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« Rolling Stone Editor Who Oversaw Jackie's Rape Hoax Story to Step Down, Be Promoted Into a More Prominent Position and Be Paid Much More Money | Main | Overnight Open Thread (7-30-2015) »
July 30, 2015

Glenn Loury, John McWhorter Discuss the Religion of Antiracism, and Its Current Pope Ta-Nehisi Coates

A very interesting Bloggingheads (and every Loury/McWhorter dialogue on Bloggingheads is interesting, and is recommended). Now, they talk about how Obama has "evolved" (in a good, embiggening way) in office, but here's the easy way to avoid that nonsense: skip to 7::06 as they begin to discuss race, and the Religion of Antiracism, generally.

McWhorter is chiefly there to put forth what I'll call the Ace of Spaces Conjecture that most of tribal signaling -- genuflecting to Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example -- is not a form of politics, but is properly understood as a form of religion. You're not supposed to ask about the parts of Ta-Nehisi Coates' claims that don't make sense, in the same way you're not really supposed to ask how Noah fit all those animals on the ark. These are not political arguments, he asserts, but "sermons."

(I've previously called such non-political "political" statements "prayers" and "devotions.")

Glenn Loury entertains that idea, but he's chiefly there to criticize the low state of racial discourse in America, focusing on the black side of that racial discourse, and Charles M. Blow in particular, whom he calls a "disgrace."

Later in the discussion, he also challenges Ta-Nehisi Coates' particular expression of Black Male Authenticity (the street bravado, noting he had a "tool" (a gun) with which to fix a "motherf**cker") as damaging and degrading.

Oh, and he rails against people like David Brooks for their racial condescending -- if you didn't read that already, for one thing, well played, but you can read it here, and see David Brooks ask, solicitously, if he's even permitted to comment upon Ta-Nehisi Coates' book.

This angers Loury, who demands, sensibly, that black people be treated just as you'd treat any other political actor. You are, in short, permitted to disagree with them or critique them without securing permission to do so beforehand.

McWhorter has meanwhile fleshed out the Ace of Spades Conjecture in an article in the Daily Beast.

McWhorter objects to the anti-intellectual, religion-like screams of "heresy" which are spat at anyone (including himself, a black man) who challenges the religion:

One is not to question, and people can be quite explicit about that. For example, in the "Conversation" about race that we are so often told we need to have, the tacit idea is that black people will express their grievances and whites will agree--again, no questions, or at least not real ones. Here and there lip service is paid to the idea that the Conversation would not be such a one-way affair, but just as typical is the praise that a piece like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s elicits, openly saying that white people who object to any black claims about racism are intolerably mistaken and barely worth engagement (Eddo-Lodge now has a contract to expand the blog post into a book). Usefully representative is a letter that The New York Times chose to print, which was elicited by David Brooks's piece on Coates’s book, in which a white person chides Brooks for deigning to even ask whether he is allowed to object to some of Coates’s claims....

As such, even Brooks has gotten the religion, critiquing Coates’s book while also making sure to say that "every conscientious American should read it." Brooks, here, is genuflecting, as America now does in general to Antiracist scripture. One is to accept that beyond a certain point--and one arrives at the point quite quickly--one is to treat logic as optional and simply have faith....

The call for people to soberly "acknowledge" their White Privilege as a self-standing, totemic act is based on the same justification as acknowledging one’s fundamental sinfulness is as a Christian. One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege.

The proper response to original sin is to embrace the teachings of Jesus, although one will remain always a sinner nevertheless. The proper response to White Privilege is to embrace the teachings of--well, you can fill in the name or substitute others--with the understanding that you will always harbor the Privilege nevertheless. Note that many embrace the idea of inculcating white kids with their responsibility to acknowledge Privilege from as early an age as possible, in sessions starting as early as elementary school. This, in [one] sense, is Sunday school.

One objection McWhorter lodges is that there is no actual political demand here -- he feels, in many ways, this spares white people from any further need to act politically, because they've already Confessed Their Sins and hence are, as the catechism has it, now forgiven from sin.

And not just white people -- both Loury and McWhorter note the underperformance of black students in school, and want to know where are the calls for tangible action to address this in the black community. Actions beyond merely demanding that white people Confess Their Original Sins.

He doesn't dwell on that too long, but notes that's one of the things that differentiates an actual politics from a religion -- politics implies tangible political action, whereas religion can be a purely metaphysical gesture.

A very interesting dialogue -- well worth your time (as long as you skip that first 7:05).


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posted by Ace at 04:41 PM

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