It's perfect for affluent whites who want to be heroes of a story about justice
I intend to share this with the people teaching my kids, along with my neighbors, friends and church members, here in our affluent, woke, educated, solid blue-state community, where everyone has a BLM sign on the property, but their kids won't play with the poor kids on the other side of town. This is the crucial passage I want them to hear:
"It seems to me that progressive elites, despite their pieties, don’t really want to live in a more equal society. They prefer the imperfect meritocracy we live under—the rule of the smart, the talented and the rich, most of whom traffic in the fiction that their status was earned.
Still, progressives see themselves as compassionate. What they needed was a way to explain the inequality found in the meritocratic system they hold dear, a way that made them feel they were still on the side of the good without having to disrupt what is good for them."
(And by the way, Harry and Meghan, you two need to hear it as well.)
Dear Ms. Ungar-Sargon, thank you for writing this. I am a 65 year-old gay male and have read significant excerpts, and reviews, from "White Fragility".
And from those excerpts it became quickly clear to me that "White Fragility" is in so many ways a racialized version of gay conversion therapy/psychology's pathologizing of homosexuals: the methodology, the pedagogy, the accusations, the shaming. And especially, the intratextuality. So let give you a specific example.
You will recall that to question white fragility as a concept and book's precept is to be the dreaded "fragile". BTW, so what if you are fragile?
And how did the field of psychology justify in part its diagnosis of homosexuality as illness? Well, a big one was from interviews/treatment of homosexuals.....who were drawn from clinical practice. And wouldn't that make that population suspect? I remember reading that in fact, according to many, drawing from that clinical population painted a healthier picture of homosexuals than the non-clinical population. Why?
Because it postulated that the ones in therapy had the moral probity and presence of mind to understand their depravity, hence "healthier". The ones that felt it was ok to be gay? Those were the real sick ones.
In other words, a non-falsifiable proposition bathed in recursiveness. Precisely the type of claim implicit in DiAngelo's notion of fragility.
I will stop there, but could keep going.
Fantastic article. I appreciate your connecting for me Hegelian dialectics and the post modernists. I think the only thing I might disagree with is that CRT is an “ideology for affluent progressive whites who want nothing to change—but who still want to feel like the heroes of a story about social justice.” I agree that this may have been the original impetus, but I believe that forced conformity through fear has now taken over. It’s that FEAR (of being cut down, cancelled, life ruined) that I believe needs to be addressed - along with the hollowness and regressive nature of CRT.
Thank you for your attempted magnanimity toward Israel, but the "occupation" isn't a "disastrous injustice"; it's not even much of an occupation. It's mostly a set of policies that keep the murder of Israelis to a minimum.
This is the most cogent article I have read yet on the behavior of this new burgeoning Ivy League Gentry class. Theirs is not false consciousness, it is Mrs Jellyby consciousness, and like Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House, whose children go unfed while she sends money to Africans she neither knows nor understands, the new Jellyby's, like Ms DiAngello, are motivated by that same sort of narcissism. They are the new landowners and we are the commoners, and like the gentry of 12th century England, they too are fundamentally anti-semitic. Like all the gentry classes of history only they, the new Ivy League Gentry, are allowed to own the intellectual landscape, not, God forbid, Jews and commoners. The narcissism of the graduate school students passes for some once they receive their degrees; for others it does not. It is fed by the terrifying self doubt that perhaps they have been duped by their gods of postmodernism. So in Freudian terms, they engage in the Great White Reaction Formation: Critical Race Theory. It is perfect; it allows anti-semitic hatred and self assuagement and the indubitable divine right of ownership of the intellectual landscape, all at once.
Though an excellent and welcome description of the intellectual background of CRT, I don't find the analysis of why whites adopt it particularly compelling. In any case, psychologizing is beside the point. Systemic racism. That's the point. Are they right about its prevelance and effects? If so, they might be excused for not caring about basic civilities in the pursuit of justice. However, they are not right. They have completely distorted cause and effect in our complex reality and their solutions, such as they are, will not work. I just read Heather McGhee's The Sum of Us, in a last ditch efforrt to see if I was missing something. I wasn't. It is a pathetic, poorly reasoned re-tread of progressive ideas that failed a half century ago. She dresses up her "ideas" in CRT jargon, but essentially the book could have been written by any New Deal progressive of the last 75 years. She seems truly oblivious of the manifest failures of this ideology and the voluminous critique of it. She's now reached the Elect status John McWhorter talks about, where critique is not allowed in mainstream media. That's what needs to be corrected. It doesn't matter why The Woken do what they do. They're wrong and worse than wrong. They're incompetent to address the actual problems. They will, in fact, make them worse by alienating a voting majority.
Thank you for another great article on Persuasion. I send my kids to public schools in an urban area in the South and watch in bewilderment as my friends who send their kids to private schools scream the loudest about BLM on social media. These articles on Persuasion make the world just a little bit more sane to me.
Those who are actively engaged in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work are as diverse as the issues they are trying to address. You attempt to homogenous their thinking to identify some of the downsides of some of the work is as unfortunate as claiming that all Jews are Zionists. Since I agree with your suggestions that some of the language within the EDI conversations is another form of racism, I want to address two inaccuracies in some of your statements.
The first is that your globalization of "anti-rascism" elevates group membership as the defining aspect of one's being completely represents the work of Ibrahim Kendi who is one of the leading voices among those who are promoting become "anti-racist" as a good thing. I am actually surprised that so many in the EDI world are promoting his work. As you argue, many in the EDI world are what can be called essentialist (e.g., because you are white, this is what you believe and do, because you are a women, this is what you believe and can do). Being racist, or sexist, and being an essentialist are closely aligned intellectual and practical position. Kendi is asking us to understand that one's race should not define who and what one is. To assume that a black person holds all the characteristics of black people is racist and that is how we organize the world. In short, there is a diversity of perspective that you are ignoring to make your point. You also collapse a lot of ideas (anti-racist, EDI, social justice) in a single group which is unfortunate.
Second, your definition of critical race theory is inaccurate. Yes, some of the thinking is rooted in social critical theory (which is grounded in Marxist thought). CRT actually took root in Law Schools where the attempt was to understand how the theory and practice of law needed to be grounded in social context and that, in America, that demand developing an explicit theory of how the law is grounded in how race is managed in our social contracts. It is a great question and leads to interesting answers.
Finally, I am not sure where you get the idea that 1619 Project is grounded in critical race theory rather than an argument that we would be well served knowing the history of race in America. Kendi makes the argument that, in America, race and capitalism are conjoint twins and to undertand who we are , we must understand that relationship. I respect the argument over when American history starts ( you suggest it is 1776, why not when the Mayflower landed?). Dismissing others arguments because of your inaccurate description of their theory does not represent the best of liberal elements of a good debate, from where I sit.
The best I’ve read on this subject
“The basis for today’s social-justice movement is a deep skepticism about liberal values like equality, justice and democracy.”
I believe this is a strawman. The social justice movement looks to understand how these values manifest in society, its institutions, and in individuals; and looks to take notice of hidden ways the ideals may be boxed in.
I’m curious if people who criticize 1619 Project and the corresponding Pulitzer curriculum have actually looked at the curriculum? Do they understand how teachers or school districts use it? I’ve attended webinars where teachers share how they use it. It’s exciting and interesting, not scary. I have never seen any of the Pulitzer curriculum (which is quite limited - it currently comprises lists of terms and discussion/writing prompts) specifically critiqued. I get the feeling that as a parent, I know more about it than the publishing critics do. I see little indication that these curriculum critiques are anything more than shallow forays into understanding how teachers are using the information.
"It’s the erasure of the possibility of equality, of a common humanity, that requires we treat each other as equals before God and before the law."
First, if people do not believe in a creator deity, then the idea of all humans being made in the deity’s image or being equal in the deity’s eyes, makes no sense, and (more importantly), cannot serve as the basis for arguing for equality before the law of all persons.
Second, the notion of a “common humanity” has reached the end of its usefulness. Western Judeo-Christian society chose to ground equality in the concept of an intrinsic “suchness” that—though subject to being expressed in a great variety of ways—ultimately overrode those expressions since this “suchness” emanated from a creator deity that regarded these intrinsic essences as equal. But at the same time that Western culture asserted a common humanity, it argued that this common humanity was “fallen” or “sinful,” and that there was a hierarchy to individuals’ states of fallenness or sinfulness—thereby opening the door to unequal treatment.
As a result, positing that people possess a common humanity—which once recognized—will result in people treating others equally has not led to equal treatment. For example, people would argue that I, as a gay man, am intrinsically disordered—that though I possess a common humanity, this humanity is disordered, and this disorderedness justifies me being treated unequally before the law, despite my (alleged) possession of a common humanity. What progressives are trying to do is close the “fallen human nature” loophole in Western ideology without abandoning Western Judeo-Christian ideology (good luck with that—we are talking about a feature, not a bug). In other words, they are trying to replace one slate of intrinsic essences with another (not realizing that the concept of “intrinsic essence” is the source of the problem in the first place).
"We cannot right the wrongs of racial inequality—an urgent task—by erasing the ideal of equality."
A concept of equality is necessary, but the understanding of equality employed by Western Judeo-Christian culture has shown itself to be unequal to the task. We need a concept of equality not grounded in a hypothesized “suchness” which is simultaneously contravened by a concept of “fallenness,” but rather one grounded in a demonstrable “emptiness’ (in the Buddhist understanding of the term, not a nihilistic one).
"What they needed was a way to explain the inequality found in the meritocratic system they hold dear, a way that made them feel they were still on the side of the good without having to disrupt what is good for them."
Exactly. Meritocracies are not structures of compassion. Progressives who have begun to prioritize compassion over obedience (what I would deem beginning to take a Buddhist turn), are faced with the problems of a) acting with compassion in a Western culture which posits that suffering is redemptive, i.e., things which are gotten wrong on this plane will be remediated on another, transcendental one. Progressives want to get it correct in the here-and-now, a sentiment which is characterized by non-progressives as the sin of Utopianism; b) embracing the sacrifices that acting with compassion demands (Western culture defines achievement as acquisition rather than unattachment); and c) navigating the contradictions of an ideology that is part Judeo-Christian and part Dharmic. They are gung-ho about the compassionate elements, but less comfortable with the other aspects/demands of Dharmic thinking/living which make compassionate acts possible.
Put another way: having partially relinquished Western Judeo-Christian ideology, progressives have been able to see certain Buddhist truths. The problem is that they then try to act on these truths via the Western paths/mindsets they have been socialized in (thus riling up non-progressives who remain faithful to Western ideology).
Just wonderful. Thank you Batya Ungar-Sargon.
TY (thank You). PERFECTO! Couldn't be said better. Saw https://nypost.com/2021/03/04/ny-times-slammed-for-seeking-opinion-editor-with-spine-of-steel/
Keep the faith Ms Ungar-Sargon!
But fear it's even worse than You thought: https://freeblackthought.substack.com/p/why-did-critical-race-theory-emerge
How do you claim to be against "classing people by group, by race, by ethnicity" while making excuses for a country which tells us straight out that treating its people equally regardless of ethnicity ( even something as democracy-minimal as "a state of all it's citizens") would destroy it? Talk about a double standard.
From what I gather, CRT is based on the idea that whitness is the cause of racial hierarchies and repression in America, from slavery to current inequities in wealth and criminal justice. It's naive. Racism rose in the South to justify slavery as an economic system, not the other way around. To me, CRT promoters deflate the fundamentals driving racism in seeing it as a cultural or psychological deviation instead of a decades-long economic imperative. Are 1960’s-type corporate ‘consciousness raising’ classes the vanguard of anti-racism? Hardly.