Don't Label Me
The Elephants in the Room
* “… ‘I’ve never felt terror or torment from our state flag… and you know why? White privilege.'”
Source: Conversation between Louis McFall and Genesis Be in Biloxi, Mississippi on August 23, 2017.
* “‘The other day, I was paying for something… It’s just not fair.'”
Source: Phone interview with Louis McFall on September 21, 2017.
* “As it is, Trump’s declaration of this emergency has amounted to diddly; an extravagantly empty gesture to his base.”
Source: Wayne Drash and Nadia Kounang, “Opioid Commission Member: Our Work Is A ‘Sham’,” CNN.com, January 24, 2018.
Welcome to America - Not
* “Thirty minutes later, Garcia motioned me into his office.”
Note: This incident took place on June 28, 2014.
* “My slapdown took place during the presidency of Barack Obama, whose administration deported more migrants at the southern border of the United States than previous ones…”
Source: Serena Marshall, “Obama Has Deported More People Than Any Other President,” ABC News, August 29, 2016.
* “… and deliberately separated children from their detained parents.”
Source and note: Miriam Valverde, “Donald Trump falsely says family separations were Obama policy,” PoliticoFact, November 29, 2018. The reporter’s sources concede that under President Obama, family separations did in fact take place — only in far lower numbers than they do under President Trump. Key quotes:
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border enforcement, told PolitiFact that Obama’s administration did not count the number of families separated at the border.
The Obama administration began prosecuting border-crossers who had already been deported at least once, but very few of them crossed with children, so it didn’t become as visible an issue, Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, told us for a previous fact-check.
“There was some child separation and some pushback by immigrant advocacy groups around that, but the numbers were quite limited,” Seele said.
Power "Out There" and Power "In Here"
* “‘I have no power,’ Vanessa stated a leadership workshop for NYU students of color.”
Note: The workshop took place on November 6, 2015.
* “In her classes, she’d been taught ‘critical race theory,’ which denies that individual actions can lead to palpable change.”
Note: Critical Race Theorists understand power as indelibly connected to racism. According to CRT, racism is woven into the foundation of American society. There need not be individual racists to perpetuate institutional racism. By extension, individual goodness can’t undo institutional racism.
To understand the nuances of this argument, I recommend several scholarly readings:
Derrick A. Bell, Jr., “Does Discrimination Make Economic Sense? For Some – It Did and Still Does,” 15 Human Rights 38 (Fall 1988).
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law.” Harvard Law Review 101, no. 7 (1988): 1331-387. doi:10.2307/1341398.
Richard Delgado, “Shadowboxing: An Essay on Power,” 77 Cornell Law Review 813 (1992).
* “Having power is the ability to ‘otherize’ – to taint people not like you as the malevolent stranger, the unidentified foreign object, the It, the Other.”
Note: According to Crenshaw, for example, the creation of an Other is a precondition for the exercise of power by one group over another. In the case of racist ideology, she writes that it is based on “an illusion of [white] unity through the oppositional force of a symbolic other.” And while I agree with this observation, Crenshaw utterly ignores those contexts in which nonwhite people wield the power to include or exclude white people — as I explained to my student, Vanessa.
* “After all, how else do we reform the cultures of institutions unless it’s through people? Cultures don’t make decisions. People do.”
Note: Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry cites a textbook example. Upon being elected to the Senate in 1985, Kerry and other Democrats found ways to work with the Reagan Republicans. They could do so “because people weren’t punished for it. Because there was no orthodoxy thrust on people within the caucus that said to them, ‘Don’t work with Them. That’s terrible.’ Or, even worse, people threatening their colleagues with primaries if they didn’t toe the line on a particular ideology. That began to happen. What changed was not the rules of the Senate. What changed were the people and their attitude… Honesty has not been rewarded lately in our system and we’ve got to get back to that… And so it’s people. People have to come to office prepared to exercise their own beliefs and courage, not beliefs that are forced on them as a matter of matter of orthodoxy.” AirTalk, KPCC 89.3 FM (43:28-44:45)
* “Relational leadership is when you concentrate on relationships so that you’re humane, tactful, and tactical all at once.”
Note: I believe that building relationships is the key to fighting racism not only among individuals, but also throughout institutions and systems. By recognizing that systems and institutions are comprised of human beings, and that every human has individuality even when s/he/they belong to identity groups, we create and execute policies with real human needs in mind rather than treating people as grand abstractions.
Consider the various policies adopted for desegregating public schools in the U.S. Why were Black schools closed and Black children bussed to white schools? The standard answer is that Black schools had far fewer resources than white schools. But then why didn’t officials shift some resources from white to Black schools, so that some Black teachers could keep their jobs, some Black students could remain with those teachers, and some white kids could share the burden of adjusting to new environments — just as Black students had to?
I’ve posed this question to several historians of education. A number have cited white supremacy. That is, white parents fought tooth and nail against sending their children to schools created for Black kids. As a result, there was no choice but to send Black kids to white schools.
This tells me that white parents feared “Black environments” because they didn’t have relationships with Black families. It also tells me something more: The makers and enforcers of educational policy had precious few relationships with Black educators themselves — the very educators who’d be disproportionately unemployed because white teachers would now be educating the majority of Black students. It didn’t matter Black teachers were individuals in their own right, with professional credentials and personal responsibilities such as feeding their families. Instead, Black teachers got cast as part of an amorphous Black “population”; a mass shorn of individuality.
Hence the near-complete firing of Black teachers and equally dire consequences for many Black students. See Stuart Buck, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010).
* “Critical theorists arm students to unmask the system.”
Note: Crucial to the development of these tools was the work of Michel Foucault. See, especially, Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1982), 777-795.
However, the clearest article that I’ve come across in this regard is also highly critical of Foucault. See Helen Pluckrose, “How French ‘Intellectuals’ Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained,” Aeon, March 27, 2017.
Did Women Co-Create the Alt-Right?
* “Angela Nagle is a scholar of the alt-right.”
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all quotes attributed to Nagle in this chapter come from Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (Winchester, UK / Washington, DC: Zero Books, 2017).
* “… years before the alt-right’s sewage spread to the masses, its culture sprouted on the web ‘in opposition to its enemy online culture’ — that of identity politics and its BFF: cyberbullying.”
Source: Ibid., p. 68.
* “As fans of superstar critical theorists, they ‘transgressed,’ or liberated themselves from, cramped gender frames such as male/female and gay/straight.”
Note: Probably the most celebrated of these superstar critical theorists was – and still is – Judith Butler. To understand Butler’s breathtaking influence on the cultural politics of the past two decades, I recommend reading two of her books: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Abindgdon, UK: Routledge, 1990) and The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Berkeley, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).
* “Critical theorists arms students with tools to unmask the system.”
Note: Fundamental to the development of these tools was Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer, 1982), 777-795.
* “Then, Angela Nagle discovered, more and more of them added mental illnesses to their online identities.”
Note: Nagle adds, “The cult of suffering, weakness, and vulnerability has become central to contemporary liberal identity politics.” It’s “common in communities with a strong focus on gender fluidity to openly identify themselves as having disabilities and mental health issues that make them, by their own admission, extremely vulnerable to suffering” (p. 73).
The sociologist Jonathan Haidt has noted much the same. Indeed, he chronicles how young people’s premature identification with mental illness – known as “catastrophizing” – went mainstream. See Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin Press, 2018).
* Likewise, many of these women banished community members whom they judged as ‘lacking sensitivity’ to their labels.”
Source: Angela Nagle, Ibid., p. 74. The next two quotes are found on the same page.
* “In a notorious blog post, the British writer and labor activist Mark Fisher revolted against ‘Left-Wing Twitter’…”
Source: Mark Fisher, “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” OpenDemocracy.net, November 24, 2013.
* “Angela Nagle highlights an influential Twitter feminist who hate-tweeted about Fisher’s suicide.”
Source: Nagle, Ibid., p. 117.
* “My conversation with a 17-year-old named Pascal opened up an opportunity for both of us.”
Note: Our first conversation took place on October 12, 2017.
Privilege as a Blessing
* “‘I was born in a very congenial home situation.'”
Source and note: Martin Luther King Jr., “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” online resource from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, written between September – November 1950.
For the bigger picture of King’s evolution as a Christian witness, read Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker, and Penny A. Russell, eds. The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume 1: Called to Serve, January 1929 – June 1951 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992).
* “‘Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognize our blessings or not.'”
Source: Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light: and Other Essays (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2017), p. 129.
* “‘I have been very blessed in my life.’ “
Source: Audrea Lorde, Ibid., p. 130.