Is Our Racial Politics an Illusion?
I had an article published today at Discourse that I wanted to draw some special attention to.
I always post in this newsletter links to article I publish elsewhere, but this is one I'm particularly eager to publicize because it's an idea I've been toying with for some time, and I finally got an opportunity to write it all down. Here's the intro:
"Racial politics is the overwhelming obsession of the moment, and it often seems as if it has eclipsed everything else.
"This narrow focus is lamented by the more old-fashioned folks on the left, who still think that the 'class struggle' and anti-capitalism should be the main focus of politics. For example, some of the most trenchant criticism of the New York Times's 1619 Project came from the Worldwide Socialist Web Site. It revealed an internecine battle in which the Marxist old left tried to regain the high ground seized by a race-obsessed new left....
"Yet I have begun to suspect that this shift in public discourse from class to race is really an illusion: The left's current obsession with race is just the same old anti-capitalism in new packaging."
The piece explores the odd contradictions of how "race" is used in our current debate and the pretty transparent way it is used as a placeholder or stalking horse for something else.
"Or consider an odd new figure of speech, 'the white people of,' as in 'Asians are the white people of minorities' or 'Black men are the white people of Black people.' This phrase is supposed to designate a subgroup within each minority group that enjoys some sort of elevated status or privilege relative to everyone else and that has therefore adopted an attitude of arrogance or complacency.
"It's clear that 'white' and 'whiteness' as used today don't refer to any coherent concept of race. They refer to a vague notion of privilege, or to the adoption of certain values and attitudes. As Eugene Volokh has observed, '"White" has stopped meaning Caucasian, imprecise as this term has always been, and has started to mean "those racial groups that have made it." "Minority" has started to mean "those racial groups that have not yet made it."' More specifically, 'white' doesn't refer just to those who have achieved success in the American system, but to those who have accepted that system, particularly our economic system."
In the process, I trace the current obsession with "whiteness" back to—you guessed it—a white guy, an old Marxist at Harvard who coined a crackpot theory about how the Irish "became" white. It's a pretty clarifying article, so please go read the whole thing, and it's not paywalled, so please pass it along to others.