I’m going to modify Mahatma Gandhi’s classic aphorism on the course of dissident politics.
First they ignore you.
Then they mock you.
Then they pathologize you.
Then they attack you.
Then you win.
The term “whiteness” has become a key term in the word salad of modern progressive duckspeak.
It it feels like the terms is a narrative “MacGuffin”, designed to be a little bit of everything as well as just nothing enough to be flexible?
To anyone not predisposed to conversion, the gospel of whiteness obfuscates more than it reveals about the American experience. To begin with, we never really know exactly what whiteness is. This promiscuous concept sometimes appears as just another word for racist ideas, while other times it connotes power, material benefit, social opportunity, or just about anything else its adherents desire. In his book’s introduction alone, Roediger defines whiteness as a “racial identity,” an “ethnicity,” “status and privileges conferred by race,” “racism,” “white supremacy,” and “a way in which white workers responded to a fear of dependency on wage labor and to the necessities of work discipline.” This grab bag of meanings suggests that whiteness is little more than a deus ex machina lowered onto the historical stage to wondrously resolve a tangle of problems. Too wondrously.
Moreover, we seldom see how whiteness actually works in the real world. This reified concept hovers above lived experience, mysteriously bending the arc of history. The underlying problem is a paucity, or distortion, of supporting facts, which leaves Saxton and Roediger pounding many evidentiary square pegs into explanatory round holes. For example, Saxton excoriates the Whig Party in the 1830s and 1840s for its combination of capitalist bias and elitist racism, but cites as his main example John Quincy Adams, one of America’s staunchest opponents of slavery. Roediger misleads similarly with his jaundiced analysis of “freeman.” This term and its partner, “free labor,” indeed took on a racialized meaning in antebellum America that contrasted with the bound labor of African-American slaves. But it also became the central feature of the anti-slavery movement as it fueled growing denunciations of slave labor, prompted opposition to its expansion into the western territories, and inspired the founding of the anti-slavery Republican Party in the 1850s.
Both historians suffer the same blind spot. They portray a 19th-century America in which citizens either embraced black freedom and equality without reservation or embraced whiteness. This produces not a gathering of information and fair-minded analysis that leads to a measured judgment, the historian’s task, but a process where evidence is cherry-picked or twisted to buttress a predetermined conclusion. It oversimplifies the messy, tangled, multifaceted development of the American republic, replete with ambiguous motivations and unintended consequences, and replaces it with a simplistic morality play where all whites are racists outright, or racist dupes. The monocausal steamroller of whiteness history, lumbering about amid historical complexity, simply flattens the American past.
Last week, one of Ben Shapiro’s podcasts pointed out that among the modern left’s greatest sins is its reductionism – the need it has to try, not to boil down and condense this complicated world, but to just oversimplify it, to turn all problems, causes and solutions into absurdly oversimplified bromides – suitable more for sorting the world into believers and heretics than actually addressing anything.
Beyond that? “Whiteness” is to today’s woke mob what “Counterrevolutionary” was to the NKVD: a malleable, one-charge-fits-all that could mean whatever the inquisitor wanted it to mean to justify a verdict that had been decided in advance.
When everything is about “whiteness” (or any misbegotten “-ness”) and “privilege”, then nothing really is.