One of the most fascinating aspects of this political moment, I think, is the degree to which it illustrates how white liberals can make literally anything be about themselves. There is no issue so serious that white liberals cannot turn it into an opportunity to masturbate to their own emotional well-being.
A black man is murdered by a legitimate psychopath who only had the opportunity to pose as law enforcement because good people don’t go into government anymore. (Why would they in this totally insane moral and social landscape?)
Protests erupt, rightfully, over this situation, but good people are at a complete loss to explain how our society might change. Most normal people want to have law enforcement, but they also want it to be fair law enforcement. The only way to make that happen is for good people, en masse, to go into government. But that’s not going to happen in an era of Twitter mobs, or where law enforcement pays $45,000 a year to do something that might very well get you killed.
This problem is not even unique to law enforcement. It’s also the story why the public education system is shit for everyone who is not living in a rich (majority white and Asian) suburb of a major urban area. It’s the story of why Departments of Revenue are staffed with people who are functionally innumerate and bitter. It’s the story of why presidential elections have become pure, unadulterated hell. It’s the story of why our intelligence community is staffed with political activists with BS credentials who obsess over domestic political feuds instead of bona fide soldiers for democracy.
Frankly, I think we could go a long way toward improving all of these problems simply by shutting down social media companies and the Society of the Spectacle worldview they create. Of course, that’s not going to happen.
But none of that gets discussed in situations like this. That’s a difficult conversation to have, and it requires people setting aside their political tribes to talk about the actual mechanics of government and the real business of public policy.
So instead the whole ordeal inevitably gets hijacked by white liberals – their vast appetite for self-help tomes that give them the illusion of doing something while experiencing zero personal risk or honest change, their navel gazing, their self-congratulatory rants on social media (to an audience that has, no doubt, had them muted for five years), which have long become a substitute for volunteerism and community involvement. It’s easy to write a snarky remark on a cardboard sign, less easy to go be a mentor at an inner-city school.
You have social media influencers agonizing over what outfit to wear in their protest selfies.
You have white women in Lululemon, who still managed to get their $200 highlights during a pandemic, yelling at black, female cops about racial injustice. You tell her all about your struggle, girl.
You have white policymakers doing photo ops in kente cloth. Alyssa Milano put her hair in cornrows to show she cares.
White liberals rush to buy self-help books about how they can “listen, learn, and try harder” – yes, they have already turned racism into a cliche to be repeated ad nauseam on cable news and on Instagram, because nothing says “I’m helping” like mindlessly parroting the same catchphrase to your white liberal bubble. Amazon saw this craze coming and changed their entire storefront marketing approach to take white liberals’ money.
“This book inspired me to continue on the journey of personal growth that I’ve been on and gave me some fresh new perspectives to consider.“
“It is a resource and a guide; like having a learned teacher with you in the intimacy of your own home as you confront some of the most troubling and critical truths about yourself.“
“It wants you to meet your full potential, but YOU have to DO the work.“
“The journey is hard, but I assure you, it is worth it.“
Half of these lines come from five-star reviews of contemporary self-help books. (Titles include Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and the early-aughts law-of-attraction phenom The Secret.) The other half come from reviews of anti-racist handbooks, all of which rocketed to the top of bestseller lists this month amid a nationwide movement sparked by the May 26 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. (Titles include Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, and, of course, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.)
The similarities are eerie, but also unsurprising. Rachel Hollis’ guide to self-help through face hygiene and Robin DiAngelo’s manual for the white and fragile provoke the same sort of starry-eyed praise, using the same highly specific vocabulary (the word “journey” turns up with remarkable frequency), because of the fundamental similarities in what they’re selling—and, more importantly, because the same people are lining up to buy it.
These are the same women who snatched up millions of copies of The Help, because they love the fiction of how some snippy white girl started the Civil Rights Era. Gosh, isn’t the main character so relatable?
Every single person of color is now going to be subjected to crocodile-tear confessions about that one time some liberal white chick saw the racism at their sorority/golf course/luxury gym and it has produced some powerful, sometimes painful introspection. Do you know where they can get a kente cloth golf bag to show their support for victims of police brutality? Is that, like, a thing? (Maybe Prada makes one.)
My education circles are full of (white liberal) teachers pondering how they can work discussions of white privilege into their classrooms and you can already grok what nightmares those will be for the children involved as they try to figure out how they can let the person who grades them know they’ve absorbed their social values as demanded. It never occurs to these folks that maybe black families don’t want white liberal schoolteachers hijacking the conversations and instructions they have with their kids about their race and heritage. In some cases, maybe that’s even dangerous. It never occurs to them that maybe black students don’t want their white peers to regard them as perpetual victims and to assume that anything they have ever achieved is a gift bestowed upon them through white guilt because their white liberal teachers won’t STFU about it.
Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the chosen messenger for this stuff. Maybe, just maybe, black families would like to have their children learn a version of black history that goes beyond the impetus for your white guilt, that includes, for example, African civilizations that at points were objectively the richest and most educated people on the planet. (They aren’t going to get that from a white liberal teacher, however.)
White liberals cannot process this stuff though. I like to make fun of people like Angelina Jolie who greet very real human suffering with the performative pose of a trained actress and quivering lip. “I saw a video of police brutality and now I want to spend four weeks telling everyone about my feelings” is what you do when all you ever want to do is talk about yourself.
Police brutality is not going to be solved by white narcissism and navel-gazing. For the love of God, please stop.