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The pseudo-politics of liberal white purity


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In Viewpoint magazine, Asad Haider examines how white liberals who blame the “identity politics” of left-wing radicals for helping Trump get elected covertly affirm white identity itself. Haider shows how this unacknowledged and unexamined centering of white identity in contemporary political debates is a huge obstacle to building cross-racial class power. Read an excerpt of the piece below or the full text here.

In the meantime, nobody knows what to do with the non-whites, like me, who attempt to intervene in the debate. So far the strategy of the liberal whites has amounted to a glorified form of sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “I can’t hear you!” Whites on Twitter continue to resolutely accuse us of being white, while white acquaintances point out that we are not. And so it turns back around, back to white people and their fantasies. We have tried, for some time, to ignore this and continue to discuss the substantive issues. But white people make our lives even more difficult when they claim to speak in our name. I can only conclude that the strange phenomenon called whiteness produces a very deep and tenacious psychopathology, and that it is time for us to attack it openly.

What Ned Resnikoff demonstrates is that white guilt has a dark side, which I propose labeling “white purity.” It is a kind of ideology of racial hygiene which embraces multiculturalism and diversity, but attempts to eliminate undesirable elements from the white identity itself.

From the perspective of white purity, there are good whites. They have college degrees, listen to NPR, and have many POC friends. But unfortunately there also are bad whites. They’re bad because they probably voted for Donald Trump. But it gets worse. They listen to country music and eat factory farmed meat. They are offensively overweight, and go to church instead of yoga on Sundays. Most disgusting of all, they work in dirty manual labor jobs and have a petty fixation on making more money, unaware that at Harvard an English major of color is being forced to endure the trauma of reading Huckleberry Finn.

The whole thing gets more complicated because there are a few other bad whites who shouldn’t be bad whites, like Mark Lilla or Todd Gitlin. Despite their good educations and their incomes, they fail to embrace white purity. Instead, they advocate returning to the white politics of the 1930s and 1940s, when a benevolent white president secured a welfare state for his fellow whites.

As it turns out, these lapsed whites are actually a godsend for the whole project of white purity, because they serve to discredit any possible ideological threat. All non-white critics of white purity can be dismissed by loudly claiming that they are little more than lapsed whites in disguise. Whether you are black, Arab, Puerto Rican, or Korean, you will need to be re-identified if you fail to play your role.

Indeed, to the consternation of good whites, not every non-white is on board with white purity. Many are, to be sure, because the secret reality which white purity hopes to obscure is that non-whites are just as capable of a diversity of opinions and perspectives as whites are. For white purity to succeed, non-whites have to be romanticized as noble victims. When they fail to fit into this category, white purity seems to lack a proper foundation.

Fredrik deBoer asks, “Does it matter to Resnikoff that the most acid critiques of identity politics I know of have come from writers of color?” It is a question that keeps many whites awake at night. But for the rest of us the reasons are obvious. Because we have experienced racism from well-behaved and well-educated liberals as often as from the rednecks they despise; because we have never benefitted from the condescending and patronizing attitudes of white multiculturalists; because we recognize in the affluent liberal hatred of the white poor the same depraved social Darwinism that in less public moments is directed against us.

Image: Robert Ryman, No Title Required 3, 2013. Via Viewpoint.