The Unbearable Wrongness of Bazelon

Having long since lost Linda Greenhouse and Dahlia Lithwick to their private hysteria played out in public, the lone remaining female pundit of law was Emily Bazelon. I regret to inform you that Bazelon is gone, self-immolated in a blaze of whiteness.

Being white in America has long been treated, at least by white people, as too familiar to be of much interest. It’s been the default identity, the cultural wallpaper — something described, when described at all, using bland metaphors like milk and vanilla and codes like “cornfed” and “all-American.” Grass is green, the sky is blue and, until very recently, a product described as “nude” or “flesh-colored” probably looked like white people’s skin.

How often do white people talk about being white? Not often! So long as we aren’t hanging out with white nationalists, marrying into a family of color or chuckling over jokes about our dancing, we have endless opportunities to avoid thinking much about our own race.

When she puts it that way, it seems almost mind-numbingly ridiculous that white people don’t obsess about their racial identity by self-flagellating and rending their sack cloths. But Bazelon informs us that it’s over. 

The Trump era, however, has compelled an unprecedented acknowledgment of whiteness as a real and alarming force.

There’s no cite for this assertion. Rather, Bazelon turns to woke examples:

Politico asked: “What’s Going On With America’s White People?” The NPR podcast “Code Switch” debuted with an episode called “Can We Talk About Whiteness?” Since handing Trump 58 percent of the white vote, we have been the subject of newspaper and magazine analyses about our race-based resentment, fear of declining status and supposed economic anxiety. The satire “Dear White People” was picked up by Netflix, and the film “Get Out,” which turned self-proclaimed Obama-supporting white people into figures of horror, became the think-piece blockbuster of 2017.

That she left out all reference to the great legal philosopher, Samantha Bee, is surprising.

Suddenly it is less tenable than ever for white people to write our whiteness out of the story of race in America or define ourselves only in terms of what we are not.

This is why you lie awake in your beds at night, pondering how Gorsuch managed to manipulate the latest Supreme Court opinion to serve white supremacy. What? You don’t? Then you are in denial, which makes you racist.

This pyramid has been around for a while, and is likely out of date, but now that Bazelon tells us that we (us white folks) are obsessed with our whiteness, from its privilege to its offensiveness, it’s the paradigm within which everything must be judged. And, as should be plain from its context, we are basking in our privilege and racism, whether we try to hurt or help.

For a long time, many white people assumed it was our due, as the majority, to encounter various racial others and marvel at the exotic things they ate, built or wore. Now we can go online and find people of color doing the gawking, offering jokes and anthropological scrutiny about white people’s underseasoning food, mistreating potato salad or eschewing washcloths.

Putting aside the conflicting view of how white people don’t think about race at all and Bazelon’s contention what white people “assumed it was our due,” when one would have no reason to assume anything if one didn’t think about it at all, the question raised here, since Bazelon used to be a legal pundit rather than woke self-loathing racial scold, is what this has to do with law, the only subject on which Bazelon’s writing has ever mattered.

A majority of white Americans currently believe that their own race is discriminated against. News accounts fill with white resentment and torch-lit white-power marches. White Americans, who “seem lost,” are searching for something important: how to see ourselves without turning awful in the process.

Do we “seem lost”? My good buddy Elie Mystal drove this home in a post about the Supreme Court’s Mansky decision, holding Minnesota’s prohibition on wearing political attire to the polls unconstitutional under the First Amendment. So anybody should be able to wear whatever they want to the polls? To me, white guy that I am, this seemed exceptionally anodyne. Heck, even the Notorious RGB and her sidekick Kagen signed on to it. What could possibly be crackers about this decision? Elie explained: it’s the hat.

It’s unfortunate there’s no lefty equivalent to the MAGA hat. I would love to wear something that white people could take one look at and know that I’m not here for their BS and it’s dangerous to talk to me about it.

But there can be no lefty equivalent. Because people on the left don’t believe in ethnic cleansing or placing certain people’s children into concentration camps. And if we did believe in that, we certainly wouldn’t put it on a hat for everybody else to see.

I don’t have a MAGA hat. If I did, I wouldn’t wear it, but I wouldn’t have one to begin with so it doesn’t matter. It’s unclear to me if Elie is bitching about the left not having a cool hat, because if that was the gripe, then come up with a hat of your own. He argues the left “certainly wouldn’t put it on a hat,” even if it’s pink and is intended to convey a vagina.

Until I read Elie’s post, I had no idea that an opinion that allowed anyone to wear a shirt, or a hat, that spoke to their political views was a racist thing. I checked the pyramid and there’s no mention of hats. But Bazelon says that I, as a white man, am now obsessed with recognizing how race influences every aspect of my being. My failure was unclear until Elie explained it to me.

Again, there is a universe in which Roberts’s reasoning makes a lot of sense. Damn near anything can be “political” these days. We live in a polarized nation where the very facts of our reality are debated in the political arena.

Again, Roberts is being reasonable, at least reasonable from the perspective of white man who need not concern himself with this country’s history of suppressing the vote to non-whites and women.

Having spent the better part of my legal career* representing black guys who show up at arraignment with the outline of a Glock on the left side of their head, I’m not insensitive to the complaints Elie raises. But you only get equal protection, not the majority of a nation obsessing over the minority’s hat peccadilloes.

It may be that Emily Bazelon’s bubble is obsessed about the awfulness of the whiteness, but the rest of us have work to do trying to keep the law honest and fair for everyone, without regard to race. And I will do so without a hat.

*There was a time that the things I did over the decades were sufficient to overcome any foolishness about my questioning racial obsession in the age of social justice. This allowed me to say what others could not, at least without being called a white supremacist or Nazi. I suspect that’s no longer the case, that my non-racist bona fides are no longer adequate and that any challenge to the excesses of Bazelon’s myopic obsession will result in my dismissal as just another old white guy spewing at best white privilege and at worst racism.

The alternative (which is the point of efforts such as Bazelon’s) is to shame white guys into silence and obsequiousness, because anything else will evoke the fury of the woke. Because you may be unwilling to risk the attack, or lack the history that enables you to withstand the names, I do it for you. Racial harmony will not be achieved by the minority demanding the majority bend to its will, nor should it. I will fight tooth and nail for your equal protection, but not your hegemony. Nor mine.

25 thoughts on “The Unbearable Wrongness of Bazelon

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    As long as Bazelon and Mystal elect to be provocative on the subject of “whiteness,” for fun, I will do the same. That is, they might wish to consider whether Kipling had it at least half-right:

    Take up the White Man’s burden—

    Send forth the best ye breed—

    Go send your sons to exile

    To serve your captives’ need

    To wait in heavy harness

    On fluttered folk and wild—

    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

    Half devil and half child

    Take up the White Man’s burden

    In patience to abide

    To veil the threat of terror

    And check the show of pride;

    By open speech and simple

    An hundred times made plain

    To seek another’s profit

    And work another’s gain

    Take up the White Man’s burden—

    And reap his old reward:

    The blame of those ye better

    The hate of those ye guard—

    The cry of hosts ye humour

    (Ah slowly) to the light:

    “Why brought ye us from bondage,

    “Our loved Egyptian night?”

    Take up the White Man’s burden-

    Have done with childish days-

    The lightly proffered laurel,

    The easy, ungrudged praise.

    Comes now, to search your manhood

    Through all the thankless years,

    Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,

    The judgment of your peers.

    Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States & The Philippine Islands, 1899.” Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1929).

    From one old white guy, I wish you all the best.


      1. Richard Kopf


        A thunder of jets in an open sky, a streak of gray and a cheerful “Hi!” A loop, a whirl, a vertical climb, and now you know its time for . . .

        All the best.


  2. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    It’s your fault for not being diverse enough to see what everyone else sees. Damn your reason. Who the speaker and audience are matters. Perspectives or something, right?

    Nevermind that being white isn’t a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. Last I checked some of us live in trailers or worse in the mountains and elsewhere. Still privileged. They just can’t understand why. Neither can I.

    I suppose I’m in denial about my willing support of the white supremacist patriarchy, too. Mea culpa.


  3. Random Wine Geek

    You’re just upset that you can no longer cloak yourself in your white savior complex to protect yourself from being called out for the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal capitalistic gaze that you impose on the world through your textual violence that borders on the genocidal. Do you really think that your virtuous actions mean more than your hurtful words, you Shitlord?

    Shame has long been an important, though imperfect, source of protection for the marginalized and oppressed. I fear that the attempts to weaponize shame in support of the marginalized and oppressed will ultimately destroy much of that defensive power, leaving the marginalized and oppressed even more exposed. I’d laugh at the irony if it wasn’t so potentially tragic.

  4. B. McLeod

    The leftists don’t wear hats, because they need them for their poles. Nobody will bow to a plain old, hatless pole. Perhaps the concern they have with white people wearing hats is that confused members of the public may bow to the white people in hats, thinking they are poles. I can see how that would disrupt the universal scheme of things.

      1. B. McLeod

        Well, possibly. If the pole was really a person in a hat. But that person would then have to be Cosby’d for disguising himself as a behatted pole, to take unfair advantage.

  5. Nemo

    I wonder where the Noble Savage myth falls on that pretty little pyramid, or perhaps the PoC Betrayal myth (where PoCs hold incorrect political beliefs, and are thus fair game, for those that skipped that class).

    The Left has seen fit to declare themselves as the final authority on the meanings of words and phrases. PC is the handmaid of that, to insure that words that are forbidden may not be uttered. Thus we have on the PC pyramid the reference to “The N-Word”, because despite it actually meaning “nigger”, it’s OK to use – especially when quoting Clemens.

    There are other things to be seen, both in the language of the reference article and in the pyramid, and I’d like nothing better than to tell everyone all about them. So I won’t.



    1. SHG Post author

      So are you or are you not coming to grips with your whiteness (if, of course, you’re white because how would I know)?

      1. Kay

        I suspect your covert white supremacy allowed you to decode the “whiteness” of Nemo.
        It is exhausting being white and “coverting” all the time.

      2. Nemo

        I’ll answer that just as soon as I hear a rational* explanation of how one can tell if one has “come to grips” with one’s skin color. Does gripping my skin equate with gripping its color?

        Law is hard. Complying with amorphous standards is harder.

        *Rational to my satisfaction, not the explainer’s. It’s tragic that I even have to explain that to potential explainers in advance, but in the current culture, it seems to be a necessary precaution.



  6. Hal

    If I were to have made (just checked and Amazon doesn’t sell) a pink pussy hat with “Make America Great Again” embroidered upon it and wear it to a polling place… and someone’s head exploded… would I be held liable? Enquiring minds want to know.

  7. KP

    “Because people on the left don’t believe in ethnic cleansing or placing certain people’s children into concentration camps.”
    Now the Left is the socially accepted center its hard to remember where it came from and how bloody was its germination. Perhaps they don’t think Stalin ws involved..

    Still, its an American problem, the rest of the world shakes its head and looks bemused.

    1. Pseudonymouskid

      Yes, all the left is a story of degeneration into murder. You caught us, the monolithic authoritarian bloc that we are. Damn I can’t wait to get the guillotines a-buzzing again. What other spectres are in your closet and under your bed waiting to get you?

      1. SHG Post author

        While Stalin goes a bit too extreme and orthogonal (KP tends to do that), the “real” left is rather monolithic given that anyone who questions the orthodoxy is kicked off the island. They may still want to be thought of as progressive as they’re consumed by the cleansing flames, but they’re not invited to the social justice sleepovers.

Comments are closed.