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This pyramid has been around for a while, and is likely out of date, but now that Bazelon tells us that we (us white folks) are obsessed with our whiteness, from its privilege to its offensiveness, it’s the paradigm within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.