Monday, July 3, 2017

It's a white thing: starting points 1

I've listened to ten episodes of Seeing White now and I'm sorry to report that what promise the podcast had quickly drains away. At the same time, I'm not surprised that this happened. I think what is at work here is a disease in thought. That is to say, we see certain pathological patterns of thinking that unfailingly trap us when we try to think our way out of our race problems.

The first of these is what I would term racialism. That is the unshakeable tendency to see life in racial terms. John Biewen starts the show with a quote from D.L. Hughley.
Obama is what we would like to be Trump and his supporters what we are.
That's from June 9, 2016". I mention that because Hughley liked his quip enough to use it at least once more. On the Wednesday after Trump was elected, Hughley appeared on MSNBC and said this:
Obama was what we aspire to be, Trump and his supporters are who we are.
The only significant change is the tense of the first clause.

We could say a lot about that but I want to focus on Biewen's reaction.
I bristled at Hughley's we. I know it's we the people and all that. "Donald Trump and his supporters is what we are." I wasn't sure I wanted to be implicated in that "we". ... As for that "we", it seems fair to say that D.L. Hughley, who is black, is talking about a nation, for all its growing diversity, a nation still dominated by people who look not like him but like me. Seventy percent of voters were white in 2016 and fifty-eight percent of white voters chose Trump.
There's a lot in that quote. I want to focus on just some of them. First, Biewen thinks in ideological terms and he also thinks in racial terms. And he sees those two things as connected. Sometimes, as above, he explicitly and directly connects progressive ideology and race. As if the answer to, "Why did America reject the Obama agenda after seeming to support it through two presidential terms?" could only be, "Because America is too white."

For Biewen, what stands in the way of the kind of progress he'd like to see is "whiteness". And that creates a certain amount of cognitive dissonance for Biewen is white. He isn't just "white", he's Anglo-Saxon white and that is the whitest kind of whiteness.

What's going on here?

Is this just Huck Finn trying to free himself from the bonds of "'sivilization" by adopting Jim as a spiritual father; that is to say, is John Biewen just the latest in a long, long line of white liberals to see a kind of freedom in escaping whiteness?

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