Wednesday, July 24, 2019

McWhorter: "'Racist' Is A Tough Little Word"

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of McWhorter. And he doesn't have the slightest inclination to throw around charges of racism indiscriminately. And he is a linguist, of course. So I have more reason even than usual to take his arguments seriously.
   But...I really don't see his main points in this.
   There's no legitimate subjective meaning of 'racist.' It's just not analogous to 'hopefully' in that respect. Though, again, I'm not the linguist here. So I wouldn't put any money on me vs. McWorter in such a case.
   I think we do agree about the claim that the charge of racism against Trump requires a hypothesis about his mental states and counterfactual actions. McWhorter seems to think Trump wouldn't tell four "outspoken," apparently Finish, Congressbeings to go back where they came from...I tend to disagree. First, that's not what he said, and nuance matters here. But it's close enough. Second, I think he absolutely would say such a thing to such imagined people. In fact, now that I think about it some more, I'm sure he would. Which means: I'm sure it's false that he wouldn't. Which means, basically: he's pretty damn likely to do it. What none of us can be sure about is whether he'd be less likely to do so. He might very well be. But he might be isn't good enough to unequivocally call him racist (not: possibly racist...)...especially not in the Washington Post, even in its current degraded state. I have my suspicions about Trump--but, contrary to the way progressives think about such things: suspicions aren't enough.

   I still think I'm right about this: what Trump said was completely unacceptable, especially for the president. It was too close to a cartoonish, anti-immigrant insult, and it was unamerican in that it came too close to treating criticism of the U.S.--misguided though it may be--as unamerican. It may also have had some racist attitudinal component. But, against the backdrop of the torrent of spittle-flecked, irrational accusations of racism issuing from the left in general, and the Congresswomen in particular, I'm not going to accept such hypothetical attributions.
   I have said that this seems to me to cast new light on Trump's birtherism. That's another case in which progressives confidently proclaimed something racist that wasn't really. Birtherism was crazy, not racist. It was less "racist" than some of the things said about Bill Clinton would have seemed if he had been black--or if they'd been said about Obama. Obama's father was from Kenya, and there was a small fragment of prima facie reason to think he (Barack Obama) might have been born there--e.g. the claim that he had been that was made by one of his publishers. The crazy right mostly went for that not because they were racist, but for the same reason they went for the Obama, Antichrist psychopathy--because they're nuts and they hated him to a completely irrational degree. Just like they hate Hillary--who is, let me note, white.
   But now we've got two kinda sorta vaguely similar cases: Trump's birtherism and his Go-backerism. The two of these together do, I think, make it more plausible that there are racist attitudes in play in the background. That's not sufficient to confirm the charge. But, then, I don't want a POTUS that's anywhere near any of this, nor of whom such hypotheses are even plausible. That DJT oughtn't be anywhere near the Oval Office is radically overdetermined. I don't need to stretch to pretend that he's obviously a racist to defend my view of him and his qualifications. I fear he might be kinda racist is more than enough for me. In fact, I don't need it at all to defend my judgment about the guy's fitness.
   This is all complicated, of course, by the overtly bogus charges against him--e.g. the "All Mexicans are rapists" lie, the Central Park Five business, and so on. But that's a different line of argument.
   Oh, and: it's also complicated by the fact that many people--and I'm one of them--think that being non- and anti- racist means, inter alia: scrupulous colorblindness. I think it's somewhat likely that Trump is one of those people; so he'd find it dishonorable--and racist--to refrain from saying to nonwhite Congressbeings the kinds of things he'd say to white ones. Collateral information: he says stupid, mean, aggressive shit to white opponents all the time.
   I say all sorts of things that I know damn good and well will get me accused of racism, sexism, etc. And I force myself to say them, inter alia, because I think it's actually racist, sexist, etc. to refrain from saying them. Also: cowardly. Also: knuckling under to these crazy tendencies of the contemporary left contributes to the degradation and possible eventual destruction of the country. I know damn good and well what people are going to say about me when, say, people start deriding the idea of IQ differences between men and women, and I point out that the existence of such differences is strongly confirmed by cog sci. If you speak the truth about such things today, you will be accused of bigotry. So you have to choose between the truth and your comfort and reputation. I've made my choice. You also have to choose between appearing racist, sexist, etc. and actually being so. I respect women exactly as much as I respect men (and nonwhites exactly as much as I respect whites). Hence I speak truthfully to everyone equally. I don't believe they need to be coddled. I end up getting more flack--lots more--than people who do think they need to be coddled, and those who are too cowardly to speak uncomfortable truths.
   Is Trump like me in these respects? Well, I think he might be, at least to some extent. The main objection to that is that he doesn't seem to care about the truth all that much. That's a pretty strong objection, actually.


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