I will be posting about pair of books that center upon racism in America. Because the books involve hot button social issues, and the stories behind me reading seem noteworthy, I wanted to put up an introductory post so as not to distract from commentary on the actual books.
For the last couple of months, I had been planning on reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. The reason that I chose to read this book is that the work has influenced many people that I encounter on social media as well as articles, blogs and other commentary that I read. I will add that I usually find myself in disagreement with these folks. Obviously, this book gets to the heart of various contentious issues. It is at the center of the so - called culture war. From what I understood about this book, it strongly espoused what myself and others have been calling postmodernism or some variation on the term. This particular set of principles, though not really new, seems to be gaining in popularity as of late. This is beside the fact that its principles are in direct conflict with a host of other belief systems.
Though it did not really start out as such, what I am calling postmodernism, at least in terms of current social debates, involve classifying every single individual into one of two categories. Those categories are “privileged” or “marginalized”. According to what is coming from this belief system, almost everything in the world is based on power relationships with the privileged holding all of the power. When a group is considered privileged the basic rules of avoiding stereotypes, hearing diverging viewpoints, freedom of speech are turned off for them. "Whiteness studies” is now something that some academics are studying. "Whiteness" is viewed as a societal ill. I believe that whiteness studies is covered in DiAngelo’s book. Many postmodernists will argue that privileged people should not even have an opinion about issues that affect the marginalized. Therefore, certain groups should not even comment upon oppression, even in the developing world. Furthermore, privileged people should not create art that depicts marginalized people. For instance, several writers have recently come under heavy criticism for depicting so called marginalized people in their books. The initial group that was most known for its privilege was white men. However, one can now find opinion pieces in major publicans arguing that white women, Jews, gay white men, light skinned African Americans, non – Transgender gay people, among other groups, are privileged. Many, but not all, postmodernists have also called for censorship of ideas and speakers. Postmodernism also calls into questions the basic principles of science and reason itself. In all fairness I did not know for certain which, if any, of these arguments that D’Angelo supports. This is one reason why I decided to read her book.
I have read arguments that the current crop of postmodernists have completely misinterpreted and distorted the belief system. I will be eventually reading Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida who helped to found postmodernism at which time I will have more to say about this. Either way, I think that I have described what is coming from the postmodernists at this time. Of course, it is difficult to talk about this without generalizing. There are many people who agree with certain postmodernist principles without being dedicated postmodernists. A good example is the very popular term “white privilege”. Lots of people use and accept it while rejecting many other tenets of postmodernism. Also, it is important to remember that not everyone who does hold many postmodernist beliefs holds all of them. For instance, I think that many people who adhere to many of these views are against the censorship part. I have also only provided the barest hodgepodge summery above. It is based on what is coming out of late. This belief system also seems to be changing relatively quickly.
In general terms I identify with what I call the humanistic left. I am a liberal in the traditional American sense of the term. I also agree with the tenants of liberalism in the broad and more general sense of the term. Many of my beliefs are in direct conflict with postmodernism. I believe that both racism and sexism are problems that need to be fought. In fact, combatting these ills is a great and noble endeavor. However, classifying everyone as "privileged" or "oppressed" is simplistic and often distorts truth. I also believe in freedom of speech, the scientific method, the importance of not stereotyping individuals, that violence and oppression are harmful no matter who perpetuates them, etc. It is vital that we treat individuals equally. The last trends in postmodernism are in conflict with these values. “Humanistic left” may sound a bit fancy, but I have found that most people including classical liberals, moderate conservatives, moderate religious folks, people who do not like labels, etc. share similar values.
I will refrain from posting more detailed arguments in this post. I recently posted about several books whose subject involved postcolonialism. At least in part, postcolonialism is a postmodernist belief system (the conglomeration of postmodernist ideologies, such as postcolonialism, intersectionalism, queer theory, critical race studies, etc. is sometimes referred to as "Critical Theory" or “Theory”.) I expressed my views in those posts. I also posted commentary on Russell Blackford’s The Tyranny of Opinion . That book delved into some of the excesses of the postmodernist movement in some detail. I will of course share more opinions when I read DiAngelo’s book and another book that I will mention below.
On a very related topic, the other book that I will posting about, before DiAngelo’s work, is Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I had a disagreement with Jodi Picoult on Twitter over her use of the term “white privilege”. As I hinted above I do not agree the premise of the term or the ways that it is commonly used. She responded to a Tweet that I sent disagreeing with her. We had a Twitter conversation about the issue. I found her to be very polite and she attempted to make her points using reason. While we still did not agree on the use of the term, I found that we agreed on a lot of related topics and I found her to be very moderate. She suggested that I read her Small Great Things to better understand her views. Thus, I decided to give it a go.
I try to read everything with an open mind, however, I went into the reading expecting to mostly disagree with DiAngelo’s book. I expected to find it very interesting. I think that it is important to read things that we disagree with. Though Jodi Picoult’s book is a novel, I suspected that it contained lots of underlying ideas concerning race and similar topics. From what I had heard, and based on my impression of Jodi Piccoult herself, I expected that I would mostly agree with the direction that she has taken in this book, but I would find that I disagreed with some of her ideas.
More to come on both of these books and on these issues.
My Blog editing and posting is a little behind. I wrote the above before I started reading these books but have since delved into both works. Except for spelling and grammar corrections and changes from future tense to past tense I have not changed anything above since I started reading.