Cancelling White Fragility: Can Progressives Get an Assist from Madison Avenue?

May 13, 2021

You gotta admit, “Make America Great Again” was a brilliant slogan. Besides doubling as a handy acronym (MAGA!), it was a “politically correct” way of masking the deep racism of Trump supporters who wanted to make America Jim Crow America again. Since Trump left office, Trump supporters in 47 states have introduced or passed voter suppression laws. (Shout out to my ass backwards home state, Georgia!) MAGA fit on hats, t-shirts, and hashtags and immediately conveyed where the supporter stood on transgender bathrooms, racial equity, and the 2020 election. Who came up with this perfect (if fascistic) slogan?

Speaking of “political correctness,” there’s a perfect example of how the left has a language problem. All political correctness is is an attempt to be mindful of the way words and practices marginalize and hurt people in our community. If African-Americans what to be referred to as people of color instead of “colored people,” show them the basic respect of doing it without whining. Those folks have been through some shit! But truth be told, nobody wants to be “corrected.” Ugh. And bothered about getting the he/she thing wrong? A recent study found that nearly 42% of non-binary and transgender youth attempted suicide. By just using a person’s preferred pronoun, you might save a life. Suck it up, snowflake! But there is a cottage industry dedicated to bitching about political correctness as if it was some grand conspiracy to suppress your first amendment right to be an asshole. Your constitutional right to be an asshole remains sacred and defended by both the Supreme Court and the liberal ACLU.

The progressive movement is full of terms, phrases, and slogans that get at the depth of inequity in our society and are intended to start conversations and affect change to transform America into a nation where there truly is liberty and justice for all. But these turns of phrase also trigger right wing trolls and news networks. Over 4 million people watch white supremacist Tucker Carlson each night. If something bothers him, it becomes an instant internet meme spread far and wide by the “proud” boys that want to make America 1950 again. Some of these slogans (and the responses by people who don’t take the time to understand them) include:

Black Lives Matter (“All lives matter!” – Or as my father tried to tell me, “Black Lives Matter means white lives don’t matter.” And yes, he’s a Trumpie.)

Defund the Police (“These anarchists just want criminals to run free!”)

Toxic Masculinity (“Masculinity built this nation!”)

Implicit Bias (“Don’t tell me I’m biased, I have a black cousin!”)

White Privilege (“I’m not privileged. I lived in a car!”)

Micro-aggression (“It’s MICRO! Get over it, libtard! Jeez, you can’t even make a joke anymore.)

And let’s not forget Hillary Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” line that became adopted by the not-too-bright Trump base as a badge of honor. If Clinton had tried to be less cutesy and just said, “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the cesspool of bigots,” you probably wouldn’t have seen an army of white people with “I’m a bigot!” T-shirts at Trump rallies. (Wait, I may have to rethink that.)

Sometimes the left’s slogans seem as if they were penned by right-wing agent provocateurs. Case in point, ACAB – “All Cops Are Bastards.” Now I understand that provocative slogan is meant to highlight the tendency in the policing world to prevent officers from addressing the systemic racism that has left countless George Floyd’s dead in the streets. (Police unions, I’m looking at you.) But I personally know many police officers, including BIPOC police officers, who desperately want to infuse policing with social justice values. Let’s not forget that several police officers testified for the prosecution in the trial of George Floyd’s uniformed killer. Are all black cops bastards? Are are all women cops bastards? The average woman who sees a cop carting off the man who assaulted her probably doesn’t spray paint ACAB on local businesses.

Anecdote: In 1987, my roommate and I called 911 in Atlanta. Yuppie ninjas had kicked in our apartment door and we’re going to attack us with num-chucks. Our call the the police scared them off but I had to turn off the music we were blasting before the cops arrived; NWA’s “Fuck the Police.” True story.

Perhaps the best example of this is the term, white fragility, which derives from Robin DiAngleo’s 2018 book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The book is simply about the defensiveness that white people express when you alert them to the reality of racism. They say silly things, like “I was raised to be colorblind” (You weren’t) and “I can’t be racist, I voted for Obama! (You can). The innovative text is required reading in my Diversity class and has sparked insightful discussions among both white and non-white students. It was a best seller among people who read books and rose back to the top of the charts during the churning summer of 2020.

However, bring up the concept of white fragility to white people who haven’t read the book or have no interest in reading any book about racism, and you get a lot of, well, fragility. For easy reference, watch the June 2020 interview DiAngelo did with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. A seemingly interested Fallon allows DiAngelo to explain that all she is trying to do is ask white people to act with humility and grace and address their own internalized white supremacy. The YouTube video’s 27,000 downvotes sets up the 14,000 comments by fragile white people, accusing DiAngleo of racism herself. “The left: Let’s solve racism with more racism” (John Spinelli) “If ‘self-hatred’ was a person, it’d be Robin DiAngelo” (Jack) “This is what happens when you make a career out of gaslighting.” (SWJobson) Each comment perfectly proves DiAngelo’s central thesis about white fragility. Since “fragility” is feminized in our culture, there’s a macho pushback against it. The term “fragility” literally causes men to become fragile.

The “anti-woke” crowd is pretty good with staying on point. From “Drain the swamp!” to “Stop the steal,” it feels like the right has a high-power Madison Avenue team coining their slogans. What if the left had their own progressive Don Draper, instead of the Antifa Darren Stevens is who pens confrontational taglines on cardboard signs? (How about MCAB? Many Cops Are Bastards! Or what about BLMT? Black Lives Matter, Too!) I mean, whatever intern came up with “Stop Asian Hate” should be run out of the slogan business. “What have you got on your resume? Stop Asian hate. So just who do Asians hate and why should they stop? Come back kid when you’ve got something that makes sense.”

I generally loathe advertising, but we’re in a rut here. It’s time to rebrand white fragility. Maybe “I’m Not A Racist Freak Out Syndrome.” Or how about, “I’m Not A Racist But Those People Scare Me Dysphoria.” I don’t know. I’m a sociologist, not a marketing director. We got close to it with “Pro Choice,” but they beat our pants off with “Pro Life.” There’s gotta be better verbiage that doesn’t drive every Karen and Tucker into a “That’s reverse racism!!” spasm-fest.

The reality is these issues are more complex than a handy slogan could capture. They are nuanced and contextual and all the things that scare superficial thinkers that still think “pro-black” means “anti-white.” In my trainings, we get into the weeds, but it takes me an hour just to define the terms. You can’t get all the bullet points of my training on internalized white supremacy on a street banner let alone a bumpersticker.

So let’s pass the beanie and take up a collection to hire a radical marketing genius to help make America not horrible again.

If you’d like to continue this conversation, you can find me here: www.randyblazak.com

The Wisdom of Double Nickels: On Turning 55

February 22, 2019

Sometimes I think the whole thing about the “wisdom of our elders” is a lot of poppycock to make the aged feel better about their bodies sputtering out. Maybe among native tribal people, the old lady who remembered what plants not to eat was a needed resource, but now there’s an app for that. Sometimes I feel completely clueless in this fast moving culture. (So I can’t call myself an “ally,” right?) And then I see these Generation Z kids from Parkland, or the ones marching for the environment in Europe today, who seem straight up on top of it. What wisdom do I have to offer them?

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I turned 55 this week. I was born in February 1964 as Beatlemania tried to heal the nation after the JFK assassination. (I was a 6 month old fetus on that dark day.) I was born into the light of the 60s, 1964 being a year when the world turned on a Roosevelt dime. I had a great birthday that started with my 4-year-old singing “Happy Birthday” to me, and included a rare sunny Portland winter day, two lectures on white collar crime, an interview with CNN about women escaping ISIS, an amazing concert by my old college friend Amy Ray (also born in 1964) and ending with a nightcap with my beautiful wife in our favorite local bar. What started in 1964 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” ended with “Life is good but I want to go to bed.”

What kernel of wisdom should be gleaned from all that in-between? What have I learned in those over 20,000 days? Lots, especially about race, gender, and the privilege I hold. But there is a newer insight born of the news cycle that I think my younger friends don’t know yet.

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The Jussie Smollett story is heartbreaking. Lying about being a victim of hate crime to advance your career hurts every single legitimate victim of hate. The incident on the Washington mall with the Native American protestor and the MAGA-wearing hat boys was confusing. Those kids seemed like entitled little pricks. Here in Portland there is a scandal involving a police officer who was texting the leader of an alt-right group which has been frustrating. It sure seems like the cops were cozying up to the fascists.

Not so fast. Just not so fast to any news story. People were CONVINCED Smollett was an actual victim. They were convinced the MAGA kids were harassing the Native elder. Here in Portland they are convinced the police are in bed with Neo-Nazis. There is a rush to judgment when a news story fits our pre-existing narrative. It’s proof! We’re right! Just click this link!

So at 55, I’m pledging to reserving judgment until all the facts are in, even if it reduces the ammo for my side. My radical take on things will survive even if Smollett lied about his attack, the MAGA kids were not being malicious to that Native American, and the Portland officer was just conducting standard crowd control procedures. (He also texted an antifa protestor – gasp!) 

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Portland recently had another little drama with the city council deciding whether or not to stay on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The JTTF emerged after 9/11 as a way for local and county law enforcement to have a relationship with the FBI on terrorism issues. The city has been on and off it depending on the political winds of the day. The task force doesn’t have a lot of success to boast about. There was a 2010 arrest of a Muslim kid who had been lured into a fake plot to blow up a downtown Christmas tree lighting. Last year a former FBI investigator testified to city council that the JTTF infringes on civil liberties, including of Muslim Americans. Seems like a mess.

A local paper called me for my opinion and I said I had no position on the matter, contrary to my left-wing and right-wing community members who definitely have an opinion. I just made the case that the “threat (of white extremism) is real and the Northwest has long been a center for that thinking. … There is a value in keeping the channels of communication open (between agencies) about what the real threat is.” But I was clear that I had no official position on Portland’s place on the JJTF. Well, that didn’t stop a city commissioner from claiming that I endorsed the city staying on the JTTF. So more kerfuffle for me! Yeah! There are already a host of left-wing activists who are convinced I’m a police collaborator. I had to laugh.

My seasoned perspective is now to resist the temptation to jump into the fight, even when it feels like I am being forced to pick a side. I’m a social scientist. We like as much data as possible before we decide there if is evidence to demonstrate support for a theory. Scientists never prove anything. Never. We know reality is complexity and the only certainty is chaos. The simplistic “us vs. them” narratives on the left and right make for great protest posters, but the truth is that we’re all in this mess together. It’s worth taking a beat to get all the facts. Anyone who is 100% cocksure of their position is a fool. I’m a radical agnostic. I defend my right to say that I don’t know.

Older and wiser but still radical. I still want to transform the misogynistic, ableist, white supremacist foundation of all reality as we know it. But I’m going to lay back a bit and let the fuller picture to come in to focus. I still have time for that. When I was younger I thought anyone who didn’t immediately man the barricades was an enemy. There is another route to the same goal. Take a breath.

 

Raising Honest Children in the Age of Trump

January 25, 2019

As a first-time parent it’s been quite the trip watching my daughter’s cognitive development. I started charting it here on this blog but, at almost four-and-a-half, it’s just accelerated to a rate that seems impossible to chart. Last week she appropriately used air quotes and I felt like I had completed my job as a sarcastic father. She’s on her own. I’m quite confident I could drop her off at a faculty cocktail party and she’d be fine. She recently told me, “We don’t say that we hate Donald Trump. We say we don’t like him very much.” Touché, Cozy. Touché.

Which is why part of this stage of development has a troubling facet. Lying. Nothing too big, but she’ll say she washed her hands after going potty and they are perfectly dry. (A tell-tale sign.) Or I’ll ask if she’s picked up her toys and she’ll say yes and I’ll point out all her toys on the floor and she’ll proclaim, “I was just kidding!”

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I’m well aware this is normal for a little kid but biography occurs in the context of history and at the moment the free world is being led by one of the biggest liars in history. The challenge of raising a good child in the era of the bad president will surely be the stuff of many child psychology books to come. How can we bring our children up as decent honest people in the shadow of one of the most loathsome, dishonest, and buffoonish bullies to ever wrap himself in a flag? Even MAGA hat wearing parents must have to tell their kids, “Now just because the president does/says that doesn’t mean you can.” (Although there are probably a few MAGA dads that have said, “Grab ‘em by the pussy, son.”)

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The lies of Donald J. Trump are too voluminous to count. He just makes stuff up on the spot because it sounds good. Just ask him how much his useless vanity wall will cost. It’s something we’ve all done occasionally. We’ve inflated details in a story or thrown out numbers we weren’t 100% sure were accurate. “Yeah, 75 percent of people who vote Republican have never eaten sushi.” Sounds right. But Trump does it every single day. Fact checkers have died of fatigue.

Which makes it harder to convey the importance of truth-telling to our children. In this post-factual world full of massive whoppers (“Global warming is a Chinese hoax!”), fibs and white lies seem almost cute. Truth is a sliding scale. Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005, but to raise a child in a daily onslaught of “alternative facts” seems impossible. There’s an “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em”” devil on my shoulder that wants to tell my daughter, “Kid, lie your ass off if it gets you what you want. Every one else probably is doing it.”

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Trump is the absolute worst role model for anyone, especially children. He’s a spoiled rich kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. He lies pathologically. He bullies relentlessly. And he lives on buckets of KFC and gallons of Diet Coke. I saw him when I was in DC last month in the back of his limo heading towards the White House. I swear he had an Egg McMuffin hanging from his gullet. I haven’t heard what he’s done with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden but I’m willing to bet that when he’s dragged off the property by the FBI, the CSI team will be digging it up. 

The good news is outside his weird cult of MAGA loyalists, Trump is the perfect boogyman. If I catch Cozy in a lie, I whip out the Donald. “Cozy, you told me you turned off the TV and you didn’t. You know who lies like that? Donald Trump.” The look of horror on her face. It’s also good at dinner time. “You want ice cream for dinner? Do you want to look like Donald Trump?” She races for the carrots. There was a boy who pushed her in her pre-school. I told her to tell him to stop acting like Donald Trump. It shut that shit down.

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I have to wonder about this generation of youth growing up under the specter of the Orange Menace. Whether or not those MAGA hat wearing prep school pricks from Covington Catholic were harassing a Native American elder, they were at a rally to end reproductive choice for women and girls in America (and caught on camera making jokes about rape, and harassing girls, and appearing in blackface at an earlier basketball game). The white parents couldn’t defend them fast enough. (The lead prick’s mother blaming the whole thing on “black Muslims.”) Is this the fate of Generation Z? Or are they the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School taking to the streets to end gun violence? I’ll send Cozy off with them.

Obviously,  Trump’s otherwise occupied parents never told him the story of The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf, but we tell it in our house. We might have a president than believes science is a hoax, journalism is “fake news,” and math is whatever numbers happen to fall out you mouth, but here the ideals of the Enlightenment still matter and this kid will value the truth. “Don’t be like Trump, kids!”

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