listen to Adolph Reed

Here’s a really interesting conversation on the Remix with Dr. James Peterson with Dr. Adolph Reed, one of the most prescient, brilliant commentators on left-wing politics, race, and activism. I highly recommend you listen to it; it’s less than a half hour.

I don’t agree with Dr. Reed on everything. In particular, I’m much less critical of the #BlackLivesMatter protests than he is. I am typically annoyed by left-wing criticisms of actually-existing protest movements in favor of some theoretical better protest movements. We’ve got people in the streets, doing  real mass protest actions in response to immense injustice, and that’s inspiring to me. But if anyone has credibility to criticize, it’s Dr. Reed, who has not only vast academic background on these issues but a long history of street-level organizing and activism. A few thoughts.

1. I am pro-reparations because I think that American racial inequality is fundamentally economic in nature, first and foremost, and even those aspects of inequality that are not first-order economic are perpetuated by black America’s lack of economic power. Cutting checks to black people would do more to defeat structural racism (and improve quality of life) than most other reforms. However, as Dr. Reed himself is, in the most basic sense of reparations as payment  for historical crimes, I’m agnostic. The means testing that genealogy-based reparations would require, as Dr. Peterson mentions, would be incredibly onerous, would leave out some black people who surely suffer from structural disadvantage, and cause enormous unhappiness. In contrast, broader-based social democratic reforms that redistribute wealth in a variety of ways are likely far more politically possible (even if they seem remote right now) and would likely have equally beneficial results for black America. So I favor reparations in the sense that I think it’s just and right if the government cuts checks to black Americans, but only as part of a larger sense in which I think redistributing wealth is a key component of moral and economic progress.

2. I think that pop culture is inherently political, and there’s all kinds of political resonances and lessons that can be drawn from pop culture. But as Dr. Reed suggests, there is a kind of made-up quality about cyclical pop culture political battles that distorts and exhausts. Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks is not politics; it’s a politics-like substance that mostly serves to steal attention and energy away from real political and racial issues.

3. The analogy of certain kinds of political practice, and particularly social media politics, with kayfabe is brilliant.

17 Comments

  1. I will listen to this eventually, but as a pro wrestling nerd and follower of politics I am glad that the kayfabe/political posturing analogy that I’ve drawn in my head is apparently also coming from someone respectable.

    *feels unjustly proud of self*

    1. He may well be clear-headed, but i disagree that he writes really well. The article you linked to was tedious and un-engaging. Now it may be that im only marginally interested in the subject, but in my experience, a good writer makes you interested in material you previously didnt care about, a bad writer can keep your interest on a subject which you already find fascinating. Id say Reed is somewhere in between.

  2. “Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks is not politics; it’s a politics-like substance that mostly serves to steal attention and energy away from real political and racial issues.”

    Mind providing something a little more meatier for this sentence than your declaration?

      1. You know, it’s funny, but I asked a very specific question about a very specific statement on a very specific issue that’s not even sorta-addressed by the article you linked. Calling it “pop culture” and identifying with derision for cultural politics isn’t sufficient for commenting on the dynamics involved there. So I’m left to ask again: do you have anything meatier than your declaration for why your sentence is an adequate assessment of that series of arguments and why it’s divorced from “real political and racial issues?” And if so, do you mind sharing it?

        1. See, that’s not actually what you’re upset about. You’re upset because you have literally never engaged with my actual ideas. Instead, your MO is to argue that I ding have the credibility in your eyes to argue what I’m arguing. And here, since I’m directing you to Reed’s argument instead of making one of my own, you’re stuck, because even with your powerful self-righteousness and “is he or isn’t he!” game that you play thanks to the fact that I permit you your anonymity, even you are not shameless enough to try such a tactic on Adolph Reed. So now you’re pouting and stamping your feet because I took your toy away. Well friend: I’ve given you my response. And now I’m a very specific question: what do you think of Adolph Reed’s argument?

          Let me guess: you’d prefer to change the subject.

          1. You’re being silly. I’m asking why, specifically, what you reductively labeled as “Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks” is not politics and why it’s disqualified from being counted amongst “real political and racial issues.” The problem isn’t your willingness to quote Adolph Reed, it’s your desire to make an assertion about a specific series of arguments and objections and thinking they’re adequately addressed by citing an article that was written before that spat started.

            If you want to use “Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks” as representative of something negative and tragic about left-leaning politics, that’s cool. But it’s not beyond the pale to request that you be asked to put forward an argument that actually involves something they’ve said, something they’ve done, and something they’ve touched on and then tells us why those things are divorced from “real political and racial issues.” There’s no unfairness and no traps here. Simply a request for, again, specificity and perhaps a modicum of rigor. Name-dropping a couple of artists and calling them “not politics” is a bit…lacking, no? I mean, you didn’t even tell us why pop culture is inherently political and why it should follow that they’re not.

            So, from the top, do you have anything meatier than your declaration for any of what I’ve quoted?

        2. Yeah, that’s what Freddie’s known for, an unwillingness to write a lot in order to make himself known. You sure do have a lot of demands. On this free blog. That you troll relentlessly, for some reason.

          It’s OK to write a squib every once in awhile, especially when you write as much as you do, Freddie. Ignore this gnat.

  3. Ever since I discovered Freddie via his recent stint at Andrew Sullivan, I’ve learned a lot about why the left is so pathetically ineffective at achieving actual political ends, even after managing to elect a black community organizer from Chicago as President of the United States.

  4. The idea that reparations would have less than apocalyptic political consequences is incredibly naive. It would make busing look like a resolution on National Puppy and Kitten Week. The federal government would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party for at least a generation, unless the Constitution Party managed to get its act together.

    I get that Freddie was only addressing it as an abstraction, but on any level other than the Platonic it’s quite ridiculous.

    1. Yep. It’s like the “one-state solution” for Israel-Palestine that the BDSers love so much. Nothing but a gift to Likud.

      1. Yet, as the alternatives seem to be either eternal oppression and terrorist war, or a Bantustan-like arrangement of non-viable statelets separated by walls and constantly destablized by Israel and the Arab states, are the BDS people the only crazy ones?

      2. The BDS movement doesn’t take a position on this – though it’s true some high-profile BDS activists are vocal one-staters. Regardless, I don’t think that it’s helpful to link these together.

  5. Hey I noticed you haven’t posted in a few days and this last post seemed melancholy.
    I hope you are doing okay, Freddie.

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