From the reactions we’ve witnessed since the VA election, it’s clear that there are a lot of White folks out there who consider themselves Democrats/Liberals and are all too willing to go along with scapegoating and demonizing Black intellectuals if it promises electoral success.
I want to reflect in detail on a reaction that I have personally gotten to the tweet below. I believe it is emblematic of a widespread - and rapidly spreading - attitude among White Liberals and seems to be quickly gaining the upper hand (again) within the Democratic Party.
Here is the reply I would like to dissect. It is from someone with a fairly big Twitter following, someone I’m sure won’t be happy about being called out (I have purposefully blacked out all individual information as I want neither abuse nor attention coming their way).
This general attitude is not only emblematic of many reactions I have gotten - more importantly, I believe it shows how certain ideas of “popularism” and the anti-“CRT” panic are intersecting and animating a counter-mobilization among liberals against racial justice.
Let’s start with the idea of “denouncing the CRT crowd.” Who, exactly, are we talking about? The response was prompted by my critique of the claim that Democrats should simply “disavow” Robin DiAngelo or Ibram Kendi.
Kendi, in particular, has become the Right’s preferred bogeyman: He’s the one name every rightwinger brings up – and quite often the only concrete example they offer, as if he were the White House’s official Czar of Making White People Hate Themselves.
However you want to classify Kendi’s work, simply putting him in a basket labeled “CRT crowd” is misleading. As an academic body of thought, Critical Race Theory emerged in the late 70s / early 80s – Kendi was born in 1982, I think, and he’s a historian, not a legal theorist.
But, of course, that’s exactly what is so revealing about the “CRT crowd” remark: It’s evidence of how far the rightwing moral panic has already spread, how self-proclaimed Liberals have already accepted and adopted the bad-faith terms set by the anti-“CRT” crusaders.
The whole point about the anti-“CRT” campaign is, as Christopher Rufo has been eagerly telling us, to lump every critical perspective on racism in America’s past and present together under a “scary” term so that it can be attacked, demonized, and de-legitimized.
So, yeah, under that definition of “Critical Race Theory”, Kendi fits. And Liberals are running with it, all too willing to oblige and help spread the bad-faith moral panic, allowing rightwingers to set the terms of debate.
Let’s talk about the idea of “denouncing” CRT next. What this self-proclaimed Democrat is casually throwing out there is to demonize some of the most prominent, most important, most well-respected Black scholars and academics of the past 40 years or so. Remarkable!
The underlying assumption, of course, seems to be that these Critical Race Theorists *deserve* to be “denounced” – that there must indeed be something wrong, something radical, something dangerous about their work and their theories.
And again, these are exactly the tenets of the rightwing moral panic, and this ostensibly “liberal” position is distinguishable from that perhaps in tone, but hardly in substance, and not at all in effect.
Let’s turn to the way “popularism” interjects and shapes this “liberal” thinking: If David Shor tells us to denounce Black intellectuals, we should denounce them. This is, to be fair, not what Shor advocates – but I’d argue it’s a predictable and logical adaptation of Shorism.
What Shor argues explicitly is that Democrats should de-emphasize issues that aren’t popular, and focus on issues that poll well – specifically with White moderates and rural White conservatives whose votes are privileged due to the distortions of the political system.
In a vacuum, “popularism” may sound like a common-sense approach. But American politics is not conducted in a vacuum. It is, for instance, conducted in an environment in which, as @lionel_trolling points out, conservatives consistently set the terms of debate in matters of race.
The perspective on “popularism” changes if we analyze who is making those claims, why they are attractive to certain people, who / whose interests and demands they are directed against, who benefits from Shorism becoming the Democratic Party paradigm, and who is hurt by that.
Again, David Shor advocates *not emphasizing racial justice issues because they are unpopular with White folks* - but it’s well within the logic of the Popularist Persuasion to go from there to “How about we actively denounce racial justice?”
The underlying worldview is that Democrats need to focus on the sensibilities of White moderates / conservatives (in swing states!) – “in our messaging,” the popularists say… well, “denouncing Black intellectuals” is an example of why there is no such thing as “just messaging.”
It seems to me that a very thin line separates “Don’t talk about race stuff because White people don’t like it” from “Simply not talking about race stuff isn’t enough, we need to actively denounce it, because it is so unpopular.”
Where is the limit of the popularist paradigm? Is there a minimum level of racial justice to which Democrats need to be committed, even if it’s extremely unpopular with White conservatives? Is there a line of white grievance appeasement Democrats shouldn’t cross?
If there is a line, the person who sent this reply obviously doesn’t think “denouncing the CRT crowd” is crossing it – and that’s a position that has rapidly become normalized among at least the Very Serious Punditry of the liberal center, the Mounks and the Yglesiases.
At the very least, Shorism puts the agency firmly in the hands of the Right and its powerful propaganda machine – the rise of the “Popularist” Persuasion and the rightwing anti-“woke” / anti-“CRT” panic are now conspiring to set the cause of racial justice back significantly.
For anyone who cares about racial justice, and about America hopefully becoming a truly functioning multiracial, pluralistic democracy, this development – while not all that surprising, of course – is disheartening and, honestly, quite terrifying.
Addendum: This is such an important point on how many “moderates” who initially pretended to be on board with “popularism” purely for tactical reasons have already arrived at more or less openly declaring that racial justice has gone too far - the White elite has had enough.
“and Kendi isn’t an intellectual.”

Perfect. From someone whose timeline is all Yglesias, Friedersdorf, Chait. Well then.

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More from @tzimmer_history

8 Nov
A look back at the “political correctness” hysteria of the early 90s really reveals so much about what these recurring rightwing moral panics are all about, and why we need to look past whatever the reactionary outrage du jour is and focus on the underlying political conflict.
I tried to get into that in this thread here, outlining that what these debates are actually about is power, status, and respect (who gets / deserves it, and who doesn’t).
I specifically made the comparison to the “pc” crusade of the early 90s, trying to situate the current “wokeism” and “CRT” moral panics within that longer-term context. Calling something “pc” was an attempt to discredit the claims of traditionally marginalized groups for respect.
Read 5 tweets
7 Nov
This is what a free speech crisis on campus actually looks like: A Black scholar being targeted by a coordinated online harassment campaign because of his immensely important work and public voice, and @Stanford just standing by. @hakeemjefferson deserves so much better.
Allow me to add something personal: I received some pretty disturbing online abuse this week - someone fantasizing about “silencing” me, and someone else gleefully suggesting “the Khashoggi method.” Stuff of that quality is rare for me - but it certainly is draining.
I’m only mentioning it because I know the abuse I’m getting is absolutely nothing, either in kind or in quantity, compared to what others who are not shielded by the fact that they are white men have to deal with on a regular basis, just because they insist on not being silenced.
Read 6 tweets
6 Nov
Aren’t we all glad that all these concerned parents are standing up to these mean Critical Race Theorists and their Un-American liberal enablers who want to taint and destroy that beautiful history.
In case anyone thinks this type of “history” is passé: At a reception at the German Historical Institute in DC in November 2018, a middle-aged man from Virginia explained to me that slavery couldn’t have been so bad, seeing that people d always take care of their property.
Read 5 tweets
5 Nov
Excellent dissection of the way rightwing panics work and why it’s difficult to counter them effectively. I suggest we need to focus not on refuting specific claims, which never works with bad-faith actors, but on highlighting the reactionary political project behind them.
Instead of playing defense by trying to intercept every accusation rightwingers fire off (No, that’s not what CRT is! No, it’s not actually taught at school!), what does shifting the focus to analyzing these rightwing moral panics as political projects look like?
It means, first of all, we should focus on the people behind this reactionary crusade, and the forces associated with this project - starting with the rightwing activist who has been loudly and proudly telling the world for months why and how he got the CRT panic going.
Read 13 tweets
4 Nov
Even leaving aside the fact that this is asking the Democratic Party to adopt the Right’s campaign of turning a famous Black intellectual into an “Un-American” bogeyman: Is there *any* evidence from the recent past that this this type of appeasement would actually work? Image
Because there certainly is *a ton of evidence* that rightwing propaganda campaigns are entirely unaffected by whatever Democrats actually do or say. Yes, it’s slightly harder to demonize Biden, but that’s because he’s an old White man, not because of anything he’s saying.
And again, I want to emphasize this one more time: “Let’s join the Right in demonizing and scapegoating certain Black intellectuals” is a position that people who consider themselves “progressives” or “on the Left” really shouldn’t legitimize as “savvy advice.”
Read 4 tweets
1 Nov
This is indeed exactly what they are referring to: A bunch of unsubstantiated claims, all driven by ideologically motivated fear of what *might* be, with zero evidence presented and absolutely no interest in the empirical reality of what actually *is* happening in the classroom.
History teachers at all levels: “This is absolutely not what is going on inside the classroom.”

David Brooks: “But I heard from people [Republican operatives and conservative activists] that they *sense* it *might be* and I’m totally sticking with that!”

Just bizarre.
It’s the same pattern over and over again. And not once will the “moderates” propagating these false stories as evidence of leftwing “illiberalism” conclude that they might want to be more cautious the next time they encounter some dubious cancel culture anecdote. Not once.
Read 9 tweets

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