Wednesday, December 04, 2019

What To Do With The Two Truths About Kamala Harris

Ever since Kamala Harris prematurely ended her once-promising presidential bid, I've seen a host of progressive takes making roughly the same claim about two simultaneously "truths":

  1. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to have preferred Senator Harris as one's number one candidate; and
  2. Senator Harris was held to a higher and more unforgiving standard because of her race and sex.
And indeed, both of these things are true. Obviously, people are allowed to have policy beliefs that align with other candidates more than Senator Harris. And equally obviously, racism, misogyny, and misogynoir also factor in to how people weigh various issues and commitments in assessing the different candidates, as well as in governing how people move along the spectrum of "not my speed, but that's okay" to "she-devil COP!"

But what I haven't seen is a lot of people taking the next step, and asking what we do with these two truths.

This isn't, after all, just a Kamala Harris problem. These truths will emerge in any circumstance where we believe that unjust social prejudice is systemic and ingrained, such that it will manifest not just in fits of irrational hatred but also in "normal politics". An important implication of viewing racism and sexism as systemic is that it will still exert force -- often considerable force -- in political and policy disputes where there are perfectly valid reasons to take a variety of different positions. So the remedy can't be "don't oppose Kamala Harris" (there are legitimate reasons not to support her!), but neither can the existence of legitimate reasons to oppose Kamala Harris be taken as decisively falsifying any influence of racism and/or sexism.

Obviously, this is a question I've pondered for awhile, since it roughly corresponds to how I think the antisemitism-Israel relationship works (there are perfectly valid reasons to dislike many things Israel does, and also Israel gets held to a more exacting and unforgiving standard because of its Jewish character). And there too, the answer can neither be "never oppose Israeli policies", nor can it be "because there are legitimate bases to oppose Israeli policies, antisemitism isn't an issue." The uncomfortable truth is that antisemitism still operates even in the arena of legitimate opposition to Israeli conduct, and by the same token the fact that antisemitism still operates in that arena doesn't in itself delegitimize the validity of opposing Israeli actions.

Boiled down this way, the problem is even thornier than many have let on: under conditions of ingrained, systemic racism and sexism, there is probably no way to have a discourse about Kamala Harris that is not affected by racism and sexism. There's two trade-offs here: the one I already mentioned, where Harris opponents can't say "there's no racism or misogyny at work here, we have legitimate reasons for our views"; but also another one where Harris proponents can't say "in any case where we can say racism or misogyny is doing work, that case is per se delegitimated."

Why can't the latter claim work? Because one implication of viewing racism and misogyny as pervasive social forces is that there isn't a way to extract a "pure" discussion of her that is innocent of them. They'll always be there. Which means -- since again, the conclusion can't be "everyone is obligated to support Kamala Harris" -- we have to figure out what it means to ethically participate in a political discourse about prominent Black women in conditions where racism and misogyny simply will be present. People are not taking that problem seriously enough, because they retain a fantasy whereby via either sufficient cognizance or self-discipline we can neutralize the effects of racism and misogyny and drop them from our analysis. If that's not possible, and the racism and misogyny must always factor in even as they don't control, we're in far more discomforting terrain.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Post-Thankful Roundup

I was thankful on Thanksgiving, but now the holiday is over and I'm back to being misanthropic.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles Kate Manne (congrats on her baby, by the way!).

I'd find these complaints about how the right is rewriting Mizrahi history to suit its political agenda more compelling if the left hadn't completely abandoned this arena for years (with occasional exceptions for hopelessly idealized histories that are equally political, just with different motivations).

A new survey on British antisemitism is out and making waves. I think several of their methodological choices are questionable, to say the least, which prevents me from endorsing its conclusions without reservation. That's unfortunate because there is some interesting data in there, but it's occluded by the authors' own manifest ideological biases. I might write separately on this.

Shocking-not-shocking, part one: A Jewish member of the McGill student government was given an ultimatum to either withdraw from a trip to Israel or resign (she's doing neither, and daring the body to impeach her). Shocking-not-shocking, part two: A non-Jewish student government member going on the same trip was weirdly overlooked and given a pass.

Ohio legislators introduce bill threatening life imprisonment for any woman, girl, or doctor who has or performs an abortion. "Abortion", here, includes not reimplanting an ectopic pregnancy, which is currently not medically possible.

Anti-Vaxxers make headway in Samoa; dozens of people die of measles in Samoa.

Is there a word -- presumably, a German word that's four words smashed together -- for the distinct feeling of anger one gets at a person or object precisely because one knows one can't reasonably be angry at that person or object? Inquiring minds would like to know.