Can black people be racist?
.. and what that means about what my book should be called, plus some necessary corrections.
I consider myself responsible for accuracy here, and in that vein I must make three corrections re things I have shared with you.
Number One. We are all aware of how the Elect woke tend to truck in an exaggerated vision of how oppression works, such that you’d often suppose they were writing about an America a hundred years before ours.
If that must be called out, it won’t do for those opposed to it to indulge in similar exaggerations.
I’m afraid that happened regarding the sad note from the promising undergraduate I called attention to, who decided to move abroad rather than deal with the punitive, anti-intellectual climate of today’s academia.
The version of his missive that I reproduced turns out to have been significantly altered from what he actually wrote. What he wrote to his professor was, for one, less focused on the race issue. To be sure, his perspective and decision are a tragic sign of our times regardless. However, I owe my readers reality rather than what John Ford would have treated as “the legend,” upon which here is what our young man actually wrote:
“I am similarly frustrated by ideology masquerading as objective science. There is such strong moralization in the academy that is so certain that it has Science on its side in all of its proclamations. Frankly, the academy’s ideological dogmatism is one of my major hesitancies for entering it (and the fact that like (sic) tenured professorships are among the most competitive jobs to acquire). I fear any work I do, especially in developmental or evolutionary psychology, would be evaluated not on its merit but instead on what is perceived as my politics based on how politically convenient my findings are.”
He tells me that he did not graduate from an Ivy League school as I was informed he had; I was also misled as to his undergraduate majors.
Apologies, folks. The weight of feedback I receive daily from students and professors makes the bigger picture on what has happened to academia clear. However, I owe you reality, and I will be more vigilant in the future. I am an academic and editorialist, not a journalist – but I realize that with the role I am taking on here and elsewhere lately, I need to up my wariness. I will.
Number Two -- on music theory, I am grateful to Nathan Pell for setting me straight on aspects of one of Professor Ewell’s arguments that Heinrich Schenker’s music theory “is racist.” The second one, about foregrounding and backgrounding, is tough to grasp for someone not right inside of the subject, and I am not. I revised my post according to his counsel, and I appreciate his feedback, as well as his understanding that I sincerely want to get at the heart of the controversy in question and was not seeking hitjob journalism.
Although – I must say based on a little of what I have seen out of the corner of my eye … I am not a musicologist, at all. But I have taught a music history course at Columbia for many years, and classical music is one of my places, passions, obsessions, historical experiences. So, I do bring a little to my address of Professor Ewell, in case anyone thinks I am really nosing in somewhere where I have no business. Ewell is a cellist – so was I, for years as a kid. And for ten years recently I played cabaret piano (if I may, I was playing by ear in that clip) in a Greenwich Village venue as producer and emcee and accompanist for a company of singers – we did obscure musical theatre work; about 250 songs by the time we ended. None of this makes me a musicologist. But still, as they say.
Number Three, I’m realizing I can’t use the term neoracism in the subtitle of my The Elect book.
From assorted social media posts, I am realizing that if I say Neoracists Posing as Antiracists and Their Threat to a Progressive America, many understandably think I am referring to black people being racist against whites.
I need to specify – despite that it may dampen the enthusiasm for my book among some – that I do not think of black people being racist against whites and white people being racist against blacks as equally reprehensible.
Many whites are deeply aggrieved that they are assailed for being racists, but that no one seems to mind black people not liking white people. They want us to assail black racism as vociferously as we do white racism.
I must disappoint. I am fully on board with the idea that racism is about who is up versus down. Black racism against whites is, at least at its foundation, about resentment at being abused. To apply the same judgment to this as to blacks being racist against whites is facile, uninsightful – frankly, almost a debate team trick.
“But where does it lead if you hate me and I hate you and you hate me …?” – okay. But we live in our own limited time slices. There are two layers here.
One: just a few inches past about 1964, is it so unpardonable, so incomprehensible, that black people might be mad at white people?
Two: if you object that 1964 was a while ago now, then is it so unpardonable, so incomprehensible, that lots of black people might be mad at white people now when so many intellectuals and artists and community leaders have taught them to be that mad for decades?
Note – I didn’t ask whether it was right that they have been taught that. The issue is that they were. And they harbor what they were taught at a time – today -- when no one can deny that racism does exist. Anyone who thinks I don’t know that hasn’t read me much.
So. In this vein, I am seeing that “neoracism” sounds to many like I am decrying racism against whites. I get why they think that – and I know that quite a few will think that’s what I mean without subscribing to the white nationalist groups who have used the word that way.
Some in my position would try to reclaim the word and make it mean what they want it to mean. I, for example, meant “new racism against black people.” But my comfort zone cannot fashion community meaning. I am not interested in standing athwart common human understanding and hollering “Stop!,” watching it continue despite me, and then self-gratifyingly grumbling that nobody listens to me.
My strategy will be to eschew the word “neoracism.” If people are going to read it to mean that my book is about arguing against racism against white people, they will be massively disappointed by my book.
This is because my book is about how the modern conception of antiracism is racist against BLACK people.
Social media and Substack allow one to fashion a book according to public feedback in a way never possible before. My book will no longer be titled The Elect: Neoracists Posing as Antiracists and Their Threat to a Progressive America,” because I can see that this leads some whites to see me as defending them against black racism. My book will not do that, and I frankly suggest the whites in question learn to understand it. Racism punches down. Yes, I believe that, even though The Elect do too. I always have.
Instead I will try something new. The Elect: The Threat to a Progressive America from Anti-Black Antiracists.
This is a work in progress. Book titles have always been hard for me. Word on the Street came on a deadline when I drank a big glass of red wine and just tipped my head back and dreamed. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue just came to me walking down the street as if dictated; I could never have “fashioned” it. I know – what about the race books. Losing the Race was from an editor who hated the book; I wanted to call it Walking Against the Wind but there was already a book about John Lewis at the time with that title. All About the Beat was from how Michael Eric Dyson put it about, well, everything in a debate we did at Emory in 2005.
So we shall see what The Elect is ultimately called. But no more “neoracism.” I do not think of George Jefferson and Fred Sanford as “racists” in the same way as Archie Bunker was. Those references are now dated, but they track with that if a black person today says “I don’t like white people,” I think it’s a little easy to object “How dare you be a racist?!?”
The Jefferson's reference in the accompanying picture is spot on. Nothing was more hilarious than that pained smile commingled with barely concealed disgust when George Jefferson had to deal with a white person he didn't like. The audience got it then. I certainly did.
I love all your references to TV shows from the 1970s that I also watched avidly and that contributed to my childhood understanding about racism (among many other influences). What are your thoughts on Barney Miller (not the character, but the show)?