The New York Times announced this week that it had hired Sarah Jeong as a new member of its editorial board. As is the unfortunate custom in the modern media age, this hiring led to a dissection of Jeong’s Twitter history in the hopes of finding something offensive. It did not take long for offensive things to be discovered. But in this case the offensive content came with a twist unique to the age of privilege. What the tweets described — and there were many — was how horrible white people are.
Among her many discriminatory tweets about white people, one showed a graph equating being white with being awful. The others were no better. The Times recently fired the writer Quinn Norton within hours of hiring her because of alleged racism, but has decided to stand by Jeong.
They released a statement about the controversy that included the following: “Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media. She regrets it, and the Times does not condone it.”
The Times Is Lying
Jeong should not be fired, because a handful of offensive tweets should not end a person’s career. But we must be clear that The New York Times is being dishonest. In fact, it does condone Jeong’s statements denigrating white people. How do we know this is true? Because if such statements had been made about any other racial group, there is absolutely no question that the writer would have been fired immediately.
The New York Times and most of the Left refuses to admit that they have institutionalized a new racial double standard in the United States. It is now acceptable to insult and denigrate white people as a whole in a way that even a decade ago was viewed as entirely unacceptable. Back in 2016, in an article called “How Anti-White Rhetoric is Fueling White Nationalism,” I described how this change took place.
What is new is the direct indictment of white people as a race. This happened through a strange rhetorical transformation over the past few years. At first, ‘white men are our greatest threat’ postings tended to be an ironic, a way of putting the racist shoe on the other foot. They were meant to show that blaming an entire race for the harmful actions of a few individuals is senseless.
Then the tenor changed. What started as irony turned into an actual belief that white people, specifically white men, are more dangerous and immoral than any other people. Loosely backed up by historical inequities and disparities in mass shootings, this position has begun to take a serious foothold.
You Can’t Be Racist Towards Whites?
We can take Jeong at her word that her posts were mere jokes, intended ironically. Let us posit in good faith that of course she doesn’t believe white people as a whole are terrible. But this is exactly what white people who say racist things also claim.
The difference that the Times has institutionalized is that such jokes made at the expense of other racial groups will not be so easily forgiven, or forgiven at all. It’s telling that the Times statement did not use the word “racist.” It is very likely that this is because the Times’ editorial board believes the common progressive notion that it is impossible to be racist towards white people.
This fairly new belief is rooted in privilege theory and its hierarchies of oppression. To progressives today, racism is not defined as it once was, as the belief that certain racial groups are inferior to others. Rather, it is defined as a racial group with power using that power to exclude oppressed racial groups from power. At face value, these two concepts are very different. Under the new rubric, it is not possible to be racist towards whites.
But this idea leads to some complications. Should white parents teach their children that while insults against people with other skin colors are completely unacceptable, insults directed at people who look like them are not only fine, but hopefully redress historical imbalances? When a white person asks that question, he or she is often accused of “white fragility,” but isn’t ever really answered.
The best medicine here would be honesty. That is exactly what the New York Times response lacks. If making negative generalizations about white people is acceptable, perhaps even good, then just say so. Only then can we as a society have a real conversation about it. Instead, because progressives are uncomfortable with the idea that they have embraced a kind of positive bigotry, they pretend that they haven’t. This does nobody any good. In fact, it does a considerable bit of harm.
Targeting Whites Does More Harm Than Good
Until progressives explain to uninitiated white people why it is okay to call them names and express a belief that they are worse than other groups, many will take offense or, worse, presume that the same rules apply to them in regard to other racial groups. They may also react by becoming more tribal and using their power to elect politicians who promise to protect them from what they view as racially threatening rhetoric.
Pointing and yelling “white fragility” won’t cut it. How in practice does the double standard employed by the Times, and progressives in general, make things better? What results can be achieved through it? Is it punitive? That can be the answer too. Perhaps white people need to be punished. But if that’s the case, say so. While a segment of the white population dons this hair-shirt willingly in the hope of redemption, far more do not and will naturally fight it.
Many Americans of all races are dismayed by the situation at present. They believe that judging groups in the ways that Jeong did, either in jest or earnest, is a dangerous road to a dark place. If that is not the case, then organizations like The New York Times must explain how their clear double standards will deliver us to a better place. But that’s a conversation we aren’t having, because progressives refuse to admit that they are even doing what they are blatantly doing.
My own preference would be for our society to condemn in harsh terms any language that attributes negative traits to any racial groups unless it is clearly being done for comic reasons that do not carry pejorative intent. It is clear that is not the Left’s goal.
Fine, we can’t always have things our way. But it does seem essential that the Left explain in clear terms when denigrating language about a racial group is acceptable and, more importantly, why. Until it does so, organizations like The New York Times are sending the message that bigotry towards white people will be rewarded. Maybe that message is simply the truth.