Good essay. However, it needs to focus more on one important point: there are a huge number of technocrats whose employment is based on racism as mysticism and feelings. It’s not just film directors and Times columnists and Joy Reid. If we changed to a materialist framework that sought more redistribution (which I agree the Left is much healthier focusing on) there is a huge swath of entrenched ersatz elites who are out of jobs. Also a lot the enthusiasm for Kendi and DiAngelo never felt real - it felt astroturfed, coming out of zombie media outlets, foundations, and corporate HR departments. No one likes this stuff and few people think it’s a good idea, so we should give more thought to why it is so prevalent.

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Jul 5, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

As a side note, I read excerpts from Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility". From those excerpts I was astonished when old familiar bells started to ring and I realized that her enterprise was in essence a racialized version of gay conversion therapy. (I am 65 and gay.)

By that I mean that the shaming, the scorning, the guilt inducement, the weird anecdotes, the term "fragility" itself, and the non-falsifiability were almost one with mid-20th century or so pathologizing psychological/theological literature against homosexuals and homosexuality.

(And btw, that literature was in itself a very thinly disguised displacement of the discomfort those fields felt against women. In fact, it wasn't homosexuality on trial, it was effete and effeminate men,)

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Let's unpack Kendi's view of your lunch. Alone in your apartment? Housing is set up to favor individualism - a White construct. If the ham in your sandwich is an expensive type, it speaks to economic inequality. And if you so rakishly choose to add lettuce or tomato, well, what a poke in the eye for those in food deserts. And that's before we get to your choice of pure, 'white' bread, mister...

This is why I reject the entire premise of antiracism. There is virtually no actual racism in this country and hasn't been for decades, ergo the above isn't even that unimaginable. The Discourse doesn't move the needle, it makes nobody's life better and makes a lot of peoples' lives worse. it is as vast distraction from class. I simply don't care anymore and if someone starts on with racism with me, the conversation is over. (You might say that I am completely and absolutely unwilling to 'do the work.' The high priestess herself would doubtless hold this as evidence of my unabashed racism. I am fine with her believing this.)

If we as a society want to talk about, for example, the risk of suicide among White people (particularly White males), the poverty of Native Americans, the incarceration rates of Black men - or the related-but-not-that-much rates of broken homes among Black families - or whatever, that is fine, as these are all material things that have societal impact and are experienced by the common person.

But the microsecond this devolves into a 'racism!!1' lament at the expense of any other explanation, I personally disengage from the conversation. It is absolutely not worth having because antiracism is a vast Saturn eating his son. The racism-industrial complex needs, aches for, yearns for white hoods and burning crosses to be behind every societal issue, and won't rest until they find Bubba lurking in the woods with a can of gasoline and a bedsheet. And if they can't find him, they'll turn on the weakest in the room and she will receive her inquisition until her microaggressions are blessed out of her.

It's the most pointless discussion imaginable, it never goes anywhere, and I believe that it is *necessarily* at the expense of the material because the material has gotten worse while the symbolism has increased. So I reject it, and I don't work with organizations that become captive to racial issues.

If nothing else, given that the entire culture is supposed to be hysterial about this stuff 24/7, I think they've got it handled without me.

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You referenced Kwame Ture who has one of the best lines on this:

"If a white man wants to lynch me, that's his problem. If he's got the power to lynch me, that's my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it's a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you're anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.”

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I agree, deeply, with this post. And yet, I want to challenge you on one thing that I keep seeing you repeat: "many have been sprinting towards an affective vision of racism in recent years out of fear and out of social and professional ambition"

Let's pick that apart for a moment: I think this vision short-changes the fact that a lot of people are acting not out of fear or ambition but out of a desire to do right by people of color. I'll speak for myself for a moment: I've been caught up in identity politics at times, not out of fear or ambition but because 50-70% of my friends at any given time have been people of color who espouse such ideas to some degree or another, and I've genuinely wanted to understand their point of view. And whatever my feelings about their POV is, the fact is that I've never experienced the kind of discrimination or hatred that most of them have.

Anyway, all I'm saying is I find your analysis a bit dismissive—and particularly so to people of color who might be reading this and have very different motivations for the politics they've arrived at then simply "fear" or "ambition." Unpacking why people land at a certain set of identity politics seems, to me, important work for moving toward actual change.

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A couple of points:

1) When you capitalize "Black" but not "white", you are working from the Diangelo playbook.

2) “racial injustice can be done when no individual person is motivated primarily by racial hatred. The cop that arrests the Black man for marijuana possession …” Race could have only mattered in this narrative if one of the actors did something different on the basis of race. And if the end result was injustice, then it would be injustice no matter the race.

Conclusion: we should fight against injustice in a colorblind way. We should fight homelessness and poverty in a colorblind way. This has the tremendous advantage of getting tons more buy-in from people who would be opposed to doing it in a race-conscious way.

Even here in uber-blue California, where Biden got 65% of the POTUS vote, a proposition to restore affirmative action in state contracting and university admissions lost badly, 45% to 55%.

Colorblind justice is far more popular than race-based justice, and therefore much easier to make progress on. So let's do it.

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This is just a beautiful, brilliant article.

I generally see three main problems that stem from this incoherent, spiritual version of anti-racism.

1) Ending racism is an idiotic programmatic goal. It's a great aspiration, like building for the Kingdom of God here on Earth. It's a wonderful way to live one's life. But, because it's disconnected from a goal achievable by humans, it does a really bad job if you're substituting it for tangible demands to improve society.

2) Bigotry (including racism) is a spectrum, not a binary. We have a helpful example in the astounding advancement of gay and lesbian rights in one generation. Few seem to have learned from this. There's no line which one crosses that turns them from non-bigot to bigot, like a believer to a heretic. All people have some level of bigotry, and generally it's a good idea to bring those levels down. All the things Freddie talks about can be achieved even with people still having levels of racial animus. It's not necessary for them to repent, just to sin less. In fact, almost all developments in race relations have involved people becoming less racist, not anti-racist.

3) In part because of two, there's no clear plan for how to end racism. Banning it seems fruitless considering banning things has a lifetime 0% success rate and is at best ameliorative. If people are either racist or anti-racist is the plan merely to convert the heathens? If so, what strategy are you taking for that? Most mass conversions involve excessive violence. If these people aren't converted, is the plan to completely isolate them? Seems difficult in a liberal democracy. Is the plan to let them die out? Seems like the question of how racism is born would need to be analyzed if we're discussing intergenerational transfer but I never see that discussion beyond "it just is." At a certain point you're left with burning the heretics and I'd at least respect people more if they were open about this.

If anyone could advance a legitimate plan for "ending racism" that I'd listen. Until then, Freddie's materialist based version seems like it would improve a lot more Black lives so I would like to do that.

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I love that paragraph about representation and the Oscars especially. It makes sense to me. And yet there are so many in Film Twitter world who have similar far-left economic views as Freddie, yet they get hopping mad when the "wrong" movies do well at the Oscars.

And if you point out that there's way bigger problems to focus on, oh boy that makes them even madder. They seem to think that if we fix all this linguistic and emotional stuff in elite, white-collar settings, it'll "trickle down" toward better antiracist policy for the average person.

Heh, trickle down. When has that ever worked?

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Thank you for this post, and thank you for making it free so I can share it when I’m trying to explain my frustration with the current politics. I was on my way to ask when I got the second email with the shareable post.

My one quibble is that I think it does matter if Black authors are on bestseller lists (especially when broadly defined to include longer lists and smaller genres, not just the Top 10 Books per year), because this means money for the authors. Also, publishers will be more likely to pay future Black authors.

Instead, publishing Twitter obsesses over things like “own voices” (for example, who has the right to tell stories that include Black characters) which novels are problematic, and so on. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter if a naive white person writes an inauthentic but well-meaning novel featuring a Black protagonist… because there would be plenty of Black authors writing books with authentic representation and getting paid enough to live & to keep writing those stories.

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I really liked this, but I think a key issue is something that Freddie has talked about before with progressives- a deep and abiding discomfort with prioritizing.


I understand the impulse, and in some contexts it definitely is correct: a picket line that nobody crosses is going to work better than a porous one. But there are limits on attention and resources and many times it is way better to get 70-80% of one thing then 5% (or less) of 20 things.

I remember the Occupy protests, and I remember that even mainstream press coverage was actually fairly sympathetic, at least at first (other old fogies like me- correct me if I’m misremembering). This was a time when a clear majority of the country was somewhere between deep skepticism of Wall Street and incandescent hatred. But as things dragged on for weeks without a clear specific articulation of actionable demands - but way more drumming! - eventually people’s patience ended and one of the most promising materialist movements in decades petered out with very little to show for it.

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I didn't know anything about FdB until a friend gave me a subscription. Then for several months, I was content to read his pieces and reread bits of them to anyone who could hear me. Slow reading because I laughed and shouted my agreement at nearly every sentence.

This piece has moved me beyond passive enjoyment. I have to comment on "A Materialist Alternative" because it is so thorough, provocative, and right.

All sorts of clever people, most of whom seem to be well-meaning, are investing huge amounts of energy and passion in examining their feelings about race. They are policing their own thoughts and utterances and those of everyone around them.

They seem to believe that we must first establish a standard for everybody's thoughts and speech and feelings concerning interactions with people who look different from each of us. Then, once that standard has been laid out, we must see that everyone learns to live up to that standard (with, one assumes, a joyful heart). At that point, there will be no more racism and no more racial inequity.

My response to that vision is utter bewilderment, for multiple reasons.

First, who's going to make the determinations about what that standard looks like?

We're talking about establishing rules, not for behavior, but for thoughts and feelings, realities less substantial than thin air. We have a lot of smart well-intentioned people in this comments section who can't agree about what identifying phrases to use for black and brown people. From where we are right now it looks like forming a whole system of thought and feeling for everyone to conform to is a pretty big mountain to climb.

Second, assuming someone gets this standard all cobbled together, who's going to enforce it? Don't call me, because I don't want the job. I get the impression that we might find some volunteers around this fire, but I don't think FdB will be among them either. At this point, it's clear to me and anyone who's still reading that this is not a serious proposition.


If it were possible (which, come on!) to make this standard and get everyone to conform to it,

where would we be?

We would still have the same problems we had before we took on that Olympian task. I think most of us can agree that centuries of systemic racism, slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and all the stuff I'm leaving out because everybody here can fill it in better than I can have left a lot of damage to the way this outfit operates.

Millions of people have been exploited, mistreated, and martyred throughout our history, and now that we have people thinking good (sanctioned) thoughts and feeling good feelings about one another, all that damage still has to be repaired. All the debris still has to be picked up. All those people have to be made whole.

The entire culture and the entire economy are out of tune because they have been managed stupidly and exploitatively since the original management set up shop here in the 17th century.

We need to pursue policies that tend to advance the materialist metrics listed in this piece. The resources spent on trying to advance the second list of metrics might as well be fired off into space.

The effort put into the work of trying to get everybody to love one another, to think and feel the way they are supposed to and to begin cleaning up the mess for the right reasons?

That's wasted. Those are futile measures that piddle away time, energy, and resources.

We need to make this a better world. That sounds pretty lofty and difficult, but it's much more practical than trying to change the hearts and minds of its people.

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I agree with this post so much, but I also feel like there’s no space for anything but politics. It worked okay when there was broad elite consensus that politics is about a debate over economics, but there doesn’t seem to be any space for I want to change the culture to be more polite that isn’t a democratic aligned interest group.

When I read conservative media links through Real Clear politics it doesn’t feel to me like any kind of live and let live deal would be on the table even if the Democratic Party took a hard materialist turn.

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I read White Fragility to see what the big deal was and you hit the nail on the head. I feel like these folks would do anything except raise their taxes to try and reduce and ameliorate the effects of racism through things like universal pre-K, healthcare, etc. To them, they think the key to solving this is through performative gestures, personal interactions, and endlessly policing the minutiae of one's thoughts and behaviors.

During the pandemic, I know people who gushed over this book, while later in the day moan about how their instacart person (in my city they seem to be almost entirely black), got the wrong type of shallot or couldn't find the right entrance to their luxury apartment. They simply aren't interested or are blind to the material struggle of most people.

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I'm really curious what you mean when you say: "we literally do not choose the things we say". This runs pretty strongly counter to my experience wherein I choose what the things I say all the time. Maybe you mean that the things we say, once out there in the world, are subject to a complicated context that renders them necessarily different from what we intended?

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Another absolute banger, but I would encourage everyone here in the comments to go check out Adolph Reed's article on the black-white wealth gap and what is represents and what it doesn't.


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The Coretta Scott King Book Awards for children's books has celebrated its 50th anniversary. Black authors & illustrators. Buy these books for children you know. Steady, steady over 50 years. Quiet but powerful. https://olos.ala.org/csk/

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