Monday, July 16, 2018

On Black Identitariansim And Related Issues


An exchange over:


The fear of white power as seen by a half black—Nigerian, half white—Polish, PhD student now living in England.

His argument might surprise you.

But it being in the fine online journal Quillette, a good representative of the IDW, will tell you it’s thoughtful, clearly and accessibly written and goes contrary to received narratives.


Fear of White Power? Oh c'mom Itzik. "Black Identitarians"? Using a phrase like this implies so many questionable premises that I don't even know where to begin. And for the record, Ta-Nehisi Coates is brilliant, provocative, accessible, and has street creds, which I think is where a lot of the criticism comes from. He did not attend an Ivy and was a college drop out so, the thinking may go, where does he get off talking about race and inserting himself into these conversation where he has no place. I have always detected an underlying element of classism when reading criticism of  Coates. I read about 4 paragraphs of this article and said to myself, "aw, forget it." This is yet another area where we agree to disagree. I have never heard of this magazine so I did a quick google search which suggested that this is a "right center" magazine with a libertarian bias. One quote was "They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes" and I would suggest that "black Identitarians" is not only loaded but, at least to me, offensive.


I think it a good article that makes a lot of good points.

In answer to what you say:


Black identitarians as used by Adekoya (“A”) in his essay has a clear and distinct meaning. A definition of “identitarian” I like is ....The set of ideas arising from an ontology of identity..., with ontology being a key word in it. 

So to whom A refers are those who make blackness a fundamental premise of their analysis of things, the exclusive prism through which they see things, the standard by which they judge things and the measure of all things. That way of seeing the world and seeing others in the world is a fetter that distorts and is reductive of the complexity of the world and all who are in it, the complexity of their own identity and those they attempt to squeeze into it, making of blackness an abstracted Procrustean bed. 


Coates exemplifies this kind of thinking and that is what makes his writing so vulgarly reductive, seeing the world only as a pitched struggle between us and them, seeing whiteness as a pervasive and ubiquitous enemy, arguing that only some kind of transformational social upheaval in the nature of a violent struggle will ever bring racial harmony and equity to America, seeing all whites as pig cousins to the official pigs in police uniforms who oppress and, so, suppress blacks under the hard pressing fist of systemic racism, not seeing any change in racial relations in America or fundamental improvement for black Americans between then, as he defines then, o’ so long ago, and now, denying people of his skin color agency while reducing them to their color and generally being a grievance monger in chief. 

A makes many good points against the utter reductive crudity of the picture Coates paints. And on that metaphor, Coates is a primitivist whose “sensationalism” blinds people better to how lurid his work is. And I could care less where he did or didn’t go to school: I judge him by the character of his content not by the pedigree of his sheepskin. 


Telling it is to me that you read four paragraphs of A’s essay then quit. So you have no real basis for judging it. You’d need to read the whole thing. A is a scholar. He knows things. He marshals arguments. And he offers evidence in support of them. He can be disagreed with but not after 4 paragraphs and a broadside into the sidebar of Ta-Nehisi Coates. You’ve made hardly any incursion into A’s essay. 

And similarly, it’s simply peremptory to dismiss Quillette by a label you attach to it. I out of hand dismiss that kind of dismissal of it. It has published some superb articles, intelligent, well researched, well written, accessible, plain spoken and totally no bullshit, (which, of course, isn’t to say they can’t be disagreed with.)

The article , for example, on the #metoo hysteria in the sliming of the Canadian writer Steven Galloway is a model of stunning reportage that went at least a year in the making. 

And the articles, for others, by Coleman Hughes on American focused black identitarianism, as contrasted with A’s British focus, in which Hughes gives more space to kicking Coates out of his intellectual bed, are terrific and certainly worth reading for more than four paragraphs —as is A of course—if only to get a smart, thoughtful, thought through and eloquent argument for a set of ideas you might profit by contending with. 

Speaking with a friend of mine just recently, the phrase came up that I like a lot—“received narratives.” Quillette is precisely about asserting excellent counterclaims to them for the open minded to consider and argue over.


Point taken Itzik. Let me ask you a question: would you be as sanguine about this term if your thoughts and reasoning were reduced to something called, “Jew Identitarianism”? Would that that give you any pause about the appropriateness of this term?


Absolutely. I’d think about it, consider the arguments made and then come to my view of the issue. 

And before I see any such argument made, I can presumptively tell you that for as much as I recognize a dimension of reflexive tribalism in my support for Israel, I’d make the same set of arguments against Jewish identitarianism, which I see no little of and don’t like, that A and Hughes and others, take Glenn Loury for an instance, make of the black variety of it.

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