If you want to know why so many young people call today’s American society Clown World, start with this: In a moment where race relations have forcibly erased all other possible subjects of conversation everywhere from the kitchen table to television news, the best-selling book in America is an oddly racist treatise on “whiteness” written by a white “corporate diversity trainer”. Every single person who spends time reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility would be better off reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: that’s a brilliant work of art that any English-speaking human would be better off for having read, written by a thoughtful and perceptive African-American, rather than a dime-store novelization of those bizarre corporate meetings where someone screams at you for thoughtcrime while you mentally calculate how many times you can look at your iPhone in any given ten-minute period before it gets taken away.
In addition to being a litmus test for limousine liberalism, White Fragility further exposes a genuine division in the American Left. A secret (and, sometimes, not so secret) battle was waged over the past two decades as to who would guide the Democratic party. You had the class-and-economy people, represented by Bernie Sanders at one extreme and William Jefferson “It’s the economy, stupid!” Clinton at the other. Then you had the all-about-race-and-gender people, who started off way behind in this race but eventually overtook and then purged their opposition. No doubt they would attribute this overnight success to the essential justness of their cause; a cynical person might point out that Bank Of America is perfectly willing to donate one billion dollars to people who frame the American discussion in terms of race but will not give a single penny to anyone who wants to overturn the existing economic order.
Seriously. Take a look at the OpenSecrets pages for Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Warren’s top donor was the hard-left EMILY’s List, which gave her under $150k. Biden’s top donor was a hedge fund manager, who gave him EIGHT MILLION DOLLAR. Hell, Biden has gotten $1.9 from… wait for it… Bain Capital. That’s right. The 2012 “Republican” candidate for President just gave nearly two million bucks to the 2020 “Democratic” candidate. After hearing that, do you still think there is any genuine difference between the “mainstream” politicians in this country?
Matt Taibbi is firmly on the “class war” side of the Democratic divide, so it’s no surprise that he would be slightly cynical about the idea of white women earning millions of dollars as experts on race relations. What is surprising, for me at least, is the complete and pitiless broadside he launches against DiAngelo’s rather feckless and aimless book. You’ll want to read it.
This excerpt from a longer work to come leaves the reader wondering how much else Taibbi possibly plans to say. After all, Mike Tyson rarely attacked his opponents after the knockout punch. Here’s a sample:
DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category… to have the effrontery to sneak away from the tedium of DiAngelo’s lecturing – what she describes as “leaving the stress-inducing situation” – is to affirm her conception of white supremacy. This academic equivalent of the “ordeal by water” (if you float, you’re a witch) is orthodoxy across much of academia.
DiAngelo’s writing style is pure pain… Writers like DiAngelo like to make ugly verbs out of ugly nouns and ugly nouns out of ugly verbs (there are countless permutations on centering and privileging alone). In a world where only a few ideas are considered important, redundancy is encouraged, e.g. “To be less white is to break with white silence and white solidarity, to stop privileging the comfort of white people,” or “Ruth Frankenberg, a premier white scholar in the field of whiteness, describes whiteness as multidimensional…”
It takes a special kind of ignorant for an author to choose an example that illustrates the mathematical opposite of one’s intended point, but this isn’t uncommon in White Fragility, which may be the dumbest book ever written. It makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina.
This dingbat racialist cult, which has no art, music, literature, and certainly no comedy, is the vision of “progress” institutional America has chosen to endorse in the Trump era. Why? Maybe because it fits. It won’t hurt the business model of the news media, which for decades now has been monetizing division and has known how to profit from moral panics and witch hunts since before Fleet street discovered the Mod/Rocker wars.
For corporate America the calculation is simple. What’s easier, giving up business models based on war, slave labor, and regulatory arbitrage, or benching Aunt Jemima? There’s a deal to be made here, greased by the fact that the “antiracism” prophets promoted in books like White Fragility share corporate Americas instinctive hostility to privacy, individual rights, freedom of speech, etc.
Final emphasis mine, because it’s here that Taibbi and your humble author find common ground. It seems obvious in retrospect that what we call “identity politics” served as a sort of Trojan Horse over the past few decades to marginalize and cripple traditional leftist positions on society and the economy. Bolstered by massive infusions of corporate cash, the Democratic party largely stopped thinking about anything but race and sex. Could you imagine trying to exist in 2020 as a UAW-backed old-school Democrat or one of the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats” who avoid polarizing issues in order to accomplish defined goals with the economy? Old Woodrow Wilson just got “canceled” because of race issues — this is the guy who imposed the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the League Of Nations on America! You don’t get more “progressive” than that, unless you’re willing to reach into the past, Orwell-style, and change the definition of the word.
No wonder social media is filled with multi-millionaires (and their children) LARPing as instant-bake advocates for various racial groups and gender identities. What’s less troublesome: repeating the same “stunning and brave” platitudes as every company in the Fortune 500, or devoting some genuine thought, time, and money to the root causes of economic inequality in America? Which one of these paths leads to you keeping your Lamborghini (or jet, or whatever) and which one leads to you being just as poor as everyone else? You know the answer to that, and so do all of these champagne “socialists”.
I suspect we are on the way to one of those tectonic plate shifts in American politics that happen once in five generations or so. Pretty soon the traditional labels of “Republican” and “Democrat” will become meaningless, as you’d expect when Bain Capital funds Joe Biden and its founder trash-talks a sitting Republican President. Instead, we will have.. call it “Party A”. Party A will combine ever more extreme and perfomative variants of race and gender politics with a capitalist-cozy take on financial matters where large corporations are all “too big to fail” and small businesses are shoved nose-first into the ground. When big banks gamble, Party A will guarantee their losses while tactfully ignoring their gains. Party A will continue the re-imagination of America as a place where only “FIRE” companies thrive while manufacturing continues to wander off to China. Party A will support the universities and their meaningless degrees.
The existence of a Party A suggests the eventual existence of a “Party B”. This “Party B” will adopt a position somewhere between “traditional” and “neutral” on issues of race and gender. It will be primarily concerned with economic justice: living-wage jobs instead of welfare, manufacturing instead of finance, affordable housing instead of alternatives to policing. You’ll have Elizabeth Warren types who take the fight to the banks and you’ll have ultra-Trump-ish people who advocate the restoration of tariffs. Party B will be against unlimited immigration for the same reason the unions always have been, until recently: it kills wages almost everywhere it goes.
A lot of people will be disturbed by where they fall in this realignment, to put it mildly. The deans of university sociology departments will be nonplussed at how much of their philosophy is shared with Jamie Dimon and the hedge-fund crowd. The traditional Black Panther typa dudes will be aggrieved at finding themselves on the same side of the divide as Appalachian miners. Party A will have the media, the money, and much of the power. Party B will have the heckler’s veto of guns, machine shops, and county sheriffs who rip up the orders from above. What will these parties be called? I have no idea — but I’m hoping that one of them will re-adopt the old name of “Whig”, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Which party is better-suited for that is left as an exercise for the reader, and for posterity. Mr. Taibbi, I’ll see you at our first meeting.