I would say that the antiracist moment is like surgery. Up to a point, it is a worthy endeavor – but not too far. Tracing the history of racism in the West and, as Ibram X. Kendi writes in the introduction to one of his books, understanding the history and origins of racist ideas in the U.S., helps us to free our minds from oppressive racist thinking (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, 2017). We should not take this too far, however. And we absolutely must pivot.
The current crisis, the July 2020 Covid and looting crisis, demands that we pivot from an exclusive diet of anti-racist literature, which is creating an overpolicing culture of its own, with minds at stake rather than lives. There has to be another way. A middle road that acknowledges White supremacy and police brutality, but that also allows for cognitive diversity and compromise.
An opinion piece just published in the Wall Street Journal talks about Czeslaw Milosz’s book “The Captive Mind.” The book is about the mental restrictiveness of life under a totalitarian government, and in particular, the imprisoning quality of having to use ideologically sanctioned language. Now I graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley in 2007 from the same department in which the Nobel Prize-winning Milosz researched and taught. I am an admirer of his work. And so when I saw the WSJ essay, The Captive Mind and America’s Resegregation: Idol smashing and cancel culture are part of a broad ideological project to dominate society, I immediately read it with great interest.
In short, I happen to believe that the Journal article is overstating the point quite a bit, and that Black society is dominated – Black communities are dominated and have been for generations – by the police, vigilantes, and our government. Psychically, physically, and in terms of housing and loan discrimination. This has been state sanctioned over the course of hundreds of years, and well into the 20th century, as a wonderful 2017 book has made abundantly clear (the book is Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: a Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America). If Rothstein’s book isn’t enough, we can also point to the fact that Black bodies are so dominated by White ones that some have not even been able to go jogging or play with a toy gun without being assaulted or murdered by vigilantes or the police.
So when the subtitle claims that idol smashing and cancel culture are part of a broad ideological project to dominate society, this is not true. Saying that protesters are intentionally trying to dominate society is simply not true. And in many ways White people have been guilty of doing just that, at the expense of Black people’s lives, livelihoods, and well-being.
On the other hand…
…having studied the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union – I dare say that some of the article rings true. There is, indeed, what Michta terms a “digital intelligentsia” in the press and also a corresponding “contempt for the freedom of anyone who fails to comport with their image of a just society.”
I’m remembering a recent article that appeared in the The Spectator where Bari Weiss, the former opinion editor of the New York Times – who recently resigned due to a hostile work environment, – wrote:
“A new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at the [NYT]: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else. Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor.”Bari Weiss, former opinion editor of the NYT
In the article, entitled, “Twitter is editing the New York Times,” Weiss goes on to say, “My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.'”
Later in the same article: “Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?”
In his introduction to the book with which I began the post – Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Kendi talks about three strains of thought about race in America – segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist. This implies a stasis – as if we can’t emerge from these three options with a viable future that is different and synthesized. It betrays its own sort of fundamentalist assumptions that the future has to be imprisoned by the past unless we utterly break society.
The color line is not America’s only problem, and dividing the whole nations problems on the basis of race, leads to a form of moral psychosis where looting is called protesting and behavior is excusable based on a person’s skin color. Thomas Sowell, the African American Stanford professor, has written about how history teaches us that when we treat beliefs as “sacred dogmas, beyond the reach of evidence or logic,” we are entering into grave danger, “despite how exciting or emotionally satisfying political dogmas and the crusades resulting from those dogmas can be, or how convenient in sparing us the drudgery and discomfort of having to think through our own beliefs or test them against facts” (Discrimination and Disparities, Chapter 1).
As a Berkeley alum, I’m not supposed to like Stanford – but well said, sir. Can we pivot fast enough from the totalitarian Trumpism and police dominance that should be justifiably protested against? Let us try. And, similarly, can we abstain from the left-wing fundamentalism and rioting that have seized the large swaths of the American population? Let us try.
The first step may surprise you: read divergent newspapers.