White-Shaming Is Not a Real Thing

No reasonable, intelligent, “potentially receptive” liberal black people I know of are solely looking for white people to apologize for being white.
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Publish date:
February 25, 2015
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politics, race, white privilege, conservatives, liberals

I’ve just read something called “Welcome to the Brave New World of White Shaming” at TownHall.com, written by a gentleman named Leon Wolf. Twice. I reread it to make sure I was understanding correctly that he is adamantly speaking out against “white shaming.”

Mr. Wolf’s post is itself a response to this article from The New Republic about how this weekend’s Academy Awards ceremony allegedly made up for its whiteness in nominees with a racially diverse and politically charged ceremony. He states:

“The phenomenon of white liberal guilt has long been understood and discussed — we are now moving to the next inevitable phase of the discussion: white shaming.

The shamelessness with which white shaming is engaged in by many of these liberals telegraphs the extent to which they actually have absolutely no interest in fixing the problems that exist in modern American race relations.”

Huh.

First of all, I considered the source. I understood immediately that I was looking at a staunchly conservative website. Unlike Mr. Wolf, I didn’t immediately assume based on political affiliation that I would disagree so vehemently with what he wrote. Reading all of his words handled that for me.

I have opinions about The New Republic, as well as Town Hall, but I’m not interested in using any old essay they print as a jump-off point for a string of insults based on either race or politics. That is not how intelligent people conduct themselves in the interest of progress, is it Mr. Wolf? I only wish you had used your clear intellect in combination with critical thinking to sincerely call out that New Republic piece instead of operating dangerously from behind Aggressive Conservative blinders.

In writing of “white shaming” that you feel “has become so pervasive on the left that the well may have been irrevocably poisoned for this generation,” you’ve used your platform to run screaming away from progress, even as you admonish what you see as others doing just that. And because you have a platform, there is now a link and quotes, and your statements may be treated as fact by people who seek to tear me down for the color of my skin.

There are absolutely extremists out there, on both sides. But you say that because of so-called white-shaming, “any discussion at all concerning racial inequality causes the hackles of otherwise potentially receptive people to raise in the anticipation that they are about to be insulted concerning something over which they have no control yet again.” So, using your premise, let us limit this discussion to reasonable, intelligent, “potentially receptive” people.

You write that “the [race] discussion — particularly in liberal circles — inevitably proceeds from the assumption that, alone among all actors in history, white people’s sole contribution to any such discussion should be apology for their skin color.”

Nope. No reasonable, intelligent, “potentially receptive” liberal black people I know of are solely looking for white people to apologize for being white. That’s ridiculous, and, in fact, when it has happened, I say as much.

I’m often met with a well-intentioned white person replying to something I’ve said or written by offering a humble “I’m sorry I’m white,” steeped in the tears of white guilt like so much Earl Grey. You and I can agree on the inappropriateness of such an apology, so why would any reasonable liberal desire that? Why would you rebut this one New Republic essay in such general and deleterious tones, as though it’s a unifying racial movement; particularly when that publication's problematic relationship with race is a known commodity?

Or are you truly resigned to the conclusion that liberals are simply an unreasonable lot who desire toxic things like pointless apologies?

You quote much of that New Republic piece, which you deride as providing “an invaluable glimpse into the liberal psyche,” describing “the twisted logic of the modern liberal mind.” Sheesh, you really hate liberals.

You generalize wildly and feel totally superior to a large portion of the population based solely on an identifying characteristic. Sound familiar? The possible response that people don’t choose their race but can choose their political affiliation still doesn’t fully justify such vicious attacks painted in broad strokes.

The white people who pop up in my Twitter mentions with unsolicited apologies for their whiteness are not viewed by me or anyone reasonable as spokespeople for all white people. Similarly, it might behoove you to address The New Republic’s specific statements in a more focused fashion instead of propagating harmful notions that conversations around race relations either can’t involve liberal people or are going rancid in a well that has been poisoned forever.

Before your essay goes completely off the rails into the land of “white shaming,” You state that, “There’s something uncomfortable and base about the vast majority of discussions of race that occur in the country today,” and I agree! But to have the option of just writing progress off as a ruined non-possibility is the essence of white privilege. Your life is not threatened by a lack of progress in racial equality, so you can use your platform to damagingly hurl insults at those people who you feel ruined it.

You wrote a very thoughtful post about race last year, so surely you can intellectually understand the complications that you’ve oversimplified a bit here. For example, you know that you will never know what it feels like to get graphic pictures of black people being lynched in response to even the most innocuous social media post.

I would never hold you personally responsible for the despicable trolls lurking on the internet, but I wish you could see how making the preposterous leap from critique of an article to lamenting “white shaming” can contribute to the ideology of someone who will blindly uphold whatever you say, regardless of the cost.

The cost is our well-being and our humanity, and even our lives.

Here’s the thing: I would never have been reading your words if they had not been brought to my attention by someone with a similar political and social stance as myself who was pointing out the pure inanity therein. That needs to be said because as both an observer and a person who has unwittingly been pulled into these partisan reindeer games in the past, I’m quite sick of the shots fired back and forth across the aisle with absolutely no progress in sight.

Conservatives and liberals who wear those labels proudly and loudly and blindly attack with agendas instead of aspirations toward working together are both fucking things up. If given a choice between only those two labels and being forced at gunpoint to choose one, I would definitely identify as liberal, but we have to admit at some point that our system is terribly broken and each side is capable of spewing both sense and drivel.

Not only has our precious Internet made it easy for opposing sides to pass around the words of their perceived opponents for scorn and ridicule, but since negative interactions and ugly attention turn a handsome profit, content is being altered and tweaked for maximum effect. We call this trolling.

Wildly offensive shit is said that was never really meant for “the other side” to see, or basic oppositional beliefs are expressed as salaciously as possible with the express intent of riling up “the other side,” the Internet happens, and the beat goes on.

I needed to say that because rest assured that I am neither “taking the bait,” nor am I simply playing my part in some perpetually spinning outrage cycle. Mr. Wolf’s liberal-hating agenda is clear, and I shall not meet it with a conservative-hating rebuttal, because he and I agree that no progress will come of simply berating a group of people for who they are.

Which is troubling, since that’s pretty much what he’s done here.

I happen to have a voice that I am choosing to use right now to say that what I read made me less angry than it did sad, because I know how pervasive this utterly foolish line of thinking is. It’s so sad that Mr. Wolf does the one thing he clearly didn’t think he could ever do: sound like he is not smart enough to understand how his attack undermines even his own goals . . . unless true progress in race relations is not genuinely a goal of his.

Mr. Wolf, how could the person who called for empathy toward Ferguson rioters in the post I referenced earlier also then bemoan blame being placed at the deserving feet of white privilege? Was Ferguson a hot-button topic at the time that made you want to join the conversation? Are you interested in taking responsibility only up to a point that is both determined by and comfortable for you? It’s as if you’re aware that sincere conversations about race are difficult, you take a seat at the table anyway, difficulty ensues, and then you flip the table and run away.

I would like to believe that the solid, compassionate content of that thoughtful post is true to your values and not just handy as an embedded link to that one thing you wrote that one time about Ferguson when things were really bad. That one time when things were really bad is every day for some of us, and you not wanting to hear that will not stop me from saying it.

You are intelligent and you knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but the historically oppressive party does not get to dictate the terms upon which oppression will be eradicated. That’s just more oppression.

If you wanted to call bullshit on the New Republic article, you could’ve used your formidable brain to do so in a number of different ways. For example, to me, it seems false to congratulate the Academy for essentially closing the barn door after the horses got away. I took issue with the overblown conclusions that the black presenters and performers were there as a genuinely respectful nod to racial diversity, as opposed to either decisions made after the fact to try and make amends or transparent efforts to grab ratings.

I could go on about that hypocrisy, but I’ve written about the Oscars here, and for the time being, I’ll just say that I wish you hadn’t made such a reach toward accusations of “creating acolytes for the spread of liberalism among the weak-minded and politically weak-kneed.”

The “weak-minded and politically weak-kneed” exist on both sides, and I only hope the ones who have racist leanings don’t use your anti-white-shaming manifesto against me.

It occurs to me that in your attack on The New Republic, which has already been called out and addressed for its unbearable whiteness, and your repeated scornful use of phrases like “white liberal guilt,” your insults may not have been specifically aimed at me, but I take them nonetheless. You wouldn’t be attempting to bemoan the lack of progress in race relations by only discussing it amongst other white people, would you?

To perpetuate notions of a “despicable campaign of division and intentional strife exposed,” as you wrote, gives fuel to every white racist who attacks black people who are vocally working toward change, and betrays yourself as possibly being more aligned with them than I hope you are.

Should strife not be exposed? Would progress happen more swiftly if we just tucked away all that pesky strife? We can’t get rid of the strife if we don’t own up to it. Not as intentionally inflicted shame or self-flagellation, but as what it is: reality.