Jeong definitionally cannot be racist, because she’s both a woman and a racial minority. Racism against whites, in this neo-Marxist view, just “isn’t a thing” — just as misandry literally cannot exist at all. And this is because, in this paradigm, racism has nothing to do with a person’s willingness to pre-judge people by the color of their skin, or to make broad, ugly generalizations about whole groups of people, based on hoary stereotypes. Rather, racism is entirely institutional and systemic, a function of power, and therefore it can only be expressed by the powerful — i.e., primarily white, straight men. For a nonwhite female, like Sarah Jeong, it is simply impossible. In the religion of social constructionism, Jeong, by virtue of being an Asian woman, is one of the elect, incapable of the sin of racism or group prejudice. All she is doing is resisting whiteness and maleness, which indeed require resistance every second of the day.Sullivan, who rightly called this excuse "the purest bullshit", found himself shortly thereafter attacked by the usual dimwits, including Ezra Klein, who stupidly used the fact that one of her tweets was about Sullivan to dismiss any criticism of it. (This was also picked up by Tyler O'Neil, who noted that Jeong used the tweet to whip up anti-Sullivan sentiment.) The Federalist had good responses from Warren Henry ("The scandal is not that the NYT hired Sarah Jeong. The scandal is that so many progressives cannot conceive of it being scandalous.") and Sumatra Maitra, for whom this graf stands out (emboldening mine):
That’s why Jeong hasn’t apologized to the white people she denigrated or conceded that her tweets were racist. Nor has she taken responsibility for them. Her statement actually blames her ugly tweets on trolls whose online harassment of her prompted her to respond in turn. She was merely “counter-trolling.” She says her tweets, which were not responses to any individual, were also “not aimed at a general audience,” and now understands that these tweets were “hurtful” and won’t do them again. The New York Times also buys this argument: “her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time, she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.”
One cannot possibly imagine how superficially polite but internally toxic and Stasi-esque the environment of a New York Times editorial meeting is, unless of course, you accept that all the men and women who work at The New York Times are groveling, self-hating cowards. It would be a great social science experiment to take an anonymous survey of the New York Times office to unearth what people really feel about their co-workers.Likewise Jonah Goldberg in National Review; do we really have to spell out that racism against white people can be a thing? I guess so:
If all you need to know about Oscar Wilde is that he was a gay dude, just like Richard Simmons or Milo what’s-his-name, you’re a bigot. If Meyer Lansky and Albert Einstein are merely two Jews to you, you’re an anti-Semite. If Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, and Lizzie Borden are just three chicks, you’re a sexist.A coda from David French:
...But for some bizarre reason, for many people, this idea evaporates like water off a hot skillet when you replace any of these categories with “white” or, very often, “male.”
Suddenly fancy words and phrases fly like sawdust from a wood chipper: “structures of oppression!” “decontextualized!” “ahistoricized!” etc. It’s all so clever and complicated. The same people who take to the streets at the slightest suggestion that Muslims can be judged by the evil deeds of other Muslims will lecture and harangue you for hours, mob you on Twitter, or condescendingly dismiss you for not understanding that all white people have it coming.
...[T]his argument confuses the gravity of an offense with the existence of the offense. A powerless person’s hate may not harm the powerful, but it is still hate. A powerless person’s hate may even be grounded in specific experiences, but it is still hate. The essence of bigotry is to look at the color of a person’s skin and, on that basis alone, make malignant judgments about his character or worth.A corollary illustrating how stupid the left's position here is that racism is geographic. If racism only exists in the contexts of power, and if you don't happen to be among the powerful majority, then a white person can't be racist in China, and a Chinese can't be racist in the west. Claire Lehmman credited the addled thinkers excusing Jeong with "[having] to defend their bailey position (racism=power+prejudice) rather than simply retreating to their motte position (dictionary definition of racism)", but so far as I have seen, this hasn't happened. The definition of racism got a good working over at Slate Star Codex:
So we have a case where original coinage, all major dictionaries, and the overwhelming majority of common usage all define “racism” one way, and social justice bloggers insist with astonishing fervor that way is totally wrong and it must be defined another. One cannot argue definitions, but one can analyze them, so you have to ask – whence the insistence that racism have the structural-oppression definition rather than the original and more commonly used one? Why couldn’t people who want to talk about structural oppression make up their own word, thus solving the confusion? Even if they insisted on the word “racism” for their new concept, why not describe the state of affairs as it is: “The word racism can mean many things to many people, and I suppose a group of black people chasing a white kid down the street waving knives and yelling ‘KILL WHITEY’ qualifies by most people’s definition, but I prefer to idiosyncratically define it my own way, so just remember that when you’re reading stuff I write”? Or why not admit that this entire dispute is pointless and you should try to avoid being mean to people no matter what word you call the meanness by?The answer to that should by now be obvious: the people behind it want institutional power and this is a way to get it without accountability. "If you can't be racist against white people, then why are you trying so hard?"
So, what is the final lesson of the controversy over Jeong? Some conservative critics have slammed the New York Times for a “racial double standard” in standing by her, while others have denounced her tweets while agreeing that she shouldn’t be fired. But, interestingly, there has also been some angry reaction on the left. On Splinter News, Libby Watson called the Times’ handling of the incident “pathetic”; the newspaper’s statement, she fumed, not only validated “bad faith” right-wing complaints about Jeong but seemed to endorse the view that “being flippant about white people” was “comparable to actual racism.”Yes, especially given that Asian-American families out-earn their white counterparts by about 28% (PDF), it's hard to see how someone like Jeong, educated at an elite school, gets to make snotty comments about "all white people" — a group that includes a lot of Appalachian poverty. Jeong's tweets, it seems to me, amount to a sort of argot that provides a passkey to the cool kids hangout in the upper tiers of American society. They may not be meant seriously, but they not only did not cost her her job at The Verge, they got her an upgrade at the NYT.
The Jeong controversy has revealed to what an extent a toxic form of identity politics is prevalent on the left today. The silver lining is that both the New York Times and Jeong have agreed that white-bashing is bad. Perhaps we can start a new conversation from that point.
Inkoo Kang at Slate essentially told white people to shut up, chiding the Times for "how protective it’s being of white feelings at a time of renewed and active discrimination against people of color", as though somehow being actually considerate toward others wasn't part of the process of convincing them to your point of view. But in keeping with the argot theory of Jeong's tweets, Jeong's job at the Times isn't one of convincing people so much as telling them the right thing to think. In fact, as Yascha Mounk (also in Slate) put it,
But while I do not think that Jeong should be fired for her tweets, I am depressed by the extent to which they are now being celebrated. This is true both because the content of her tweets is, from a liberal perspective, much worse than her defenders want to admit and because the kind of rhetoric in which she engaged is detrimental to the prospect of building a just society.It seems incredible that Mounk needs to make the obvious point that, "the defensive inversion of bigotry ... is also a massive gift to the very people who are most intent on doing harm to them." That is to say, it is a kind of political suicide, one that reminds me of Freddie deBoer's response to the "magic words" concept.
The core of the Times’ defense of Jeong is that she “responded to … harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.” In the most obvious reading of the statement, this is simply untrue. If Jeong had been imitating the rhetoric of her harassers, we would expect most instances of it to come in direct response to trolls. But in reality, she took aim at “white people” in standalone tweets on a wide range of subjects, from food to television.
The only tenable interpretation of the Times’ statement is therefore much broader: Because Jeong has frequently encountered abuse from white social media users—something that is, sadly, beyond doubt—she imitated their style and rhetoric when tweeting about white people in general, even when unprompted by any specific incident of harassment.
Update 2018-08-09: Reihan Salam in The Atlantic:
In some instances, white-bashing can actually serve as a means of ascent, especially for Asian Americans. Embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for. ... <
Think about what it takes to claw your way into America’s elite strata. Unless you were born into the upper-middle class, your surest route is to pursue an elite education. To do that, it pays to be exquisitely sensitive to the beliefs and prejudices of the people who hold the power to grant you access to the social and cultural capital you badly want. By setting the standards for what counts as praiseworthy, elite universities have a powerful effect on youthful go-getters. Their admissions decisions represent powerful “nudges” towards certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and I’ve known many first- and second-generation kids—I was one of them—who intuit this early on.
Consider the recent contretemps over Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policies. Critics argue that the university actively discriminates against high-achieving Asian American applicants by claiming that a disproportionately large number of them have lackluster personalities. One obvious reaction to this charge is to denounce Harvard for its supposed double standards. This reaction might be especially appealing to those who see themselves as the sort of people who’d be dismissed by Harvard’s suspect screening process, and who’d thus have every reason to resent it. ...
So what if you’re an Asian American who has already made the cut? In that case, you might celebrate Harvard’s wisdom in judiciously balancing its student body, or warn that Harvard’s critics have a darker, more ominous agenda that can’t be trusted. This establishes you as an insider, who gets that Harvard is doing the right thing, while allowing you to distance yourself from less-enlightened, and less-elite, people of Asian origin: You’re all being duped by evil lower-whites who don’t grok racial justice.