When White Liberals Attack

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Doing things The Right Way — when your actions are closely aligned with what would be considered the most moral way to act — is (obviously) the right way to do things. It is often very difficult; and, in the moment, The Right Way is also often unpopular. In this context, human nature is a saboteur. But, those who do things The Right Way often take solace in the fact that history is usually on their side. The Right Way eventually wins.

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Unfortunately, many of those who make a habit of doing things The Right Way are very aware of how difficult it's perceived to be to do things The Right Way; to say the right things; to support the right people; to invest in and promote the right causes. And this bit of self-awareness has a tendency to produce a self-important haughtiness; a belief that since they do things The Right Way, their actions are beyond reproach. You literally can't say shit to them. One of the most culturally relevant examples of this belief system is the guy who believes that since he's gainfully employed and pulls out chairs and returns texts on time, he's entitled to a certain level of romantic reciprocation.

You can't say shit to them because, to them, a criticism isn't just a criticism. It's an affront to their values; a thumbing of the nose to the way they see the world and, most importantly, the way they want the world to see them. It's personal. And, when we (humans) feel personally attacked, we (generally) get defensive. Even if it's not actually happening, feeling like it's happening is enough to mount a defense. To attack back.

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Understanding this makes it a bit easier to understand why Jonathan Chait — a man who's employed by one of the world's largest and most distinguished publishing platforms  — would write a 5,000 word long piece  about how he's in danger of being shamed into silence. It makes sense now that a Black director would receive an avalanche of criticism for not being completely flattering in her depiction of a White liberal icon. I get why protecting the sanctity and mission of Charlie Hebdo became and remains an international cause célèbre, and where the rage from The Interview getting pulled from theaters — and the jubilation when it was finally released — stemmed from.

White liberals are being attacked. And not by White conservatives — their usual adversaries — but by people of color. By women. By members of the LGBT community. By Muslims. And this is them attacking back.

Of course, they're not actually being attacked. Although the New Republic might have "collapsed," Sony Pictures might have received actual death threats, and the campaign to protect Charlie Hebdo stemmed from the very real murders of 11 people, White liberal thought, White liberal ideas, and White liberal content is in no danger. There are still hundreds of left-leaning White publications where White liberal thought can go and publish and collect pensions in relative peace. There will be hundreds more opportunities for the Seth Rogens and Lena Dunhams of the world to be paid millions of dollars to navel gaze and make dick jokes. And one film that depicts Blacks as agents of their own destinies isn't enough to counteract the legacies of the dozens of critically acclaimed films where Blacks are helpless nobles needing White liberal guidance. Somewhere in America, Bill Maher is still twerking.

What's happening is that these people — used to the clear air the self-imposed moral high ground of doing things The Right Way has given them — are learning they are not beyond reproach. That they're not always going to get the final word now. That "being on the right team" doesn't mean they're always right. That, if space and consideration isn't made for diverse voices and opinions, those diverse voices and opinions will make their own spaces. And might even take one of theirs. They are not defending freedom of speech. They're defending their freedom to speak without criticism or consequence.

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Which, admittedly, I would do too if I were in their position. The air down here can get dirty.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

I'm not able to logically talk about White people as a coworker of mine was trying to explain to me how Bo Derek started cornrows. I need a day.