(again, the post below is by Q.)
This thread is dead and his “media liberal pretense” post has no comments section, but let’s pretend both of these posts are unintentionally grasping onto something valuable and worthy of critical attention. What Freddie’s noting isn’t necessarily just (or even primarily) the byproduct of white people using self-congratulatory disseminations of “culture battles” to commit an act of racial purification for back-pats from their white friends, at least not in the way he’s portraying it. What he’s seeing is the byproduct of a new and primarily mediocre class of well coiffed, well educated, institutionally backed and “well meaning” white writers who get a large amount of their inspiration by poaching material from black writers and black twitter generally.
The central issue isn’t what they’re talking about or how they’re referencing each other, the issue is that they only exist because they have bylines in mainstream media outlets, and the actual, often black content-creators they hijack their work from don’t. I was reminded of this when I saw this piece at the very, very, very white The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/blog/197889/gentrification-real-scandal-surrounding-jackie-robinson-west) and saw a direct complement (one could even say mirror) to the comments and conversation that Mikki Kendall (https://twitter.com/Karnythia/with_replies) and whoever Jackie Robinson West is (https://twitter.com/TheBoyIllinois/with_replies) had. This dynamic has all sorts of understated implications and stands as a deeply pertinent parallel to our period of faux-racial understanding.
These conversations, topics and trajectories are stunted because they’re not original to the writers themselves, they’re not reflective of their worldview or experiences, they’re not organic to the communities and social circles those writers belong to and truly, they generally don’t have the insight to instigate, much less contribute to the topics themselves. But more importantly, they’re stunted because they’re merely mimicking and taking advantage of a vibrant series of fascinating political responses that are happening elsewhere, and they think that giving those conversations the prestige of a few breathless summaries followed by a bunch of borrowed tweets is good enough, because at least we’re talking about it. Consider it a form of white liberal noblesse oblige, where they assume that granting attention to material they get paid to weakly regurgitate is sufficient because they have jobs and the people they obsessively follow (but don’t much understand or communicate with) don’t.*
Much as I dislike using him as an example, because there are a load of reasons why he’s “one of the good ones”**, but there’s a reason why Noah Berlatsky has a job at The Atlantic and HellaAbrasive, who he frequently interacts with and bounces ideas off of, does not (as far as I know). There’s a reason why Spencer Kornhaber can comfortably sit at The Atlantic and very, very weakly recount and contribute to debates coming from Black Twitter circles and Stereo Williams, who can easily do the same thing (and from a much more personal/informed perspective) does not. There are reasons why the sudden increase in articles about race and racism correlates almost precisely with the increased visibility of black twitter and the upper-tier commentators that have emerged from it. There are reasons why the “hot takes” so closely mirror a watered down version of conversations that are more vibrantly happening elsewhere. It’s because the conversation relies on absences. Theirs and mine. And while I appreciate the newly reached understanding that black content-consumers exist, have significance and have topics that are more important to them than what the invisible, presumptively white reader would consume, it needs to be said that if we’re judging by actions alone, black people are only important to the mainstream media insofar as we’re open to commodification.*** The next step – actually paying for our content and modifying their norms according to the values and emphasis we’d bring to newsrooms – is one the mainstream media and most white liberals/leftists are loathe to take.
Incidentally, this gets at one of my many annoyances with you. All you’re doing is responding to the weakest forms of arguments in debates I’ve already participated in with considerably more interesting/informed people. And your posts proceed under the notion that the forms you see are the only forms these discussions take. It has the weird effect of simultaneously centralizing and amplifying white voices in an act that’s supposedly intended to criticize them, and then behaving as though they’re the crucial starting-point of these conversations instead of better-connected groupies of considerably more substantial (and near-exclusively POC/black) figures. The consequence of pretending that everything you post about is taking place in a bubble occupied only by white liberals is that you misidentify or render invisible the decidedly non-white political contexts that white writers reference, but can’t actually render.
*This is a long time complaint on black twitter, and one Sydette and especially Bad Dominicana return to time and time again, and for good reason.
**There’s no such thing as a good white person, they’re only ever good to a point, but Noah Berlatsky is a much more politically useful and affirming white writer than Freddie because he does a much better job writing as though black people exist. Sorry. He engages with, responds to black criticism (and corrects accordingly), he shows genuine respect to black writers/topics (instead of, you know unresponsively summarizing it as an easy cottage industry for liberal circle-jerking), he engages with black cultural conversations happening in black spaces (without lamely appropriating them), he’s philosophically flexible enough to incorporate their criticisms into his worldview, he uses his site to give voices to people of color who’d otherwise have no space for longform discussions (I don’t know if he pays them), he uses his Atlantic platform to interview black commentators/leaders and he actually has enough independent knowledge to usefully contribute to certain discussions and help refine insights that already exist.
I’m not sucking up to him, he has no kind of pass, I’m pretty ambivalent about his presence in spaces I’d prefer to keep black-exclusive but he’s absolutely nothing like the kind of white person I identify above and has none of the annoyances I associate with Freddie. I want to make that clear. His function is as an example about institutional power and the white choices that reflect and create institutional consensus. It’s not about him personally. And it doesn’t really matter if he’s faking or not since the actual effect of his existence (for now) is more visible non-white writers, more favorable assessments of black artistic achievements and more responsive highlighting of up and coming black writers/leaders.
***The much hated Buzzfeed is literally the only exception that comes to mind. In some sense, perhaps The New Inquiry could also be considered, but I’m more mixed on that.