Who look at your face from more than one angle

29 12 2016

Short bit: alllla these pieces about the need to empathize with the whiteworkingclass?

How many by women? How many about women?

I really don’t know—there might be plenty—but I haven’t seen pundit pieces to this effect. Reporting, yes—Arlie Hochschild, Larissa MacFarquhar, Patricia Lockwood—but counsel to ‘Be nice’? Nope.

Instead, what I’ve seen has been white women calling out white women for voting for Trump. Samantha Bee, Jen Graves, the (mostly-but-not-only-white) women at Jezebel.

Yes, there are plenty of white liberals and leftists of all sexes willing to go after whites of all sexes for voting for or not caring they’re voting for whiteness-first, but the genre of sympathy-for-the-WWC seems to be written largely by and about white men.

Nope, don’t know what this means, but I bet it means something.


h/t Emily Nussbaum, who’s been relentless in pointing out on Twitter how few analyses of Trump’s win/Clinton’s loss takes sex seriously, and Marcus H. Johnson, Oliver Willis, Jamelle Bouie, Jamilah Lemieux, and many, many others who’ve highlighted how simple-minded so many of the ‘be kind’ pieces are.

Don’t know much biology

11 11 2015

I know, I know, I shouldn’t be surprised by anything I read from Rod Dreher, but still: how could a guy who wrote this*. . .

Dreher trans drag

. . . and this. . .

Dreher trans drag2

. . . be so confident in writing this:

Dreher race transSo he knows race and transgenderism are not in the same category, even though he doesn’t know what transgenderism is.

Amazing how that works.

*The post originally had a picture of a drag queen at the top.

Show me the color of your right hand, pt II

6 07 2015

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.


So I figured I needed to get over that, and looked for apartments in, if not wholly black neighborhoods (as in North Minneapolis), then in neighborhoods where black people lived, which at the time included the area around Stevens Square. I took the bus with black people, shopped at stores where black people shopped, hung out in the park where black people hung out, and if I was still the (self-conscious) observer, I was, at least, beginning to see that one black person was not every black person.

It was also at some point in graduate school that I became interested in my own ethnic background, or at least the Irish part of it. I’m more German than Irish, along with Scandinavian, French, and, Polish, but in the 1990s I lay claim to Ireland. It was, I knew, a bit of a pose: I’d been Irish all along, but that had never mattered, and there was nothing particularly Irish about my upbringing, but I loved the Pogues and read Kate O’Brien and scoffed at green beer with the best of them. It was something I chose.

I was Irish. But white? No, that still didn’t make sense, and not in a how-the-Irish-became-white kind of way. It was something I recognized as a social reality—that people would look at me and see a white woman—but I didn’t feel “white”, didn’t know what it meant to be white.

A word about white privilege: I don’t much like the term, not least because it seems to personalize the issue too much, to customize the yawning fabric of white supremacy into a bespoke suit of advantage. It’s not that white privilege isn’t real, but that it isn’t the point: it’s just the final, small echo from the deep, deep well of white supremacy.

White privilege is the erasure of white supremacy, a forgetting that white, too, is a race. To call it a privilege to forget is cast this privilege in the most ironic of shadings: to use the term earnestly, piously, rather than sardonically, savagely, is just another way to dodge one’s own race—to look at the privilege, rather than the whiteness.

What does it mean to be white? What does it mean for me to be white? Again, I can look at social constructions and systems and structures of oppression, but do I know who and how I am as a white woman?

I prefer to talk about ethnicity, these days about how I’m mostly Irish and German, but that, too, is a dodge. I know I’m white, but don’t know I’m white. I see the history of whiteness in the US as a history of negation—this is what we are not—built around qualities and characteristics and people that those who are white are not. It’s not just that, of course, but if I reject the ‘positive’ characterization of whiteness, which is to say, white supremacy, then I don’t know that whiteness has any meaning at all.

I’m not sure about any of this. It seems that I’ve concluded that whiteness (in the US, at least) positively affirmed is white supremacy, that a whiteness without supremacy is a lack.  Is whiteness without blackness a thing of its own? Should it be? I don’t know what a non-supremacist whiteness would mean, that it could mean anything.

I am concerned these days with ontological matters: what does it mean to be? The question ‘what does it mean to be white’ appears as an obstacle, the whiteness obliterating the being. I don’t know if I have to answer this second question in order to get to the primary one. In contrast, I don’t feel as if I have to answer ‘what does it mean to be a woman’, that ‘a woman’ blots out the ‘to be’.

No, there is something about whiteness, a somnolent heaviness which masquerades as weightlessness, a history without a history, which interferes with my ability to make sense.

I’m a white woman, and I don’t know what that means.

Show me the color of your right hand, pt. I

5 07 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates, after excerpting a story of his experience with racism, has invited his readers to submit their own experiences. A misreading of this invitation (“talk about your experiences with race”)  prompted the following response from me. I thought I’d whittle it down and submit it, but upon re-reading his post, it’s clear my response isn’t on target and so won’t be submitted. Still, I thought it worth posting. Here’s part I:

I didn’t know I was white until I was an adult.

Even now, long into adulthood, I’m not always so sure.

As a kid in the 1970s, growing up in almost completely white town in a mostly white state, I knew I was white—but white meant pale, white was set against tan, not black. White was about the sun, and the more sun—the tanner you were—the better.

I could get a decent tan (we used suntan lotion back in the day, not sunscreen, and only until we had a base tan: then we’d switch over to baby oil), but mostly I found laying out boring. I wanted a tan to look better, to not be white, but it was a hassle not being white. You had to work at not being white, so while I worked enough not to look sickly—pale—I never achieved the glorious tans of some of my friends.

I wasn’t completely oblivious of race back then. We had a t.v., after all, and on trips to or through Milwaukee I would see black people; on family trips around the country I’d encounter black people, and they were utterly other to me. I wasn’t afraid, wasn’t particularly taught to be afraid by my parents, but it was always a little thrilling to talk to a black person like it was a normal thing to do.

*Caveat: I am running off of memory, This is how I remember the experience, today; how I actually experienced it, in the moment, is gone.

“Nigger” was not used in the Peterson household. No nigger jokes, no racial jokes, generally. Did we say “nigger pile” when we three kids jumped into my parents’ bed on Sunday mornings, or were we admonished not to? Did we change the words to “eeny meeny miney moe”? I don’t remember*. I do remember my dad telling us about the separate drinking fountains in San Angelo, Texas, where he served for awhile in the Air Force. There was at least one black man in his unit.

I liked to imagine, later, that it was this experience, along with, perhaps, seeing on t.v. the brutality of white resistance to civil rights protesters, that set my parents against racist talk, but I don’t know. It’s not something we talked much about.

My time at college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was my first sustained exposure to black people. Some lived in my dorm, some taught my classes, some worked at The Daily Cardinal, but however friendly we might have been with one another, we weren’t really friends. I was always conscious of their race; I had barely begun to think I, too, had a race.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I thought, truly, to do something about my other-consciousness, which meant admitting my self-consciousness. I remember reading a bit in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of a white woman who, while waiting for a bus, thrust out her arm and screamed out STOP! at a young black man running up to her, intent, she was sure, on stealing her purse. He was, of course, only running to catch the bus, but this woman justified her scream with a well-he-could-have. . . .

I was scornful of this woman. Of course he was only running to catch the bus, how racist could she be? But if I wouldn’t have screamed like that woman did, I might have had the thought behind the scream. I knew that when I looked at one black person I saw every black person. They were all the same to me, I admitted, and if that wasn’t racism, little was.

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.


This is not America/Ain’t that America

13 08 2014

Or should it be the Nick Cave song: “One more man gone” ?

The police kill an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, then try to lock down the town.

Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo

Reilly and another reporter, Wesley Moore (of the Washington Post), were arrested for not vacating a McDonalds; they were later released.

So many others have so much more, and better, to say. I’ll note simply the insanity of militarizing the police in order to protect the police.

As if, in a polity, the police aren’t there to protect the citizens. As if we were a police state, where the point of the police is to protect the police. As if. . . .

In any case, #Ferguson gives the latest; Greg Howard goes long.

Whitney Curtis/NY Times

This is us.

You can’t figure out the bag I’m in

21 05 2014

[Updated below]

Race is a social construct.

1. This does not mean race is not real. This is always the problem with any mention of social construction—you’re saying it’s not real!—but there is no reason to conclude that that which is constructed is not real.

The United States is a social construction, and it is real. Language is a social construction, and it is real. Political parties, political movements, constitutions: all socially constructed, all real.

(Are all social constructions fictions? And what is the relationship of fiction to reality? More complicated question, more complicated answer, but the short version to both is: Depends on how you define fiction. But that’s another post.)

2. This does mean it has a history, one which varies across time and space. In 19th century Europe one could speak of German and Slavic and English (etc.) races, and further distinguish Jews as a race.

That broadly ethnic version of race was transported across the Atlantic, but was overcome—due in no small part to the necessities of settlement and slave society—by an understanding of white, black, and ‘the savage’ races.

Black was always clear: those of African origin; savage would be understood as Indian; and white was reserved for northern and western European Christians. These lines could be blurred and stretched—whites would eventually include southern Europeans, the Irish, and Jews, and today some Hispanics are crossing into white—as well as added to, as with ‘asiatic’, ‘oriental’, or Asian peoples, as well as the aforementioned Hispanic.

Current US census categories include “White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”. The Census sites notes “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.”

Further, and in late recognition of interracial reproduction, “[p]eople may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture,” . . .

The Census is hardly the last word on the issue, but that categories have changed and, with the allowance of multi-racial reporting, become more fluid indicates that race is largely what we say it is.

3. To state that something is a social construct is not to deny any material contribution to that construct.

Are differences in skin color influenced by genetics? Yes. Hair color and texture? Yes. Bone structures? Yes.

4. Does this mean race is biological?

Long breath in and out.

Both the long and short answers are “yes and no”. Phenotypic differences are influenced by biology and in some cases determined by genetics, but the sorting of these biologically- and genetically-influenced/determined phenotypic differences into races tends to elide the complexity of the mechanisms involved in those influences/determinations.

Thus, if one wants to speak of genetic differences among humans, one is much better off referring to “populations” (or, perhaps, “ethnicities”): the term is anchored in geography, and allows for understanding of such terms as gene  or allele frequencies and genetic drift. Some genes are more likely to appear in some populations and not others (for both evolutionary and non-evolutionary, i.e., “drift” reasons); in some cases those variations will be visible in appearance.

In other words, there are many genetic populations and there are differences between those populations; in some cases those differences which are visible are assigned a racial character.

As Agustin Fuentes has pointed out, the assignment of certain characteristics, and those with x number of those characteristics to a race, ignores the fact that “race” encompasses many genetic populations. To state that “there are racial differences between Africans and Asians” is false not because there are no genetic differences between Africans and Asians but because the use of the term “race” erases the genetic differences among Africans and Asians: again, there are many genetic populations within each “race”.

So, again, the determination of race is at least as much about what we say it is than with genetics.

4 5. This is not even to get into breeding across populations, and the determination of the race of cross-population offspring.

5 6. This is also not even to get into complex (multiple genetic and other contributions) traits such as personality, intelligence, temperament, and behavior.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that there are variations in the allele frequencies contributing to these complex traits across populations. The identification and characterization of these alleles (and their possible interactions among the alleles and with other factors) is only beginning, however, which means any conclusions about these variations are grossly premature.

6 7. I will not be reading Nicholas Wade’s book.

Perhaps a nice book on population genetics, instead.


*Update: Criminy, can I not even count? Should I blame my Irish or my German genes for the lack? Or maybe it was a stray Danish or French allele.

Anyway, the real reason for the update: Anne Fausto-Sterling reviewed a number of books on race, genetics, and epigenetics which both overlaps with and extends my argument—and with fewer typos!

Talkin’ at the Texaco

9 12 2012

Quick (and not-so) hits:

I keep a list of books to find in the empty back pages of a 2009 pocket planner. The books aren’t listed in any particular order: I see a reference to (or given, perhaps by dmf) a possibility, and I scrawl it down. Since I do so much poking around The Strand, I look them up, find out where they’re located (Med Hist, Hist Gen, Amer, Pol, etc), and pen that in, boxing the location in different colors, to make it easier to see.

The fiction, however, I keep on separate pages. I go back and forth on fiction: sometime scooping up bunches, other times neglecting these books entirely.

I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days it became very important to me to track down and list fiction.

There was, in particular, one book I wanted. I must have written it down, hadn’t I? No. In my 2012 Moleskine pocket planner? I found a number of others (The Age of Miracles, Brookland, Zone One, Forever) scrawled opposite a week in October, but not the one tickling me behind my ear.

It came out this past year, I thought. A story in which Saudi Arabia is the superpower, the US a backwater, Osama sulking in the background—something like that. The Stranger had written about it in the Slog awhile ago and, I thought, in the past few weeks, so I went to their Books section and clicked back into their archives. December, November, October. . . nothing.


What was the author’s name? Salim Ahmed? Salem Ahmad? Something like that. A search on Amazon brings me a number of nonfiction books, nothing close. To the Strand’s site, thinking it might be listed. . . somewhere. Found one that seemed interesting (Alif the Unseen), but not the tickler. Barnes & Noble—nothing.


Back to the Stranger, back to Books, and a scroll back and back and back through the archives. I thought it might have been reviewed January, February, so set myself in, Trickster in my lap, for a slog, clicking on squinched entries to see if the book hid there, moving on, moving back.

K. Silem Mohammed! Was that it? It’s not that far (is it?) from Salim Ahmad?

No, Mohammed is a poet, not a novelist.

Back, back. Fran Lebowitz; Jan Berenstein, “Really Good Books About Lesbians”; Reverend America; David Foster Wallace; Katherine Boo; and. . . page 9, February 9, “The Reverse Jihad”: the book review of Mark Ruff’s The Mirage.

Mark Ruff?! Mark, not Salim? Ruff, not Ahmed?


But I got it.


While scrolling back, I found this entry by Paul Constant, dated August 3, 2012, in which he writes

I know a lot of authors who get outraged over the consumer’s belief that they can decide what they pay for the piece of art that the author spent months—probably years—creating. They call it entitlement. (It’s not like the work is completely unavailable; Pogue could have bought a paperback for less than he spent for a pirated copy.) Many consumers believe that they should be able to access the work in whatever format they choose, and they believe that when they buy the work, they should be able to do whatever they want with it. (They accuse author’s estates and publishers of being greedy and out-of-touch.) I know the law says that there’s a right and a wrong here, but I also believe the law is hopelessly outdated when it comes to issues like this. I honestly don’t know what side I’m on, here.

I tend toward sympathy toward the authors (duh), but Constant pretty well sums up my own ambivalence.


I must have the only cat in the world who is afraid of cat beds.



I’ve bitched about Rod Dreher before, will bitch about him again, and am bitching about him today.

Long ago (and far away) I read First Things, Christianity Today, and National Review Online with some regularity, partly to keep my secular-leftist self honest, partly to keep tabs. I fell out with both FT and NRO as they became less and less thoughtful, although I do read CT at least weekly, and have since added Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock at Marginal Revolution to my teeth-grinding reading.

Still, I felt the need to keep up with some kind of thoughtful social conservative, and since I’d been reading Dreher from back in his BeliefNet days, I re-upped with him once he returned to blogging, this time at The American Conservative.

Dreher is thoughtful about a third of the time, and mildly-to-quite interesting about another third; that final third, however, is enough to make me reconsider reading him.

He writes well about himself and his own struggles, his family, and what he’s drawn to, but when writing “from the outside” of a phenomenon, he’s terrible: small-minded, close-minded, and mean. When he’s called out on his cruelty his defensiveness rises into bile, or when corrected on a crucial point or reminded of a double-standard, he’ll either double-down or ignore the commenter. When all else fails, he’ll bring out the sneering “you’re-making-too-much-of-this/can’t-you-people-take-a-joke” response.

All are on display in this post, ‘Buckwild’ and Self-Exploitation. The post for the most part is fine, but when he gets to the end, he pulls a classic Dreher move:

Nevertheless, to what extent does the framing of films like this, and the informed consent of its participants, ameliorate one’s moral squeamishness? Jersey Shore was about the sexy trashiness of working-class Italian-Americans from New Jersey. Buckwild is about the sexy trashiness of working-class Scots-Irish Americans from Appalachia. How would you feel if the next installment were about the sexy trashiness of working-class African-Americans from the south side of Chicago, or the sexy trashiness of working-class Hispanic-Americans from El Paso?

That last question is in and of itself is worth asking, but it’s a problem coming from Dreher because he loses his mind when he talks about race.

I don’t think Dreher hates black or brown people, and I have no reason to believe that he would be anything other than gracious to any black or brown person introduced to him. In short, I wouldn’t call him a racist.

And yet. And yet he has a hard time seeing that black people are a plural, not a singular, and he cannot seem to extend any sort of sympathy to those who would argue that racism is still a problem in this country, especially not to those who write from their own experiences.

Unless, of course, you’d count Steve Sailer. Sigh.

Anyway, read the comments, especially his response to those who bring up The Dukes of Hazzard and their car, the stars-and-bars sportin’, Dixie-horn-blarin’, General Lee, and the, um, particular cultural politics of that show.

Dreher’s not having it, not one bit of it.

Now, as I was re-reading the entry and the comments while writing this, I thought, this is hardly the worst of what he’s written—see George Zimmerman’s Bloody Nose, for example, in which his last line is Remind me, why, exactly, is George Zimmerman on trial?—but perhaps this is one of those cases where the more I read Rod on race, the less credit I’m willing to give him.

He used to go on rampages about those horrid gay activists with some regularity, but now, for the most part, he manages to confine himself to saving religion from queer marriage. He’s terrible when it comes to liberal Catholics, especially liberal nuns, and is a damned bully when it comes to trans folk (one faithful trans reader, also from his BeliefNet days, finally had enough and bowed out).

I guess this is all so enraging precisely because he has shown himself to be capable of reflection and reconsideration of what matters to him; that he is is not when it comes to that which matters to others betrays a deliberate meanness.

Perhaps that’s too harsh, perhaps there are simply limits to his reflectiveness, limits which he himself cannot recognize.

Given that I almost certainly have those same limits, albeit in different places, perhaps I have a third reason for reading him that I can add to the two above: as a reminder of the existence of my own blind spots, and that I need to look for what I cannot see.


End of the semester—naught but grading ahead.

Blogging will be more erratic than usual.

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: I ain’t no limburger!

28 10 2012

John Sununu, Romney surrogate and White Man, discerned the only possible reason for Colin Powell to have endorsed Barack Obama:

SUNUNU: You have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or that he’s got a slightly different reason for President Obama.

MORGAN: What reason would that be?

SUNUNU: Well, I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being President of the United States — I applaud Colin for standing with him.

That’s some mighty fine deduction, John—may I call you John? Feel free to call me Absurd—so I hope you don’t mind if I extend your logic.

You’re a white man, right? Thus, by your reasoning—and I want to give you full credit for this calculus, John—according to your logic, the reason you’re voting for Romney is because he’s white.

Wait, there’s more! Clearly, you are a man, as is Mitt Romney, so, again, applying your own logic, you’re voting for Romney because he’s a man. (Since both Barack Obama and Colin Powell are men, I guess this one is a wash.)

I gotta bit of a corker for you, John. I’m a short white bisexual woman voting for a tall black heterosexual man.

What does this mean?!

Okay, sure, I’m a leftist, so perhaps that whiteliberalguilt thing is at play; does this mean you’re voting for Romney out of whiteconservativeguilt?

(And what is whiteconservativeguilt, anyway? Isn’t that just resentment?)

And that I’m a woman—HolyMaryMotherofGod, what do I do with this? I mean, it’s obvious, as I noted above, that you’re voting for Romney because he’s a man, but why oh why would I as a woman vote for a man?

I mean, that’s. . . that’s. . .that’s absurd, isn’t it?

There must be something else going on, right, John? John? Hellooooo. . . ?

Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: Perry as [white folks’] champion

12 01 2012

You noticed who’s not there, right?

What, they don’t need a champion? What the hell?

And Perry looks rather too much like like the previous occupant of the White House in that shot of him standing next to his plane.

He has no chance of winning of course, but I like that he’s pissing away the millions given to him by conservative donors.

As I used to say when working for a left-wing paper and we were criticized for taking money from non- and anti-lefty advertisers: Spend it all—make them spend it all!

(This one’s for you, dmf.)

Dumb and dumber

30 11 2011

Complete and utter blog theft from Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, but so nicely done, I couldn’t pass it up:


by Henry on November 29, 2011

Let’s imagine that we lived in an alternative universe where some of the more noxious nineteenth century pseudo-science regarding ‘inverts’ and same-sex attraction had survived into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Let us further stipulate that the editor of a nominally liberal opinion magazine had published one purported effort to ‘prove’ via statistics that same-sex attraction was a form of communicable psychosis, which invariably resulted in national degeneracy when it was allowed to persist. One of this essay’s co-authors had chased sissies in his youth, but claimed he had not realized that this was homophobic; he also had occasion to observe the lack of real men on the streets of Paris, and to deplore the resulting sapping of virility in the French national character. His efforts, and the efforts of fellow researchers (all of the latter funded by and/or directly involved with the Institute for the Suppression of Homosexual Filth) succeeded in creating a significant public controversy. Some public commentators embraced the same-sex-attraction-as-psychosis argument because they were, themselves, homophobes, others more plausibly because they were incompetent, or because they enjoyed being contrarians, or both. This, despite the fact that the statistical arguments on which these extreme claims depended were demonstrably incompetent.

Now, let us suppose that the same editor who helped release this tide of noxious homophobia in the first place still played a significant role in American public debate, and still refused to recognize that he might, actually, be wrong on the facts.  . . .

I wonder, if we lived in such a world, what Andrew Sullivan would think of that editor?

(Go read the whole thing—and definitely click through the embedded links.)

A fine response to Sully’s inability not only to wipe the shit from his shoes, but even to admit he stepped in it.

There are, of course, substantive responses to Mr. Sullivan’s flogging the pc-egalitarianism-is-killing-research-into-racial-differences-in-IQ-and-I-am-brave-for-pointing-the-way-to-truth-justice-and-the-American-way line he periodically burps up, even while admitting that “I certainly don’t have profound knowledge of the deep research of experts in the field.”

Or, you know, any knowledge, beyond that of an editor publishing the execrable Murray-Herrnstein “bell curve” thesis that blacks are dumber than whites (even as he complains that “No one is arguing that ‘that black people are dumber than white,’ “—oh yes, Mr. Andrew,  these two ‘no ones’ did exactly that).

Anyway, here’s the entire stupid thread thus far (original, response, responseresponse, response), as well as smart rebuttals by TNC here and here (read especially the comments for links to research from people who do have “profound knowledge” of the field).

In any case anyone is listening, yes, I believe that intelligence has a biological substrate, that evidence points to a multifactorial construction of intelligence, and that as a general matter there are genetic differences across populations, differences worth studying.

But that’s a damn sight away from sloppily heated declamations on race and IQ, refusal to consider the definitional (and thus methodological) problems with the terms “race” and “intelligence”, or, for that matter, on the role of “truth” in the research enterprise.

Pfft. Platonists.