What happens when a Black Marxist scholar wants to talk about race?

Reed and WestThe killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests have brought to light some serious differences on the American left. Take, for example, the case of Adolph Reed, a Black Marxist scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who was invited to speak to the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York City chapter. Michael Powell covers it all in a fascinating story at The New York Times.

Reed wanted to argue that the left’s focus on COVID-19’s impact on Black people “undermined multiracial organizing, which he sees as key to health and economic justice.” When the topic of his talk was released, the organization’s Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus said that Reed’s topic was “reactionary, class reductionist and at best, tone deaf.” The ZOOM lecture was canceled.

My favorite response to all of this comes from Cornel West: “God have mercy, Adolph is the greatest democratic theorist of his generation…he has taken some very unpopular stands on identity politics, but he has a track record of a half-century. If you give up discussion, your movement moves toward narrowness.”

Here is a taste of Powell’s piece:

The decision to silence Professor Reed came as Americans debate the role of race and racism in policing, health care, media and corporations. Often pushed aside in that discourse are those leftists and liberals who have argued there is too much focus on race and not enough on class in a deeply unequal society. Professor Reed is part of the class of historians, political scientists and intellectuals who argue that race as a construct is overstated.

This debate is particularly potent as activists sense a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make progress on issues ranging from police violence to mass incarceration to health and inequality. And it comes as Socialism in America — long a predominantly white movement — attracts younger and more diverse adherents.

Many leftist and liberal scholars argue that current disparities in health, police brutality and wealth inequality are due primarily to the nation’s history of racism and white supremacy. Race is America’s primal wound, they say, and Black people, after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, should take the lead in a multiracial fight to dismantle it. To set that battle aside in pursuit of ephemeral class solidarity is preposterous, they argue.

“Adolph Reed and his ilk believe that if we talk about race too much we will alienate too many, and that will keep us from building a movement,” said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton professor of African-American studies and a D.S.A. member. “We don’t want that — we want to win white people to an understanding of how their racism has fundamentally distorted the lives of Black people.”

A contrary view is offered by Professor Reed and some prominent scholars and activists, many of whom are Black. They see the current emphasis in the culture on race-based politics as a dead-end. They include Dr. West; the historians Barbara Fields of Columbia University and Toure Reed — Adolph’s son — of Illinois State; and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin, a Socialist magazine.

Read the entire piece here.

Comparing the “Woke Left” and the “Alt-Right”

Grant statue

According to one study, they are a lot a like. This has definitely been my experience.

Here is a taste of Zaid Jilani’s piece at Quillette:

Until now, the personality linkages between authoritarian right-wing and authoritarian left-wing individuals was based largely on informally pooled anecdotal observations. This is perhaps the first time that the personality congruence between these two emerging groups—nominally progressive Politically Correct Authoritarians, and alt-right White Identitarians—has been studied systematically. And the results reinforce the social sense that many of us get from our most ideologically intolerant co-workers and social-media contacts: Notwithstanding their diametrically opposed political postures, both hard Left and hard Right seem disproportionately populated by individuals who are impelled to control others’ behavior, and draw attention to themselves.

Read the entire piece here.

Taibbi: “If you’re not a Trump fan and can’t reason with the other thing either, what’s left?”

Princeton 2018 2

Will John Witherspoon be the next to go at Princeton?

Matt Taibbi, a writer at The Rolling Stone, writes at his Substack page: “We laughed at the Republican busybody who couldn’t joke, declared war on dirty paintings, and peered through your bedroom window. Now that person has switched sides, and nobody’s laughing.” Here is a taste of his piece, “The Left is Now the Right“:

The saving grace of the right used to be that it was too stupid to rule. Politically defeated liberals secretly believed that in a moment of crisis, the country would have to be turned over to people who didn’t think hurricanes were punishment for gay sex and weren’t frightened to enter a room with a topless statue. In an effort to console such readers, reporters like me were sent to mock every Dover-style cultural stooge-fest and assigned strings of features about dunces like Michelle Bachmann, who believed energy-saving light bulbs were a “very real threat to children, disabled people, pets, senior citizens.”

The right still has more than its share of wing-nuts, the president being the most famous, and we’re allowed to laugh about them (in fact, it’s practically mandatory). Unfortunately, a growing quantity of opposite-number lunacies – from a chess site temporarily shut down by YouTube because of its “white against black” rhetoric, to an art gallery director forced to resign for saying he would still “collect white artists” – is mostly off-limits. If we can’t laugh at time is a white supremacist construct, what can we laugh at?

Republicans were once despised because they were anti-intellectuals and hopeless neurotics. Trained to disbelieve in peaceful coexistence with the liberal enemy, the average Rush Limbaugh fan couldn’t make it through a dinner without interrogating you about your political inclinations.

If you tried to laugh it off, that didn’t work; if you tried to engage, what came back was a list of talking points. When all else failed and you offered what you thought would be an olive branch of blunt truth, i.e. “Honestly, I just don’t give that much of a shit,” that was the worst insult of all, because they thought you were being condescending. (You were, but that’s beside the point). The defining quality of this personality was the inability to let things go. Families broke apart over these situations. It was a serious and tragic thing.

Now that same inconsolable paranoiac comes at you with left politics, and isn’t content with ruining the odd holiday dinner, blind date, or shared cab. He or she does this infuriating interrogating at the office, in school, and in government agencies, in places where you can’t fake a headache and quietly leave the table.

This is all taking place at a time when the only organized opposition to such thinking also supports federal troops rounding up protesters for open-ended detention, going maskless to own the libs, and other equivalent madnesses. If you’re not a Trump fan and can’t reason with the other thing either, what’s left?

Read the entire piece here.

For those of us in the heat of the battle against Trumpism, the kind of stuff Taibbi talks about in this piece (including a controversy in the Classics department at Princeton), doesn’t help. It actually makes some court evangelicals and Fox News sound sensible. When Trump won in 2016 I blamed the Christian Right. If Trump wins in 2020, the Left will need to take some of the blame. Stay tuned.