Friday, November 18, 2016

Don't miniaturize me, bro!

Image by Gawker Media, February 2013.
Verbatim David Brooks, "The Danger of a Dominant Identity", New York Times, November 17 2016:
But it’s not only racists who reduce people to a single identity. These days it’s the anti-racists, too. To raise money and mobilize people, advocates play up ethnic categories to an extreme degree.
I think we've reached peak bothsiderism, where the pro-racist and the anti-racist teams are fundamentally the same, and the implication is that a decent person would be neutral with respect to racism, dispassionate and not involved in anything so crass as raising money.

There's a very useful idea poking around the column, or a useful set of ideas, around what you might call the concept of Social Identity Complexity (he doesn't tell us what thinkers he's getting it from, and I'm not going to try to find out), or the obvious fact (it's obvious, but too many social scientists and pandits act as if it wasn't true) that everybody has more than one identity, in realms of gender, class, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, music preference, brand loyalty, and so on, and more than one identity inside certain particular realms, including language and ethnicity (evidence is that the majority of the world's population is bilingual or multilingual, something that might surprise our fervently monolingual typical USian). But David Brooks, one of the worst offenders in the past months in the construction of a monolithic "white working class" (as opposed to the more up-to-date concept of an intersection among racial, class, and gender identities), is not the man to guide us through it.

Most comical bad writing in the column:
Anti-Semites define Jewishness in a certain crude miniaturizing way. Racists define both blackness and whiteness in just that manner.
Honey, I shrunk the Jews! Or, if you prefer, Don't miniaturize me, bro! There's something exceptionally strange going on in there, though, in the disjunction between anti-Semites and racists (anti-Semitism isn't a form of racism?), and the suggestion that "racists" do to the black and white alike what anti-Semites do only to the Jew and not to the Gentile. What it's pointing at, I'm pretty sure, is the invisible white guy, who happens to be Jewish and maybe not very comfortable with it, in the mirror where David Brooks shaves, and the concept of anti-racists mentioned above. What Brooks is objecting to overall is a kind of conspiracy to make him, Brooks, feel like a white man himself.

Well, he is a white man, of course, but that's such an indelicate, demeaning way of putting it, making it sound as if he's somehow complicit in racism himself, which is absurd! He's not really anything special, he's just regular, as my WASP mom used to put it before she got somewhat woke. It's so hurtful when you insist on putting him into that basket, when you tell him he has a race of his own. It's different for all those masses populating his columns, they're used to it, and they don't have his unique refinement.

That's how the racists and the anti-racists are alike, in making David Brooks feel as if he's in their quarrel instead of serenely above it. How dare they!

Driftglass caught the main point too. It's hard to think of a good reason for reading beyond that.

No comments:

Post a Comment