why I'm not a good white person
This is a comment from Freddie deBoer's blog; he deleted his site a while back and I thought it was gone forever. But I found it through an archive link, and I wanted to save it.

It's by a writer named Q; I don't know anything else about this person, but it's one of the comments about my work that I treasure, so I'm shamelessly saving it here for myself (and for anyone else who might be interested.)

The post Q is responding to is a piece about the criticism of Beck's Grammy win over Beyoncé. I won't link to the archived version, since Freddie appears to not want it to be public under his name anymore The post is from February 2015.


(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.