This captures the narrative that is animating the moderate / liberal turn against “wokeism,” but doesn’t hold up empirically: It is based on an implausible analysis of the political situation and a misleading perspective on racial conflict in American history. Some thoughts: 1/
Let’s start with the category error that is shared by lots of moderates and liberals: The assumption is that all the *talk about racism* is what irks many White people – when it’s actually the attempt to *dismantle racist structures and narratives* to which they object. 2/
The difference matters greatly: If it were just the supposedly incessant *talk* about racism, we could plausibly devise a strategy of appeasing White / reactionary sensibilities by *not talking* about it while still pursuing the project of realizing multiracial democracy. 3/
However, what reactionaries (and that includes people who may hold moderate / liberal views in matters other than racial justice) are actually saying is that the “woke” assault on the way the American political, social, and cultural order is structured has gone too far. 4/
How do you appease that? The only way would be to actually abandon the project of dismantling racist structures, to accept the status quo of a racial caste society in which a White elite gets to dominate. What you are defending then, however, is not multiracial democracy. 5/
This category error is directly related to a misleading interpretation of U.S. history. “Discussions of racism are a luxury for when democracy is safe” – but that’s not how it’s ever worked in this country. The price for racial progress has always been political instability. 6/
Let’s look at actual history: Political “consensus” was usually based on a cross-partisan agreement to leave the discriminatory social order intact and deny marginalized groups equal representation and civil rights. A White male elite consensus was the historical norm. 7/
The frequently invoked “consensus” of the post-World War II era, for instance, was depending on both parties agreeing that White patriarchal rule would remain largely untouched. “Civility” was the modus operandi between elites who adhered to that order. 8/
By the 1960s, however, that White elite consensus had begun to fracture; America split over the question of whether or not the country should become a multiracial, pluralistic democracy: a system in which an individual’s status is not determined by race, gender, or religion. 9/
Over time, one party came to accept this multiracial, pluralistic version of democracy (albeit very reluctantly at times) – while the other is committed to doing whatever it takes to prevent the perceived downfall of “real” (read: White Christian patriarchal) America. 10/
It was not a coincidence that “polarization” started when one party decided to break with the White elite consensus and supported the civil rights legislation of the 60s. “Polarization” is the price U.S. society has had to pay for real progress towards multiracial democracy. 11/
“Let’s wait until democracy is stable and then we can safely talk about racism” – historically, this has never worked. On the contrary, the reactionary counter-mobilization against demands for racial equality is precisely where that instability has always come from. 12/
American democracy was stable whenever and as long as it didn’t interfere with a political, social, and cultural order in which White Christians – and White Christian men, in particular – got to be on top and got to define what did and what did not count as “real America.” 13/
Conversely, moments of racial and social progress – or even just perceived progress – have always been conflictual, have always led to a reactionary counter-mobilization that threatened to abolish democracy altogether rather than accepting multiracial pluralism. 14/
The best example for why the Nichols approach doesn’t work might be the Obama presidency. The fact that first-term Obama didn’t talk about race hardly at all didn’t prevent a White reactionary counter-mobilization - because it’s not the *talking* that’s the problem. 15/
It was the very fact that a Black man was elected president that sent the Right into a frenzy. Those who demand that America remain a nation of and for White Christians feel their backs against the wall, and that siege mentality isn’t going away anytime soon. 16/
“If we just stopped talking about racism, they wouldn’t even realize we’re installing multiracial, pluralistic democracy” - the conservative commitment to White Christian patriarchal dominance deserves to be taken a lot more seriously than that. 17/
The people claiming to be fighting for democracy by purging “wokeism” and denouncing “CRT” should grapple in earnest with *what type of democracy* they are defending, and why that is a lot closer to the vision animating rightwing reactionaries than they are willing to admit. /end

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More from @tzimmer_history

8 Nov
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).
Read 26 tweets
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

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