This comment is from CK MacLeod on Joanna Schroeder’s piece Racist Writings: Should Derbyshire and Weigel Be Fired?
I think you’re inching toward, without actually confronting, a multiculturalist double-think problem. Because this discussion is, or seemed to be, politically and socially exhausted, something “we” had all gotten past, many of its premises, even where they are paradoxical, are simply accepted without question. Yet their very non-questionability in turn provides an opportunity for individuals like Derbyshire to rise up and question them anyway, as infringements on his personal freedom to live his life as he rationally sees fit.
Many of us have learned and accepted the teaching that, as inheritors of a racist-sexist-classist culture, we will be to some degree inalienably racist, sexist, and classist, and regardless of where we happen to sit in relation to power. This goes crucially for those disadvantaged by inequities in power and privilege as well as for beneficiaries, the former having necessarily internalized many of the same prejudices, including towards themselves, and necessarily having been in this sense disfigured by the larger culture.
So, a Derbyshirist believes himself to be in possession of a kind of jiu-jitsu. Derbyshire himself famously copped to being a racist, but a “mild and tolerant” one. In short, he accepts the multiculturalist critique, the basis of so much consciousness-raising and self-criticism often delivered in the form of or place of punishment for offenders, and says, “OK, we live in a racist culture, or culture disfigured by a history of racism. This is how I choose to live in the bad world.” He makes matters worse for himself by attaching himself to a blatantly racialist pseudo-scientific discourse meant to reinforce the rationalism of this decision and the irrationality of trying, especially as an individual, to combat its supposedly real results in his daily life – or in his children’s daily lives. Yet there are few if any of us, black or white or (as we all really are) in between, who isn’t susceptible in some way to “skin color realism” of some type, based on a lifetime absorbing stereotypical images, reading or viewing stereotype-reinforcing news and statistics, and so on.
So, the question for Derbyshire as well as for Weigel – and for all of the rest of us – isn’t “Are you a racist?” According to the best anti-racist thinking, the statement “I am not a racist” is itself already a falsehood, always and without real exception. You therefore don’t need to wait for some “seriously racist shit” following the “but.” “I am not a racist, but…” is already seriously racist shit. The question is, “Given your and everyone else’s racist tendencies, what is the best way to cope privately and also to express oneself on the matter publicly?”
In my opinion Derbyshire seems to fail miserably and flagrantly on both counts, and Weigel obviously much less so. Few of us will end up Derbyshiring at such length, so publicly, and over such an extended period of time, but we can approach still approach his errors, or those of his defenders and of some of his accusers, with a bit of humility, a bit of “there but for the grace of God or dumb luck…”
Photo courtesy of Linda Cronin