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America in Blackface: The Real ‘Identity Hoaxers’

We’re missing the vast majority of Munchausen-by-internet white saviors.

In our increasingly common racialized version of Munchausen Syndrome, white people assume the identities of what are commonly called “marginalized” groups in order to benefit from the numerous social advantages that accrue to those who take on and play up the mantle of victimization.

Helen Lewis describes the notorious cases of Rachel Dolezal, Jessica Krug, and Satchel Cole, in a March 2021 article in the Atlantic entitled “The Identity Hoaxers,” which she likens to earlier historical cases of those who impersonated Holocaust survivors. But by limiting herself to a discussion of full-on transracial oddballs, Lewis misses the opportunity to consider and explain what is, in reality, a far more widespread—and, therefore, far more disturbing—contemporary pathology: masses of individuals feeling psychologically compelled to identify with those they are taught to view as oppressed to such an extent that they stereotype and demonize the economically struggling and politically reviled majority of Americans.

Lewis’s diagnosis of the race-shifting misfits that are her focus is that they have “[t]he need to be associated with the victims rather than the perpetrators” and that this inclination seems intriguingly common in university humanities departments and leftist activist spaces, where many subscribe to the worldview outlined by Robin DiAngelo in her best-selling book White Fragility: “White people do need to feel grief about the brutality of white supremacy and our role in it.” Perhaps the subconscious reasoning runs like this: White people are oppressors, but I’m a good person, not an oppressor, so I can’t be white.

She proceeds to describe these shifty characters as typically “intelligent and highly educated” individuals who “use their new identities to claim a public voice—speaking on panels, writing books, leading protests. They choose to work in fields related to their borrowed oppression. The intensity of their identification could seem almost parodic to outsiders…. They police other people’s identities, accusing them of not being ‘Black enough’—an intriguing psychological tic, given that they are not Black themselves.”

The article concludes with Lewis quoting psychiatrist Marc Feldman: “I think we’re missing the vast majority of Munchausen-by-internet cases … [b]ecause in the vast majority of cases, the deceptions are successful.”

Indeed, Lewis herself seems to have missed the bulk of the deceptions staring her right in the face. Whether because of her own biases or those of her Atlantic overlords, she fails to take her argument to its logical conclusion: Those who have taken the extreme final step of actually disguising themselves in permanent blackface are just the most egregious exponents of what, in its less extreme variants, is a sadly common phenomenon; there are legions of “intelligent and highly educated” white liberals “intriguingly common in university humanities departments and leftist activist spaces,” who have—without going so far as to don blackface—disguised themselves as white saviors and begun to identify with the “oppressed” rather than the “oppressor” to such an extent that “[t]he intensity of their identification could seem almost parodic to outsiders.”

In his 2005 book, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, the historian Paul E. Gottfried traces, among other things, the process of German de-Nazification after World War II. He describes how, in the 1960s, a subtle shift in the de-Nazification process occurred. From its initial aim of confronting and bringing to justice actual former Nazis and purging the nation of Nazi influence, de-Nazification broadened to view much of pre-Nazi German culture as a mere prelude to Nazism. The latter approach, Gottfried explains, allowed German elites—those who were far more likely to have been themselves high-ranking Nazi party or S.S. members or beneficiaries of that system during the ’30s and ’40s—to diffuse their responsibility by diluting Nazism into an amorphous miasma that had enveloped the nation to afflict all Germans alike. The elites, then, could adopt a new identity as the lead crusaders against Nazism, occupying a pedagogical role in which their backward, as-yet-unenlightened students would be the ordinary Germans who had largely played the part of foot soldiers and cannon fodder during Hitler’s reign.

That description should sound familiar to us because it echoes what our own American elites have done when it comes to our history of slavery and white supremacy. Just as in Germany, it is the elites—those with families and familial wealth going back many generations on U.S. soil and built on the backs of slave labor as well the separate-and-very-unequal Jim Crow era—who are the most likely to be descendants of actual slaveowners and beneficiaries of the white supremacist system of earlier centuries. The American South was a grossly unequal society where nearly all the slaves and wealth were concentrated in a very few hands, and those hands largely retained or regained their wealth even after the Civil War. Needless to say, those in the North who benefited in any way from slavery or other forms of legal discrimination would have done even better, with no devastating military defeat to strip them of their fortunes.

Thus, just as in Germany, to fend off the guilt that comes with knowing that their wealth is built on blood money, our elites have spun out an ideological fantasy in which all Americans possessing white skin, whether wealthy or poor, whether of ancient American vintage or recent immigrants to these shores, are complicit in a system of white supremacy that, as in Germany, is supposed to have implicated every white American and that, still more absurdly, is claimed to persist to this day. With this fantasy successfully foisted upon the populace, the elites can then take on the same part as their German peers, rolling in triumphantly from stage left in their #BLM-bedecked clown cars, chanting “No Justice, No Peace!” and “F— the Police!” in newfound starring roles as anti-racist crusaders leading the good fight against the backward deplorables in flyover country, the ones most likely to be the descendants of history’s victims, not of its perpetrators.

Precisely as one would expect if this description of the situation were accurate, according to the 2018 Hidden Tribes report, America’s leftmost grouping, the “progressive activists,” which comprises about 8 percent of the population, are 11 percent more likely to be white than the general population and also have the highest socioeconomic status of anyone on the political spectrum, with the report offering this additional description of their typical profile:

Their own circumstances are secure. They feel safer than any group, which perhaps frees them to devote more attention to larger issues of social justice in their society. They have an outsized role in public debates, even though they comprise a small portion of the total population, about one in 12 Americans. They are highly sensitive to issues of fairness and equity in society, particularly regarding race, gender, and other minority group identities.

Along similar lines, in a 2019 article in Tablet fittingly titled “America’s White Saviors,” Zach Goldberg describes this same population of elite white liberals as “act[ing] like white saviors who must lead the rest of the country, including the racial minorities whose interests they claim to represent, to a vision of justice the less enlightened groups would not choose for themselves.” He continues: “[A]s woke liberals play a leading role in party politics, the Democrats, who are increasingly defined by their embrace of diversity and progressive stances on issues of racial justice, appear to do so, at least partly at the direction of a small white elite.” Goldberg likewise cites data to echo the conclusion of the Hidden Tribes report on the affluence and influence of these white saviors: “They are more likely to consider themselves activists, are more active on social media, and, significantly, they are one of the most affluent groups in the country.”

Of particular note, Goldberg’s impressive compendium of data to back up his claims includes a fact that corresponds to what we would expect to see among the more explicitly trans-racial identity hoaxers Helen Lewis discusses. Writes Goldberg:

Remarkably, white liberals were the only subgroup exhibiting a pro-outgroup bias—meaning white liberals were more favorable toward nonwhites and are the only group to show this preference for group other than their own. Indeed, on average, white liberals rated ethnic and racial minority groups 13 points (or half a standard deviation) warmer than whites. As is depicted in the graph below, this disparity in feelings of warmth toward ingroup vs. outgroup is even more pronounced among whites who consider themselves “very liberal” where it widens to just under 20 points.

Moreover, consistent with my thesis that guilt at their own unearned privilege is motivating these elites to try pro-minority-activist costumes on for size, Goldberg finds that the elite white liberal cohort he documents shows an unusually high degree of belief in “white privilege” and “white guilt,” variables, he explains, which “are strongly correlated with measures of liberal racial sympathy.”

And just as per Lewis’s observations, Goldberg finds that these elite white identity hoaxers outflank the minorities they claim to represent: “In all, though they do converge on some issues, the attitudes and policy preferences of the woke white left are unrepresentative of the ‘marginalized communities’ with whom they are supposed to be allies.” Or, to quote an apt summary of the situation from the prominent African-American activist and leader, Al Sharpton, the elite white liberal priority of defunding the police is something that “a latté liberal may go for as they sit around in the Hamptons discussing this as some academic problem, but people living on the ground need proper policing.” As Helen Lewis writes, these white elite imposters would prefer to engage in a different kind of policing, the kind where they “police other people’s identities, accusing them of not being ‘Black enough.’” The most obvious case of such identity policing is, of course, our own president’s notorious May 22, 2020, remark to television and radio personality Charlamagne tha God: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

The picture the data paints for us is clear enough: Quite contrary to the view of Helen Lewis and the Atlantic that identity hoaxers are an intriguing little pathology that might possibly be a bit more widespread than we realize, the identity hoaxers today are everywhere, marching out in front of 2020’s divisive “racial awakening” and now firmly ensconced in the White House, issuing executive orders to impose the hoax on the rest of America. They will not stop until we are a nation in blackface.

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, essays and polemics that have been featured in a wide variety of publications. He lives in the belly of the beast in New York, New York. He can be found on Twitter @Zoobahtov.