Monday, February 2, 2015

White Male Victimologist Jonathan Chait and the Black Man Who Brought Down the KKK

I am still wrapped in the New England Patriots halo of joy. I feel warm--which is a good side effect given the cold here in Chicago and my damn expensive electric heat. I am also enjoying reading some of the good and smart writing on the Pats and how they defeated the Seahawks. Grantland's piece about Vince Wilfork as the indispensable "third man" in the Brady-Belichick tag team is especially good. Brady as a man alone, and at a peace with his legacy, is wonderfully profiled here.

The tedium that is the racism beat in the Age of Austerity, neoliberalism, and cruelty ain't gonna ruin my high today. Stories about cops pointing guns at black people who are "armed" with "deadly" snowballs can wait. A discussion of white racism, and how black and brown folks cannot even watch the Superbowl pre-show without it coming through the TV and into their homes, can also wait until later in the week. 

Last week, Jonathan Chait received a good amount of attention for his recent white male victimology political correctness run amok essay. Jonathan Chait is a very smart person. In the spirit of professional wrestling as politics, he is very good at trolling the Internet and its assemblage of so called drive-by "liberals" and "progressives" for his own personal aggrandizement and ego gratification. 

A brief consideration of Chait to begin the week will not ruin my high; I find him "whizzable". Thus, for me at least, Chait is an entertaining figure who randomly swings down out of the rafters during a Monty Python skit.

The best and most generous read of Chait's "Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say", is that he is concerned that some version of the vague, catchall, Swiss Army knife of phrases that is "political correctness", out of a well-intentioned need by its liberal advocates, has damaged their ability to constructively and incisively confront uncomfortable and challenging realities about the world.

Speech is a weapon; for Chait, too many "liberals" and "progressives" would like the swords and knives and maces to be made into Nerf toys instead of lethal truncheons and similar devices.

Of course, the central problem with the white male victimologist "anti-p.c." crowd is that they want the exclusive right to beat and stab people--especially people of color, women, gays and lesbians, and the Other, more generally--around the head and body with cold and sharp steel while the latter are either 1) disarmed or 2) only allowed to respond with "kid friendly" and safe weapons. Here, the privileged and the in-group are hypocrites; their hypocrisy is most readily apparent when a member of the powerful and the privileged group cry about how they are somehow "oppressed" or "disadvantaged".

In a most generous read of his underlying assumptions, Chait is correct: speech and the free flow of ideas ought to be protected at all costs. Of course, free speech does not mean speech without consequences. 

Conservatives love the first claim (that speech should be "free") but rant and blather at the second like bratty children (that there are consequences for speech). Liberals and progressives are slightly less prone--but only by a bit--to those same inclinations.

Musician and author Daryl Davis believes in the power of free speech to create substantive social change. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Daryl Davis applied that core principle in order to bring down the KKK in Maryland. Mr. Davis also happens to be African-American. 

The Love and Radio podcast series featured Mr. Davis' story in the episode The Silver Dollar. 

Here is an excerpt:
We continue with the interview and there were no more problems. At the end I shook their hands and thanked them for their time. And Mr. Kelly gave me one of his Klan cards. And he said, keep in touch. And I was thinking to myself - I didn't say it - but I was thinking to myself, what? You know, I didn't come here to make friends with the Klan. I came here to find out - how can you hate me when you don't know me? And he didn't like me, he told me as much. On the way back home, I said to Mary, in my car, I said, you know, I rather like Roger Kelly. I like him as a person. I do not like what Roger Kelly stands for. But I found that we had more in common than we did in contrast. Basically what we had in contrast was how we each felt about race. Other than that we agreed on a lot of things in common; we need to get drugs off the street, we need better education for kids. Things like that, you know, we can agree upon. So whenever I had a gig up in his county, I'd call him and say, hey man, I'm playing here or playing there, come on out. He'd come.
The Silver Dollar can be listened to either here or here.

What are the boundaries for free speech and interpersonal dialogue in your own life? 

Is Larry Davis's approach one that should be copied and modeled across the country and world?


Frank said...

I've read and heard much about Chait's column, pro and con. You cut to the quick: Complaints about "PC" are demands for the right to be rude without consequences.

Well said.

joe manning said...

Its saying I have as much right to hate as you do to love. And that's wrong on the face of it. To be a responsible person one can't believe just anything. There are certain cognitive standards that the vast majority subscribes to. If one believes in white supremacy, the makers/takers ideology, a geocentric solar system, he is incapable of being a good neighbor, in that he is denying reality with a vengeance. Chait et. al. are selling a bill of goods nobody wants to buy. They're trying to replace PC with political incorrectness.

kokanee said...

Fascinating, just fascinating! I loved the Love and Radio podcast about and with Larry Davis. One certainly can't argue against his results!

I think I get it. The clansmen wanted to be able to say what they thought without all the, "No, you can't say that." Just like Jonathan Chait. But Larry Davis would say, "Let him talk and then let others talk and trust that reasonable arguments will lead to reasonable conclusions." It seems to me that Chait is getting thrashed, deservedly, in the media. Personally, I'd like to revoke his "liberal" card.

Dan Kasteray said...

My free speech ends when it hurts someone else. I don't mean insulting a privileged libertarian troll. When it comes to poc for example or women's issues I've stuck my foot in my mouth too many times. The worst was when one time I accidentally triggered flashbacks for a rape survivor. Accident or nor that was all me and I still feel horrible for it.

chauncey devega said...

We all need to be good listeners. We also should not be expected to be omniscient. Silence from fear of causing hurt can be just as problematic as unthinking inconsiderate speech. People of color are not that fragile. Women are pretty tough too.

Dan Kasteray said...

And I've only recently begun to see that. I hope to be open to criticism and also dish it out where deserved. At any rate thanks for the wakeup call

Camilla Cracchiolo, RN said...

I believe that you must protect free speech even for those with whom you passionately disagree precisely because it has consequences. But I see Fox News's effect on America and I confess I now feel conflicted. Chris Hedges has written some very interesting stuff on how "ethnic cleansing" was started by radio propaganda in Rwanda and Yugoslavia and how similar America has become to the early stages of each of those genocides, both of which he was personally present for as a journalist.

If anyone wants to comment, my question is: is there a point are we just being suicidal as a society? A lot of what Fox does looks a lot like inciting to riot, but stops just short of the line where it ceases to be Constitutionally protected speech.