Category Archives: Whiteness

Ozark’s “Careless People”: Allegory of Race and Class

***Spoiler Alert***

This post is intended for people who have viewed the full series, including the final episode, of Ozark.


Many people have acknowledged that Ozark is a well-acted derivative of Breaking Bad. But an analogy just as important, if not more so, is that Ozark is a 2010s-2020s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1910s-1920s The Great Gatsby.

Marty and Wendy Byrde are essentially Tom and Daisy Buchanan, although Wendy is often more like Tom, and Marty, more like Daisy. None the less, Marty and Wendy fit well narrator Nick Carraway’s description of the Buchanans:

I couldn’t forgive [Tom] or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….

The Great Gatsby

The Byrdes leave a staggering trail of carnage, larger but similar to the bodies in the wake of the Buchanans. Both couples survive mostly unscathed—at least still wealthy and alive.

If we include the Breaking Bad comparison, the two series’ creators made some important and different decisions about Marty and Walter White—the main white male center of the “vast carelessness”—and some profoundly important different decisions about the parallel characters of Jesse and Ruth—both sympathetic characters who suffer some of the greatest consequences of the carelessness.

Ozark and Breaking Bad ultimately offer some excellent aspects of contemporary series, and nearly equal elements that are problematic. Notably, the shows center whiteness against Mexicans as murders and drug lords—with the whiteness often seeking viewer empathy.

The back story of Walter White—and the annoying messaging that being reduced to a high school teacher is proof Walter has been cheated by the universe—folds into his cancer diagnosis; this feels much reduced in the scene where Marty is on his knees about to be murdered, only to start the momentum toward nothing ever really touching Marty Byrde, unlike Walter’s fate.

Bryan Cranston and Jason Bateman go a long way to help the writers skirt past the ugliest of truths beneath these men scorching the earth for the good of their family. They are, in fact, the worst sort of “careless people,” selfish and calculating.

Breaking Bad, like Better Call Saul, are far better written and filmed than Ozark, even as these series are carried by incredible acting, possibly even better in Ozark than its obvious inspiration.

On balance, Break Bad is the better series, but in its last episode, Ozark makes a case for itself because of the decisions around Ruth, in contrast to her parallel, Jesse, from Break Bad.

Like the Buchanans, the Byrdes are outsiders, and although Jesse is a local like Ruth, Ruth’s parallels in Gatsby are the Wilsons, low- to working-class characters. And like Myrtle and George Wilson, Ruth as redneck young woman, is sacrificed beside her not-yet-finished empty pool with a corpse buried beneath. The imagery of her death is intensified as we hear her telling Wyatt he doesn’t know how to be rich—paralleled by Myrtle’s pathetic efforts to play rich in Gatsby.

Ozark seems to argue that the class barrier trumps race and gender. It certainly dramatizes that class trumps character and intelligence and work ethic.

Hard working and smart—Ruth and Wyatt cannot survive the carelessness of the Byrde’s. (BY TINA ROWDEN/NETFLIX)

Ruth splayed on her dirt yard—reminiscent of Myrtle mutilated in the road by Daisy driving Gatsby’s gold Rolls Royce—comes after mid-final-episode the Byrde’s suffering a dramatic car accident, one shown in an earlier episode, one no one could simply walk away from.

For me, the car wreck had no emotional weight, even as Marty and his children crawl free, miraculously unharmed, even as Wendy appears unconscious (dead?) until Marty rouses her. The family soon after arrives at their house in a taxi, Wendy noting they survived only somewhat battered and bruised.

But it is Wendy’s comment to Novarro’s priest that reveals the narrative purpose of the accident—not to tease the audience with one or more Byrde deaths but to show that the entire series is an extended allegory about the Teflon promises of whiteness and wealth.

As Wendy boasts to the priest as she takes him by the shoulders, they will survive, and they do.

The series ends black screen, a gun shot, the Byrde’s winning (a more honest and cynical ending than Breaking Bad), murderously (again) after Marty softly nods to his teen son, Jonah, who fires the shot.

Like Walter White, for Marty, and now Jonah, “what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.”

Many plot lines and characters force viewers to repeatedly interrogate that very concept; Walter and Marty live by the ends justifying the means.

Yet, none confront that central question more vividly than the tensions between Wendy and Ruth about the killing of Wendy’s brother, Ben.

The last episode highlights the emptiness pervading Ozark with Ruth caving to Wendy about culpability for Ben’s murder, prompted by Wendy committing herself in yet another grand manipulation (suggesting viewers should feel empathy for Wendy since, as the scene depicts, she shares with Ruth the consequences of an abusive father).

Ozark and Breaking Bad left me wondering how I am supposed to feel about the characters.

It is there I focus on Ruth and Jesse, the characters with the most lingering sympathetic qualities in spite of their very human flaws, and frailties. I think we can (and should) find more sincerity in the struggles of Jesse and Ruth against the backdrop of the posing and ruthlessness of Walter and Marty.

Like Gatsby, Ozark is a deeply cynical work about the American Dream. This American nightmare is more like what John Gardner lamented:

That idea—humankind’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—coupled with a system for protecting human rights—was and is the quintessential American Dream. The rest is greed and pompous foolishness—at worst, a cruel and sentimental myth, at best, cheap streamers in the rain. (p. 96)

“Amber (Get) Waves (Your) of (Plastic) Grain (Uncle Same)” in On Writers and Writing, John Gardner (1994)

The Byrdes shit all over the Ozarks, and we are left with one final wry smile from Marty and, yes, the gun shot.

“[L]et other people clean up the mess they had made”…

Gag Orders, Loyalty Oaths, and the New McCarthyism

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

“Let America Be America Again,” Langston Hughes

An avalanche of gag order bills are being proposed in South Carolina—H.4325H.4343H.4392H.4605, and H.4799. While my home state of SC often likes to brag about being the first state to secede in order to maintain slavery (an uncomfortable fact many of these laws would ban from being taught), these bills represent the sort of crass copy-cat legislation that is also sweeping across other Republican-led states.

Not only is there nothing original in these bills (or even evidence-based or logical), but also there is a profoundly disturbing repetition of one of the lowest points in U.S. history—the New McCarthyism.

Let’s start with facts, which Republican legislation seeks to censor:

  • “Critical Race Theory” as it is mischaracterized by Republicans does not exist in K-12 schools.
  • CRT as properly defined (a scholarly theory created primarily by Black scholars for the the field of law and adapted in a few other fields such as education and sociology) does not exit in K-12 schools.
  • Systemic racism is a fact of the founding of the U.S. and a fact of the U.S. in 2022, supported by irrefutable evidence that defies simplistic explanations (such as individual racism).
  • Race is a social construct and not a matter of biology.
  • History is a living field for considering the facts of the past; there is no one true history.
  • Intellectual discomfort is often a necessary aspect of new learning when anyone must confront misconceptions or missing knowledge in order to better understand and navigate the world.

The gag orders such as those listed above in SC are blunt partisan politics driven by orchestrated lies that have nothing to do with protecting students or with teaching factual history or excellent literature/texts.

Curriculum and book censorship in 2022 is our New McCarthyism because the CRT veneer is being used to promote ideological agendas aimed at Black people and LGBTQ+ people.

The McCarthy Era, also known as the Red Scare, was confronted in The Crucible by Arthur Miller, who uses allegory to warn the U.S. at mid-twentieth century that McCarthy’s cries of “communism” were partisan lies similar to the Salem witch trials.

There were no witches.

There were no lists of communists.

There is no CRT poisoning U.S. schools.

Yet, in their extreme forms, some gag orders include requirements for loyalty oaths and mechanisms for withholding state funding for a decade. Even for private organizations.

The ultimate horror of these gag orders from Republicans is that by legislating censorship of what history and texts students are allowed to learn, we will be insuring the most damning of ideas about history itself—those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, often the very worst of it.

Yesterday I saw the following Tweet about the Russia invasion of Ukraine:

While I endorse the sentiment, I have been watching for over a year while most of the U.S. fails to resist censorship right here in the so-called land of the free and home of the brave.

Republicans are running roughshod over freedom, pushing the U.S. toward banning abortion (despite a majority of Americans supporting maintaining Roe v. Wade) and enacting curriculum and book bans (despite large majorities of Americans rejecting censorship):

CBS news poll

Ultimately, gag orders, loyalty oaths, and censorship are un-American and anti-democratic, as ALAN notes in their Intellectual Freedom Statement:

We know that intellectual freedom is foundational to an educated citizenry and essential to the preservation and practice of democracy. We are dedicated to protecting this natural human right, and therefore, we insist on open access to all school reading materials for all students.

Intellectual Freedom Statement

The New McCarthyism exposes the Republican Party as a party of oppression, the exact sort of fact that should make everyone of us uncomfortable.


Questions Skew Answers about White Privilege

At first, this seems like a really simple question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

But scholars and researchers know that this question is actually a mine field of problems.

“Believe” is a problematic verb, and before anyone can answer or anyone can interpret the answers, we must all agree on what “Santa Claus” means.

Does “Santa Claus” mean a literal man who travels the world and crawls down chimneys to deliver toys? Or does it mean some historical “Santa Claus” who has become mythologized and represents a spirit of Christmas?

In other words, especially in polling designed to uncover better understanding of an issue or phenomenon, the questions asked and how the terms in those questions are defined (if at all) create the answers and thus shape the conclusions drawn from those answers.

Take for example Toplines and Crosstabs December 2021 National Poll: CRT & Race in America.

This poll gathers data on several aspects of the Critical Race Theory debates driven by Republicans and conservatives across the U.S. But the framing skews (and likely distorts) what people know, what people think, and what people believe about CRT and white privilege. Consider the following:

Two problems are created by the framing above. First, note how “white privilege” is defined for the respondents: “White people in the U.S. have certain advantages [emphasis added] because of the color of their skin.”

Notably during the Trump era, certain segments of white people who support Trump have been very vocal about rejecting the concept of “white privilege.” Typically, these white people point to white poverty and white failure to reject—with evidence, they think—the concept of “advantage.”

The question defining “white privilege” as an “advantage” very likely reduces the number of respondents expressing support for or nuanced understanding of the concept. And that framing is inaccurate.

“White privilege” is better defined as the lack of barriers that are race-based for white people.

When white people find themselves in poverty, it is rarely because they are white; when white people fail, it is rarely because they are white.

There is not pop culture rhetoric about “driving while white” or “jogging while white” because race is rarely the key factor in negative interactions for white people, notably interacting with police or other authority figures (or other white people).

Systemic racism manifests itself in pervasive ways for Black people in that being Black is often the key factor in life experiences for Black people. Black people do fail and suffer primarily because they are Black, and not because of their behavior or character.

White privilege is about an absence (lack of race-based barriers) and about being allowed to exist as if your race doesn’t define you. Black people do not have that opportunity; being Black is a state of perpetual awareness of being Black.

Unlike white people, then, Black people do experience existentially and systematically barriers that are race-based.

Describing “white privilege” as an advantage suggests guarantees of wealth or success that simply are not true—and thus easy to reject.

Framing “white privilege” as the absence of race-based barriers both better defines the concept and increases the likelihood that respondents can acknowledge that reality.

The second problem is the use of the word “beliefs” with CRT, which distorts and misrepresents CRT as a “theory.”

Similar to the jumbled discourse around evolution (people often claim “I don’t believe in evolution”), respondents are likely misled by the word “beliefs” since it implies the lack of empirical data and suggests CRT is simply someone’s beliefs—and not a carefully formulated theory based on rigorous scholarship.

CRT, as a scholarly theory, has a set of claims, or principles. The use of those words, “claims” or “principles,” provides, again, a fairer framing and should provide more valid data.

Together, these examples show how research erodes the validity (do the data and conclusions drawn reflect what they claim to reflect?) of a poll by the questions asked, the framing and defining of the key terms.

In the “CRT beliefs” data also note that the “white privilege” framing as an “advantage” is reinforced by the use of “enjoy”: “Whites Enjoy Certain Privileges.”

Creating a set of questions for polling requires statistical expertise, but also scholarly knowledge and experience. In this case, the poll itself seems poorly reviewed for framing in terms of fully understanding either “white privilege” or “CRT.”

Since the entire cultural debate around race, racism, white privilege, and CRT is being driven by dishonest actors and misinformed media, politicians, and members of the public, a valid poll of those topics requires accurate and nuanced clarity on the questions being asked and definitions of the terms being examined.

This poll is ambitious, but it is likely doing more harm than good for that debate.

Freedom and the Politics of Canceling Teachers and Curriculum

By mid-December of 2021, Matthew Hawn, a former teacher in Tennessee, will once again have his appeal heard after being fired for violating the state’s restrictions on curriculum:

The Tennessee General Assembly has banned the teaching of critical race theory, passing a law at the very end of the legislative session to withhold funding from public schools that teach about white privilege.

Republicans in the House made the legislation a last-minute priority, introducing provisions that ban schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race.

Tennessee bans public schools from teaching critical race theory amid national debate, Natalie Allison

As Allison reported in May, several states across the U.S. have filed or passed copy-cat legislation aimed at banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

By October and November, the consequences of Tennessee’s law have moved from silencing and canceling teachers to attempts to cancel curriculum [1]:

The Tennessee Department of Education recently declined to investigate a complaint filed under a new state law prohibiting the teaching of certain topics regarding race and bias.

The complaint, the first directed to the state under the new law passed this spring, was filed by Robin Steenman, chair of the Moms for Liberty Williamson County chapter, a conservative parent group sweeping the nation. 

The 11-page complaint alleged that the literacy curriculum, Wit and Wisdom, used by Williamson County Schools and at least 30 other districts, has a “heavily biased agenda” that makes children “hate their country, each other and/or themselves.”

Tennessee Department of Education rejects complaint filed under anti-critical race theory law, Meghan Mangrum

Although the complaint was rejected, Mangrum noted, “The group detailed concerns with four specific books on subjects like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, the integration of California schools by advocate Sylvia Mendez and her family, and the autobiography of Ruby Bridges, adapted for younger learners.”

A teacher fired for teaching Ta-Nehisi Coates, parents calling for bans on MLK and teaching about Ruby Bridges—these events are not unique to Tennessee, but they reflect a pattern of efforts to control not only teachers, but what students are allowed to learn and read.

Notable in these examples is that many of the consequences of legislation are canceling Black writers and key aspects of Black history; additionally, legislation and calls for book banning are targeting LGBTQ+ writers and topics.

Teaching and curriculum in the U.S. are being systematically and politically whitewashed.

One aspect not being addressed often is that political dynamic. Parents, political activists, and politicians are impacting who teaches and what is being taught in the context of a historical and current demand that teachers themselves remain apolitical, both in their classrooms and their lives beyond school.

As I have discussed often, teaching is necessarily political, and teaching as well as writing are necessarily types of activism.

For teachers, then, we must recognize that calls for teachers to be objective, neutral, and apolitical are themselves political acts. Currently, laws being passed and parents/activists confronting school boards are exercising their political power at the expense of teachers and schools—both of which are required to remain somehow politically neutral.

From historian/activist Howard Zinn to critical scholars such as Joe Kincheloe and to poet Adrienne Rich, we have ample evidence that taking a neutral stance is a political act that passively endorses the status quo and that silencing words is an act of canceling thought, eradicating ideas.

Zinn’s commitment to transparency as a teacher and activist is hauntingly relevant to the current political attack on teachers and curriculum:

This mixing of activism and teaching, this insistence that education cannot be neutral on the critical issues of our time, this movement back and forth from the classroom to the struggles outside by teachers who hope their students will do the same, has always frightened the guardians of traditional education. They prefer that education simply prepare the new generation to take its proper place in the old order, not to question that order [emphasis added]….

From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than “objectivity”; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, Howard Zinn

And Kincheloe confronted not only who is actually indoctrinating students but the imperative that teachers recognize teaching as inherently political:

Thus, proponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive [emphasis added].

Critical Pedagogy Primer, Joe L. Kincheloe

The great irony is that critical educators (often smeared as “Marxists”) are committed, as Kincheloe asserts, to a foundational concern: “Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom.”

The Orwellian named “Moms for LIberty,” then, by calling for canceling curriculum are in fact being “totalitarian and oppressive,” calling for not education, but indoctrination. To ban words and ideas is to ban the possibility of thinking, of learning:

The study of silence has long engrossed me. The matrix of a poet’s work consists not only of what is there [emphasis in original] to be absorbed and worked on, but also of what is missing, desaparecido [emphasis in original], rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable.

Arts of the Possible, Adrienne Rich

A final powerful point is that many of these political acts to silence teachers and cancel curriculum are occurring in right-to-work states controlled by Republicans. Teachers not only are expected to be neutral, objective, and apolitical, but also work with a distinct awareness they have almost no job security.

Hawn fired in Tennessee simply taught a text and now is fighting for his career; the text in most ways just a year ago was considered non-controversial and even celebrated as Coates had attained recognition as one of the country’s leading Black voices.

During this holiday season at the end of 2021, teachers honestly have no decision about whether or not to be political. We are faced with only two political choices: conform to the demand that we take a neutral pose, resulting in endorsing whatever status quo legislators and parents/activist impose on schools; or recognize and embrace the essential political nature of being a teacher by actively opposing efforts to cancel teachers and curriculum.


[1] Twitter thread:

Being White Is a Handout

My 4.5 year journey as an undergraduate and the first five years teaching high school English were spent mostly in the Reagan era.

While this was many decades before terminology such as “fake news” or “post-truth,” I literally lived during those years a painful and now embarrassing conversion from white denial and ignorance (believing in reverse discrimination, for example) to racial awareness and seeking a life dedicated to racial equity grounded in my own awareness of white privilege.

I had been raised in racism and white denial that pervaded my home and community so when I returned to my hometown high school to teach, I felt compelled to help my students make a similar conversion as mine but not have to endure the stress of experiencing that growth as late as I did.

Reagan in part depended on bogus American Myths (such as bootstrapping and a rising tide lifting all boats) and thinly veiled racist stereotypes, such as the infamous welfare queen myth evoked by Reagan and Republicans with great effect.

No one called this fake news then, but I invited my students to investigate and interrogate these overstated and unfounded claims as we examined race through nonfiction in the first quarter of my American literature course.

That unit began with canonical American thinkers—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller—contextualized with Howard Zinn’s confrontation of the Christopher Columbus myth of discovering America. From there, we moved to race in the U.S. by reading and discussing texts by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and Booker T. Washington in order to emphasize the diversity of thought among Black leaders throughout the early and mid-twentieth century.

The culmination of the unit was anchored by a consideration of the life of Gandhi (linked to Thoreau and King).

What was my agenda in this unit?

The writing goal was to explore nonfiction writing, specifically argumentation. But I also asked my students to begin to form their beliefs about the world based on credible evidence and not cultural myths and stereotypes.

One brief activity I used, and continue to use, is to have students brainstorm what percentage of the U.S. they believed to be classified as white before asking them to identify what percentage of the world was classified as white.

In the 1980s, students living in rural upstate South Carolina tended to wildly miss these statistics in their guesses; then, about 70% of the U.S. was white, with about 12% constituting Black Americans. The world statistic really forced them to rethink race, and whiteness, since I had found a chart that portrayed about 1 in 10 people in the world being white.

These statistics created a great deal of disorientation for students even as I helped them recognize that about 4-5 out of 10 people in the world were Chinese or Indian (a context they had never considered).

One of the most memorable moments of these lessons over the years was a Black student who grew livid with me, calling me racist, because she entirely rejected that only 12% of the U.S. was Black.

Her anger was grounded in a similar experience I was highlighting for students in general; for many people, the U.S. looked then very white ( a gaze that allows people not to see that the world is not as white), but this Black student believed that the U.S. was fare more Black than it was because she was hyper-focused on SC, where 25-30% of the citizens were Black (significantly disproportionate to the entire country).

The anger and disorientation grew for my students as I asked them to research data on welfare; they discovered that the average person on welfare was white and that people on welfare tended to have fewer children than the general population—all of which contradicted the myths they had lived by, heard from their parents, and witnessed in the political propaganda of the Reagan era.

These teaching experiences with mostly rural white and Black students very much like me are now about three decades behind me, but I think about this teaching often—and it is discouraging.

It is discouraging because I watched and listened as Lindsey Graham and others refused to extend jobless benefits during the pandemic because he framed that as a handout, a disincentive for working.

It is discouraging because I am watching the move to forgive student loans begin to crumble against a similar mantra about fairness and the usual “handout” rhetoric.

There are two ways that people (mostly white) need to investigate the handout myth, just as my students confronted race and racism in the 1980s.

First, the arguments against student debt relief are grounded in misinformation and racism in similar ways that arguments against welfare have been since Reagan (and including the Bill Clinton era).

Just as antagonism against welfare by white people was rooted in false perceptions that it was a handout to Black people with lots of children, the specter of student loan relief being a handout to Black people cannot be ignored in white rhetoric against that relief:

According to the Department of Education, Black college graduates have nearly twice as much student loan debt as the typical white grad. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the typical Black borrower owes 114 percent of their original student loan debt 12 years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. White students, on the other hand, usually owe 47 percent of their original debt.

Not only is this crisis exacerbated by higher Black unemploymentwage disparities and the racial wealth gap, but loan companies charge Black students higher interest rates. So, Black grads have less money before they attend college; earn less money after college and have to pay back loans at higher interest rates.

Second, as Harriot adds, “There’s no such thing as a ‘government handout.'”

Student debt relief would address a failure of public funding, a lack of political will that decides how tax money is spent.

There is no shortage of money in the U.S. for social programs such as fully publicly funding K-16 education for all, but there is a lack of political will to allocate money for the common good as opposed, for example, more military spending or militarizing the police forces across the country.

Allocated tax money is not a handout since it is the pooled money of all Americans that then must be designated in ways that serve those Americans.

A final point that cannot be emphasized enough, however, is that those most enraged by anything they deem as a “handout” are mostly White conservatives who like my students before our lessons on race and racism have failed to interrogate the truth about their white privilege: Being white is a handout.

The white handout looks like this:

And these:

Closing the Race Gap
black unemployment
Black unemployment is significantly higher than white unemployment regardless of educational attainment | Economic Policy Institute
rich black poor white prison
Poor white kids are less likely to go to prison than rich black kids
racial-wealth-gap
The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap

The anti-handout beliefs and rhetoric from white Americans is a painful paradox exposing the lack of awareness and active denial among white people.

Privilege is an unearned advantage, starkly displayed in the data above. But for many white Americans that handout of being white is invisible since they cannot experience life in any way other than white.

White privilege, the handout, is no guarantee of success or a perfect shield against pain and suffering (or even inequity), but struggling while white is almost always less severe than struggling while Black.

This discussion here, however, is not white bashing; I understand that white people have not asked for that advantage, but I also recognize that a great deal of white anger is grounded in an unexamined fear of losing the handout, of having to live in a world of racial equity—ultimately a fear of achieving the meritocracy many whites falsely believe exists.

If in fact handouts erode people’s work ethic, the ultimate paradox is that for the white people who believe that their white privilege, that handout, must be eradicated.

I, again, think about the hard lessons my white and Black students wrestled with in rural SC throughout the 1980s and 1990s; they often grew into smarter and kinder people. They always gave me hope.

That hope is weakening for me however under the weight of 70-plus million Americans choosing the myths, the lies, and refusing to investigate the evidence.

If handouts aren’t good or fair for America, then it is well past time to end the greatest handout of all, white privilege.

Bully

TV shows and movies throughout the 1970s and 1980s, if my memory serves me well, tended to fall back on a predictable and likely lazy portrayal of bullies; beneath their abusive and violent exteriors hid a deeply insecure but ultimately redeemable human.

In the real world, however, the United States has elected a bully and conman president. The first presidential debate of 2020, in fact, put that harsh truth on display as well as offering ironic proof of the power of white male privilege.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden demonstrated the extremely low bar for white men with wealth and power. As I watched the circus between the conman clown and cartoonish career politician, I thought about “no excuses” charter schools where mostly Black and brown students are compelled to make eye contact, walk in straight lines, and conform to the most rigid rules of civility and behavior.

The expectations for the weakest among us in the U.S. are infinitely higher than for the most powerful—as demonstrated by Trump’s bullying and Biden’s doddering.

Let me be clear, my concern about the Trump/Biden debate is not a both-sides complaint. While Biden is a deeply flawed candidate and person, Trump is in a deplorable class all by himself.

The ultimately irony of Trump’s bullying and blatant racism on display at the debate is that it comes on the heels of the Trump administration claiming that anti-racism education is indoctrination and Nikki Haley’s celebrated claim at the RNC that the U.S. isn’t a racist country.

As the exposed tax returns have confirmed, Trump is mostly a conman not a gifted businessman. But more significantly his art of the con depends on his faith in bullying, a faith built on decades of evidence that those tactics do in fact work—because people who can benefit from tolerating the orbit of Trump are more than willing to suffer and fuel his bullying.

Conmen and bullies cannot survive, however, unless we allow them to exist. While those TV shows and movies of my youth seem naive and unrealistic, they did often expose the power of confronting bullies in order to disarm them.

One way Trump has survived and thrived is because pop culture and the media have been complicit in his bullying and lies.

After the debate, for example, The Washington Post offered a headline noting Trump had depended in “false facts” because the mainstream media refuse to use the word “lie” just like the media continue to suggest that using the word “racist” when warranted is somehow disrespectful.

Here is a missed lesson from the debate.

Debates are formal and structured arguments, events based on decorum and mostly academic expectations for discourse, argument, and facts.

Trump has spent his entire life existing in an ideology outside the parameters of rules, laws, and ethics/morality. As has now been reported, for example, Trump considers those who have died in the military to be “suckers” and “losers.”

To Trump, anyone who plays by any rules is a sucker and a loser.

Functioning outside the expectations of decency has allowed Trump to lie, project, gaslight, and bully his way to celebrity status and ultimately the White House.

It isn’t that Trump is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers (a characterization Trump would love to foster) but that Trump is stealing at poker while using a marked deck when almost everyone else refuses to admit that he is cheating.

For all his bumbling and loss of composure, Biden was correct to call Trump a clown, and despite the delicacies of proper behavior, to tell Trump to shut up. But most importantly, Biden hit the core of Trump by repeating that Trump cares only about Trump, and is willing to sacrifice anyone, including the U.S. public and even his own family.

Every Trump business scam is a monument to himself.

While it is true Trump is a racist, that likely sits inside a much larger fact that Trump considers everyone else to be suckers and losers, including his evangelical base (which he also mocks behind closed doors as he does the military).

There is no credible way to justify Trump as bully in chief, yet more than a third of the U.S. continues to support and even revel in his bullying.

Trump is a referendum on the American character, which is once again being exposed for its very worst qualities. The U.S. had to fight a war to end slavery, waited over 140 years to allow women to vote, and held out almost 190 years before acknowledging equality for Black Americans.

However, this is not an after-school special, and Trump is not redeemable.

The real question is whether or not the U.S. is redeemable, and I have my doubts.

Big Time Football: “angry white man society”

While Trevor Lawrence—probably the highest profile white Division I college football player in 2020—has become the face for the #WeWantToPlay campaign calling for a start to college football amidst a pandemic, the Colorado State University football program has been forced to reckon with a racially toxic culture, implicating their former coach and current assistant coach at the University of South Carolina (Mike Bobo).

The #WeWantToPlay campaign appears to be garnering greater media and public coverage, but the CSU controversy should not be ignored, and should not be examined as a culture problem somehow centered only at CSU or in the individual coaches named in that coverage.

Charges by Black players at CSU are powerful and damning:

Image

However, again, this is not about CSU solely or a few high-profile coaches; this is about “closed systems” and a normalized culture of abuse “hidden in plain sight”:

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Black athletes describing the culture of their football program as “an angry white man society” can and should be amplified to describe the entire system of big time football in the U.S. Start by considering the numbers:

Div I head coach race football
NCAA Demographics Database

The power-base of college football is significantly skewed toward white men, disproportionate to percentage of white men in general U.S. society as well as disproportionate to the demographics of men who play the sport:

In mass media and popular culture, sport is often presented as a level playing field where the most skilled and committed athletes rise to the top. The racial composition of American football is often presented as evidence of the supposed meritocracy of sport. While 13.2 percent of the U.S. population is black, 47.1 percent of NCAA Division I football players and 68.7 percent of National Football League (NFL) players are black.

White Americans hold the vast majority of power and wealth in the U.S., skewed significantly toward white men. Yet, white Americans tend to struggle with concepts of systemic inequity (racism, sexism, etc.) that depend on understanding the invisibility of white privilege for white people and the key statistical concept exposed above, “disproportion.”

Even as the killing of George Floyd by a police officer has reignited awareness and public protests about police violence being racist, this movement has not silenced or erased the “but police shoot and kill more white people” response, echoed by the current white nationalist POTUS.

For people with power, then, grasping data about disproportion is often a paradoxical experience (Simpson’s Paradox) because of white denial and white fragility:

The people making this argument don’t dispute the fact that police kill Black people at disproportionate rates. A Black person in America is roughly three times more likely than a white person to be killed by police. But according to this argument, the disparity is rooted in crime rates and more frequent encounters with police, not racism. In 2018, the rate of arrests for violent crime was 3.6 times higher for Black people than white people. So actually, the argument goes, Black people are underrepresented as victims of police killings, after controlling for the number of encounters.

Big time college football is both a reflection and perpetuation of the larger systemic inequities (such as racism and sexism) throughout the U.S.

But the current charges against coaches and the program (culture) at CSU are not merely a condemnation of CSU or the former and current head coaches. These charges are historical and current features of sports across the U.S., starting when athletes are children and running through the very small percentage who make sports their livelihoods.

The mythology that coaches (overwhelmingly white men) are building character in their athletes and are nearly universally “God-fearing, good family men” is one of the ugliest lies in American culture.

Sports in the U.S. is never about building character and certainly isn’t in the service of God (despite the veneer of Christianity that is layered onto every aspect of scholastic sports in the U.S.), but about winning and the wealth and aggrandizement of coaches and the institutions associated with those teams at the expense of the athletes (often disproportionately Black bodies):

“After watching George Floyd being humiliated before he died, it triggered in me the times I saw or heard about certain coaches humiliate student-athletes and the fact that not going public made me complicit and compromised my integrity,” said the 65-year-old Stewart, who is white. “I also became conscious that racism is about being a bully. In that encounter with the Black student-athlete, Coach Addazio had this attitude that he’s bigger and more powerful than the student-athlete. The student was enslaved.”

The day-to-day normalized behavior of coaches—yelling, berating, swearing, threatening—would be viewed as bullying and abuse in virtually all other situations where there is the sort of power, age, and racial imbalance as there exists in sports.

The abrupt and sustained pauses created by the Covid-19 pandemic have the potential for not only the needed reckonings echoing around many of the foundational aspects of American culture but also long-overdue revolutions in those institutions, including how we educate young people as well as how young people are invited into and coached through sports (since in the U.S. formal education and sports are nearly inextricably intertwined).

White men coaches are reinforced at every turn that they are “good men” despite their behaving as bullies, despite their racist and sexist ideologies mostly veiled or closeted behind the secrecy of male bonding and locker rooms:

A member of CSU’s football staff said Addazio has downplayed the COVID-19 health threat and Black Lives Matter movement, which have dominated public discussion in recent months, calling both a “distraction from football” to be managed.

“He’s smart enough not to come right out in public and say it, but he thinks BLM (Black Lives Matter) is a crock of s—, and that has come out in meetings,” said the football staff member who wished to remain anonymous. “When we had the incident with the player (a Black CSU football player was held at gunpoint by a white man while working in Loveland), the players wanted to march with shirts that had BLM on it, make posters and say chants. He told them if you are going to do that we aren’t marching.”

CSU and the University of South Carolina likely have some hard decisions to make, and probably are hoping to sweep all this under the rug while people struggle against the avalanches of crises surrounding them—from the Covid-19 pandemic to the rumbles of a 5.1 magnitude earthquake at the North Carolina/Virginia border.

I suspect these universities will issue a few more statements, probably conduct some investigations and also create reports months down the line; there may be some very mild consequences for the coaches named (but their already earned millions will not be touched, of course).

The white coaching shuffle, in which mediocre white men fail upward while stepping on those Black bodies for leverage, will continue, however.

The messages coming from Black football players at CSU are not just about CSU, or big time college football, or the most disturbing aspects of coaching; the messages coming from Black football players at CSU are about systemic inequities pervading all aspects of the U.S.

Big time college football is an important subset of American culture, a point being fumbled by Lawrence calling for #WeWantToPlay.

The U.S does not need major college football to return to normal and resume as soon as possible in the coming weeks, the fall of 2020.

A full and complete unmasking of big time college football would be welcomed, and should precede any efforts to return to our contemporary and slightly sanitized gladiator event that was always about sacrificing some Other bodies.

UPDATE

ACC players speak out against Trevor Lawrence 

See Also

Dabo Swinney and the White-Man No-Apology Apology

The Christian Veneer: On Dabo Swinney and Donald Trump

Confronting Aaron Hernandez, Big Time Football, and Toxic Masculinity

The United States of Hypocrisy: Scholastic Sports

College Athletes’ Academic Cheating a Harbinger of a Failed System

Coach K, Sports Fandom, and More on My Redneck Past

I Swear: On “Grit,” Adult Hypocrisy, and Privilege

 

Canceled?: The Day Comedy Died

Lenny Bruce is not afraid

“Its the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” R.E.M.

Recently, when I watch standup specials through online services, I think about Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

As I have explained before, a foundational part of my critical Self was established during my teen years through listening to the comedy of George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Along with them, The Firesign Theater and Steve Martin also had a profound impact on me, but Carlin and Pryor led me to studying the life and comedy of Lenny Bruce.

Lenny Bruce's Obscenity Trial Challenged First Amendment Rights ...
Lenny Bruce took obscenity to court.

Bruce, Carlin, and Pryor were incredibly important voices for free speech and the power of words, including the power of offensive words and the sacredness of those words.

So there is more than a bit of nuanced irony to the evolution of standup comedy in the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter era, an evolution that looks to me like the death of comedy.

Standup comedians—especially white male comedians—are quite predictable now; they turn immediately or eventually to the anti-cancel culture bandwagon that appears to be mandatory for a standup routine in 2020.

There’s a lot of “Don’t judge me because the line has moved” and “Comedy is a ‘joke,’ right?” kind of laziness in the routines. While contemporary comedians seem to be joining a tradition found in Bruce, Carlin, and Pryor, the ugly truth is that these routines are lazy and angry responses to a mostly mangled and even fabricated message about “cancel culture.”

Comedians have joined a backlash against cancel culture, and these challenges to cancel culture come from people who already have amplified voices, including outsized privilege in those voices as well as histories of skirting by with little to no accountability for their insensitivity and bigotry.

As Michael Hobbes explains:

While the letter itself, published by the magazine Harper’s, doesn’t use the term, the statement represents a bleak apogee in the yearslong, increasingly contentious debate over “cancel culture.” The American left, we are told, is imposing an Orwellian set of restrictions on which views can be expressed in public. Institutions at every level are supposedly gripped by fears of social media mobs and dire professional consequences if their members express so much as a single statement of wrongthink.

This is false. Every statement of fact in the Harper’s letter is either wildly exaggerated or plainly untrue. More broadly, the controversy over “cancel culture” is a straightforward moral panic. While there are indeed real cases of ordinary Americans plucked from obscurity and harassed into unemployment, this rare, isolated phenomenon is being blown up far beyond its importance.

The panic over “cancel culture” is, at its core, a reactionary backlash. Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis. The Harper’s statement, like nearly everything else written on this subject, could have been more efficiently summarized in four words: “Get Off My Lawn.”

Along a spectrum from Louise CK to Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein, I want to know: Who among these men has been canceled?

Louise CK had his career temporarily interrupted for many years of sexual harassment and inexcusable sexual aggression. Allen hasn’t missed a beat in his career.

And Harvey Weinstein is a convicted sex criminal.

Is a temporary moment of mild accountability “canceled”?

Is rumor, innuendo, and published accounts charging someone with sexual assault “canceled”?

Is being found guilty of sexually violent crimes “canceled”?

The implication about and direct challenges to cancel culture seem to suggest that “cancelling” is unfair, widespread, and poised to end free speech.

This cartoon version of cancel culture is hyperbole, Urban Legend. It suggests a cavalier and indiscriminate assault on good and descent (white and male) people.

None of that is true, however.

As a white male, Louise CK will survive the brief pause to his career with excess wealth and fame; he will likely experience a rehabilitation phase and find a place where people just forget about everything he did.

Allen has never really suffered anything more than the stress of being accused publicly of sexual assault.

And being found guilty of a crime is not some sort of “canceling”; it is justice.

Some of the problems with standup comedy are simply being exposed by the cancel-culture backlash. Smart and culturally critical comedians often perform for audiences less informed or sophisticated than their material.

Bruce, Carlin, and Pryor could never know if their audiences were just cackling like children because of the cultural taboo around “fuck,” for example.

None the less, Bruce, Carlin, and Pryor were using words in order to interrogate not only those words but the failures of humans to interrogate their own biases and blind spots.

And none of these men were perfect; although all of these men faced genuine threats of censorship and career-ending consequences throughout the mid-twentieth century. Those threats, however, were directly about their language and critical comedy, and not about their personal behavior or failure to acknowledge bigotry in their routines.

It is a sad thing. The comedy levee is dry it seems.

We are left with the hollow ring of laziness against the childish laughter of an audience prodded with “Fuck cancel culture.”

What White Folk Want

KEEP AMERICA PURE

WITH

LIBERTY PAINTS.

(Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, p. 196)

What do white folk want?

Rigid accountability for other people.

License for “me” (the white view of the world is rugged individualism masking white nationalism/supremacy).

And “whiteness” never to be named, never voiced—only allowed to be embedded as an understood in “human” (“There is only one race, the human race”) or “lives” (“All Lives Matter”).

This last point is vital for the first two, in fact, and appeared recently on a Twitter exchange:

Reich is recognized as a Democrat, a progressive or liberal associated with Bill Clinton.

Yet Reich offers what he intends as a racially woke Tweet, only to expose the power of whiteness not to be named. Reich, of course, means “Black people weren’t even considered people by white people on July 4, 1776,” but omits the white context because in the U.S. whiteness is a given.

Even or maybe especially to, as Martin Luther King Jr. described, the “white liberal who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice, who prefers tranquility to equality.”

The mythologies masquerading as history leave out that white people came to the Americas to escape a specific religious persecution of them—in order to establish their own brand of persecution with them in charge.

The eventual rebellion from England, again, was not about universal human freedom, but about restarting white/man dominance on stolen land:

Let’s put our heads together
And start a new country up
Our father’s father’s father tried
Erased the parts he didn’t like (“Cuyahoga,” R.E.M.)

July 4, 1776, represents another independence for white men, the wealthy a bit more free than others. And, like Reich’s Tweet, the Preamble has a glaring omission: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [white] men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That independence for white men begun in the summer of 1776 also included their freedom to enslave humans as well as freedom to rape the enslaved.

But that use of “freedom” is also misleading because with the Declaration we witness a country established in the first two points above—accountability for other people who are not white or male, and license (not freedom) for “me.”

Well into the next century, the U.S. begrudgingly ended enslavement, and not until the next century did women earn the right to vote. Four decades after that, civil rights were acknowledged for Black people (again begrudgingly as well as with violent resistance and symbolic protests often by white political leaders in the South).

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have come quite a bit later and in our recent past for LGBQTIA+ people.

However in 2020, to understand the U.S., as James Baldwin repeated throughout his career, you can still expose whiteness by its relationship to Black people and Blackness; for example, the Reich/Moore Tweets.

What do white folk want?

Black Americans who assimilate into the unspoken whiteness called “American.”

But in that assimilation, there can be no confronting of whiteness. Certainly no dismantling.

White folk want Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, not Muhammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick.

White folk want Ben Carson or Clarence Thomas, not Barack Obama (a master assimilator who, however, rose too high).

White folk want the passive radical myth of Martin Luther King Jr., only tolerating MLK until he rose too high and had to be sacrificed to make that myth possible, not Malcolm X or James Baldwin.

White folk want white Jesus, not historical Jesus.

White folk want O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby, not Dave Chappelle.

White folk want Ta-Nehisi Coates, not #BlackLivesMatter.

Fit in to get in but don’t rock the boat.

Along with the unspoken given of whiteness and the essential rugged individualism myth to maintain white privilege comes the need for holding other people accountable and clinging to white license.

The frailty of whiteness has been exposed by Covid-19, in fact, even as the virus disproportionately ravages Black Americans—a painful real-life science fiction allegory of U.S. racial inequity.

The anti-face mask movement is white denial, white privilege, and white fragility in real time acknowledging very little about individual or public health but demonstrating that white folk want license, not universal human freedom.

Driving intoxicated is not freedom, it is license.

Public smoking is not freedom, it is license.

Refusing vaccines is not freedom, it is license.

Not wearing a face mask is not freedom, it is license.

But whiteness requires that the world be seen only as “I” and never “we” because “individual freedom” is a powerful code for white license.

White Americans are panicking because they sense a loss of white privilege, of white license.

The sort of white license that allows you to murder Black people but have your name emblazoned on public buildings, ground your political career in racism but have your name emblazoned on public buildings, lead a military revolt against your country to protect the license to enslave people but have statues built in your honor, or boast about grabbing women by the “pussy” but become president of the U.S.

It is 2020 and what do white folk want?

Rigid accountability for other people.

License for “me.”


Confronting DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

For a book on racism written by an academic, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility has experienced a level of popularity over the last two years that is interesting, if not surprising.

With the #BlackLivesMatter movement re-ignited after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, DiAngelo’s book has also experienced another significant boost in readership, primarily by white Americans seemingly having a long-overdue come-to-Jesus moment with their whiteness and complicity in systemic racism.

On social media, however, blog posts and Twitter threads have warned “don’t read White Fragility” and “don’t worship DiAngelo.” These warnings come from Black scholars and advocates for anti-racism activism, creating a powerful and important tension in that fight to eradicate white privilege and racism in the U.S.

There is also an insidious challenge to DiAngelo and White Fragility that comes from and speaks to white denial and white nationalism; this denial is grounded in a dishonest use of “science” calling into question DiAngelo’s statistics, methods, and scholarship.

This rebuttal is ironic proof of the existence and resilience of white denial and racism. It has no credibility and is a distraction.

Black voices, however, challenging the centering of DiAngelo in the conversation about race and racism must be acknowledged by anyone—especially white people—claiming to be anti-racism.

Having been raised in a racist home (with parents who embraced white celebrities such as Elvis Presley whose celebrity erased Black entertainers) and community throughout the 1960s and 1970s, I have documented that my journey to awareness about white privilege, white denial/fragility, and systemic racism has been grounded in Black writers and scholars.

When I first read DiAngelo’s essay, I found nothing new or surprising, except that a book existed and that people seemed to be reading it.

If anyone had wanted to understand white America or white fragility, James Baldwin unpacked all that often, for example in 1962’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind”:

quote 8
quote 9

My reading and scholarship on race, whiteness, and racism began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Carter Godwin Woodson, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King Jr., Nikki Giovanni, Frederick Douglass, Nina Simone, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, and others.

I cannot emphasize enough the essential role social media has played in my evolving racial awareness through my being able to connect to an invaluable wealth of Black and multi-racial scholars, academics, writers, and creators whose voices drive my own commitments to anti-racism: Natalie Hopkinson, Jose Vilson, Chris Emdin, Trina Shanks, Camika Royal, Theresa Runstedtler, Nikki Jones, Mariame Kaba, Robert Jones Jr., Mychal Denzel Smith, Andre Perry, Ernest Morrell, Seneca Vaught, Michah Ali, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Rhondda R. Thomas, Jay Smooth, Greg Carr, Imani Gandy, Lou Moore, Simone Sebastian, Yvette Carnell, Asadah Kirkland, Venus Evans-Winter, Roxane Gay, John Ira Jennings, Jacqueline Woodson, Cornelius Minor, Stacey Patton, Jessica Moulite, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Brittney Cooper, Lisa Stringfellow, Angela Dye, Sherri Spelic, Bree Newsome Bass, Zoe Samudzi, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Jonathan W. Gray, A.D. Carson, Terrenda White, Clint Smith, David E. Kirkland, Dereca Blackmon, Alondra Nelson, Teju Cole, Colin Kaepernick, Morgan Parker, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Crystal Fleming, Eve L. Ewing, Johnny E. Williams, DeMisty Bellinger, Imani Perry, Josie Duffy Rice, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Etan Thomas, Ijeoma Oluo, Natalie Auzenne, Ja’han Jones, Howard Bryant, The Root, Jemele Hill, Ibram X. Kendi, Nnedi Okorafor, Jason Reynolds, Jamil Smith, Valerie Kinloch, Michael Harriot, Bomani Jones, Rashawn Ray, Walter D. Greason, Hanif Abdurraqib, Sarah Thomas, Joshua Bennett, Marc Lamont Hill, Sarah J. Jackson, Clarkisha Kent, Robert Randolph Jr., Peter Darker, Tanji Reed Marshall, Sil Lai Abrams, Sami Schalk, Bianca Nightengale-Lee, Jessica Owens-Young, Andre M. Carrington, Christena Cleveland, Christopher Cameron, Val Brown, Kim Pearson, Kim Parker, Nicole Sealey, Margaret Kimberley, Malaika Jabali, Lisa Sharon Harper, Benjamin Dixon, Tade Thompson, Maria Taylor, Terri N. Watson, Zaretta Hammond, Shea Martin, and Kim Gallon.

There simply is an enormous wealth of Black voices historical and contemporary that white people should read and listen to, often easily accessible online, in fact.

DiAngelo is finding a place in mainstream and fragile America in a similar way that Ta-nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander have, the latter two Black writers having also received criticism from Black scholars and public intellectuals for appeasing whiteness even as they confront racism.

I have included DiAngelo’s book as a choice reading in my courses as I have introduced students to Coates and Alexander—with caveats and in the context of required reading from critical Black writers, thinkers, and scholars.

White privileged students have admitted openly in class sessions that they finally listened to DiAngelo, even though they have heard and resisted claims of white privilege and systemic racism before.

DiAngelo’s White Fragility and her celebrity from that work fit into what I have called the paradox of centering whiteness to de-center whiteness (a paradox of which I am a part).

DiAngelo represents centering whiteness, acknowledging racism and Black suffering only in proximity to whiteness, and Black voices given space because of white approval; these all work against anti-racism and are in fact racism.

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, DiAngelo represents the importance of and power in white-to-white confronting of and naming racism as well as white denial and fragility.

Yes, we should all feel skeptical about celebrity status and capitalizing from racism, just as we should resist monetizing and career-boosting that surrounds poverty studies as well as poverty workshops and simulations.

White people must not worship DiAngelo or her book, and no one should be recommending that white people read only White Fragility or read it instead of Black voices.

My students who have been introduced to DiAngelo know that dozens of Black writers, thinkers, and scholars made the case against whiteness and racism over decades starting at least a century ago (in terms of the works I offer as required reading).

I take the warnings of “don’t read DiAngelo” from Black scholars very seriously, and find compelling without qualifications the alternative offered—read Black voices, listen to Black voices, and believe Black voices on their own merit.

I also think there remains a place for DiAngelo’s work—even as it has one foot solidly in centering whiteness—as long as it is an element of de-centering whiteness and eradicating white privilege and racism.

My critical commitments make me concerned this caveat is a mistake, yet another concession to that white fragility which DiAngelo is naming.

Is a contextualized place for DiAngelo necessary as white people continue to wrestle with racism? I think that is likely true.

“Don’t rely on only white voices about whiteness and racism” is the goal, the ideal.

Since we find ourselves in the midst of the paradox of centering whiteness to de-center whiteness, at the very least white people committed to anti-racism must reject calls for reading only DiAngelo or reading DiAngelo instead of Black voices.

White celebrity and white authority can no longer be allowed to rise on the backs and instead of Black labor and experiences, as that whiteness occupies spaces that erase or bar Black voices.

There simply is no place left for approaching the work of anti-racism while tip-toeing around the delicacy of white people.

Ultimately that is the sort of white fragility we must recognize, name, and check.


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