Smart people saying smart things (1.22.22)

Smart people saying smart things (1.22.22) January 22, 2022

Ibram X. Kendi, “The Mantra of White Supremacy” (The Atlantic)

White-supremacist ideology lives on what Heather McGhee calls the “zero-sum myth,” the idea that progress for people of color necessarily comes at white folks’ expense. This zero-sum myth erases the past and present of abolitionist and anti-racist movements, which have aided ordinary white people. It fearmongers about the future: If white people are not worshipped in schools, then they will be demonized; if white people don’t reign supreme, then they will be subjugated; if white people don’t hoard resources and opportunities, then they will be starved; if white people cannot kill at will, then they will be killed at will. White violence is presumed to be self-defense. Defending yourself against a white supremacist is presumed to be a criminal act.

Extreme fear perhaps breeds this extreme fear. White supremacists probably fear revenge, retaliation, the tables turning—as they wipe the blood of democracy, of equality, of the dying and dead off their hands. Like the enslavers of old sleeping with guns under their pillows, they know the level of brutality they have leveled against people of color and their white allies. They probably can’t imagine that Indigenous anti-racists just want their land back and aren’t genocidal; that Black anti-racists just want reparations and don’t want to enslave; that Asian anti-racists just want to be visible and don’t want to render white people invisible; that Latino and Middle Eastern anti-racists just want to flee violence and don’t want to invade predominantly white nations. White supremacists are mobilizing against an anti-white army that isn’t mobilizing, that isn’t coming, that isn’t there. Then again, if there is an army that is mobilizing, that is coming, that is here—it is made up of white supremacists. Their carnage is here. Their ideology, too.

Abigail Nussbaum, “Whither Satire”

There’s a cherished belief among liberal creatives that mocking something, exposing its fundamental contradictions and inherent stupidity, fatally weakens it. And whether that was ever true, it certainly isn’t today, at a time when fascists and autocrats weaponize their own ridiculousness, and teach their followers to see any attack on it as an attack on them.

The failure mode of satire, I think, is smugness, a work whose sole purpose is to flatter its viewers that they are smarter than Those People. Most work that operates on this level doesn’t see itself as smug or self-satisfied, but as brave, ruthlessly exposing the inadequacies of its targets. But in a world where leaders flaunt their corruption and venality, and vice-signaling has become a way of life for so many people, what value is there in that exposure? It’s as if the writers of these works believe that there’s someone out there keeping score. That if they can just “prove” that the other team are cheating, the game will be over.

Chris Williams, “The Culture War Turned Legal and It’s Hurting Kids”

The notion that school is a place that corrupts with knowledge should be combated with another one. Students are already fully capable of learning — what teachers do is aid them in assessing what is worth learning about and why. And if it goes unchecked, compulsory whitewashed history and compulsory prevention of mental health discussions won’t prevent students from searching for truth. It will just cede their education to TikTok at a time when it is already challenging enough to differentiate facts from fake news.

John S. Huntington and Lawrence Glickman, “America’s Most Destructive Habit” (The Atlantic)

When the civil-rights movement mobilized against this oppression and inequality, conservatives began to fear that what some were calling the “Second Reconstruction” might be as dangerous for them as the first. Barry Goldwater, in many ways the prototypical modern conservative, was among them. In a letter he wrote while running for president in 1963, Goldwater called the civil-rights movement a “revolution” and said that he was “very apprehensive about how far it will go.”

So conservatives responded with yet another counterrevolution, one intended to maintain carefully constructed racial, economic, and social hierarchies. As the Black historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote in Ebony magazine in 1966, the “counter-revolutionary campaign of terror” against Reconstruction was merely “the first white backlash”; the United States was living through the second.

Willie James Jennings, in Acts: Belief Commentary Series

The past, though important, is never the point for the life of faith. The point is the present moment with the living God who is with us, beckoning us to communion. The God who speaks to us now calls us into the risk of hearing a new word, a word that orients us toward the unanticipated and the unprecedented where the reconciling God is active. Peter found himself in the midst of such a word in Acts 11, where what God was doing in and through him among the Gentiles pressed him body and soul up against the word God had spoken to his own people, Israel. The key for us, seen in this moment for Peter, is to refuse the binary of naming the past word false and the present word true or the present word false and the past word true, and to discern through the Spirit the line of continuity between past and present. We may do this because such discernment is not a burden but is the joy we have in participation with the ongoing life of Jesus, who has claimed this space between past and present word as his own and invites us to join him in it. “You have heard that it was said, . . . but I say to you” — Jesus’ words — point to the present and intimate speaking of the living God made flesh and one with us in the challenging task of hearing God’s new words pressed against the old ones.

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