Telling people that there is only one way to think is a sure-fire way to stop them from thinking at all.
Spot on. The sanctimonious presumption underlying the admonition to “just fucking educate yourself” is indeed that there is a some set of objective undeniable facts that we should be ashamed of not knowing and that we must learn and acknowledge and honor if racism is to be eradicated. The intellectual hubris of that presumption is tremendous and fundamentally illiberal as it allows for no possibility of differing interpretations (or to put it in post-mo sloppy speak: “no competing narratives.”). Foreclosing the possibility of a multiplicity of viewpoints preemptively triggers exactly the opposite of the intended reaction: in lieu of intellectual compliance and adoption of the mandated belief set, one resists. How about trying to persuade through dialectic? Racism‘ history, how to eradicate it, and what a post-racist world should look like—these are topics that deserve intellectual analysis and debate. Unless and until this lesson is learned, racial progress will stagnate, and gratuitous battle-grounds will be created.
Nah. Not buying it. The assumption that "educate yourself" means you should come to a single objectively correct conclusion is a straw man. I'm a 62 year old white liberal and my daughter is a 22 year old socialist working full time as a prison abolitionist. She has encouraged me to learn about structural racism and the roots of law enforcement in the post-civil war South. I've been doing that so we can have a shared vocabulary and a common basis for discussion. We disagree about some things and she definitely has strong opinions, but the fact that I'm willing to consider her viewpoint and change some of my own thinking is what she means about educating myself. If you haven't put the effort into learning the basic history, then you can't have a meaningful conversation, including informed disagreements, about the state of race in America today.
Despite their various similarities, the illiberal left and the illiberal right think differently about power. For the illiberal right, power is a self-justifying end. Life is a zero-sum battle between nations, races, castes; and the goal is victory for your faction.
The illiberal left, drawing on Hegel and Marx, thinks of history as a dialectic, a deterministic mechanism advancing toward a fixed endpoint. The point of power is to accelerate the machine's forward motion. Its proper course can be objectively determined, so anyone who gets in its way is not just malign, but provably wrong. Though this epistemology is based on the rationalism of the Enlightenment, it is a perversion of it: not just in its hubristic oversimplification of chaotic human affairs, but also in its refusal to consider politics as the process of adjudicating conflicting goods.
But from that perspective, it makes sense to expect political consensus to arrive if only people will "educate themselves" (or if the state does it for them). Once everyone's consciousness is raised, we will all see things the same way. There is a quasi-religious aspect to this world view: I once was asleep, but now I'm "woke". I once was lost, but now I'm found.
The project of racial, class, and gender equity is a noble one. But history tells us that the path to it, however long, runs through liberalism, not through an all-embracing model of history that, as Tony Judt said, leads inexorably to all-embracing systems of rule. We must give the illiberal left credit for at least considering social justice a worthwhile goal. Unlike the illiberal right, their road is paved with good intentions.
Where in the world would you study a 'history of racism'? This very phrase cops to the self-indulgence of a strata of white activists who prioritize their individual "subconscious racist" guilt as the foundation of racism in this country and its elimination as the solution (?!) What we can study, however, is the history of slavery, the civil war, the broken promise of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement up to today. What we can study are the economic drivers that need racism as an ideology to succeed. W.E.B. DuBois' "Black Reconstruction in America" is a good place to start. DuBois used actual debates, speeches and reports from the civil war and its aftermath to show how vital the denigration and suppression of slaves and freedmen were to a struggle between free traders in the North and feudal plantation owners in the South. His history refutes white historians at the time who blamed the demise of Reconstruction on the freed slaves themselves. Though he wrote in the 1930s, he shed needed light on why Jim Crow ruled the nation until challenged by the civil rights movement of the '50s. Another theme of DuBois is how the suppression of black labor aided the subjugation of the poor white working class in the plantation economy and after. Contemporary 'anti-racism' ideology (as I understand it) is divorced from this history and shallowly identifies racism as an individual fault. In truth, racism is promoted by society's power brokers to justify black oppression and simultaneously divide the citizenry to impede progress for the common good.
I would never have imagined that "educate yourself" means adhere to my political position. I would take it to mean ,first of all, educate yourself about Black history. So many of us, including myself, learned little or nothing about slavery in school or college. We are not given obvious opportunities like museums. We have museums to educate ourselves about the Holocaust but no museum to teach us about slavery. And in the South, in addition to statues of confederate soldiers you could visit plantations which presented a beautiful way of life without any slave quarters or discussion of slavery. And few people know that Jim Crow did not begin right after the Civil War. And what about the history of redlining which now leaves Black communities exposed to unhealthy heat as well as preventing them from gaining wealth through investment in a home? The need for education in these and other areas is critical in order to understand the broader problem.
Yes indeed. Thank you.
There is another tragic error in saying "Educate yourself". The BLM activists and their allies refuse to educate themselves on basic facts about police violence in America. They claim that police deliberately kill only Black people. This is false. However outraged you are, you cannot make up your own data. The majority of people who police kill unjustly are White, not Black or Brown. But maybe Blacks are killed disproportionately by the police? Even that is far from clear. After controlling for differences in rates of "offending" between different communities, it is not clear that police kill Blacks disproportionately. There is a forthcoming paper in American Economic Review (the most prestigious academic journal in Economics) that reviews the literature on this issue. They conclude that based on existing research it is unclear whether police kill Blacks disproportionately. (although there is a general consensus that the police treat black and brown people more harshly, particularly while operating in low income communities) - there are good research papers that reach the conclusion that there is no racial bias in police killings. One should also note that police killings of unarmed people have declined significantly in recent years, so progress has been made.
The BLM movement should educate themselves on what happens when the relationship between police and minority communities break down - research shows that this leads to a sharp spike in crime rates in minority neighborhoods, something that is happening already in recent months. Reform the police, yes, defund or abolish the police No. Finally, you can't talk reform if you don't include the voices of reformist police officers in that conversation. I follow the blog of Peter Moskos Cop in the Hood. Please google him and I think many readers will like the blog as well.
Thank you, I enjoyed reading your article very much.
I had to chuckle when I heard about the comment the outraged woman made during the “bouncing baby” fracas at the NYC education council that the guy needs to “educate himself” by reading _White Fragility_ and _How to be an Antiracist_, apparently unaware how deeply those two books disagree on fundamental concepts like whether it is even possible for a black person to be racist (DiAngelo no; Kendi emphatically yes). They even disagree—completely—on the definition of “racism” itself as applied to individuals and their actions.
I may be a bit cynical here, but my sense is that most of the “educate yourself!” crowd likely hasn’t even read these books or even read much about them beyond a few tweet-threads. The only way to think that these writers have monolithic views on race (or anything else) would be to have had no direct contact with their ideas or to possess the reading comprehension of a six year old.