There are Never Enough Witches for the Witch-Hunters: Hamilton and Race-Flailing

The inestimable John McWhorter:

It’s been a shoe that had yet to drop.

The praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical phenomenon has been resoundingly unanimous. There are already plans for a touring production, one in London plus a sit-down production in San Francisco. Miranda has performed for the president. The cast album has won a Grammy, Miranda himself a MacArthur. Hamilton is certainly about to sweep the Tonys. Musical theatre obsessives such as myself are having the odd experience of finding that our next door neighbor with no interest in musicals is actually listening to a theatre recording we love. One takes the show’s name in vain no more than one wouldThe Wire or Handel’s “Messiah.”

Or at least not until around now. You just knew a certain type was biding their time.

Yes, it’s the usual crowd of “contesters” who remind us that we aren’t feeling sufficient shame at our ancestors. Apparently a musical about Alexander Hamilton, who owned no slaves and opposed slavery, fails to remind its audience of the existence of slavery (as though we had forgotten about it). Since slavery existed in America (as in every other society on the face of the earth) in 1775, and since slavery was evil, to discuss America in 1775 without reference to slavery is to pretend that slavery did not exist or was not evil or something.

McWhorter:

The boildown version of this idea has become that race and racism are the very essence of what America is…overall, this country is too vast and protean a mess for the idea to hold up that any single factor, even as massive and tragic as the racial one, constitutes the key to the whole business. Yes, there is race. But there is a humongous deal more, and there always has been.

Especially considering that Hamilton was himself that “deal more”. There are those who argue that Hamilton’s political and economic theory laid the groundwork for the progressive kleptocracy we struggle under today. It’s an argument that has its merits and its problems, but it needs to be pointed out that our voices were by no means uniform on slavery or race in Hamilton’s day.

To consider Alexander Hamilton’s lack of passionate commitment to abolition a central pillar of what he should mean to us today, then, is less higher wisdom than faulty logic. It is premised on a fundamental lack of understanding of the evolutionary nature of social history, and an inability to conceive of the basic nature of personhood within it. To tar any portrait of a historical figure as incomplete without blaring announcement of their failure to pass today’s antiracism test is a kind of witch-hunting in the guise of civic discussion.

Witch-hunting is precisely the right term, as is “recreational Puritanism”. Both point to the reality that modern antiracism is less a political or a sociological exercise than a spiritual one. As McWhorter points out, even if there had been depiction of slavery in Hamilton, someone would have found a way to contend that it was not enough, just as they did for The Help. For the modern race “contesters”, no discussion or depiction of the realities of race or slavery is ever enough. There’s always a way to critique it more, push it farther, be more aware of injustice than the next man. I’d be willing to bet money that somewhere out there a consciousness-advocate is angry at 12 Years a Slave because Solomon is freed at the end. This fails to accurately demonstrate how slavery worked for most slaves, you see.

Because if the problem is a society that permits slavery, then the problem is solved when the slave is transmuted to a citizen. But if the problem is how, in a society that no longer keeps slaves, and has written legal protections of the rights of the descendants of slaves, to maintain the moral authority that the abolitionist enjoyed, then the problem can never be solved, and we are bound to ever greater and greater inquisitions into our sins. Just as no man on earth can cease to resist the Devil on his shoulder, no honky in America can cease to hunt the subliminal racism and privilege that constitutes his Original Sin. Thus,

if Hamilton included a single slave character or two gliding around with everyone else, or had a song where a slave came out and rapped about his misery, or had a couple of the female chorus members shown doing one of the Schuyler sisters’ hair before the party scene, let’s face it, it would just occasion more contesting. The slaves would be too marginal to the action, would not look miserable enough, not depicted as full human beings, etc. Contesters often put it that the goal is that America “come to terms” with its past on race. But it’s unclear what the expression here even means. Just what would indicate that the terms in question had finally been come to? At what point would the contestation no longer be necessary? How unwelcome such questions are considered is an indication that an end point is not exactly on these critics’ minds—contestation is forever.

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Do Read the Whole Thing

How Soon Before the “Caucasians” Shirt Becomes Racist?

Click here for story:

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It’s not racist now, because it was a black man wearing it to make a cheeky point about sports mascots. Speaking Truth to Power or whatever the usual formula is meaning permissible.

When White people start wearing it? Could be problematic, on three levels:

  1. The Right Sorts of White People wearing it “ironically” or “in solidarity” with Mr. Jones and his point. Probably okay but could be cultural appropriation.
  2. White People of Questionable Sort wearing it “pseudo-ironically”, or pretending to support the point but really taking advantage of the opportunity to  express their identity in a sanctioned, not-racist way. This needs to be vigorously questioned and deconstructed. At some point we will decide that all #1 are really #2, and that all #2 are really…
  3. The Wrong Sort of White People un-apologetically inverting the point and snarkily expressing pride in their identity. This is exactly the same as wearing a Klan Robe.

You heard it hear first. Also, I kind of want one. I denounce myself beforehand.

 

You Can’t Defeat an Idea

A lovely old Chestnut by Kate Paulik on the great folly of PC:

political correctness in every incarnation I’ve seen is nothing more than lipstick on the Newspeak pig. PC has never – and can’t engage the root cause it purports to be about. Banning “racist” words does not magically make a bigot less bigoted. The bigot just uses other words in public and more than that, starts to figure that the folks he’s bigoted against must be a bunch of useless wimps because they can’t handle a bit of mockery. If it gets really ridiculous, guess what? The bigot gets more bigoted. I’ve seen it happen. As soon as the bigot figures that nothing he, she, or it can do will be good enough for the authorities, he, she, or it (oh, hell with this. I’m portmanteauing it to s.h.it) figures whoever s.h.it’s bigoted against is in with the authorities to beat s.h.it down. Once we get there, a backlash is guaranteed.

One can respond to this with  Orwell’s thesis that we cannot think thoughts that we don’t have words for, so removing racist words will eventually remove racist thoughts. But PC isn’t as efficient as Newspeak: the old words don’t vanish down the memory hole, they just slide onto the samizdata by which dissidents recognize each other. Creating an Index Expurgatorius doesn’t mean the books on it won’t get read.

Also, when you admit that you’re using Orwellian methodology, you’re supposed to feel bad about that.

 

A Few Modest Suggestions For the #NewRedskinsName

As it turns out, the Patent Office refusing to register the trademarks for the Washington Redskins means less than you might think. Largely it means that the federal government will no longer actively protect the trademark. It doesn’t mean the team can’t use the name or sue to keep its use in its own hands. Read here for how all that’s broken down. (h/t: Ace) So the lively twitter hashtag #NewRedskinsName will probably amount to naught.

But, there may yet come a point when the team’s owner tires of these shenanigans (especially if he reflects on how his stated intent of the use of the name will never be afforded the same courtesy as the stated intent of Liberals in Good Standing like Stephen Colbert), and decides that he wants news reports on his team to concern themselves with their most recent playoff failure instead of the racism-dissociation kabuki de jeur. To that end, I offer these suggestions for a new team name, depending on how Mr. Snyder wants to put an end to the matter:

1. If Mr. Snyder wants to change as little as possible, while flying under the PC radar:

redskinsThe Washington Potomacs.

Advantages: You can probably keep the same logo and mascot (after all, who is to say that the stately Native American bust on the helmets isn’t a Potomac?). If the University of Florida is allowed to call itself the Seminoles, this should fly. You might get the leadership of the 500 current members of the Patawomeck tribe to sign off on it, just to seal the deal.

 

If he want to be obnoxious about it: change the team logo to resemble one of the warrior indians from this picture:

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Edit the white woman out, of course, just make the guy look as badass as all football mascots are supposed to be. I’d go with the one on the right.

2. If Snyder Wants to Illustrate What it Would Actually Look Like if Football Team Names Were Intended to Disparage Their Subjects:

libThe Washington Liberals

Advantages: This could be a fun exercise in protest theater. The mascot could be someone dressed up as the College Liberal meme to the left, who could march up and down the field holding “Down With This Sort of Thing”-type signs. The coach should throw out his red flag -regardless of whether he’s used up his challenges – every time he deems the other team has played “insensitively”. Instead of Cheerleaders, they could have Discourse Providers, who would spend halftime lecturing the fans about how horrible they all are, before ritually flagellating themselves for whatever white or cisgendered privilege they happens to be holding onto (differently-gendered Discourse Providers of Color would naturally be excused from this).

If he wants to be obnoxious about it: whenever they make it to the Super Bowl, forfeit “in apology for America.” For bonus points, wait until after the coin toss to do it.

 

3. If Snyder Wants to Go Full Meta:

262112-Gray-Football-Helmet-largeThe Washington Football Players.

Advantages: Impossible to be officially offensive, yet contains as much gleeful obnoxiousness as the others put together. Grey helmets with no logo. Grey jerseys with darker-grey numbers and names on them. No mascots, no cheerleaders, no fight songs, no team spirit, and the offense should call the same play (up-the-middle play-action pass) every down.

If he wants to be obnoxious about it: Do it for one season, then go back to being the Redskins.

Democrat in Jail For Domestic Violence Protected From Expulsion by….NAACP

When I snarked about this a few days ago, I didn’t know that Rep. Henriquez was black (I also incorrectly called him a Congressman, rather than a Massachusetts State Representative). It doesn’t really matter that he his black (unless one wants to argue that if he were a white Democrat, he wouldn’t be in jail at all. The experience of Jim Moran’s son might give credence to this notion). At least, it doesn’t matter to me, insofar as I would argue his expulsion from Congress regardless of his race.

But it matters to the NAACP.

I guess solidarity really is for white women, huh (this gag will of course be ruined if the woman assaulted turns out to be white. Hey-ho)?

Richard Cohen Calls the Tea Party Racist, But He Used the Wrong Words or Something…

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Richard Cohen is beneath contempt. In all the years I read the Washington Post, I never saw a column of his that was not cheap and tedious. Sure, I’ll fisk E.J. Dionne, because Dionne is a Dem apparatchik in journalist’s clothing, announcing the party line. His columns thus rise to the level of argument. Cohen’s collective works, on the other hand, amount to nothing but the assorted mental burps and prejudices of a man who’s done nothing but pen a newspaper column since 1976.

So this is not me taking notice of Richard Cohen. This is me examining what Richard Cohen said that has everyone so worked up. The offending graph:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

Let’s parse, shall we?

  1. “Today’s GOP is not racist…but it is deeply troubled.” This is the standard You’re-not-racist-but-you-are progressive construction. It allow’s progs to make generalizations about conservatives while sparing any actual conservatives who might be in the room. It’s a variant of the Maybe-not-you-but-you-can’t-deny association smear. So far, so typical.
  2. “…about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be avant-garde”. This is the oh-the-poor-terrified-dears patronisation. You see, conservatives don’t merely dissent from progressive dogma on these subjects. We are filled with troubles about them. We are maiden aunts reaching for our smelling salts at the sight of these kids with their rock n’ roll and their eight-track tapes.
  3. “People with conventional views must suppress a gag reflex when…” And having built the strawman, you put words in his mouth. The idea that objection to interracial marriage constitutes an intrinsic or even significant part of conservatism is a non-starter, but never mind. If Reagan triumphs, they’re going to take the vote away from women. It’s just who those people are.

What seems to be the problem is Cohen’s use of “conventional.” For Cohen’s generation, “conventional” and “conservative” were synonymous. In saying “People with conventional views”, Cohen obviously refers to the “troubled” not-racist-but-racist right. However, “conventional” has a more common meaning, that of “conforming or adhering to accepted standards.” And if you so remove the context and replace Cohen’s intent with the conventional meaning, then it sounds as though he’s saying interracial marriage is something that makes normal people sick.

But why do that to a fellow leftie? Simple. Because the rituals of  racism-dissociation, as limned by Shelby Steele in his magnificent meditation, White Guilt, demand no less. The appearance of racism is all that matters, and all that white progressives need to prove their Not-Racism to themselves and anyone else. Blacks who participate in this ritual get the frisson of sticking it to an old white man, who’s probably racist anyway, because they all are, am I right?

Thus is Richard Cohen, making a tiresome accusation of racism against conservatives, hoist by his own petard. That those who attack him disagree not a jot from his premise doesn’t make the irony any less delicious.

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