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June 08, 2020


I'm in the middle of writing a post about my mother which was supposed to be my return here, but it will probably have to wait a few more days for that.

I mostly agree with Byomtov so I will cosign most of what he said and try to go in a few different directions.

DiAngelo hit a real hot button for me in her talk which I might not be able to get past--so I'm trying to disclose it up front. In essentially every way--tone, style, organizing structure, and analysis method--she sounds exactly like the evangelical ministers that I grew up with and whom I have developed an intellectual allergy to in my adulthood. I've never really felt the experience of being triggered before, but every five minutes or so I would really feel like I was being drawn back to my youth listening to Pastor Rickard, or Pastor Henderson (at my church) or Rev. Falwell (on TV). She really invokes the idea of original sin (as an indelible taint in the organizational structure of the world) that we must first admit has corrupted us deep into our souls, that we must second understand touches everything we do, third that we must guard against in our every waking moment, and fourth that we must seek the advice of our betters in order to be made clean.

It was super unpleasant, so I want to fully admit that a bunch of my analysis of it might be colored by that.

I've read the comments so I'd like to go in a few different directions.

First, using a single word to cover a full range of things from unconscious thoughts, to personal animus, to disparate impact system wide, to systems intentionally meant to destroy people, doesn't lead to good analysis because we can never tell when different ones are supposed to be included and when they are not. Further, using it in a sense very different from common usage is always problematic. I have the same complaint about 'love' so I'm not just exhibiting fragility in the objection.

Second, on the issue of the survey, it feels like there is so much to unpack there. I can't imagine being a white 'expert' on racial sensitivity making a joke about a someone's hair like that. Especially not a black woman. Anyone who knows any black women personally should know that the hair is a huge source of pride and a very sensitive subject. It really made me question her mastery of the subject matter (or at least the 'listening' part) that she didn't know that already. She talked about it as trying to hard at 'credentialing' but in my eyes it is anti-credentialing.

But the focus of the discussion tends to go to Angela's incorrect leap to the assumption that the survey was ignored because she was black. As a frequent subcontractor I would like to offer a different reading. Imagine you are working with someone who has already proven to be a super difficult client. She won't do the key thing that will let you do your job--answer the survey which will let you tailor things to her specific situation. DiAngelo shows classic client entitlement with "I found the survey kind of annoying and it was tedious and it didn't really speak to what we do. So I kind of shoved it aside and I said let me explain...." I promise you that specialist contractors hate that. She comes to you to ask forgiveness for her joke but STILL hasn't done the darn survey. She offers you an opening about further racial insensitivities. How do you get her to fill out the survey you need?

On intersectionality--I think it can be a great tool, but like its parent post-modernism, it is often horribly misused. The key insight of intersectionality is that oppression can operate against somebody across multiple dimensions. The classic example is that a lesbian black woman will often experience oppression because of her gender AND her race AND her sexuality. These end up being experienced differently from a straight white woman who (if we restrict ourselves to only those three dimensions) experiences only the oppressions of gender.

Properly done, intersectionality lets you talk about why a rich black straight man fighting with a corporation in San Francisco might have certain problems while a poor white gay man fighting with the police in South Dakota might have other problems.

My key problem with DiAngelo and others of the systemic racism discourse is that they fail to understand the intersectionality of oppressive *purposes*. So certain policies may be bad because they attempt to oppress black people, others because they attempt to oppress gay people, and others because they attempt to oppress poor people. DiAngelo talks about systemic racism as if it is the most important oppressive purpose. And in many situations it is. And other situations other oppressive purposes are at play. There are a bunch of situations where the oppressive purpose is to keep rich people ahead of poor people. One of the *methods* of doing that is to divide poor people into various groups that won't act together, and systemic racism is great at that. But if you fail to diagnose which intersectional *purpose* is being served, you can actually play into the systemic problem by encouraging the divisive cleave between poor white people and poor black people. DiAngelo doesn't analyze things that way, which strikes me as a serious failing.

Sebastian, nice to see you. The "intersectionality of oppressive *purposes*" is an interesting term, I've not seen it before and I'm wondering if that is from the literature on intersectionality or your own take.

Obviously, I put this up there, so I thought it was worth listening to, but I respect that it might not be something that other people respond to. I can see the problems of tone, of over-intellectualization. And I'll go into my reasons for posting it in a later post that I hope to make.

I agree that intersectionality is an attempt to acknowledge all of the purposes. However, this can be problematic when we rhetorically privilege one purpose over another and not come to some agreement about which 'purposes' are more problematic than others. We have to tackle all the different purposes, we can't address all of them at the same time. So we need some agreement on which purposes are things that we need to do now and others which might be dealt with later.

This is not to say I don't acknowledge the various purposes, be it keeping poor people poor, keeping women down, keeping african Americans down, keeping LGTB people down, keeping people with different ethnicity down. However, given that the unrest that is gripping the nation now, while possibly related to all of those, is most definitely a reaction to systemic racism above all, I think that is the purpose that needs discussing.

Or actually, listening, by which I mean allowing voices the space to state those uncomfortable and unpleasant truths. Unfortunately (and this is evidence of the problems the US and the world has to face) this forum is pretty much white middle uppper class. Protestations that some people here have had difficult lives, and may be continuing to have difficulties isn't really to the point.

Your contrast of a rich black man fighting a corporation in SF and a poor white gay man dealing with the cops in South Dakota also misses a point. If the poor white gay man chooses to hide, chooses to 'pass'. he's not going to be in for as much trouble as the rich black man. Even fame is not a shield for blacks
Or one that happened _after_ George Floyds was murdered

Yes, none of us would do that. But we (and I include myself in that) create the context where this is allowed to take place. Hope to discuss this more later. But here, roughly 12 more hours.

Because it heightens the emotional reaction a little, the Pharoah incident happened in mid February.

Having Sebastian reappear at this moment in this thread is a welcomed refreshed and insightful voice for OBWI.

I'll be brief with this comment, but I look forward to reading, as a lurker, Sebastian's post about his mother.

Sebastian's take on intersectionality is, in my memory, the most fully realized discussion of the phenomenon expressed in comments here, whether one fully agrees with his take or not, as the subject has been been glossed over either with outright rejection and contempt OR fully presumed to be the way things are in all of its particulars as described in the academic literature.

The mere term "intersectionality, as with perhaps the words "baroque" and "existential" in art and philosophy, invites a certain lassitude in ferreting out exact meaning, because meaning is hard to nail down in such "squishy" subjects, as it is with much of social science jargon, but Sebastian succeeds here.

This is food for thought:

"But if you fail to diagnose which intersectional *purpose* is being served, you can actually play into the systemic problem by encouraging the divisive cleave between poor white people and poor black people. DiAngelo doesn't analyze things that way, which strikes me as a serious failing."

I expect I'm not the one to raise the subject, but something that keeps bubbling up in my thoughts as I've followed the comments regarding the video, is the difference from either side of the political spectrum,(Marty was perhaps getting at this with his observations about race versus economic class as prime movers) in the way in certain segments of what passes for American discourse "we" talk about the black community as a collection of endemic pathologies (black on black violence being the most prevalent; also drug addition), from which we generalize about the entire black population, and the recent valorization, for want of a better, less squishy word, of the poor white working class and very same "assumed" pathologies (J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy" comes to the fore here; I'll bet most of the gun violence among poor whites is against fellow poor whites as well, just as Covid-19 is transmitted mostly among those closest to us) by political operatives, when really, the commonality between poor blacks and poor whites is extensive (both are poor, both have suffered from the hollowing out of working class jobs and trade policies, despite whatever good things derive from trade; I can also hold the parallel thought that the current demolishing of the world trading system, particularly vis a vis an obviously imperfect China, at the hands of a cynically manipulated American populism is a looming economic catastrophe) but instead their commonalities become levers of political division between the two groups, which I certainly do not have to explain after the past 15 (is that all?) and more years of American history.

I found Vance's elegiacal descriptions of his grandparents, his Mamaw and his Papaw, to be be sincere and touching (I was born in his hometown, Middletown Ohio, as well) but then also thought about how Lorraine Hansberry's depiction of Mama in "A Raisin in the Sun" had to earn, after centuries, its sense of emotional, familial weight, only to be degraded among the usual suspects to "welfare queen".

That is all, except to note that lj is good at tweezing out what shouldn't be subtle layers of perhaps overlooked meaning as well.

Welcome back, Sebastian.

Thank you for the correction Marty. I missed this in the Guardian

Pharoah said the incident took place about a week before Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men while jogging in Glynn county, Georgia. He said the officers told him he was held because he fit the description of “a black man in this area, with gray sweatpants on and a gray shirt”.

It's sad, but I can't even place the dates of these anymore, it's just one damn thing after another.

Welcome, Sebastian.


the commonality between poor blacks and poor whites is extensive ..... but instead their commonalities become levers of political division between the two groups, which I certainly do not have to explain after the past 15 (is that all?) and more years of American history.

Those levers have been used for way longer than fifteen years. One important example is that business interests in the South long encouraged racism as means of discouraging white workers from joining with blacks to form unions, or otherwise pursue common economic interests.

For as long as I can remember, I've been taught that the reason poor, i.e., non slave holding, southerners enthusiastically participated in the Civil War was based in large part on maintaining their pecking order in society. They were poor, but at least they could look down on black slaves.

Reconstruction deepened these resentments.

The Republican Southern Strategy and union busting appear to be icing on the cake to me.

I agree with a lot of what Marty has to say on this.

The purpose of the Republican Party is to make the rich more powerful. It tries to stop non-rich black people voting because they tend not to support its aims. It supports police violence because it needs the police onside to sustain minority rule. It uses racist dog whistles as a way to get the support of racist voters. But it is not racist in intent, merely indifferent to the racist effects of its actions.

The police are mostly not racist in intent either. A lot of police killings happen because police officers are scared of being shot. And some because aggressive policemen know they can get away with almost anything, and their colleagues know they'll get little support if they try to stop it.

If we could give poor people a fairer chance, and make the police less threatening, things like white liberals making insensitive remarks about hairstyles would hardly matter.

"They were poor, but at least they could look down on black slaves"

Not to make light of this at all,but this reminded me that Jesus Was a Capricorn.

The purpose of the Republican Party is to make the rich more powerful.

But don't those rich people have to be white? Let's say there is some undefined problem that prevents Republicans from reaching black conservatives. Setting that aside, there was a moment when the Republicans were pushing/being pushed to embrace the Latin population. They were more conservative, they were anti abortion. It is possible that there is still a sizable Latino population supporting Republicans

And pitting one group of Latinos against another is pretty much par for the course. Certainly, white liberals are guilty of treating them as an undifferentiated mass (the same as asian americans are treated), but the Republicans seem to actively get policies that are designed to fracture Latinas along pretty typical faultlines.

Bernard Yomtov: the 15 years

Yes, forever really, thus my added parenthetical.

But like the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, in some cases deliberately wished upon us, during the past 15 years, roughly dating from Barack Obama's election, we've seen a clearly and bluntly enunciated resurgence in the attempt on the part of the conservative movement to divide and conquer among the poor,(and desperate Clintonian triangulation was no help, either) and to replace and reinstate yet more roadblocks, see voting rights, etc, to the full de-institutionalization of racism, not only against black citizens, in America, after so much progress has by fits and starts over time been accomplished.

The conservative movement can be conveniently pro-union, as when it incited construction union members, some perhaps Democrats when it comes to supporting the benefits of unions to the working class, to storm and enter college dormitories to beat the crap out of leftist hippies and protestors back in the day.

By the way, recent rulings by the trump conservative movement regarding LGBT rights and the primary defeat of the GOP rep in Virginia because he officiated at a gay wedding prove yet again that installing their prejudices structurally in our political and economic institutions is what they are all about.

Ok, see ya one day again.

Could be a sign of good things to come?

Certainly, white liberals are guilty of treating them as an undifferentiated mass

the undifferentiated mass of white liberals have a lot to answer for.

Well, since we are talking about conservatives, it is only fair to treat liberals as a counter weight. It is an aspect of white fragility to demand that they be treated as individuals while treating other groups as, well, groups.

Not the best comment to end on, but I'm going to close comments. Thanks to everyone for commenting. Looking forward to Sebastian's post on his mother, though I hope it wasn't prompted by her passing. Everyone, stay safe.

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