THE ELECT: THE THREAT TO A PROGRESSIVE AMERICA FROM ANTI-BLACK ANTIRACISTS

Serial excerpt No. 1

THE ELECT:

NEORACISTS POSING AS ANTIRACISTS

AND THEIR THREAT TO A PROGRESSIVE AMERICA

PREFACE

I’m not one for long introductions – I like to get to the point. However, before we begin I would like to give the reader a sense of the trajectory of these installments, and what kind of statement they are intended as making.

This book is not a call for people of a certain ideology to open up to the value of an open market of ideas, to understand the value of robust discussion, and to see the folly of defenestrating people for disagreeing with them. My assumption is that the people in question are largely unreachable by arguments of that kind.

Rather, I aim to illuminate where these people are coming from, how their ideology and behavior is quite coherent in itself, and what the rest of us can do to live with grace and honesty, as people concerned with the state of the world, who nevertheless must grapple with obstacles laid in our path by people who see their religion as an ultimate wisdom.

My main aims will be:

1. to argue that this new ideology is actually a religion in all but name;

2. to argue that to understand it as a religion is to see coherence in what may seem like a welter of “crazy” or overblown behaviors;

3. to explore why this religion is so attractive to so many people;

4. to show that this religion is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly “antiracist”;

5. to show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black America need not be founded on the tenets of this new religion;

6. to suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.

I hope my observations will serve as one of many contributions to our debate over what constitutes “social justice.” Thank you for your subscription. I will release this manuscript in ten segments, and I welcome your feedback.

CHAPTER ONE:

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE?

As I write this in the summer of 2020, Alison Roman, a food writer for The New York Times, is on suspension. You might wonder just what a food writer could do to end up temporarily dismissed by her employer. Roman’s sin: in an interview she passingly criticized two people for commercialism, model and food writer Chrissy Teigen and lifestyle coach Marie Kondo. Roman was Twitter-mobbed for having the nerve, as a white woman, to criticize two women of color.

Teigen is half white and half Thai. Kondo is a Japanese citizen. Neither of them are what we typically think of as people “of color” in the sense of historically conditioned and structurally preserved disadvantage. However, in 2020, the mere fact of a white person criticizing not just one but two (apparently the plurality tipped the scales) non-white persons justified being shamed on social media and disallowed from doing her work. Roman, as a white person, was supposedly punching down – i.e. “down” at two people very wealthy, very successful, and vastly better known than her. Her whiteness trumped all, we were told.

Roman, now typically of such cases, ate crow with an apologetic statement about how she had reflected and realized her error. Teigen even stated that she did not think Roman deserved to be sanctioned. But no matter – Third Wave Antiracist fury now has a supreme power in our public moral evaluations, and this meant that Roman be pilloried in the town square. Her Wikipedia entry will forever include a notice that she was deemed a racist, billboard style, despite that most Americans likely see that she did nothing that remotely deserved such treatment, and despite that she would not have been treated that way as recently as a few years before.

What kind of people did this? Why did they get away with it? And are we going to let them continue to?

* * *

The same year, Leslie Neal-Boylan lasted only a few months as Dean of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. The problem was that in the wake of statements nationwide after the murder by police officers of George Floyd, Dean Neal-Boylan had the audacity to pen this blinkered, bigoted screed to her colleagues and staff:

I am writing to express my concern and condemnation of the recent (and past) acts of violence against people of color. Recent events recall a tragic history of racism and bias that continue to thrive in this country. I despair for our future as a nation if we do not stand up against violence against anyone. BLACK LIVES MATTER, but also, EVERYONE’S LIFE MATTERS. No one should have to live in fear that they will be targeted for how they look or what they believe.”

A certain crowd decided to read Neal-Boylan as chiming in with those who resist the slogan Black Lives Matter by answering that All Lives Matter, as if BLM is somehow claiming that Black Lives Matter more. However, one could only read Neal-Boylan as meaning this via not reading well. She started out by acknowledging “a tragic history of racism and bias,” and no, she didn’t mean that it only existed in the past and that black people need to get over it, because she also wrote that the racism and bias “continue to thrive in this country.”

However, because her composition included the three words “everyone’s lives matter,” she was reported to her superiors and quickly out of a job without even being allowed to defend herself. Why was Leslie Neal-Boylan’s email deemed as a missive from someone unfit to supervise people dedicated to healing and giving comfort? A child would wonder why – as would a time traveller from as recently as 2015. But Neal-Boylan’s detractors were deemed authoritative.

What kind of people did this? Why did they get away with it? And are we going to let them continue to?

* * *

Also in the same year, 2020, a data analyst at a progressive consulting firm named David Shor lost his job. He had tweeted a study by a black Ivy League political science professor, Omar Wasow, showing that violent black protests during the long, hot summers of the late 1960s were more likely than nonviolent ones to make local voters vote Republican. Shor’s intent was not to praise this, but to disseminate the facts themselves as a glum announcement, which had been covered eagerly by liberal media shortly beforehand.

Certain parties on Twitter, though, didn’t like a white man tweeting something that could be taken as criticizing black protest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The consulting firm took heed and expelled Shor.

What kind of people did this? Why did they get away with it? And are we going to let them continue to?

THE NEW PARISHIONERS

All of these cases occurred because of the influence of a frame of mind we term a viewpoint, but has actually become a religion. This is Third Wave Antiracism, more often termed “social justice warriors” or “the woke mob.” One can divide antiracism into three waves along the lines that feminism has been. First Wave Antiracism battled slavery and legalized segregation. Second Wave Antiracism, in the 1970s and 1980s, battled racist attitudes and taught America that being racist was a flaw. Third Wave Antiracism, becoming mainstream in the 2010s, teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites’ “complicity” in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity towards them, including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct.

Under this paradigm, all deemed insufficiently aware of this sense of Existing While White as eternal culpability require bitter condemnation and ostracization, to an obsessive, abstract degree that leaves most observers working to make real sense of it, makes people left of center wonder just when and why they started being classified as backwards, and leaves millions of innocent people scared to pieces of winding up in the sites of a zealous brand of inquisition that seems to hover over almost any statement, ambition, or achievement in modern society.

So, one might ask why I seem to consider it such an issue that some food columnist, some unknown dean of nursing, some data analyst, have had their lives derailed by this movement. But I write not of something happening to a few unlucky people, but operating within the warp and woof of society. No one can know just when or how Third Wave Antiracist proselytizing may blindside them while they are going about their business.

Most of us think of Stalinist kangaroo court procedure as a barbarity long condemned as a mistake. But to these inquisitors, it is an acceptable and even urgent modus operandi. In this, they are not only menacing, but also distinctly pious. What kind of people do these things? Religious fundamentalists. Why do they get away with it? Because they scare us in calling us heretics in the public square. Are we going to let them continue to? Not if we want to live intellectually and morally coherent lives and push our society’s sociopolitical fabric in a genuinely progressive direction.

Something must be understood: I do not mean that these people’s ideology is “like” a religion. I seek no rhetorical snap in the comparison. I mean that it actually is a religion. A naïve anthropologist would see no difference in type between Mormonism and this new form of antiracism. Language is always imprecise, and thus we have traditionally restricted the word religion to certain ideologies founded in creation myths, guided by ancient texts, and requiring that one subscribe to certain beliefs beyond the reach of empirical experience. This, however, is an accident, just as it is that we call tomatoes vegetables rather than fruits. If we rolled the tape again, the word religion could easily apply as well to more secular and recently emerged ways of thinking. One of them is this extremist version of antiracism today.

For example, one might ask what I mean by “certain beliefs beyond the reach of empirical experience.” After all, racism is hardly beyond the reach of empirical experience – not by a long shot. However, I refer to the way we are forced to discuss it these days, a manifestation of what is often cautiously termed “the race thing,” distanced as a “thing” because it entails discussions in which we adhere to a tacit social contract that requires pretending that contradictions are complex rather than nonsensical.

The Third Wave Antiracist is deeply moved, for example, by a conglomeration of tenets which, stated clearly and placed in simple oppositions, translate into nothing whatsoever:

1. When black people say you have               

insulted them, apologize with                        

profound sincerity and guilt.                          

BUT …

Don’t put black people in a position where

you expect them to forgive you. They

have dealt with too much to be expected to.

2. Don’t assume that all, or even most,          

black people like hiphop or are                      

good dancers and so on. Black                       

people are a conglomeration of disparate

individuals. “Black                                           

culture” is code for “path-

ological, primitive ghetto people.”                

BUT …

Don’t expect black people to assimilate to

“white” social norms because black people

have a culture of their own.

3. Silence about racism is violence.                

BUT …

Elevate the voices of the oppressed over

your own.

4. You must strive eternally to                        

understand the experiences of black              

people.

BUT …

You can never understand what it is to

be black, and if you think you do you’re

a racist.

5. Show interest in multiculturalism.            

BUT …

Do not culturally appropriate.

What is not your culture is not for you,

and you may not try it or do it.

Yet – if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it,

you are a racist.

6. Support black people in creating               

their own spaces and stay out of                    

them.

BUT …

Seek to have black friends. If you

don’t have any, you’re a racist. And

if you claim any, they’d better be good

friends – in their private spaces you aren’t

allowed in.

7. When whites move away from                   

black neighborhoods it’s                                  

white flight.

BUT …

When whites move into black

neighborhoods it’s gentrification, even

when they pay black residents generously for their houses.

8. If you’re white and only date                     

white people you’re a racist.

BUT …

If you’re white and date a black person

you are, if only deep down, exotifying an

“other.”

9. Black people cannot be held                       

accountable for everything                             

every black person does.                                 

BUT …

All whites must acknowledge their

personal complicitness in the perdify

throughout history of “whiteness.”

10. Black students must be                              

admitted to schools via                                    

adjusted grade and test score                         

standards to ensure a represen-                     

tative number of them and foster                   

a diversity of views in classrooms.

BUT …

It is racist to assume a black student

was admitted to a school via racial

preferences, and racist to expect them

to represent the “diverse” view in

classroom discussions.

(Much of the above table is inspired by someone who has contacted me about the issues in this book who, because of the prosecutorial nature of the movement I am referring to, preferred to stay anonymous but knows who they are.)

I suspect that deep down, most know that none of this catechism makes any sense. Less obvious is that it was not even composed with logic in mind.

The idea is to strike a happy medium between the poles? But there’s no way that the people promulgating this “race thing” litany would ever allow that anyone had. One way we know it is that over several decades they never have. Another way we know it is more straightforward: there is simply no “medium” logically possible between the alternates. One could not perform any pair of them simultaneously.

The self-contradiction of these tenets is crucial, in revealing that Third Wave Antiracism is not a philosophy but a religion. We start with a simple question: why do so many wise people elevate them as wisdom? The reason simply cannot be logic, because there is none to be had. The reason is because these tenets serve a purpose other than what they are proposed as serving.

Namely, each component by itself serves to condemn whites as racist. To apologize shows your racism; to be refused the apology, too, shows your racism. To not be interested in black culture shows your racism; to get into black culture and decide that you too want to wear dreadlocks or rap also shows your racism. The revelation of racism is, itself and alone, the point, the intention, of this curriculum. As such, the fact that if you think a little, the tenets cancel one another out is considered trivial. That they serve their true purpose of revealing people as bigots is paramount – sacrosanct, as it were.

Or, as it is. Specifically, these tenets serve the purpose of expressing the central pole, the guiding watchcry, of Third Wave Antiracist religion. It is rarely stated explicitly, but decisively steers its adherents’ perspective on existence and morality. Third Wave Antiracism’s needlepoint homily par excellence is the following:

Battling power relations and their discriminatory effects must be the central focus of all human endeavor, be it intellectual, moral, civic, or artistic. Those who resist this focus, or even evidence insufficient adherence to it, must be sharply condemned, deprived of influence, and ostracized.

Thus the issue here is not faith in Jesus, love, or a sense of unity with the universe, but the specific issue of power relations and the injustice they can create.

It can seem an oddly particular perspective, this focus on battling differentials in power. Power is rampantly abused and creates endless suffering, to be sure. An enlightened society must be always addressing this and trying to change it. However, given the millions of other things that constitute human life and endeavor, to impose that undoing power differentials must center all possible endeavor in what we call life is a radical proposition.

I began encountering this worldview early in my academic career, and it took me a long time to perceive that various conflicts I have encountered in my work on linguistics (as well as race) have been variations on the same problem. The humanities and social sciences in academia have long harbored many people who see their discipline’s goal as to Fight The Power. I recall my first taste of it from a graduate student doing a guest lecture on My Fair Lady, introducing students to an analysis of it noting that Higgins talks more than Eliza and therefore wields power over the narrative. “Who’s talking?” she taught us to ask.

This perspective is certainly correct, but a part of me couldn’t quite wrap my head around her general implication that to savor My Fair Lady’s music or wit is to be taken in, that an enlightened person looks down on the piece as the story of a lower-class female’s self-expression brutally suppressed by a bullying oldish white guy.

But back then, this kind of analysis was a minority view. Alarmist journalism depicted college campuses as being overrun by “tenured radicals,” but this was a cartoon. At the time, that kind of ideology was one of many dishes one sampled at the university buffet. The problem is that today, this reductive, prosecutorial and ultimately joyless kind of thinking actually is taking over not just university culture but American culture at large.

In any case, one of the main power differentials in our society is the one conditioned by racism. It is this Salem-style religious commitment to “battling” it that made the excommuncations of Alison Roman, Leslie Neal-Boylan, and David Shor make sense to so many perfectly sane people.

Of course the “The Race Thing” oppositions make no sense taken together, but then neither does the Bible. To the Third-Wave Antiracist, the sense our society must make above all other kinds is tarring whites as racist and showing that you know that they are racist. Any cognitive dissonance this occasions is “not what we need to be talking about” because antiracism is everything – regardless of logic. What Alison Roman said had nothing to do with the well-being of anyone in or out of power. Louise Neal-Boylan had been a rock-solid and accomplished health care expert and academician before she was hired at the University of Massachusetts, would have continued to be one there, and will certainly lend her expertise invaluably somewhere else. David Shor was taken up by other employers – although required to write under an alias – with his new bosses quite assured that he was not the sinister psychopath his dismissal had implied. But according to Third Wave Antiracism, all of this, as stunning as it may seem, is irrelevant because one must, to be a good person, strike the proper pose against that deemed not antiracist enough, regardless of the costs or even common sense.

In other words, this is a religious faith. It has a creation myth: that all of today’s problems with race trace to the first Africans being brought to our shores in 1619 and the Revolutionary War was fought over slavery, despite leading historians noting the inaccuracy of the historical premise. There is what we could think of as a triple-Testament tome, consisting of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, and Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. A box set of the three would take its place on coffeetables and mantlepieces nationwide. And Third-Wave Antiracism is, like Mormonism, a successful creed, quite compellingly evangelical. Its adherents make Americans more religious by the year -- and this possibly includes you.

You may wonder what it's like to be a devout Christian. Work like that of anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann takes us a long way to some sense of an answer. But we also need look no further than the kind of doubletalk we pretend to accept as wisdom on race to know what it's like to be religious. One does not have to explicitly title oneself religious to merit the description.

Until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans who believed fervently in God, Jesus and his resurrection, angels, Satan, and miracles did not think of themselves as “religious” but as ordinary. Only with scientific progress, encounters with other peoples of the world with radically different beliefs, and the demystifying aspects of the Reformation did there emerge a sense that adherence to a certain set of Christian tenets was “religious” as opposed to empirical. Third-Wave Antiracism forces us to think like people of the Dark and Middle Ages without knowing it. It’s scary, it’s unfair, and regressive, and it’s just plain wrong.

IN TWO WEEKS …

How these people wield so much influence

and why we must not tolerate it (preview: it’s racism in a new guise).