White Fragility Kills the Argument

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S1: The following podcast may be a little dirty, but forget about that. Going to tell you to go to our Twitter feed at Slate, just dot com. It’s Thursday, July 16th, 2020, from slated to the gist, I’m Mike Pesca. President Trump today spoke at the White House. He dabbled in meteorology a lot more water.

S2: And in many places and most places of the country, water is not a problem. They don’t know what to do with it. It’s called rain.

S1: But mostly the speech was about regulation, which he is against, but also for barriers to unemployment and to employment. Mostly, Trump repeated, sometimes paragraph by paragraph, a speech he gave in Atlanta yesterday. Now, the big news out of that Atlanta speech was that the mayor there, Keisha Lance, bottoms herself afflicted with Koven, 19, said that the president’s behavior in her city was more than unwelcomed. It was illegal.

S3: So by not having on a mask of President Trump did violate law in the city of Atlanta.

S1: We’re unlikely to see cuffs slapped on him given where that particular transgression falls. If we were to play Donald Trump presidential crime free of charge.

S4: The speech Trump gave today and yesterday was full of bald faced lies befitting his mask status, but also it displayed a focus on numbers, the elocution of numbers in sequence. All right.

S2: So there was this about waiting periods for one, for two, for three.

S4: And you’d be waiting in so many different agencies. Nine, ten, twelve. Skipping 11 there is this his version of the Fibonacci sequence.

S2: But then when Trump comes to the number of years to wait, it’s 10 years, 15 years, 18 years, 21 years.

S4: So the five, three, three progression. But then when it came to multiples of an initial cost estimate, 10, 20, 30 times the cost. So in that instance, it’s just increasing by 10 uniformly. Hold on. I’m I’m writing this all down in teeny tiny print, in a spiral inside a speckled notebook. You can see why QAD on goes crazy, trying to discern what secret codes and combinations might be present in the president’s speech. That’s the only explanation. Like there has to be codes going on and if we unlock it. I don’t know. I get a. I get access to an old locker of sweat clothes. I mean, everyone knows. Right. That the United Nations has 193 countries, two extra if you include observer states.

S2: And yet the president says this and the unfettered offshoring of millions of our best jobs to foreign countries and foreign polluters. Millions and millions of jobs would go. Thousands and thousands of countries would be at a level that you’ve never seen.

S4: Thousands of countries. Where is he getting those extra countries? What does he know that he’s not saying? Can he access alternative dimensions? Or maybe it could be he just doesn’t understand math.

S2: This will reduce approval times for highways alone by at least 70 percent. But the 70 percent is a very unambitious number because the number is going to be actually much lower than that.

S4: So his reforms will be a reduction of 70 percent. Actually, a lot lower than 70. Maybe all the way lower. Maybe he flew to Atlanta, didn’t wear a mask to proudly announce that his reforms won’t be reducing times at all. You know, you can nit pick the mistakes in his speech, but if you focus on the useful content, there is a good two minutes, three, six, six and a half minutes of say complaining about Joe Biden being a socialist, claiming Joe Biden doesn’t like windows.

S2: And at one point, Trump claimed that Democrats want to, quote, abolish a beautiful and successful suburbs.

S4: They came for the exurbs. I said nothing. They came for the suburbs. I was at the mall. The president has really lost the thread, is casting about for any argument that people may pay attention to. But then when we do pay attention, he embarrasses himself with impossible to follow arguments, senseless tangents and total lies.

S1: He wants us to know that our enemies are his enemies and that those enemies are Anthony Foushee, Hunter Biden, Bubba Wallace. And as he makes clear again and again and again math on the show today, I spiel about whiteness or at least a brochure describing whiteness. But first, we’re joined by the last mayor of Minneapolis before this one. Betsy Hodges has a finger to point. It is essentially at the demographic that elected her mayor, the demographic that still calls the shots in Minneapolis, the demographic of which she is a part white liberals. Luckily, I am more of a white skeptic, which allowed us room to discuss and debate the implications of her charge.

S4: Betsy Hodges up next.

S5: That’s Hodges was mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, from 2014 to 2018. She just wrote an op ed in The New York Times as mayor of Minneapolis. I saw how white liberals block change. I must talk to her about this. She’s here now. Thank you for joining us. Shell is the correct appellation still, Madam Mayor. Is that proper?

S6: From what I’m told, that honorific does last over time. So I suppose that. Yes. But you’re welcome to call me Betty.

S5: OK. Until you become ambassador or vice president or something that supplants that, right?

S6: Yes. Yes. And talking to white liberals about whiteness is a perfect pathway to all those things.

S5: Yeah, that’s it, basically. Yeah. Prosecuting the state’s worst criminal. Going to the moon. Or that those are the three ways to get higher elected office. So I’m going to read you wrote it so you know, you said it. But I want my listeners to hear that one of the main justs of the argument, if you will. I represented as a council member and mayor, talked about the voters you represented. They were very supportive of summer jobs programs that benefited young people of color. I also saw them fight every proposal to fundamentally change how we provide education to those same people. They applauded restoring funding for the rental assistance hotline. They also signed petitions and brought lawsuits against sweeping reform to zoning laws that would promote housing affordability and integration. So it does seem to me that you’re contrasting things that can be interpreted in different ways. Are you saying essentially that they’re on board for proposals that amount to table scraps, but not the big things and the big swings? Or is it more that these white liberal. They’re fine with enacting legislation or rules that don’t really affect their lives. But once you do, that’s when they object.

S6: I’d say it’s more of the latter and it’s a little more nuanced than that. The idea is that whiteness wants comfort. It doesn’t want change. And on the left to the way that shows up is the idea that we want to we understand that the world is set up in a way that we don’t approve of, that the outcomes for white people are much better than life outcomes for people of color. As a general rule, we understand that particularly African-American and indigenous people, and we feel like that’s bad. Like we have the value that says that’s wrong. That things should be going well for everybody, especially in a democracy. And so we have that cognitive dissonance about how the world is set up and how we’d like the world to be set up. I think that it should be. But whiteness. Our whiteness. And I think that’s our humanness showing. That’s the humanness the people part of who we are, what our whiteness calls for, his comfort. It doesn’t actually call for change. So we want to do things that reduce our cognitive dissonance, that reduce the ways we feel bad about how the world is currently set up. But that doesn’t thrust us into the discomfort of actually changing fundamentally how we’re living our lives and how our communities are structured and how they function. And those examples are designed to get at that. We want to do things that make us feel better about the fact that things are bad without thrusting us into the discomfort of the kinds of change that would fundamentally alter the dynamic at play.

S5: That’s a great answer. I think that lays the predicate very well. So here here are a few of my follow ups. One is this. Are you calling for white liberals, your voters at one time to challenge their comfort, but also assuring them they have nothing to fear in terms of safety? Because I could imagine the counter argument is, well, it’s not so much about comfort, a psychological state. It’s a genuine concern about safety. Maybe you’d be uncomfortable with a change in policing practice. Right. Maybe you’d be a little wary of that. But it doesn’t say much about the actual bottom line safety of the person who is uncomfortable. What the police say, what members of the public. I’ve talked to say is that with change, policing tactics may very well come on. A bit of a rise in crime may very well come. Threats to personal property or even personal safety. So are you assuring us that none of the changes your proposing actually do jeopardize safety? It’s only perception of safety.

S6: Well, I want to back it up for just a minute, because the examples we were talking about, we hadn’t even gotten to policing it. I think this idea of whiteness, seeking comfort rather than change is across the board, whether it’s talking about education, whether it’s talking about employment, whether it’s talking about health and health care. And, yes, it includes public safety and law enforcement. But that’s not the only place the dynamics at play. The genesis of your question is, well, maybe that’s all fine and good in this area. But what about policing where people’s lives are? At stake, and I think one of the things that we can see is that when it comes to public safety, that law enforcement alone as a public safety strategy is one that doesn’t get as good results for anyone, including white people, as seeing public safety as at least a partnership between community and law enforcement, if not full out examining the role of community and public safety overall. And I understand that is a scary concept for people. It is what I was talking about when I was mayor for a long time and is what I invested in and the budgets that I put forward when I was mayor. So I understand that that is a scary concept, but that is in part because the way that whiteness has shaped our perception of law enforcement and public safety has made it hard to see that there’s another way where maybe all of us are safer.

S1: Sometimes I hear that what white people need to do is to give up some of the privilege they have to give that to other communities. Does that describe the dynamic with changing our approach to policing or white people actually giving up anything?

S6: Well, I think it depends on what proposal is on the table. But if we’re talking about public safety strategy, that’s community based, that has community in mind, then it can be a win win for everybody. The formulation you laid out is this idea that there’s just a certain number of negative outcomes in a certain number of positive outcomes. And right now, white people are really good at hoarding all the positive outcomes and making sure people of color get all the negative outcomes and reimagining public safety beyond law enforcement, perhaps including law enforcement. But beyond just law enforcement, we all might be well served with, starting with the premise of let’s see how we can maximize positive outcomes for everybody. It’s not just a redistribution of negative outcomes, right? It’s an increasing of positive outcomes and a decrease of the negative outcomes. That’s a possibility in the future for the folks who are thinking about policing and who are thinking about public safety and policing as part of public safety. That’s one option moving forward. It isn’t just, oh, we’re going to redistribute the negative outcomes now and we’re going to give more of them to white people. It’s okay. How do we reduce the number of negative outcomes overall and make sure that lots of people are getting the positive outcomes possible from a larger picture of public safety?

S5: When you were mayor, Germar Clarke was shot and killed by Minneapolis police. There were protests. There were protests outside a police precinct. You would intervene frequently. The precinct wasn’t burned down like the police precinct was after the protests concerning George Flurried at the time.

S4: Were you seen by your constituents as doing enough to stand up to the police?

S6: I can’t I can’t speak for all my constituents. I can speak for what I had concern with, knowing that if it were misinterpreted or if people just disagreed with the choice, that it might have a negative impact on me. I knew that, but I knew that my goal at the time was to keep Minneapolis as safe as possible, including the protesters who were at the 4th Precinct for 18 days, making sure they were as safe as possible, making sure that the community around that precinct was as safe as possible in the entire city and using principles of 21st century policing to do that was my goal. It was unprecedented at the time, as far as I know. And I think at this point it might still be unprecedented that we approached it that way. But I knew that the goal was to keep people as safe as possible, regardless of my political future and regardless of my personal predilections.

S5: So when you left office, did you think the Minneapolis police department, though not perfect, of course. Do you think you left it in much better stead than what you inherited and what happened while you were mayor? Yes. And so were you surprised then that George Floyd was killed in the matter in which he was killed?

S6: I don’t think that the work cities and mayors do to improve policing either police reform, community partnerships and public safety. I’m not sure any of that can prevent all harm or all tragedy or all murders. When I left office, I did know that I had done what I could to push the horizon of change and that I had put in place in partnership with the chiefs I worked with, put in place what I could to advance the. Laws of policing. That was for and about the entire community.

S1: If you had more support of white liberals, could you have done more? Yes. In what way?

S6: Well, one of the things I say in this piece is that you are one of the implications of what I write here is that in cities, in particular white liberals and to a large extent white progressives, depending on the city and how people like to identify themselves, are one of the key keepers of the horizon of racial equity in general. And that activism and advocacy certainly push that horizon as well. White progressive people and white liberal people are holding that horizon. And I knew that as mayor, I ran on a platform of racial equity when I was mayor. And I talked deliberately and explicitly and openly to white people about our part in that work, both the part we play to advance it and the part we play to retard it. And I did my best to be very open with people, especially white people, that that was my agenda. And that was what I thought at the time. And I still think was the future of the city of Minneapolis, that it is a remarkable city in many ways and has some of the biggest gaps in outcomes for life outcomes between white people and people of color of any city in the country on pretty much any measure that you care to name and that we would not advance as a city until and unless we openly acknowledge that looked it in the eye and did what we could to remedy it.

S1: The piece that I read, our discussion centers on how white liberals block progress. What is the way to change that? Is it mostly to reason with and convince white liberals not to block progress? Or is there a way to go around them and institute change that might not be supported at first by white liberals, but they’ll have to just come around?

S5: I mean, to what extent can real change happen if what you’re doing every step of the way is handholding and reassuring white liberals that it’s going to be fine?

S7: Well, I think step zero is what I did in this piece, which is to say the quiet part loud. Right, that there is a way that white liberals and white progressives mistake the quest for the comfort of our whiteness. It is not sufficient to acknowledge that things are not how we would like them to be and that we are uncomfortable with the differences in life outcomes between white people and people of color. That’s an important thing to know. It is not sufficient to actually change the situation. And what white people do with that discomfort is important because right now what we do is settle for the illusion of change. We settle for things that make us feel better, that don’t actually move the needle on life outcomes for people of color. And that message, which is the core message of the piece that I wrote for The New York Times, that message is one that I think people find perilous to say and perilous to confront personally and professionally. And I am eager to say that quiet part loud with a lot of love. The systems couldn’t operate the way that they do without white liberals participating in those systems, were all trained, were all socialized into our part of the system. And what I’m doing is issuing an invitation to my fellow white people, particularly white liberals and white progressives, to say we want something different. We have to be willing to do something different to get there.

S5: If the whole entire premise is white people want their comfort and they’re not willing to go outside their comfort zone. If I was a white liberal in Minneapolis, I might sign on to that. But then when I see the third precinct burn, I would say this is not an issue of comfort. This is an issue of safety. This is an issue of right or wrong. And if the challenge to my comfort includes allowing this precinct to burn and being okay with it, well, then that’s where I draw the line. I will not consider it a question of comfort up to the point where the precinct is burning.

S7: The discomfort for white people is more around policy and more around how we live our lives and the expectations we have of the systems that we interact with educational, economic, social, government, all those systems. The moment for white people to be uncomfortable is the moment when policies are proposed that would fundamentally change. How we operate in a community, how we as white people operate in community and how our communities operate, that we lead and are led by the opportunities for those moments of policy discomfort came long before anyone set fire to anything.

S5: Your successor, Jacob Frei, was booed and shunned after protesters challenged him to say that he would commit to defunding the police. How would you have answered that question or that cry?

S7: You know, my points in this piece are not intended in any way to be a critique of Mayor Fry. I do know that when I was mayor, I heard calls for changing how the city in general and certainly how the police interact with the community. And the message that I heard, because, of course, I was protested a great deal myself, was that communities want to take more responsibility for public safety in their neighborhoods. And when I could hear that message, I then invested a great deal in community based public safety strategies, including investing in neighbors and neighborhoods, devising strategies, deciding which ones to fund, and then funding neighbor and neighborhood devise strategies to reduce violence in their neighborhoods. And it was a fascinating and interesting experiment that I think did a lot of good. Now, that is in addition to the call for policing that doesn’t kill people on a regular basis, particularly and especially people of color.

S5: Betsy Hodges was the mayor of Minneapolis from 2014 through 2018. She read a recent piece in The New York Times, also reprinted in the Star Tribune about how white liberals were blocking necessary change. Thank you so much, Mayor Hodges. You’re very welcome. Thank you.

S1: And now the spiel yesterday on the Smithsonian’s Web site linking to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. There was on offer a lesson about whiteness. Robert D’Angelo was quoted, The pernicious effects of whiteness in the culture were discussed. All was fine until we got to this handout, this brochure, this graphic in the middle of this presentation. It’s called talking about race aspects and assumptions of whiteness and white culture in the United States. And they’re proudly hanging in the right corner with an American flag displayed the wrong way. That is definitely something a white guy would point out, huh? So it says that white dominant culture or whiteness refers to the way white people and their traditions, attitudes and ways of life have been normalized over time and are now considered standard practices in the United States. And since white people still hold most of the institutional power in America. We have all internalized some aspects of white culture, including people of color. All right. So here’s what they say are aspects of white culture and whiteness. One, rugged individualism like self-reliance and the idea that the individual is the primary unit right to the nuclear family. Father, mother, two point three children is the ideal social unit. Think white people that. The wife’s the homemaker, the husband’s the breadwinner, and children should have their own rooms be independent. I guess I’m a bad white person making the kids bunk up together. They also talk about this, I think is actually unassailable that the assumptions about whiteness emphasized northern European immigrants experience the United States heavy focus on the British Empire. That’s true. There are reasons for it. We definitely did come from a British or Western tradition. When I say we as a country and the founding. But of course, it’s not as true today. The Protestant work ethic is said to be a key to whiteness. Religion says that Christianity is the norm. Anything other than Judeo-Christian tradition is foreign. All right. So they’re at least allowing the Jews in under the whiteness rubric. Other aspects of whiteness are, according to this, related to time follow rigid time schedules, time viewed as a commodity, a static’s steak and potatoes, quote, bland is best future orientation. Here’s some white stuff for you. According to this plan for the future. That’s a white thing. Delayed gratification. Totally white. Progress is always best. Well, isn’t that the definition of progress? Exactly what a white person would say. And then you have areas of communication. The written tradition don’t show emotion. Don’t discuss personal life. Be polite. Very white to be polite. What are you saying? Please and thank you. You’re acting white, right? That’s right. Next to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. But the one that just rankled me that caused the grey matter in my white mind almost to melt was emphasis on scientific method. Here is a part of whiteness, according to this handout, objective, rational, linear thinking, cause and effect, relationships, quantitative emphasis. So the scientific method is now white. Or maybe it’s not white. Maybe it’s not now white. Maybe it’s always white. Can you for a second just stop to think about some of these things? And so many of them are horrible, ascribing the quality of sacrifice to whiteness, wanting people to associate hard work with whiteness. Wow. You really worked hard. Oh, kind of a white thing to say. The idea of delayed gratification, that being a white idea. My friend, the neighbor who worked his way up to a fleet of 14 cars that he rents out as Uber because he lived pretty cheaply and because he sacrificed and because he didn’t spend wildly.

S8: I now need to tell him it’s got to be a white thing, Jim. Huh? What? But the scientific method. This is just a major accomplishment of the Enlightenment, all of the Enlightenment. And by the way, of course, the Chinese and the great Mollee empire and so many cultures. Maybe they didn’t use the word the scientific method, but the way they figured out astronomy, the way they invented things was, of course, the scientific method. What do we tell a black scientist about the idea that the scientific method is defined by whiteness? By the way, I’ve seen a lot of white people these days that don’t seem so governed by the scientific method at all boxers. They are a disputation of whiteness. It’s anti-racist to believe in crystal healing. You know, most of the people who support the fella that advocating hitting the skin with the ultraviolet light and drinking some bleach, they’re white. That’s against the scientific method.

S4: I don’t understand. I really. And this is what I want to talk about. I really don’t understand. I don’t understand how this mindset, the mindset of defining whiteness. And so, so cavalierly defining what should be virtues as being associated with whiteness and not virtues that I would say because I’m white virtues, that we would all agree that a little delayed gratification is an excellent way to get ahead in life.

S8: I mean, to see that it is useful to send the message not just to white people, but to black and brown and yellow and all people, that these things are white things. It is a pernicious way of thinking.

S4: I don’t understand the attractiveness to it. I think about this new ideology, which is called a lot of things, you know, WOAK, I think is too broad, anti-racist. I mean, many elements of re anti-racism seem to have a much more stable foundation than whatever this handout, this brochure says. I’m really genuinely confused by it because I try. It’s an ideology and I try to liken it to other ideologies. And I say, well, what does it remind me of? What is it like? So at first Blanch white phrase, I say to myself, OK, maybe it’s an ideology and it’s saying things that seem absolutely crazy and false to me. So maybe what’s going on is that I am now the global warming denier. Right. I’m now the anti Voxer who realizes vaccines are safe for. I’m a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and I’m finally actually given access to actual facts. But the reason why that doesn’t apply is the way for the scales to come down from one’s eyes is things like scales and weights and specific measures and facts. So it’s not the case that this is an ideology where the adherence to it were on the wrong side of some factual issue, but a careful analysis of the facts can lead them right. It’s not even about attempting to assert facts. All right. So maybe it’s not a fact based ideology. Maybe it’s the kind of truth that we talk about in religious conversions. I am the light in the truth in the way you know, John McWhorter has been saying this for a couple years. Third wave anti-racism, which is what this brochure and this handout from the from the Smithsonian would fall under. He writes. Third wave anti-racism is a profoundly religious movement and everything, but terminology the idea. The whites are permanently stained by their white privilege, gaining moral absolution only by eternally attesting to it is the third waves version of original sin. The idea of a someday when America will come to terms with race is as vaguely specified. A guidepost as Judgment Day explorations as to whether an opinion is problematic are equivalent to explorations of that which might be blasphemous. The social mauling of the person with problematic thoughts parallels the excommunication of the heretic. I agree there are echoes, but it falls down and it falls down fundamentally because of why religions exist. Religions exist to explain profound unknowables. Where did I come from? Where do I go when I die? All religions deal with this. The new what John calls third wave anti-racism does not. It’s not involved in deep unknowables. It’s involved in things that are fact, like there is white, dominant culture in our society and that has implications and it deals with things that are simply not fact. Also, all religions have an element where they admit, well, we don’t know that, and they surrender to mystery or faith. That’s why they call it faith. You’ll hear people who are religious always say. But there’s no element of faith in this. Let’s identify whiteness doctrine. OK, so maybe it’s not a religion. Maybe it’s a cult, which is our name for a phony or manipulative religion. Scientology, just like this, antiwhite. This training does talk of suppressive individuals. And if you object to their creed, such as it is, you could be labeled one. They use a lot of code words. And like a cult, there are elements to whatever that brochure was touting that do make sense.

S8: Like I said, we have an excess of emphasis on British history. That’s true. And, yeah, you know, Scientology, you might say. Yeah. You know, I am getting I am my own worst enemy at times or.

S4: Yeah. The pharmaceutical industry does push pathologies for profit. That’s another Scientology tenant. And so you get roped in 50 grand. Later, you find out about Xinyu if you’re an operating feet in level three. But it doesn’t really describe it either because there is racism and thinking about what people want to call whiteness or whiteness and blackness or race in America is really important. And there’s a lot of important work to be done, unlike whatever important work the Scientologists think they’re doing. They’re mostly getting your money. Yeah, I think it’s really worth thinking about our default assumptions and how many of those are tied up to the experience of Caucasians or what we call Caucasians today, the dominant culture. I also think wealth has a lot to do with it. But of course, wealth is tied up with race. But to go from truths, to go from examples, that may be appealing. Huh. I wonder why the old Creola color was called flesh, but was the color it was. Maybe there were some assumptions baked in. Right to go from that to the scientific method is white. Hard work is white. And also, let’s make these statements under the rubric of the African-American History Museum, which is under the rubric of the Smithsonian, and have no one worry about just the veracity of the statements, but the impact that it might have on black people being confronted with those statements. I would say the vast majority of black people, if shown that Brayshaw would say something like, what do you mean hard work is associated with whiteness. So this is why this way of thinking at least is expressed there is sui generous. It seems like a unique mindset that doesn’t have an exact analog that easily maps onto it. But I do have one insight and one insight is this. I think it’s notable and meaningful that the number one best seller is white fragility. And of all the problems to talk about, to target the idea of white fragility, which is to say white over a defensiveness. I think that’s what might cause these risible ideas to make their way onto the Smithsonian’s Web site, because white fragility is emphasizing, look, we’re going to we’re going to talk about some things. We’re going to present some facts. But the thing that you can’t do is argue and you can’t object. You can’t think critically about it. Or you can do is accept the criticism. You could never deny the criticism to deny. The criticism is to be part of the problem of white fragility. Therefore, you can never solve the problem of white fragility. So what happens? Well, as a helicopter parent might do, a well-meaning helicopter parent might do to her children who aren’t allowed to play in dirt. It leaves the individual quite exposed, quite in danger. There are no immunities to ideas that should be immediately discarded, argued with at least thought about critically, the emphasis on white fragility, which forestalls the possibility of dissension, leaves the thinker immunocompromised and unable to fight off what isn’t even that variable into Faux.

S1: And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly and Daniel Shrader produced the gist. Alicia Montgomery is the Gist executive producer. They collectively are four, seven, 13 times as likely to visit more than a thousand countries well within the next five eight four hundred forty one years. The gist? I am not that polite. I am often not on time and my kids don’t have their own bedroom. That’s on one side of the ledger, on the other side of the whiteness fact sheet. I’ve been to a Bob Seger concert and several hockey games. So there’s that prudential to. And thanks for listening.