Thing became more about plumbing people's psychology and performance art than about grass-roots activism and doing the real work of changing things slowly.

In a Quaker school I attended in the 70s, I recall a class discussion about a societal issue where the teacher was trying to get us to examine an issue of morality. One of the students, a black guy, took a certain position and when the teacher asked why he said "It's the law of the streets."

The way he said it had a certain tang because of the blaccent redolence of how he said it. And I'm not sure anybody else was coming up with any genius insights (I certainly wasn't) – I'm not putting the guy down; we were 12!

However, I remember thinking to myself that as "wise" as his comment sounded in a way, it didn't work – the question was what this law of the streets was based on, and whether we could agree that this basis was valid. This guy wasn't quite getting that. As, of course, most 12-year-olds don't – it's why we were, say, in school being taught.

I only bring that up because the idea that these three points are wisdom when it comes to black people is as unripe as that guy's comment – except we're adults. The idea that this professional defeatism is constructive because of the existence of racism only seems to make sense for reasons more aesthetic than logical. That is, it makes no more actual sense now than it would have to black people before the 1960s. And in that, they were ahead of us now.

* * *

This brings me to a few book recommendations. DiAngelo, you may have heard, has a new one out. But do you really need to read yet another book about how white people just don't get it? After all, roll the tape again and the main theme of intelligent black thought might not be so obsessed with this notion that black America must sit mired in charismatic anomie until white people "get it." Imagine a black America all about not "Why don't they get it?" but "How do we get ours regardless?"

So, after you've checked out The Coddling of the American Mind, maybe don't cough up cash for Black Fragility (which is not the actual title, but is what DiAngelo's whole oeuvre ought to be called). There is other work on race being done by people who are interested in real things rather than recreational angst.

Touré Reed teaches us that solving black America's problems will require a focus on class rather than race. Note: he says that this will solve black problems, not just that "It's all about class." Reed knows what racism is; he just understands that it isn't the everything we are taught it is. His book is called Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism.

Wilfred Reilly teaches us an invaluable lesson about that Victimization Mindset I wrote about here that bedevils black Americans unduly. Specifically, we must beware this "impact matters more than intent" thing, because sadly often, black people, gripped by this victimization mindset, exaggerate or lie about racist acts and even attacks. His book is called Hate Crime Hoax. Don't be misled by the fact that the subtitle and cover feel a touch "headline-y – cablenewsy" – publishers must sell their books. The issue is the content, and this book teaches lessons that are 1) sad, 2) understandable (again, see my post), and 3) urgent.

Jason Riley has written a biography of the great black conservative thinker Thomas Sowell. Anyone under the impression that to be a card-carrying conservative and a black person at the same time guarantees that one is caught somewhere between naïve and cynical knows little of Sowell's lucid work and unforgivably underacknowledged volume of achievement. The book is called Maverick.

Many people ask which "other" black thinkers they should listen to besides what I have called the People With Three Names, who I need not list. If it's books you're looking for, skip "Black Fragility" (you probably already read it, basically) and start with these.