What I have to say about that

“That” is Peter’s obnoxious piece in IHE.

I. What I say

1. Someone who calls abolitionism, civil rights activism, and so on “wokeism” is being derisive and is sneering at serious work.

2. There is no “contradiction” between the facts that race is socially constructed and that we have a long history of racial discrimination which justifies affirmative action. It is a false dichotomy.

3. No, race is not a matter of personal preference. Here’s a brief example: if you are visibly afrodescendiente, you are most likely to be seen as such. You can say you are something else but in a society that discriminates against this group, you may still be discriminated against.

These things are really basic. The claim that these points have not yet been well enough or convincingly enough explained is a red herring. People who make it have either not put in effort to understand or have decided they disagree.

Some know that to disagree is not to be on board with eliminating racism. They feint, saying the arguments have not been explained to their satisfaction yet, or that we can best eliminate racism by ignoring it.

I get tired of the requests to explain and explain again. I have explained many things many times: women do not have inferior intellects, Spanish is not an inferior language, racial discrimination is real. At some point the repeated requests for more and better explanations are not requests for clarity, but condescending and even sadistic moves.

Was it inappropriate for the person who wrote a letter to the editor objecting to the piece to ask what had gone into the decision to publish it? I don’t think so. The letter to the editor was a rebuttal and that question was part of it. One does wonder, given how retrograde the piece is.

II. From my mailbag

Points 1 and 2 are basic information people should know. Point 4 gets to the heart of the Krug issue, I think. Point 5 explains why Peter’s article was so offensive in a research/teaching sense. The other points are interesting too and there were more, including one that questioned the makeup of the “we” who, according to Peter, say race is both “essential” or “intrinsic” and “a matter of personal preference.” That person went on to say: “The conflation of white supremacists and progressives here on functional-definitional grounds stems from the illusion/fallacy that their “definitions” are formally alike and so they are therefore factually and substantively and socially equivalent. It’s just not a good argument.” Here is some of the rest:

  1. “Du Bois would never argue that ‘[w]hat this means—or at least, strongly implies—is that one’s racial identity could be as much a matter of personal preference as gender.’ That’s a misrepresentation. His position, and the actual process of social construction, is ‘[t]he black man is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia.’ That’s not a product of personal preference. It’s an ascribed status. No one in critical ethnic studies, the sociology of race, cultural studies, or related fields argues that any of these structures come down to personal preference. Nor is gender identity a personal preference.”
  2. “‘Things that really matter.’ There is so much wrong with this and I am not going engage in a fight about all the clear empirical differences in treatment we receive as Black people, the fact that it was actually racial generosity that allowed Krug to behave this way and abuse Black women as we clearly recognize Black people are not a monolith, or refer you to the reams of scholarship that speaks to the relationship between social construction and Blackness. I will just say that saying we should focus on things that ‘really matter’ other than race in a week where it was clear yet again that we can be killed in our homes and beds by the state without consequence makes this, at best, an intellectual claim lacking any serious consideration of a field, and at worst, sadistic.”
  3. “The actually interesting, relevant contradiction is between universalism and particularity. Without universalism, human rights or concepts like justice or equality have no real meaning outside the situated interests of individuals or factions. Without people living historically situated, complex and finite lives in the experiential world, those rights are abstractions deprived of purpose.”
  4. “The Krug case shows that the local, individual particularities of race can only be adjudicated by reference to a higher, universal set of principles. Focusing on Krug’s ‘authenticity’ as the issue is a red herring that leaves the institutions which rewarded Krug off the hook. ‘Authenticity’ (and personal preference) do not accurately capture what is happening here, since race is not a phenomenon of individual voice but an observable process of social categorization. The lurid details of the Krug case are part of a larger trend not about the left but about the instrumentalization of diversity by large neoliberal institutions.”
  5. “Generations of serious, varied scholarship and teaching are equated with memes and concepts shaping recent activism, and all dismissed as ‘wokeism.’ The lax argumentation developed through this rhetorical maneuver [is manipulative and is not serious inquiry].
  6. “Labeling something ‘opinion’ does not excuse portraying the position you are arguing against inaccurately. Donald Trump attacks Joe Biden for being in favor of defunding the police. Joe Biden is not in favor of defunding the police. He has consistently stated otherwise. Does the fact that it is indeed Trump’s ‘opinion’ that Joe Biden favors defunding the police make it legitimate for Trump to make that statement? If you think it does, then you have a poor understanding of the concept of ‘opinion.'”
  7. Du Bois’s ideas about race changed over a long career. Kenny Mostern’s Three Theories of the Race of W.E.B. Du Bois is a good place to start to contextualize the Appiah interpretation/critique of Du Bois. Another good historical context is the Langston Hughes/George Schuyler exchange from the 1920s. Peter is making a lot of Schuyleresque moves in his essay. (Back when Schuyler was on the left and well before he turned hard right.) There’s scads written on problems with the false dichotomy Peter offers here in the last century, if people want to read further or “teach the controversy.”


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