I came home from dinner this evening to find two very different recent responses to posts here on Riverside Green. The first one, shown above, was a past-the-buzzer drop-in on this month-old post about the largely unremarked-upon death of a veteran at the Capitol. The second one was in response to yesterday’s post about Chinese power and influence in this country. In addition to being longer, it was considerably better-argued.
If you will all permit me a bit of latitude, however, I’d like to address them together, because I believe there’s more to be learned by doing so.
We’ll start with “Fuck Trump”, who says that
Bitch deserved it. Play stupid games win stupid prizes. Charles Whitman, Lee Harvey Oswald and Tim McViegh were veterans too. SO FUCKING WHAT? They should be held to a HIGHER standard, not allowed to break the law because they were too fucking stupid and poor to do anything else. Fuck her and fuck you stupid trumpers. The only issue I have is that more of you fuckwits weren’t shot. Fucking dumb bitch. And fuck all of you dumb white trash, sibling fucking, mouth breathing, dipshit, fuckwit, redneck, hillbilly pieces of shit. You are all fucking SCUM. Subhuman filth and scum.
Theoretically this was posted from St. Louis, MO, although maybe he was behind 7 proxies, so who knows.
I’m embarrassed to say that my immediate mental response to this was something along the lines of, “I’m almost certainly less of a redneck than you are, I was born in New York to a third-generation family of native New Yorkers, there’s a school on the Eastern Seaboard named after my maternal great-grandfather. I breathe with my mouth closed and I’m married to a woman who was born three time zones away in a family that couldn’t have been related to mine before the founding of Rome, much less any time recently. I have a tailor on Savile Row, I’ve been published in Esquire and quoted in The Atlantic… so feel to stuff all of up that your hick ass, ya prole.”
After chewing on it for a few minutes, however, I’ve settled upon the following: I’m proud to be an adopted Ohioian and spiritual Midwesterner. I don’t particularly want to live anywhere else. If I wanted to live in Manhattan or San Jose, I could do it. There’s no zip code in the country beyond my ability to buy a home, although not all of said homes would be Instagram-worthy. Still, I’m here in rural Ohio, by choice. There are times I dislike it; that’s probably the native New Yorker in me, since the majority of native New Yorkers hate where they live, as well. It’s just that they’re still in New York.
Similarly, I’m not really a “Trumper”. I didn’t vote for him in 2016, because I thought the fix was in for Hillary and I had business travel on Election Day. If I woke up tomorrow as President, I guarantee you that very few of my executive actions and legislative efforts would mirror his. Yet the more I think about it, the more comfortable I am being called a stupid and poor Trumper. It doesn’t take a penny out of my pocket. To misquote Kipling,
No matter what happens, I have got
A Gibson R9 CC#01 Melvyn Franks
And you have not
The fact is that I would rather be lumped in with every hateful stereotype of Flyover Country than be affiliated in any way with the kind of person who thinks he’s made a legitimate point with the above post. The Midwest is filled with good people. It’s also filled with bad people. That’s the way of humanity. I’m happy to claim Ohio. And I don’t have a sister. Thanks for your response. Hope it gets you some Internet Points with your betters.
Our next comment is lengthy but worth considering in its entirety:
To take issue with some tertiary points from the top of this piece:
I’m currently completing a PhD in linguistics and rhetoric and I’ve noticed a persistent theme in Jack’s writing on contemporary attitudes about race. The premise of Jack’s arguments generally assume that there is this looming specter of Critical Race Theory poisoning everything (read: in reality, Critical Race Theory is not a unified field with some blanket, agreed-upon set of assumptions, but rather a publishing sub-discipline within the humanities in which thinkers with different ideological assumptions argue about the categories humans fairly arbitrarily create in order to distinguish themselves from each other [white/black etc] and how these categories then influence daily life on a social and especially legal level– I read a lot of stuff within this field as part of my professional research). In addition to kind of hazily and inaccurately defining what CRT actually is, Jack often implies that CRT posits race as an essentializing force– “white” = bad while “POC” = good. In fact, one of the only agreed upon premises in CRT is that precisely the opposite is true, that race is a sociological construct and we operate within this reductive mindset primarily because we were socialized into it. It’s the reason people can racially “pass” when it is advantageous– there’s no inherent biological “essence” of race. It’s just kind of a category that emerges when people have to mentally categorize and do so on the basis of appearance and proximity. This is the reason folks as disparate as the Irish and Nordic and Pict and Caucasian are all sociologically “coded” as white in modern US discourse, while people from all across the continent of Africa, and sometimes India and the Middle East are coded as “black.” Obviously, this kind of simplified categorization creates real social problems, especially in a country where for hundreds of years, skin color was almost universally correlated with legal personhood. In any case, I point this out because when Jack performatively lampoons a term like, “multiracial whiteness,” he is criticizing a definition that the majority of respected scholars in the CRT field (read: not “diversity seminar leaders” or “tiktok users”) would never use– this reductive notion he paints that “multiracial whiteness” implies that sometimes nativist people of color are borderline “possessed” by a spirit of “whiteness.” Instead, the CRT scholars are arguing that the white/black racial frame that came to dominate American social life (as European immigrant groups found it desirable to avoid the oppressive effects of being “othered” on their new continent–see Irish or Italians slowly shedding cultural affect in order to be coded as “white” and thereby find admission to the professions and polite society) is simply a socialization that most of us contact in the course our American lives, and that this social categorization (often denoted by the noun “whiteness”) has effects on all of us. It may even lead people to adopt traits they perceive as being more desirable to powerful groups, while disassociating from those with less cultural capital (again, see the Irish assimilating into whiteness, “colorism” within black communities, etc). I point this out, because when I see claims from my field being painted in misleading and inaccurate ways, it makes it harder for me to respect the rest of the argument in the piece. I find myself thinking, “did Jack intentionally misrepresent this concept from CRT in order to dunk on people he doesn’t like, or is he genuinely just not conversant with some of the terms he seems increasingly interested in writing about?”
The lazy wave-off response to this is that I’ve only mentioned CRT directly once on this website over the span of five years or so — but that’s disingenuous, because much of what I’ve discussed has some sort of foundation in CRT.
I will readily accept without question the commenter’s assertions that Critical Race Theory, as properly taught and discussed at an academic level, is not a buckshot takedown of “whiteness” but rather an umbrella discipline that seeks to understand race as a sociological construct. You could argue that Danzy Senna’s amusing novel Caucasia, with its repeated spirals down the pathways of “passing” and identity, is a sort of literary CRT touchpoint, the same way that Tropic of Cancer was an attempt to put a fictional veneer on some ideas about nihilism and enlightenment.
Furthermore, I have no doubt that were I to sit in on a 600-level CRT class taught by, and attended by, first-rate minds, I would almost certainly find myself agreeing with many of the assertions and/or disagreeing with other assertions in a manner consistent with other students of the field. In addition, I freely admit that my engagements with CRT on this website are of a practical nature, rather than an academic one. You will never point your browser at Riverside Green and read a traditional academic-style discourse on CRT, or anything else for that matter. I don’t think anybody wants to read that stuff unless it’s directly pertinent to their obtaining an advanced degree.
So let’s take a look at the central question again:
did Jack intentionally misrepresent this concept from CRT in order to dunk on people he doesn’t like, or is he genuinely just not conversant with some of the terms he seems increasingly interested in writing about?
I assure you it’s neither. Instead, I’d like to suggest that my attitude towards CRT is the same as my attitude towards any number of other academic disciplines, from nuclear physics to “social engineering”-style hacking to virus research, namely: this stuff is dangerous in almost anyone’s hands, and should be treated accordingly. I mean, there are people in university laboratories right now experimenting with everything from crack cocaine to COVID-22, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to let that stuff run free.
Let’s use the discussion of “whiteness” in the comment above as an example. If my academic understanding is correct, “whiteness” means a couple of things. It’s an American (and, to some degree, colonial) concept brought about in opposition to “blackness”. In other words, you have all these European ethnic groups that are often in open conflict with each other both overseas and in the United States — but when confronted with the idea of “blackness”, these groups unconsciously band together to form “whiteness” as a sort of racist Voltron. The Englishman may have disdain for the Frenchman, the German may express open contempt for the Italian, but when confronted with the Black “other”, they will put those differences aside to some degree. Therefore, “whiteness” is inherently negative; not “negative” in the sense of “bad”, but because it just means “not a Black person”.
The second aspect of “whiteness” has to do with fundamentally European, and often specifically Anglo-Saxon, moral and practical concepts as they are expressed in America. The Smithsonian ruffled a lot of feathers when it said that “objective, rational, linear thinking,” “quantitative emphasis,” “hard work before play,” and various other values are aspects and assumptions of whiteness. A lot of people took that as either a bizarre deconstructive attack on Black people or an attempt to turn obviously positive qualities into negative qualities, presumably in service of a malicious end.
And yet… Anyone who ever worked in an Italian or Spanish factory can tell you that these “whiteness” qualities are really Northern European qualities, often heightened in their expression by the adoption of traditional Protestant ethics. When the French take their month-long summer vacances, or when the Spaniards take a nap in the afternoon, are they anywhere close to this “whiteness”? So there’s actually a bit of academic interest to be had in the study of these concepts. Our commenter mentions that the Irish were adopted into “whiteness” at some unspecified point that was certainly after the days of Bill The Butcher. This is worth studying. At what point did American Irish adopt “whiteness” — which is to say, at what point did American Irish adopt a set of German-derived values and ideals?
Alternately, why are German-Americans less into “whiteness” than German-Germans? How was it that Germans were able to build the world’s first functioning jet plane en masse in frickin’ CAVES out of FAKE MATERIALS in 1943 while they were being bombed day and night by B-17s, while the Americans, who barely saw as much as a Japanese balloon over San Francisco, couldn’t even get the lame-ass Lockheed Shooting Star into theater a year after V-E Day? I know we’ve all heard about the “Hidden Figures” movie that explains how Black women got us to the moon, but has anyone given that much thought to the fact that the entire practical space program, up to and including the moon landing, came courtesy of people who had been card-carrying members of the Nazi Party? There are about half as many German-Americans as there are German-Germans in the world, self included. Why didn’t we build the W126 560SEL?
So yeah, this field of “whiteness” is fascinating, the same way it’s fascinating to study anthrax. The problem is that once you start mailing either of these things to regular people, all hell breaks loose. The nuances of “whiteness” in the academic setting, once handed to the 110-IQ set, are immediately degraded into insanely racist and depraved fairytales where every European-American in the country has the soul of a plantation overseer and is continually thirsting for the blood and suffering of “PoC”. (PoC, of course, are the opposite of “whiteness”, which is the opposite of “black”, but not all PoC are “black”, so make of that what you will.) In the hands of certain non-whites, “whiteness” becomes a bludgeon for explicit extortion; in the hands of certain white people, “whiteness” becomes the self-flagellating potlatch by which “goodwhites” show their effortless superiority to “badwhites” like… those Trumptard redneck sister-lovers here at the controls of Riverside Green.
And thus we see the Circle of Life for Critical Race Theory: developed and studied with harmless and genuine intent by certain intellectuals, it winds up as a way for certain white people to show us all how much better they are than other, profoundly unenlightened, white people. It’s not the first academic discipline to be misused like this, or even the twentieth; the atomic bomb is a byproduct of atomic-power research, and Viagra was supposed to be some kind of heart medicine, I think.
Therefore, our commenter is precisely correct when he asserts that I have chosen to engage with the “dumbed-down” or weaponized variants of CRT rather than with the pure source of said theory, and there is a reason for that, namely: I have no beef with this, or almost any other, academic discipline. My problem is how it is used in practice to create this narrative of evil “whiteness”. That narrative is destructive, divisive, hateful, and occasionally outright evil. And while CRT is perhaps not directly responsible for the kind of vicious anti-flyover rant that opens this column, it is frequently used to provide legitimacy, shelter, and strength to the mindset that produces those rants.
In a way, the second comment considered today reminds me of all the kind-hearted young academics who say that “real socialism has never been tried”. Well, there’s a reason for that. Real socialism has never been tried because, like certain metals, it bursts into violent flame the minute it is exposed to open air. You start with the reasonable idea that “maybe it shouldn’t be legal to have a company town where you pay in company scrip” and almost immediately you’re killing everyone who wears glasses. Similarly, the pure academic discussions of Critical Race Theory are simply too useful in their perverted form to ever have a chance of remaining pure. Admit it — didn’t you get a bit sleepy-eyed when I was talking about “whiteness”? Sure you did. But nobody gets sleepy when the topic at hand is “Kill Whitey”, particularly when you get to determine exactly who Whitey is, and who he is not.
Therefore, Your Honor, I plead Not Guilty to the charge of Straw-Mannin’, because the Straw Man in this case is actually a Stay-Puf Marshmallow Man devastating the American landscape. I readily admit that I do not, and have not, and likely will not, engage in any way with the pure form of CRT as it is taught by and for the best and brightest. I hope that this does not exclude me from your reading list now, or in the future. From Flyover Country, where the sisters are hot and the necks are red, this is your humble ZX-14R-riding, flannel-shirt-wearing*, gun-totin**, McDonald’s-eatin’***, author, signing off.
* okay, it’s a Tattersall, and it was custom-made by Budd
** well, I’m really just totin’ an airsoft gun, the Krytac Vector, with MOSFET motor control and a microswitch trigger, shooting luminescent tracer BBs through an Acetech faux silencer. No actual guns toted, expressed, or implied here at Riverside Green; like Tori Amos, I believe in peace.
*** no real qualifications on this part, I eat McDonald’s all the time, it’s part of why my cholesterol count looks like a Hellcat horsepower figure