20 April 2010

"Race as a Cudgel"

The American Scene | Conor Friedersdorf | Race as a Cudgel Against the Right

Charles M. Blow has published an op-ed, A Mighty Pale Tea, that seems quite unfair to me.

After attending a tea party rally in Dallas, Texas, he writes:
I had specifically come to this rally because it was supposed to be especially diverse. And, on the stage at least, it was. The speakers included a black doctor who bashed Democrats for crying racism, a Hispanic immigrant who said that she had never received a single government entitlement and a Vietnamese immigrant who said that the Tea Party leader was God. It felt like a bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad.
I wouldn’t say it’s like a spoof of a Benetton Ad so much as evidence that the ideology responsible for Benetton ads has triumphed in America. Ethnic diversity has positive associations, and so it is pursued for the sake of appearances even when the visuals that result are contrived and artificial.

In any context except a Tea Party, the vast majority of liberal writers would praise the act of highlighting the voices of “people of color” even if they aren’t particularly representative of a crowd or corporation or university class. Let it happen at a rally of conservatives, however, and this winds up on the nation’s premier op-ed page:
I found the imagery surreal and a bit sad: the minorities trying desperately to prove that they were “one of the good ones”; the organizers trying desperately to resolve any racial guilt among the crowd. The message was clear: How could we be intolerant if these multicolored faces feel the same way we do?
And later in the same piece:
Thursday night I saw a political minstrel show devised for the entertainment of those on the rim of obliviousness and for those engaged in the subterfuge of intolerance. I was not amused.
It’s this kind of piece that causes people on the right to think that on matters of race, they’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t — if they don’t make efforts to include non-whites they’re unenlightened propagators of privilege, and if they do make those efforts they’re the cynical managers of a minstrel show, but either way, race is used as a cudgel to discredit them in a way that would never be applied to a political movement on the left.

The piece also treats the minorities who willingly spoke at the rally with some pretty profound disrespect.
I don't have a lot of patience for the Tea Party crowd.  For one thing,  I think going to political rallies is a supremely ineffectual thing to do.  I actually think carrying protest signs may be actively harmful, since it  allows people to feel as if they are having an impact while making almost no difference.

Add to that the fact that a lot of them are they're pretty ill-informed and a hefty chunk are nutso paranoids.  (See Michael Moynihan's piece here, which Friedersdorf links to.)  But this is a country which has decided the Slanket is a swell thing, so I'm pretty much surrounded by crazy people who's opinions and decisions I can't trust.  So I don't really have a lot of sympathy for those folks, even though we have much common ideological ground.

Nevertheless, I can't stand having them dismissed out of hand.  The leftward wing of "the elite" are always bemoaning a lack of "engagement" with the other side, and an insufficient amount of bipartisanship and cooperation, but when a serious ideological movement springs up practically over night the only response I hear is that they're all knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, maleficent cretins who should shut up, go back to the hinterlands, and accept that their betters have it all under control.  I don't like people who oppose me deploying bad arguments, but I don't like people who agree with me deploying bad arguments either, and in this case the "ZOMG! Tea baggers = stupid paranoid racists!!" is one part of the latter and four parts of the former.

More to the point at hand, what if 100% of the non-white people at that rally were shills?  What if the whole movement was white?  Saying that an opinion is only acceptable if it is embraced by a sufficient number of members of certain groups is logically the same thing as saying that opinions are only valid if they are sufficiently popular in general.  The validity of an idea is unrelated to the number of people who agree with it, just as it is unrelated to the types of people who believe it.

(PS See also Friedersdorf's follow up here.)

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