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E-Pluribus | July 9, 2021
Even diversity chiefs aren't immune from cancellation, Critical Race Theory prompts ideological role reversals, and an alternative to "Antiracism".
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Kat Rosenfield: April Powers Condemned Jew-Hate. Then She Lost Her Job.
Writing at Common Sense with Bari Weiss, Kat Rosenfield recounts the sad and depressing story of a diversity chief at a publishing house whose own diversity (a black, Jewish woman) did not spare her from a classic cancel culture assault.
The saga began when one of the organization’s members, Razan Abdin-Adnani, who identified herself as the daughter of Palestinian refugees, commented on the post asking if the organization also planned to denounce violence against Palestinians.
Powers replied: “As a new member, you may not have noticed our statements are very recent & reflect surges in hate crimes & violence around the world. If we see a surge against Muslims globally as we have w/ other groups, expect us to speak out.”
In hindsight, Powers said she shouldn’t have engaged. “If I had it to do over again, I would have turned off comments for the statement,” she told me on Tuesday. “We were attempting to create a safe space.” She said she had no idea it would get so ugly so fast.
At first, Powers went back and forth with Abdin-Adnani in the comments. But when the conversation turned hostile and began attracting heated replies, she disengaged and deleted several comments, including some from Abdin-Adnani.
That’s when Abdin-Adnani took to Twitter. There, she repeatedly accused Powers and the organization of failing to show solidarity with Muslims and demanded a statement denouncing the violence in Gaza. She also demanded a refund of her membership dues, writing: “I had no idea this was a Zionist/politically motivated organization that doesn’t serve ALL children.”
The confirmation of her membership cancellation from an administrative assistant sparked additional offense: Apparently provoked by the assistant’s recognizably Jewish surname, Abdin-Adnani tweeted her dismay at receiving an email from “a white, Jewish woman who I noticed had a public FB picture of her in Israel.” She added: “as a Palestinian, it felt like a slap in the face.” (Abdin-Adnani later posted a screengrab of the email including the assistant’s full name.)
You might imagine that this would have been a good time for the organization to take a principled stand, to condemn this member's inappropriate behavior, and to make a strong statement in support of its employees, particularly its black, Jewish diversity chief.
Read it all.
Conor Friedersdorf: Critical Race Theory Is Making Both Parties Flip-Flop
Given the fraught nature of some of the topics affected by Critical Race Theory (race, education, free speech,) it’s no wonder the reactions can be so volatile. Conor Friedersdorf writes at the Atlantic that laws attempting to ban or otherwise regulate CRT-related teaching is triggering some role-reversals on the left and right when it comes to traditional views on speech and anti-discrimination laws.
Under the proposed law, schools are explicitly allowed to explain those seven concepts or to assign materials that incorporate them “for educational purposes in contexts that make clear the public school unit does not sponsor, approve, or endorse such concepts.” Educators are prohibited only from teaching any of the concepts “in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.” (Though the law’s text mentions race and sex in parallel, the debate about it has focused on how schools handle the former.)
I sympathize with fears that some educators try to indoctrinate rather than educate public-school students about race and that some left-progressive perspectives about race veer into racial essentialism, discrimination, or crude racial stereotypes, like the notion that showing up on time or revering the written word is an attribute of “white culture.” Any teacher actively promoting the concepts targeted by the North Carolina bill should meet public resistance. For lawmakers or parents to object to curricula that promote ideological dogma about race is neither illiberal nor authoritarian, any more than objecting to Lost Cause mythology in public schools is illiberal or authoritarian.
Yet North Carolina’s relatively well-written bill illuminates a flaw in all such legislation: Any prohibition broad enough to exclude pernicious dogma risks prohibiting or chilling legitimate instruction, while any bill so narrow as to avoid a chilling effect is unlikely to effect significant change. The needle is extraordinarily difficult to thread.
Read it all here.
Freddie deBoer: A Materialist Alternative to "Antiracism"
Writing at Substack, Freddie deBoer is getting fed up with all sides of the racism/anti-racism debate. Since virtually everyone opposes racism (although both sides accuse the other side of supporting or enabling it), deBoer says it’s difficult to have a normal ideological fight where the two sides have stated opposite aims or goals or beliefs. Rather than continue semantic debates or discussions of feelings, he argues that real solutions to material problems in society (poverty, crime, education, healthcare, etc.), even if more prevalent in certain demographics, can be worked on independent of what we think about or feel towards each other.
The obsession with microaggressions is a perfect example of the desperate need for materialism in racial politics. Yes, it’s unfortunate if people say or do things that subtly indicate racial superiority or otherwise embody imperfect racial attitudes, such as making oblique references to stereotypes. But human beings have profoundly limited control over their minute social interactions. (Among other things, we literally do not choose the things we say.) Policy cannot effectively stop microaggressions, even if we implemented heavy-handed laws to attempt to do so, and I certainly hope we won’t. Meanwhile a mile or two from me a bunch of Black children live in Brownsville in environmentally unhealthy housing, go hungry every night, and are regularly exposed to violence and crime. The notion that we should spend so much time talking about microaggressions and so little talking how to improve the conditions of those children can only happen when the racial discourse has been hijacked by a bunch of cossetted affluent college-educated journalists and academics who are as far removed from Brownsville as they are from Mars, whatever their race. And this is another key element of materialist approaches to race: recognizing that we in fact have limited political and social and argumentative resources, that we must prioritize, that we will never achieve a perfect racial environment and that our efforts to do so are counterproductive. We have to decide what comes first, and what should come first is making sure people are safe, fed, housed, clothed, educated, and cared for. After that we can worry more about being nice to each other.
A materialist cares about Black representation in the movies because employment is a material concern, and the distribution of opportunity is a key element of any free society. But a materialist would also care much more about entry into creative fields than rewards when one reaches the pinnacle of those fields, and so doesn’t invest huge psychic vulnerability in who gets which Oscar. A materialist doesn’t care much about cultural appropriation because the concept has no clear boundaries, cannot be policed, and does not have much material consequences for the average person, Black or otherwise. In contrast a materialist is deeply invested in the cause of environmental justice for Black people, recognizing that lead paint and dirty water and similar conditions cause physical suffering and degrade quality of life in a way that has knock-on effects in all manner of other metrics of Black flourishing.
Read the whole thing.
Thread from Christopher F. Rufo on a book in use in dozens of school districts that frames “whiteness” as a deal with the devil:
Philosopher Jennifer Frey responds to Rufo on the two approaches to combating CRT excesses in schools.
(Read the full thread here.)
Thomas Chatterton Williams in defense of the individual:
A thread from Peter Savodnik on Critical Race Theory: