All posts filed under: Identity

Elder Millennial Metalheads: Our Shrinking World of Dark Thoughts and Bad Jobs

I was born in 1986, the year of release for the first movie I ever saw, David Cronenberg’s The Fly. I was raised in a middle-class, mixed-race family, in the suburbs of Riverside County, California, surrounded by heavy metal, violent cartoons, and children’s programming like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?—all of which warned me that the world I was entering was a wild, nasty place. I also grew up watching Married with Children, sitting on the couch with my father, emulating Al Bundy’s signature pose. Another message I got: Middle-class American life is a nightmare. It’s a vicious trap for suckers too stupid to be successful or too scared to be vagabonds. George Carlin, N.W.A., Black Flag. Everywhere I looked, it seemed all of the cool people had the same message. The American Dream is a sham. You’re better than that. Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Biggie, and River Phoenix showed a generation of suburban boys our nihilistic path. We were too clever for the assembly lines, too principled for Wall Street, too vulgar …

The Dead Are Rising—A Review

A review of The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. Liveright Press, 640 pages (October 2020) Stylized in Spike Lee’s excellent 1992 film and canonized by the thousands of high school and college instructors who have made his autobiography required reading, Malcolm X has become a man for all seasons. As a result, activists and commentators on both the Left and Right want the once-controversial figure all to themselves. To the Left, he is an icon of resistance to white political and cultural hegemony. To some on the Right, he stands apart from the Great Society statism that became the policy prescription of choice among the Civil Rights establishment, offering an alternative of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and voluntary communalism. Not bad for a figure deemed, at best, divisive by respectable opinion during his lifetime. The latest biography of Malcolm X will serve boosters of either narrative. In The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, the late Les Payne shows his subject to have been a complex …

Not All Identities Are Created Equal

In 2020, much of the public discussion of social issues revolves around notions of identity. Ideas about race, reformulations of gender, and considerations of class or religious confession. But it is not often stated that these identity categories are qualitatively different, and these differences have different implications for the real world. Some reflection on the real-world consequences of identity ought to make this apparent. Why is a party based on working-class solidarity far less sinister than a party based on a racial or ethnic group? Perhaps because being working-class is not a fixed identity, and solidarity is open to all. One’s race or ethnicity is viewed as more static. Most of us can imagine struggling to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads, but few can imagine being another race. Race-thinking is anti-empathetic by its nature. Obviously, most humans have a variety of identities that they balance, synthesize, and are enriched by. Before World War I, socialists expressed their opposition to a conflict that they believed, correctly, would only bring suffering to the …

The Prescience of Shelby Steele

I have long believed that race is a mask through which other human needs manifest themselves. I think we often make race an issue to avoid knowing other things about ourselves. ~Shelby Steele, Seven Days In Bensonhurst Shelby Steele is experiencing a revival. For over 30 years, the controversial black American essayist and culture critic has consistently produced some of the most original insights to be found on the precarious issue of race in America and has been met with reactions that range from reverence to revulsion. Usually, it’s one reaction or the other. To his critics, Steele is a race traitor, a contrarian black conservative who makes a living assuaging the guilty consciences of whites at the expense of his own people. To his admirers, he is a lone voice of clarity in the chaos of America’s racial discourse who, at 74 years of age, continues to speak uncomfortable and disconcerting truths to power. But his greatest strength may turn out to be a knack for anticipation. As the social upheavals inspired by America’s …

Forget What Gender Activists Tell You. Here’s What Medical Transition Looks Like

At a recent gathering, a daughter’s friend told us, “I’m probably trans because I don’t like female puberty.” This instantly got my attention, because I have known this child for years, and I never saw any indication of her being trans. I innocently asked her why she would say that. Was it a joke, perhaps? She replied, “I don’t like my boobs growing, and Reddit says I’m probably trans.” That night, I tracked down these Reddit exchanges, and my jaw dropped when I saw how many people and organizations were heavily pushing the possibility of her being trans. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the way such attitudes have gone mainstream. This includes the pediatrician mom whose recent opinion piece for the New York Times was titled What I Learned as the Parent of a Transgender Child. For kids Googling this subject, the overall effect is the equivalent of one big glitter bomb going off on their screen. I write all this as a 47-year-old transgender man who transitioned five years ago. I’m …

A Poor Farrier’s Journey to Political Sanity

I’m a 26-year-old American working-class college dropout who owns and operates a small business. From the time the COVID-19 lockdown began, I’ve had to scramble to ensure that I could keep working. The company that employed me in northern Nevada had me working nearly full-time during the first quarter of 2020, doing repairs on federal buildings in the western states—a job that presented an opportunity for upward mobility and education within the building trades. But when governments abruptly restricted projects in March and April, and limited outside contractors from their facilities, the work dried up long enough to get me moving. So I moved to Northern California, where I’d previously lived and worked. Sleeping on the floor of a friend’s home near Sacramento to begin with, I reconnected with clients in need of wildfire risk mitigation, as well as handyman and landscape services. It’s been stressful juggling work, finding a place to live, and dealing with unexpected costs. Getting set up in a decent mobile home ate up about three-quarters of my savings. I felt …

Radicalized Antiracism on Campus—as Seen from the Computer Lab

The campus battle over what I’ve previously called the equity agenda has recently shifted almost completely from a focus on gender to a focus on race. This has been accompanied by a series of surreal spectacles at the University of Washington in Seattle, where I teach. In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, student activists have made new demands upon the school’s administration, while scathingly denouncing anyone they perceive as dissenters. Just consider our university president, Ana Mari Cauce—a Latina lesbian whose activist brother was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. One would imagine that she’d command a certain level of respect from even the most puritanical social-justice enthusiast. But there is little evidence of that: Student protestors have marked the campus with slogans such as “Anti Black Ana,” denounced her as a “Poo Poo Pee Pee Head,” and a “white woman” (a term of abuse, obviously). The background to this is a petition containing seven demands put forward by the university’s Black Student Union, including a call to remove a statue of George …

The Bias that Divides Us

As we sit here over six months after the initial lockdown provoked by COVID-19, the United States has moved out of a brief period of national unity into distressingly predictable and bitter partisan division. The return to this state of affairs has been fuelled by a cognitive trait that divides us and that our culture serves to magnify. Certainly many commentators have ascribed some part of the divide to what they term our “post-truth” society, but this is not an apt description of the particular defect that has played a central role in our divided society. The cause of our division is not that people deny the existence of truth. It is that people are selective in displaying their post-truth tendencies. What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in …

Deception and Complicity—the Strange Case of Jessica Krug

On September 9th, Jessica Krug, 38, abruptly resigned from her job as associate professor of African history at George Washington University (GWU). Apparently fearing imminent exposure, she had confessed in a post on Medium that she had passed herself off for more than a decade as being of black-African descent from an ever-shifting range of backgrounds. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she told fellow students she was of Algerian origin with a German father. Later, she claimed that she was from the inner-city “hood” with a spiritual kinship to the late rapper Biggie Smalls—or, alternatively, that she was the offspring of “Caribbean” immigrants, with an Ellis Island-style tale of immigration officials’ mis-transcribing her “grandparents’” surname, Cruz. Her final self-proclaimed provenance seems to have been the South Bronx slums, where she identified as a “boricua,” or Stateside-dwelling Puerto Rican whose mother had been a drug addict. She also moonlighted as a salsa-dancing community activist with the tag “Jess La Bombalera” and was videoed at a New York City Council hearing in June 2020 berating …

Rallying to Protect Admissions Standards at America’s Best Public High School

This week, a group of about 200 students, parents, alumni, and concerned local residents flooded the sidewalk in front of America’s number-one-ranked public high school—Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. This was no back-to-school event. It was a rally to save the soul of the school itself. The parents included Norma Muñoz, a Peruvian immigrant who told us she was there to “fight for TJ” (as the school is known locally). Other parents were from China, India, and South Korea. They stepped forward, one by one, to describe their families’ journeys—from marching in Tiananmen Square decades ago to arriving in the United States with only dollars in their pockets. “I came here for freedom,” said Yuyan Zhou, a Chinese-American woman who’s spent eight years as a TJ parent. “Moral courage is the only solution for this madness. Stand up for your rights. Stand up for your values. Fight for the future of our students!” And what is this “madness” Ms. Zhou describes? Since early June, a small but vocal group …