That Pit You Dug For Yourself

That Pit You Dug For Yourself July 2, 2020

I have been trying so hard not to get sucked into reading that White Fragility book. Everyone else has read it and weighed in, why should I? But then I happen upon brilliant pieces like this one—seriously, read the whole thing—and I am almost tempted. Maybe it is the culmination of all these other books I’ve had to endure. Maybe having suffered through Girl, Stop Apologizing it is only fitting that I would have to toil however many pages of fatuous naval gazing. In the meantime, instead of plunking down my money, I read this whole piece three times just for the sheer delight. This bit is fantabulous:

But if that’s true of wellness in our late capitalist moment, it’s equally true of wokeness. Diversity, an $8 billion enterprise back in 2003, exploded in the wake of Donald Trump’s election into one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries. Colleges funneled millions of dollars into diversity and inclusion efforts; in 2019, a survey found that 63% of working diversity trainers had been hired within the past three years. And it’s not just corporate strategy that’s up for sale: you can buy diversity in the form of books, movies, merchandise, and $2,500 dinner parties where white women pay to confess their racist complicity. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility seminars—at which the attendees are overwhelmingly white, female, and highly educated—cost as much as $165 per person. Her keynote speaking fee is $40,000. Whatever is being sold, be it a jade vagina egg or a ticket to an anti-racist workshop, there’s a great deal of money to be made off the guilt, anxiety, and insecurities of financially secure white women. And like any other luxury lifestyle choice, this one is an ongoing investment. As a marketing strategy, convincing women that social justice is best achieved through endless self-interrogation is brilliant. The savviest brands on offer turn the profitable allure of unattainability into a core part of their ethic. DiAngelo herself talks about anti-racism the way some people would talk about training for a marathon—“I want to build the stamina to handle the discomfort so we don’t retreat in the face of it, because retreating holds the status quo in place”—only in this version, it’s endless preparation for a race that never comes. Not even DiAngelo herself can give a straight answer to the question of how well-meaning allies might put their education into action…

She quotes DiAngelo there explaining how the process will never be over. A person will never be able to say, “I completed this work.” It’s like a curious kind of anti-confession where you keep being sorry but are never forgiven, you keep searching but never arrive at the truth, you keep offering your sacrifice but as soon as the blood is dried up on the sides of the altar and you have managed to beat open your front door at the end of a long day to mull over what to order in for supper you realized that you, yet again, sinned on the way and will have to turn around and go back and offer a lamb or a goat again. Goodness, I wonder if there is any religious system that has anything to say about any of this in a definitive and life-giving way? If there is any hope out there for the “journeying” soul who longs finally to “arrive” at a place of rest and peace? Didn’t someone, somewhere, gather all that up in himself? Didn’t someone say, “It is finished?” Didn’t he sit down? Wasn’t he himself the Way and the Truth and the Life? Gosh, I can’t quite put my finger on it—maybe that person has nothing to dow with any of this. I can’t even follow him on twitter.

Not to quote too much, but this part is brilliant also:

Given the choice between pulling weeds in your own little garden plot versus joining a team of people who are trying to chop down a 400-year-old oak tree with a pocket knife, most of us would choose the former; even if the weeds always come back, digging them up feels like progress. And of course, not everyone who reads these books does it to the exclusion of other forms of activism, or sits on their hands while they do. One millennial white woman, who was waiting on a back-ordered copy of White Fragility for her anti-racist book club, told me that she’s been doing meaningful work for years to push for police reform, but saw the book club as an opportunity to discover new resources and perspectives: an exercise in the active listening that allies are often exhorted to do. But for those whose activism begins and ends with hashtags and book clubs, the narcissism is undeniable, and arguably even part of the appeal—what Vulture’s Lauren Michelle Jackson calls “a vanity project, where the goal is no longer to learn more about race, power, and capital, but to spring closer to the enlightened order of the antiracist.” (“And yet, were one to actually read many of these books,” Jackson notes, “one might reach the conclusion that there is no anti-racist stasis within reach of a lifetime.”) Self-help social justice doesn’t just offer privileged white women the comfort of a permanent passion project; it fuels the pleasant, ego-driven delusion that nothing is more important to the cause, to any cause, than the innermost minutiae of your own thoughts, attitudes, and feelings…

…The cult of self-improvement demands that you fix yourself first: Love yourself before you ask someone else to love you. Know your own value before you ask for that raise. Unlearn your privileged biases before you try to make change. For how long? As long as it takes, lady. Maybe forever.

Yep, everywhere you go, no matter the cause, no matter the task, when you come all the way to the center of what’s being said, you find that it’s finally and completely all about the individual person. There is no escape from the horrors of your own troubled soul. You must fix it. You must mend it. And then You Must embrace it. As Glennon Doyle roils on endlessly through the whole course of her book—here she says it without guile, without any sense that what she’s advocating might be both cruel and insane:

We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. (emphasis mine)

I find it so curious, honestly, that all this would be sold under the guise of freedom. We are almost at our National Day of Independence when we will corporately celebrate throwing off the shackles of tyrannical rule. We will rule ourselves, “we” said. And then, over a mere two hundred years “we,” after enslaving others, proceeded to work very hard to enslave ourselves. Do you think that if you search after yourself to find yourself you will not be enslaved? That you will have escaped some kind of societal cage that holds you back and makes everything miserable? That if you just work really hard on simultaneously purifying yourself of all your bad thoughts and feelings and following all your desires wherever they go you will be happy and holy and able to bring beauty to other people? On the contrary, it won’t be a cage you are locked inside of, it will be a pit that you dig with the tiny spoon of your own self-regard. And then you will fall in and there will be no way out. Unless someone else (CoughJesusCough) happens by and pulls you up and cleans you off and saves you from your wretched heart-broken self. Which he does do, that’s literally what he came for.

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