- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Wokeness As Weakness

New York magazine reports on the controversy [1], and talks about how Young Adult author Amelie Wen Zhao — whose professional self-immolation amid a savage struggle session with Social Justice Warriors I wrote about yesterday — was heretofore an enthusiastic participant in woke YA social media culture. Excerpt:

Blood Heir, the first in a planned three-book series, began as the ultimate social media–meets–publishing success story. Zhao matched with her agent, Park Literary’s Peter Knapp, during a Twitter pitching event for marginalized creators (Zhao immigrated from China to the U.S. at the age of 18). Her fantasy series, a loose retelling of Anastasia with a diverse cast of characters and a hefty dose of blood magic, sold at auction [2] in a high six-figure deal with Delacorte. And over the course of the past year, Zhao emerged as an active and outspoken participant in the YA community — not just the author of a buzzworthy debut but an enthusiastic, effective communicator who was deeply engaged with issues of diversity and knew how to make herself heard.

“Set out with good intentions,” Zhao wrote in March 2018 [3], in a post advising other writers on how to navigate social media. “Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.”

A scroll through her Twitter history shows that Zhao generally followed her own advice in the year after she sold her book, boosting fellow authors and writing about the issues she faced as part of YA’s nonwhite minority. (In one tweet, she mused: “I’ve been asked several times why I didn’t write a Chinese #ownvoices novel. I don’t want to be boxed into the permanent ‘Other;’ I want diverse books written by PoC to become part of the mainstream.”)

I totally get why some people react to her self-immolation under SJW pressure by saying, in effect, “Serves her right.” But that’s not what we should do. We should be appealing to this young woman and all writers to take a good hard look at how terrible and destructive woke culture is, and to convince them to resoundingly and openly reject it, for the sake of their own art. If Social Justice Warriors can cause Amelie Wen Zhao to commit professional suicide, then it ought to be extremely obvious that that community is insane and malicious and must be ignored. 

Here’s the thing: their ideology-driven malice is not a bug; it is at the heart of their way of seeing the world! If you are going to refuse its power as an artist, then you have to refuse all of it. All that garbage about identity politics and artistic creation — refuse it, deny it, fight it. It is the enemy of art, the enemy of creative freedom, the enemy of truth, and the enemy of joy. These SJWs are the secular political version of screaming-meemie fundamentalist Christians who scan the world looking for error, and call down the wrath from the heavens upon the poor frail humans. These Twitter Taliban must not just be ignored, but refuted and defeated — not just on social media, but everywhere they show up.

I mean, look at this moronic op-ed from the Arizona Republic.  [4] Writer Rashaad Thomas is a black man, and a certifiable idiot. He walked into a Phoenix restaurant, saw an old framed photo on the wall of Welsh coal miners with their faces covered in coal dust, and took racial offense. He accused them of — wait for it — blackface. Excerpt:

Viewers cannot determine the intention of an artist’s work. Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.

change_me

Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.

Each assumption is based on a stereotype. Blackface caricatures stereotypes of black people.

At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.

A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.

You can’t do anything about people like Rashaad Thomas, who are determined to be offended. But if you are the editorial page editor at the Arizona Republic, you can decide not to publish garbage like this, because it’s manifestly stupid, and will do nothing but poison public debate. Mark Hemingway writes: [5]

This wasn’t some random article on the internet. AZcentral.com is the website of The Arizona Republic, which is affiliated with Gannett, the largest newspaper in the country. Professional news operations are supposed to have editors and gatekeepers who decide what does and does not get published. Some mysterious thing called “judgement” is supposed to be involved.

I can all but guarantee that this article did not end up on AZCentral without multiple people going over it. At no point did anyone ask themselves or their editorial colleagues, “Isn’t this article just cataloging an unjustified and petty grievance against a harmless restaurant owner who could be harassed as a result of publishing this?” And “How will this inform our readers and otherwise encourage them to have healthy and productive conversations about race?”

More:

At this point, the molten “hot takes” designed to exploit cultural and political divisions clogging up the websites of ostensibly serious news outlets have thoroughly undermined any belief readers might have had that the front-page news stories were somehow handled much more judiciously. The journalism industry as we know it may have bleak prospects, but if it seems like late-stage journalism is yelling into the abyss, we should probably listen when the abyss yells “Fake news!” back.

The Arizona Republic is owned by the newspaper chain Gannett, which just laid off 400 people across the chain.  [6] Its publishing hot-take garbage like Thomas’s that makes lots of folks feel that the demise of newspapers is no bad thing for a community. That’s a short-sighted view, but I completely understand why folks feel that way. Think about the poor owner of that restaurant, who now stands accused in the daily newspaper by a racial hothead of being unwelcoming to black people because he displays a photograph of dirty Welsh coal miners. Why did the Arizona Republic do that to him? What possible good could have come out of allowing a black person to accuse him publicly of racism because he displays an antique photo of Welsh coal miners, for pity’s sake?!

If I were that restaurant owner, I would find out who the editorial page editors of the Arizona Republic are, [7] and I would refuse to serve them. I note that of the six members of the editorial board, four are white, one Latina, and one Asian. Not a black person on it. Which, okay, fine, I worked in that specific area of the newspaper business for years, and I know well how hard it is to find African-Americans for those jobs (big newspapers with big budgets snap them up), and besides, only three percent of Arizonans are black. If Rashaad Thomas visited the offices of the Republic, he would see no black faces among the editorial page staff. Would he therefore conclude that people like him are “not welcome”?

It would be transparent bullshit, and a slur on the editorial integrity of the newspaper. But they would deserve that slur, because they gave Thomas space on the op-ed page to issue that same calumny against an innocent restaurant owner. They ought to have thought about this before rushing Thomas’s race-baiting op-ed into print.

We have to do more than just complain about political correctness and SJW bullies. We have to start pushing back, hard. The best place to start is to fight the idea that someone’s feelings are self-justifying, and that just because someone feels offended — for reasons of race, religion, politics, whatever — that their feelings are valid and should be taken seriously. Many times they should — I don’t dispute that. We should always be open to hearing what others, especially those we don’t know well, have to say.

But we should also be open to the possibility that they, like Rashaad Thomas, are full of it, and don’t deserve to have their crackpot accusations dignified or magnified, simply because they are members of an official liberal victim caste.

About Amelie Wen Zhao, I hope you mothers and fathers are watching closely, and observing how allowing your child to absorb all this wokeness can lead him or her to betray their talent and destroy their careers. You are making them weak and unfit for purpose if you don’t teach them to spit on that malignant ideology.

UPDATE: Reading the comments made me recognize that I shied away from addressing  the black church experience when I was writing The Benedict Option. I thought about the things that all contemporary Christians can learn about resilience from the black church, but immediately I began thinking about all the ways critics would come at me. Mostly things like, “How dare you, a white person, appropriate the experience of the black church for your purposes? That’s not your story to tell!” 

Of course the experience of black Christians under American apartheid is not the same thing as what I talk about in The Benedict Option. They were oppressed not because of their religion, but because of their race, but still, they found strength in their religion. By the time I worked out all the necessary caveats in my mind — that is, all the things I would have to say to anticipate the SJW criticism — I was much less interested in exploring the connection. I knew that just about anything I would say would be tagged as insensitive, even racist. Because the black church’s story wasn’t central to my point, and because I had limited space in the book (I had to keep the manuscript to 75,000 words), I just got sick and tired of agonizing over it, and dropped it.

After publication, I was criticized by woke Evangelicals as racially insensitive for not writing about the black church. I was ready for that. The criticism was bound to come anyway. Still, I can’t be too high-and-mighty in my criticism of other writers for yielding to SJW criticism. Progressives just love to be offended, and never, ever give anybody the benefit of the doubt. If there’s an important principle at stake, then it’s worth fighting for, but sometimes, it’s just not worth the hassle.

Advertisement
71 Comments (Open | Close)

71 Comments To "Wokeness As Weakness"

#1 Comment By George Crosley On February 1, 2019 @ 1:30 pm

Rod’s articles are always spot-on–and his commentators Nate and Moone Boy are always worth reading for their astringent wisdom.

#2 Comment By Harve On February 1, 2019 @ 3:20 pm

Re: the Welsh miners. This is a short video of Robeson singing “Joe Hill” to the miners.

[8]

African American leftist singing to Welsh miners about a Swedish immigrant union organizer who was framed and murdered by Utah capitalists.

African Americans were quite present in the old west – about a quarter of the cow hands were AA plus miners, lawmen, and outlaws. Then there were the Buffalo soldiers some of whom were stationed in Arizona.

[9]

#3 Comment By Houstonian On February 1, 2019 @ 3:28 pm

Rod, whatever about this being another case of “the Left eating its own,” you may be backing the wrong horse on this one, erstwhile author, A. Wen Zhao.

She obviously ascribed to the group think process of praise/condemnation rampant in the YA world, and ended up being an active participant in killing off her own dream. As the saying goes, “Those who live by the sword…”

Also, judging from her ability to write about this matter, which you quote in your previous post, she should probably stick to personal journaling. The stars are calling out to me…! Please no more mediocre YA lit, spare the trees.

Lastly, criticism that her characters are plagiarized deserves investigation before leaping to her defense. Although….here the is the best (and cleanest) skit ever on the topic of plagiarizing characters. My kids love it.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 1, 2019 @ 4:27 pm

“plight is a little unseemly coming from conservative Christians whose people control the US presidency, the senate and the supreme court.

It’s not accurate to call those who folks voted for as the least worst choice, “their people.”

One would be hard pressed to find many people in the corridors of elite power who actually believe as evangelicals do. As Rod Dreher put it, the best that can be said, is they are not overtly out to destroy them. That’s not nothing. There are Catholics on the Supreme Court (whatever that means for Christianity, but then Andrew Cuomo and the wayward clerics are Catholic too.) but no Protestants, evangelical or otherwise.

The recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice has deficiencies in my view, and there are more representative choices that could have been made. But since he was being pilloried on the basis of accusations supposed to be believed because of the matrix of identity politics and victim intersectionality, that forced the opinion he should be confirmed, to reject that animus.

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 1, 2019 @ 4:59 pm

Charging the woke with exaggerating their plight

No its not. And I don’t care who its coming from.

Dancergirl and Harve have pretty much covered what really needs to be said here. (My great grandfather was a coal miner and a UMWA organizer. I seem to be mentioning that a lot lately.)

That, and the fact that they probably never had a reason to think about black people at all.

Are you kidding? The South Wales Miners Union were the organizers of the “Trans-Atlantic Concert” featuring Paul Robeson, which made the U.S. state department look very silly for revoking his passport. Welsh miners and Robeson had a love affair with each other for decades. (Do watch Proud Valley).

Why investors thought there would be a market is a mystery, but it was the invisible hand letting them know otherwise. Meanwhile Slate had a podcast talking about the need for government subsidies because this sort of content was so valuable. Talk about not getting it.

This is why a free market still has a role, even in a totally socialist economy. Reminds me of the producer of “Book of Daniel,” one of the most boring failures in the history of television, complaining that because it was pulled (because nobody much wanted to watch it), people “won’t be able to see these beautiful shows.”

We can ridicule them. The Sunday “Pearls Before Swine” features Permanently Offended Guy. He is indeed a certifiable idiot.

I clipped that one. First really funny strip in Pearls in a long time.

#6 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On February 1, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

“I clipped that one. First really funny strip in Pearls in a long time.”

Yes. The strip has had a muted and less politically incorrect tone in quite a while. Remember Zebra (“Shut you face, woomun”–this said to his wife)? What was funny was that he was obviously benighted, and she responded to his alpha-male behavior with stoicism and gentle mockery.

#7 Comment By Optatus Cleary On February 2, 2019 @ 1:59 am

It doesn’t say specifically in the article, but I suspect that the restaurant is Cornish Pasty Company. They have a location in Flagstaff that I visit whenever I’m in the area. I highly recommend it, the pasties are delicious and the ambience is very nice. The restaurant is quite proud of the mining heritage of the Cornish people, and the status of pasties as “miners’ food.” Although Cornish miners were a significant group in Arizona history, I believe the restaurant was founded by a more recent Cornish immigrant who has no direct connection to Arizona mining history.

It is obvious to anyone who goes in to the Flagstaff restaurant that the pictures on the walls and on the menu are meant to celebrate miners, and have no other purpose. This picture would not be displayed on its own, and I’m sure no one would actually mistake it for “blackface” in context.

I was a Classics major and am a huge fan of Cornish pasties, and this restaurant in particular: this week has made me angry and annoyed.

#8 Comment By J May On February 2, 2019 @ 11:55 am

I don’t know Rashaad Thomas, but I wager a bet that his living standard is an order of magnitude above that of the Welsh miners in that photo.

#9 Comment By J May On February 2, 2019 @ 12:39 pm

The name Rashaad is usually associated with Black Islam. Here is an interesting contrast between Black Islam and Welsh Christianity: a breathtaking revival took place amongst Welsh coal miners in the early 20th century. Something like 100,000 people committed their lives to being followers of Christ within a six-month period. The stories of the changes to Welsh society during and after that time are heartening.

It’s important to recognize that most revivals have taken place amongst the poor. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” This very blessing was seen amidst scores of poor coal miners in the Great Welsh Revival in 1904.

Historically, the Black church has benefitted from the same blessing. I fear that many within the Black community are turning away from Christianity to progressive secular humanism or Black Islam in order to find salvation from the historical hardships of the Black community. Both of these world-views/faiths teach a primary posture of self-focus to victims.

The problem for people like that is that Christianity teaches love to victims, which is always rooted in self-denial by nature of it being others- and God-focused, and that this world is not where we should put our hope. Both of these truths take faith to embrace. Yet Jesus promises, “If you seek to find your life, you will lose it. If you seek to lose your life, for My sake and for the Good News, you will find it.”

What freedom it is to be free of bitterness and entitlement–even the feeling of being entitled to that which would otherwise be yours in a just world. How much more so the feeling of being entitled to that which even a just world would deny you. I pray the parts of the Black community drawn to these other faiths has a collective re-awakening to the truth–and accompanying freedom–of Christianity.

#10 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 2, 2019 @ 2:10 pm

@ Dancergirl, who says (Feb 1, 4:20 am): “What a terribly disappointing story. My great-grandfather was a union leader in the mines who died from black lung disease”:

“Black Lung Rate Hits 25-Year High In Appalachian Coal Mining States”–NPR, July 19, 2018:

[10]

#11 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 2, 2019 @ 2:12 pm

“Working in the Coal Mine” is a song sung by Lee Dorsey with music and lyrics by the American musician and record producer Allen Toussaint. It was an international hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966…The song concerns the suffering of a man who rises before 5 o’clock each morning in order to work in a coal mine, five days a week, where the conditions are very harsh and dangerous, but which offers the only prospect of paid employment. The singer repeatedly asks the Lord, ‘How long can this go on?’ and complains that when the weekend arrives, he’s too exhausted to have any fun. In the instrumental section, as in the song’s fade, he says: ‘Lord, I’m so tired / How long can this go on?’ The song features the sound of a pickaxe clinking, as if the musicians were working in a mine…It reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 on July 23, 1966, and also reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart.” (Wikipedia)

I like the song a lot, but I especially appreciate the startling black and white photos of the miners. The photos in this youtube video are a must. They should be put in a time capsule.

Lee Dorsey – “Working In The Coal Mine” (1966)

#12 Comment By Harve On February 2, 2019 @ 5:35 pm

Optatus Cleary says:

“Although Cornish miners were a significant group in Arizona history, I believe the restaurant was founded by a more recent Cornish immigrant who has no direct connection to Arizona mining history.”

Good point. The West has lots of old graveyards and the tombstones often tell a story (One set I remember in Pioche, NV where a family buried their children in sequence one year apart – the Old West was hell on women and children).

Anyway, one thing that stands out in hard rock mining districts over the entire west is the number of men whose grave markers indicate they were born in mining areas in the UK.

Based on the company’s web page, it’s obvious the owner is aware of the Cornish/American mining connection and pasties are traditionally miners’ food.

What is really irritating is that the op-ed mentions a couple of incidents of obvious racism that are based on stereotyping and then he goes on to blindly engage in the same kind of stereotyping.

“I was a Classics major and am a huge fan of Cornish pasties, and this restaurant in particular: this week has made me angry and annoyed.”

Ditto. I can’t understand living in an area and not knowing its history or not having the curiosity to question ones first impressions.

Kurt Gayle says:

“…The song concerns the suffering of a man who rises before 5 o’clock each morning in order to work in a coal mine, five days a week, where the conditions are very harsh and dangerous, but which offers the only prospect of paid employment.”

Which was bad enough but we need to never forget that it took a union to get that five day week at living wages.

#13 Comment By sick of the hypocrisy On February 2, 2019 @ 6:14 pm

Not sure if this is the same guy, but there is a Rashaad Thomas who appears to be part of the grievance industrial complex (translation: he works at a university).

[11]

#14 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 2, 2019 @ 7:53 pm

I don’t know Rashaad Thomas, but I wager a bet that his living standard is an order of magnitude above that of the Welsh miners in that photo.

Which, if true, is why he has to search so diligently for a way to feel “oppressed.”

#15 Comment By A. G. Phillbin On February 3, 2019 @ 2:23 am

@Harve,

While “SJW” is overused and underspecified and hence meaningless most anyone on the left will allow that we have our share of fools.
These people are a bane to our politics. Either they are too pure to bother voting or they vote for people like Nader or Stein. If you were familiar with the left outside of the small group that provides you with a convenient punching bag you would know how despised they are by the majority from New Deal liberals to Marxists (esp. Marxists).

Listen, buddy, I voted for both Stein AND Nader, and I despise the SJW crowd, probably even more than you do. Who did you vote for, oh wise one? Hillary Clinton?

#16 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 3, 2019 @ 1:12 pm

In 1984 I attended a union meeting at which we voted to do fund-raising for the UK miners in their fight against the Thatcher government’s plan to close the pits.

In 1997, years after the UK coal miners’ cause had been lost, “Brassed Off” was made. It’s a great movie—about the Yorkshire miners and their struggle to keep the pits open. But it’s also about the miner’s amazing brass band and their music.

Right near the end of “Brassed Off”–when Danny (the late Pete Postlethwaite) comes from his black-lung hospital bed to deliver this speech at the Royal Albert Hall–a lot of us cried. We wept. We lost, but we have never stopped believing in all the things we fought for and lost.

#17 Comment By Kurt Gayle On February 3, 2019 @ 5:05 pm

Harve says (Feb 1, 3:20 pm): “Re: the Welsh miners. This is a short video of [Paul] Robeson singing ‘Joe Hill’ to the miners.”

In the film “Matewan” (1987) a union organizer, Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), arrives in the coal mining town of Matewan, West Virginia:

Someone says: “He claims he’s the fella the union sent us.”

They ask Joe: “Can you prove it? Don’t take nothing to have a card printed up.”

Joe: “I guess you’ll just have to trust me.”

They ask Joe: “Who wrote ‘The Iron Hill’?”

Joe: “Jack London”

They ask Joe: “Where’s Joe Hill buried at?”

Joe: “All over the world. They scattered his ashes.”…

“You know your stuff.”

Joe Kenehan’s “Union Speech” (5:39) — a powerful a statement of the union message:

#18 Comment By cka2nd On February 3, 2019 @ 9:23 pm

J May says: “I don’t know Rashaad Thomas, but I wager a bet that his living standard is an order of magnitude above that of the Welsh miners in that photo.”

He’s a USAF veteran, father, poet and writer, so let’s not make too many assumptions (“an order of magnitude”) here about his level of wealth. There’s a science fiction and fantasy writer in my community who’s started up a Go Fund Me page after a series of financial and health setbacks hit his family, and he had been doing well to make $20,000 a year.

#19 Comment By Andrew in MD On February 4, 2019 @ 2:42 pm

If I were that restaurant owner, I would find out who the editorial page editors of the Arizona Republic are, and I would refuse to serve them.

Whoa! Calm down there, cowboy! No need to go scorched earth here!

#20 Comment By Harve On February 4, 2019 @ 6:12 pm

A. G. Phillbin says:

“Listen, buddy, I voted for both Stein AND Nader, and I despise the SJW crowd, probably even more than you do. Who did you vote for, oh wise one? Hillary Clinton?”

Guess you didn’t learn the first time. Anyway, one isn’t going to heighten any contradictions by failing to discern what are the principle contradictions and where are they to be resolved given the structures in which one has to operate.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 5, 2019 @ 11:51 am

Guess you didn’t learn the first time. Anyway, one isn’t going to heighten any contradictions by failing to discern what are the principle contradictions and where are they to be resolved given the structures in which one has to operate.

Why Harve, you doctrinaire Marxist! What does all that mean, in relation to A.G. Philbin’s point?