All posts filed under: Identity

Reinventing Racism—A Review

A review of Reinventing Racism by Jonathan D. Church. Rowman & Littlefield, 250 pages (December 2020) If the release of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism launched her into orbit, this past summer’s “racial reckoning” has made her a star. The book has been on the New York Times best-sellers list for a staggering 116 weeks in a row (and counting), while DiAngelo has been busy hosting workshops at universities and fortune 500 companies at perversely exorbitant fees. She gave an address to 184 Democratic members of Congress in the summer, and even made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It would be an understatement to say that her work has polarized opinion. In the introduction to White Fragility, Georgetown University professor and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson called DiAngelo the “new racial sheriff in town.” On the other side of the debate, the linguist and writer John McWhorter has called the book a “racist tract” that treats black people like …

I’m a Professor from an Immigrant Family. Please Stop Telling Me That My University Is Racist

On June 24th, the University of Calgary leadership team published its response to an open letter, dated June 9th, from hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty. The original letter had called on the university to make a series of anti-racist statements, and commit to a series of actions to address racism on campus. The specific statements and actions were helpfully catalogued in the open letter. While the university president declined to give details on his plan of action, he declared in his June 24th response that “it is no longer adequate to simply not be racist, it is time to be anti-racist”; and that “systemic racism exists, and we allow it to live on when we fail to address it meaningfully and with urgency. There is systemic racism at UCalgary, and it is incumbent upon us to tackle this challenge with vigour and purpose.” This is all very familiar. In recent months, we have seen countless organizations re-affirm their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), tout all the good work they have already done …

Robin DiAngelo’s Misreading of Michel Foucault

This article is lightly adapted from the author’s new book Reinventing Racism: Why ‘White Fragility’ Is the Wrong Way to Think about Racial Inequality published by Rowman and Littlefield. Robin DiAngelo’s academic papers have consistently shown a tendency for indoctrination over debate. This tendency reflects a distrust of objectivity that stems from the influence of philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.1 While this is not the place for a deep dive into philosophy, the basic idea for DiAngelo is that power and knowledge are so profoundly connected that it is virtually, if not entirely, impossible to make an objective claim about what we know, because knowledge is never neutral. This view conflates objectivity and neutrality. It is also wrong. In the 2012 book she co-authored with Özlem Sensoy entitled Is Everyone Really Equal?, DiAngelo invokes Foucault’s panopticon to illustrate how “[p]ower in the context of understanding social justice refers to the ideological, technical, and discursive elements by which those in authority impose their ideas and interests on everyone.” For example, she writes about …

Kin, Tribes, and the Dark Side of Identity

“We should poison their water holes!” This was the first thing my father said when I called him after planes hit the World Trade Center where I worked. My dad was a 1960s cultural liberal and pacifist, who had opposed every war our country had fought. The moment he felt that my life was in danger, however, he discarded these superficial notions and embraced a much deeper and far more savage psychology forged by natural selection that governs how we think and feel about our relatives. The evolutionary strategy to favor members of your family is known as kin selection and it is so tied to our sense of justice that we may barely notice it. It explains, for instance, why we care about our children at all. We inherited the instinct to favor relatives from our primate ancestors and it worked so long as everyone in the tribe was genetically related. But crucial changes, starting around 12,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture that allowed large groups of unrelated individuals, often numbering in …

Victimhood or Development?

On October 20th, Brown University professor of economics Glenn Loury and Columbia University professor of linguistics John McWhorter were joined on Loury’s Bloggingheads podcast The Glenn Show by Shelby and Eli Steele to discuss the new documentary What Killed Michael Brown? The film is written and narrated by Shelby, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an award-winning writer, and directed by his son, Eli. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that discussion. LOURY: What Killed Michael Brown? has already produced a lot of controversy. I hear that Amazon was a little bit reluctant to let you guys put your film up at their streaming service. I don’t know what that’s about, but the reviews that I have read are very positive, including the review that I offered here with John in our last conversation. So where did the idea for making this film come from? S. STEELE: This film came from the realization that we had a body dead in the street. We felt the whole American racial situation was somehow concretized, …

Liberalism—Decline or Survival

The world is still coming to terms with Charles Darwin. Denial of evolution is usually associated with the evangelical Right—a world entirely and perfectly created in seven days—but the Left is just as fond of disowning conclusions that the application of Darwin’s theory produces when they are ideologically undesirable. The uncomfortable truth is that evolution is not just something that happens to animals at a glacial pace—it is a process that plays out in any system where replication is related to success. Human societies are no exception to this rule and bearing this in mind can be surprisingly useful for understanding the world around us. From a Darwinian perspective, the point of a culture is to replicate itself. From this, all else follows. The rules and rites that govern a society fall into shape as systems for maximising the fitness of a culture for surviving its environment: laws reduce and resolve conflict, religious prohibitions on eating “tainted” food maintain hygiene, sexual taboos and morality minimise the spread of disease and ensure that there will, ultimately, …

Workers vs. Wokeness at Smith College: Campus Social Justice as a Luxury Good

“While art has long maintained a symbiotic relationship with bourgeois state power, there’s still something deeply unsettling about our supposedly ‘radical’ artists manufacturing consent on behalf of one of our two entrenched capitalist parties,” wrote artist and self-described “culturally agnostic Marxist” Adam Lehrer in Caesura last month. By way of example, he cites an image circulated by visual artist Marilyn Minter in advance of this month’s US election, labeled, “How are you voting in 2020?” with the two choices labeled “Democrat” and “Fascist.” Lehrer argues that “Trump isn’t a fascist. He’s a symbol of the transformation of American empire and global capitalism.” And so “what Minter is doing is fusing conceptualist aesthetics with neoliberal politics and talking points. In doing so, she’s not just propagandizing on behalf of one faction of the elite, but also neutralizing art of its critical role.” More broadly, Lehrer argues, The cultural hegemony has shifted in the last 30 years as artists, intellectually trapped in the banal culture wars of the ‘90s and attracted to the intersectional aesthetics of [a] …

Does Racism Explain Black Disadvantage?

A foundational tenet of the Black Lives Matter and similar racial justice movements is that gaps between blacks and whites on many socio-economic measures are produced primarily by racism. Racial inequalities in educational attainment, financial success, social status, crime, and health are thereby transformed from inequalities to racial inequities. That is, differences between races are not seen merely as a demographic fact but as an indictment of the fairness of our society. Each new inequality uncovered, from the unequal effects of COVID-19 to sentencing in the court system, is offered as evidence for the charge of systemic racism and injustice. The possibility that inequalities might be a result of black culture, historical circumstance, or heritability is dismissed a priori or even ruled out of bounds. For example, research into the genetic basis of racial IQ differences will not be awarded grants from government or foundations, which makes it very difficult to pursue. The only exception to the prohibition on research into the genetic basis for racial disparities is in the medical area, where genetic explanations …

Towards Shared Identities

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, many Jews in the Russian Empire hoped for a French victory. Napoleon had eliminated barriers to Jewish integration and advancement in France; the Russian regime and its policies, by contrast, were thoroughly infused with anti-Jewish discrimination and hostility. But one prominent Hasidic leader disagreed with those cheering Bonaparte. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founding Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, fervently supported Russia’s Tsar Alexander I. Publicly, Schneur Zalman argued that the Tsar served God while Napoleon served only himself. Privately, however, the rabbi had another reason. Writing to a friend, he explained that if Napoleon were victorious, conditions would greatly improve for the Jews and this would weaken their commitment to God, whereas if the Tsar prevailed, Jews would suffer but remain religiously committed as a result. Closing his letter, he quoted Psalm 119: “‘Princes have persecuted me without cause; But my heart stands in awe of Your words.’ And for God’s sake: Burn this letter.” I thought of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s secret reasoning while reading Ezra Klein’s 2019 book, Why We’re …

Gender Activists Are Trying to Cancel My Book. Why is Silicon Valley Helping Them?

The day after I tweeted about the ongoing attempts to block sales of my book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, I was stuck on the phone with my parents’ real estate agent. “How’s your book going?” she wanted to know. “Is there a lot of controversy?” I know it’s fashionable these days to claim to be an introvert—something to do with an unwarranted assumption of depth, maybe—but I actually am an introvert. Small talk exhausts me, not because I believe it’s beneath me, but because it feels like being handed a socket wrench. I have no idea what to do with it. “Well, you had to expect that, right?” she added casually. “When you write a book like that, that’s what you’re expecting.” This is, more or less, most people’s reaction to the efforts to suppress my book. It isn’t that they agree with censorship per se. But you also can’t go setting fires without expecting Big Tech’s cops to shut them down. “If you’re going to talk about the trans thing, …