There is a paradox at the center of the identity politics left. Those who consider themselves the most ferocious opponents of racism and bigotry are in fact the only other ones besides racists who are so obsessed with their identities.
Hillary Clinton’s latest speech attacking Donald Trump for his past comments was well-received by those websites to the left of center that viscerally oppose such comments, like Jezebel, Salon, and multiple times at Slate.
Clinton slammed Trump for hiring Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon as its new campaign manager and went down a list of unhinged articles Breitbart has actually published under his tenure. The interesting thing about many of Breitbart’s headlines isn’t just the casual bigotry and insanity but the obsession with identity politics present in such articles as “Straight People Have Ruined Gay Rights,” which argued for straights to be banned from gay spaces. Nothing would need to change for those words to be published nearly verbatim at Salon.
Other articles would look just like Salon if only a few words were changed. “Why Equality and Diversity Departments Should Only Hire Rich, Straight White Men,” would just need to change the identity words to SJW-preferred groups. Another Breitbart writer was outraged about “How Feminist Propaganda is Destroying Men’s Lives,” just the kind of article Salon publishes when the topic is “rape culture” and the lives in question are female.
So it was amusing to see Breitbart torn apart by a presidential candidate, but it would be even better if those same outlets cheering Clinton on weren’t themselves proponents of some of the very tactics she put up for criticism. Dividing people by race is what politically correct SJWs thrive on. Many can’t even evaluate an argument without invoking the race, gender, or sexuality of the person making that argument. PC activists have created a whole language to demean an argument based on the identity of the speaker. Claiming someone is “mansplaining,” “whitesplaining,” “straightsplaining,” “cissplaining” or some other kind of “-splaining” is considered sufficient for SJWs to refute an argument. When Jonathan Chait critiqued the culture of extreme political correctness on the left, writers at some of those same outlets that applauded Clinton for smacking down Breitbart’s toxic identity politics invoked Chait’s identity to attack him.
“[H]ere is sad white man Jonathan Chait’s essay about the difficulty of being a white man in the second age of ‘political correctness,’” white male Alex Pareene, who is getting ready to move over to a sports website, Pajama-Boy-splained in a post that will soon only exist at Archive.org. (I wish him success in his new job at Deadpsin and think that he will really enhance their coverage of the Washington Redskins name controversy.) “Many progressive critics have written off the piece as the whining of an out-of-touch white guy, and that’s certainly a fair response,” Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder wrote.
In August Autostraddle, a culture website with a LBT-focus, even retracted a favorable review of “Sausage Party” on the grounds that the writer was white and one of the characters was played by a Latina (or “Latinx,” in SJW-ese). The accompanying editor’s note was so hilariously SJW that observers had a hard time distinguishing it from satire, making it a textbook illustration of Poe’s Law.
There’s an underlying perception that someone can’t offer a fair assessment or argument about topics related to a different race or background. When the “controversial” review came into Autostraddle, the editor’s first question was not about whether it was well-written or accurate but, “is the reviewer white[?]” “I was blinded by my own whiteness existing inside a system of white supremacy. I must do better. I will do better,” the editor later virtusplained as part of her apology.
Liberal cultural critics will shift their assessment of a work upon finding out the race of the author or authors. The food blog Thug Kitchen was written anonymously from the start and became popular with the kinds of enlightened foodies who like vegan kale smoothie recipes. Mateeka Quinn of BookRiot wrote that she felt “let down” when she found out. “Many readers were shocked and suddenly offended.” But why should the race of the bloggers matter, especially considering the blog wasn’t about race? Did the critics, who protested a book signing in L.A., associate the word “thug” with black culture?
Quinn offered an explanation that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny:
The problem that the African American community has with writers like Stockett and Thug Kitchen is not the fact that they are White. Rather, it’s the fact that their controversial writing assumes a perspective that they have not—could not, by the simple nature of their birth—experience.
Individuals can learn from experience. They can also learn from books and study. But one’s race in and of itself often doesn’t tell us anything definitive about that person’s experienced. Individuals of a single race can have different individual experiences. If thug chiefs Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway were so out-of-touch with the topic they were writing about, then why was it such a surprise when their race was revealed? That fact alone shows that they wrote it convincingly.
White Scottish historian William Dalrymple has written some of the most brilliant and sympathetic portrayals of colonial era India in the English-speaking language, even though he is neither Indian, nor was alive in the 1800’s. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville wrote one of the most brilliant books describing the early United States. Indian-born British author Salmon Rushdie wrote compellingly about American rock’n’roll culture in The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Their heritage and country of origin didn’t prevent them from describing countries and cultures apart from their own.
Of course someone who doesn’t know anything about a topic wouldn’t be qualified to write about it, but that problem can affect people of any race or sexuality. For example, I haven’t written as much about white Appalachian culture as author of Hillbilly Elegy J.D. Vance has, despite my being white, but I have written a lot about China. And Autostraddle editor Heather Hogan hasn’t written a lot about reality despite her identity as editor of a GLAAD-awarded website.
Ironically, those liberals who insist that we must take into account the identity of a writer or speaker making an argument are making the exact same argument Trump was (rightly) criticized for making about the Trump University lawsuit, including in Clinton’s speech. His thought that an American of Mexican descent can’t be impartial due to his heritage is the logical equivalent of Autostraddle saying that a white reviewer can’t be impartial on account of his heritage. In her speech, Clinton once again quoted Paul Ryan’s rebuke that it was the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”
It’s also the textbook definition of a politically correct comment.