what’s really going on with the Beck – Beyonce thing

Or, I mean, what’s going on with how the chatterati are going to write about it.

As I’ve said for a long time, a lot of progressive educated white types have essentially replaced having a politics with having certain cultural attachments and affectations. Really aggressively praising the Wire becomes a stand-in for “I am not racist.” Complaining that Selma was robbed becomes a stand-in for having done the necessary work to understand the history of race in America. Telling anyone who’ll listen that you think all of the creativity and risk are in hip hop now becomes a stand-in for advancing a meaningful political platform that could actually improve the lives of actually-existing black people. White people are so weird about Beyonce because Beyonce has become an all-purpose floating signifier, a vessel on to which bourgie white folks project all of their desires for how other people should see them. These vague associations with arts and media are intended to send a message that, if voiced explicitly, we all know by now to ridicule: some of my best friends are black.

So here we have a seemingly perfect scenario for people to invest celebrity news with political meaning: a highly respected black producer speaking out in a way that’s traditionally viewed as socially impermissible, in favor of a wildly-popular black singer and against an aging white rock star. It aligns with so many of the ways our chattering class loves to argue about race. It’s risk free! It comes pre-analyzed! It’s drawn across very, very obvious lines in the cultural battles we love to fight! But you could be forgiven for asking what it actually means for anyone who’s not already a millionaire.

Now I’ve been dinged in the past for suggesting that these cultural objects don’t have political valence. But I don’t mean to suggest that here. I’m not suggesting that there’s no political meaning to be had in these various artistic affiliations. What I am suggesting is that these attachments cannot possibly substitute for a healthy, functioning racial politics. They are designed to be a way to hide out from exactly the kind of risk and personal investment that are a prerequisite of meaningful political advancement. Precisely because they operate at a remove from policy and philosophy, they carry with them the shield of permanent plausible deniability. At the same time, they perform the necessary function in the most useless kind of politics, which is the social signaling that we have made a part of 21st century elite culture. By design, even if it’s unconscious design, treating your attitudes about celebrity as a substitute for having an explicit philosophy on racial politics gives us the worst of both worlds. And it seems to have become incredibly common these days.

You can already predict how the cycle will go. Someone (white) will write a grumpy piece, attacking Kanye West for not being classy. Someone else (also white) will write a piece insisting that “classy” is a racially coded word, and asking West to comport himself that way is indicative of white privilege and latent racism. And everyone will rush to their already-established positions, ready to once again have the same tired arguments that we’ve seen a thousand times, dutifully laying out predigested lines and canned outrage, barely noticing that there’s no there there. Just as happened to Richard Sherman, who became a champion to liberals precisely to the degree that they erased him from his own story and treated him like an inert symbol, whatever actual human concerns are at the heart of this story will vanish. Only the Takes will remain. Meanwhile, actual racial inequality– the structural conditions that hurt the lives of actual black Americans– is worse now than when I was born.

And on it goes.

Update: For example.

56 Comments

  1. I don’t get what it means when you say that they have “replaced having a politics.” Don’t people like this still vote for Democrats, still support affirmative action, potentially reparations, etc.? Isn’t that the way to take on structural conditions?

    1. Do they? I know plenty of people who, if I quiz them on specific political policies and philosophies, can mouth some vague platitudes about racial justice. But they can’t express a meaningful political philosophy or platform, even though they have an incredibly well-developed set of arguments about 12 Years a Slave. All of their mental effort has been deployed on reading the tea leaves of abstruse pop culture arguments, and none of it has been deployed on, like, reading a book.

  2. From the Atlantic article:

    “…it definitely leads to a pretty boring ceremony. It’s enough to make you wish Kanye had gone all the way this year and grabbed the mic, to make the night’s one moment of great TV even better…”

    The actual Kanye isn’t good enough for the people that write about him. He has to be re-imagined as a self-aware wrestling heel that makes EPIC happenings for the amusement of the internet. It’s not considered cruel to discuss Kanye as an exciting, unhinged narcissist if one describes him as being in on the joke.

    I was only a kid – but I don’t remember all of this cheerleading when ODB walked to the mic and gave his “Wu-Tang is for the children” speech. It was a surreal and funny scene – but he was taken as being sincere, and rightly so. There weren’t any writers explaining to me that they were in on ODB’s deceptively high-minded ruse.

  3. So Freddie, I’m just curious as to what political actions you think are worthwhile right now, actions that have some possibility of improving the lives of actual people. If I told you I had two hours of free time, what would you recommend that I do?

    1. Use the time to express to people that American racism exists as a set of massive structural and material inequalities, and not merely or primarily as a set of symbolic, linguistic, or emotional injustices. Before we can discuss how to meaningfully address the persistence of economic, political, and judicial racial inequality, we have to acknowledge and understand that this in fact is what racism is, first and foremost. And that basic task — treating racism as a matter of the material conditions of people of color, rather than as a vague notion of disrespect or microaggression — is far from accomplished even among more progressive Americans.

      1. I’m not trying to be churlish or difficult here, but for the sake of the discussion, let’s suppose that I, and all the people who would listen to me talk to them, are already convinced. What should we do now? What concrete action should we take? I’m not looking for perfection here, but just a couple of ideas.

        Here’s what I think we should do: work to elect more Democrats, at all levels of government, from town councils up to Congress and the Presidency. It seems to me that the greatest change in the lives of actual people in recent years has been the expansion of the availability of meaningful health insurance. And that only happened because enough Democrats were in office, and it’s threatened now because not enough Democrats are in office.

        The vast majority of Democratic office holders are far from perfect, and I’m as outraged as anyone by Obama’s support of the security state, etc etc. But I believe things would have been ever so much worse for people at the bottom of the economic system if McCain or Romney had won.

        I’m very much open to better ideas.

        1. Well, I’m on record as saying that I think Obamacare is better than no reform. But the degree to which it has actually meaningfully expanded access to medical services, rather than rates of the insured in the abstract, is a matter of controversy. See this piece from the Times today, for example. In the larger analysis, the fact of the matter is that the currently-existing Democratic party is a profoundly corporatist party. That’s not me being some radical saying so; it’s simply the reality. So Democrats in and of themselves have direct funding and political reasons not to support the kind of structural reforms that could really help racial minorities. Now, you can and should push Democrats to the left. But the problem is, phrasing it in the way you do– as a matter of obligation to support Democrats– means that there’s no incentive at all for them to move to the left. Right? As long as your support is unconditional, they’ll simply carry on, knowing they have you no matter what.

          1. I agree the Democrats are highly corporatist and that Obamacare did not go nearly far enough. And if there is a candidate further to the left who has a reasonable chance of winning (in a run for any office), that candidate would have my full support. But withholding progressive support from Democrats, when there is no viable candidate to the left, has achieved nothing positive, as far as I can tell.

          2. “But the degree to which it has actually meaningfully expanded access to medical services, rather than rates of the insured in the abstract, is a matter of controversy.”

            I’m a stand-up comedian who lives in Washington State; I and virtually everyone else in our several-hundred-strong starving artists caste went from having zero coverage to having coverage, overnight (more specifically, my first $120/mo — even before rent — no longer had to go toward pharmacy medication and attendant fees). That’s anecdotal, of course, but much less narrow than the very specific trevails detailed in your NYT link, and most of the data I’ve seen to date compellingly suggests the opposite of your skeptical premise.

          3. In a larger sense, I think MarkS gets to the heart of the matter — and Freddie, I can’t help but notice that you don’t seem to actually answer his question. 🙁

            By way of background, I’m a committed leftie, having migrated this direction after coming of age (politically) during the late 80’s and monopolistically neolib early 90’s. But by now I completely agree with the corporatist critique of the Democratic party, and for the last few years – for first time in my adult life – have become comfortable describing my views as “socialist”. (Obviously this is easier in the Puget Sound region than in some other parts of the country; still.)

            That I’ve moved in this direction is largely a credit to your long-game persuasiveness, Freddie, along with a small number of other passionate progressive online writers — which is why it’s so thoroughly discouraging to see you spend weeks banging on about the need to be pragmatic, rather than reflexively ideological — as you say above, in this very post! — only to have you respond to MarkS with a reflexively ideological critique of one of our very few short-term levers of power (i.e. the local Democratic party apparatus).

            Unless you have another viable, nationwide action plan that DOESN’T include working within the Democratic party, at least in part, then maybe stop burning down the house that’s “good enough, for now” just because it’s not Platonically perfect?

          4. Speaking for myself: to the extent you have to work with Democrats as the “lesser of two evils,” go ahead and do that. But that’s only the beginning. You should be advocating for reductions in the prison state, sane drug policy, economic policies that don’t simply transfer wealth inexorably upwards. These are things that will materially help people in a systematic way, and also happen to be things that Democrats have ranged from ambivalent to horrible on.

          5. Yes, please let’s talk about what is “viable” and “reasonable” when it comes to non-Democrat left candidates.

            I voted for Jill Stein in 2012. Many folks told me that I was throwing away my vote (or that they sympathized with her passion for radical change, but really they thought she had no chance of winning so it was safer to vote for Obama).

            Stein was on enough state ballots to win an electoral college victory. That is the plain truth of the matter. Yes, most Americans didn’t know who she was, and yes, her campaign was run on a fraying shoestring, and yes, we’ve never had a Green Party president or senator or anybody particularly well-known. And yes, I admit I would have been pretty stunned had she actually pulled off even getting 10% of the popular vote.

            Still, she played by the rules and ran her impoverished campaign. She stood up for all the things we liberals say we want. And too many liberals still denounced those who voted for her as spoilers or Leninists or worse.

          6. People on the left engage in way too much denouncing of other people on the left, IMO. It’s one of the main reasons why we’re so ineffective overall.

            So I would not denounce anyone for voting for Stein. But I would argue that, if you lived in a swing state, the expectation value (in a probabilistic sense) of a vote for Stein (instead of Obama) was negative. That is, you slightly increased the chance of a Romney win, and that would have had real negative consequences for a great many people. You also increased Stein’s chance of winning, but that increase was much smaller than the increase in Romney’s chance, because Stein’s overall win probability was so low.

            There is also the positive value of a symbolic vote for Stein in demonstrating support for leftist policies. I believe this positive value is also much smaller than the negative value of the increase in Romney’s win probability, since I can see no lasting effects of minor-party vote totals in US politics generally. There is also the value to your own well being (and hence personal resources for political engagement) that comes from casting a vote for someone you could support more wholeheartedly. Each individual has to decide how much weight to give to this factor.

        2. Thanks for your considered response. I think I understand your reasoning about probability — and I was in a very “blue” state when I voted for Stein.

          However, I have to disagree when you say “I can see no lasting effects of minor-party vote totals in US politics generally.” In the 1848 and 1852 elections the Free Soil Party (adamantly opposed to expansion of slavery) won significant slices of the popular vote (10 and 5 percent, respectively). I’m sure this was a clear signal to politicians that a new anti-slavery, or at least anti-plantation oligarchy party was a viable proposition. And soon after, the Republican party started up and attracted large numbers of disaffected voters from the Northeast and Midwest.

          I could also make a similar argument about the Socialists in the early 20th century (they formulated something pretty close to the New Deal a while before FDR came along).

          1. Your knowledge of history is much more thorough than mine. But if you have to go back 100 years to find an example of significant influence by a third party, I would argue that shows just how rare it is.

  4. I agree with the broad outlines of this piece, but I think you underestimate the very real racist/pro-war campaign of propaganda that’s been centered around American Sniper.

    American Sniper won’t win best picture. Neither will Selma. My guess is that Boyhood will get the Best Picture Oscar as a safe choice.

    But Selma’s being drowned out by American Sniper has had real political consequences. It’s not a perfect film. White identitarians are annoying as hell. But big budget Hollywood is big budget propaganda. You don’t have to be Suey Park to notice.

    1. Sure, but the question becomes, what is the relationship of the people who write pro-Selma, anti-American Sniper thinkpieces to the people who they hope to convince? What is the strategic plan? Where is the articulation of how these kinds of cultural complaints meaningful contribute to a long-term vision of how to make Selma more popular than American Sniper?

      1. I couldn’t give you a well-thought-out political strategy.

        I’m only pointing out just how united the elites seem to be behind American Sniper. There’s something going on here I wish you would have explored in more detail.

        As annoying as Suey Park/Identitarian Twitter is, it’s just that, annoying.

        But when the NY Times tells me I’m a member of the “coastal elite” for hating a racist piece of crap like American Sniper something’s going on.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/movies/sniper-rules-weekend-box-office.html

        Boyhood was a great movie, FWIW, probably better as a movie than Selma. And I had no idea Beck was still alive. But I think you make a mistake by framing this as “Beyonce vs Beck” or “Selma vs. Boyhood” instead of digging a little deeper and trying to get at the causes of why creepy reactionary dreck like American Sniper and 50 Shades of Grey are being hyped.

        1. I agree with you completely. And I liked Selma a great deal, when all is said and done, and find the arguments about its historical accuracy unhelpful and unpersuasive.

          1. Selma’s historical accuracy (or lack thereof) have a lot to do with government secrecy. There are things we simply don’t know about Johnson’s relationship to MLK.

            So you can film a historical drama using only the “official” history. Or you can try to fill in the gaps. The most extreme case would probably be Oliver Stone’s JFK. Selma plays fast and loose with some of the gaps, but that’s what “drama’ is all about. The LBJ library can clear it up very quickly by pushing to declassify everything relating to Cointelpro in the mid-60s.

            As far as political strategy goes, I think where I disagree with you (and with your take on the Chait piece) is that you often see symptoms as causes. Suey Park Twitter and white feminist worship of Beyonce are symptoms, not causes of political demobilization.

            I suppose my broader political strategy would be to keep getting involved with movements like Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street. If you’re a Cishet white male like you or me and you take some shit for it, that’s just life.

            I appreciate your recollections about young people pushed away from the movement because of political correctness. That does happen. I was involved with CISPES and the Central American Solidarity movement in my teens and early twenties and I found the late 80s/early 90s “political correctness” as dreary and alienating as you do.

            In fact I remember Barbara Ehrenreich at the socialist scholars conference in the early 90s saying something like “you’d have to be a masochist to get involved in some of these movements if you’re a white male.”

            Don’t quote me on that. It’s a hazy recollection from 20 years ago. But political correctness existed the, and exists now. And I think your overall thrust, that white political correctness is basically just upper-middle-class passive aggressiveness by another name.

            So I’ll tend to listen to a black woman more patiently than I will to a white, upper-middle-class man. That, of course, leads to its own issues. Does “identity” mean “authority.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been accused of “mansplaining” because I’ve told some (usually white) woman that her “experience” isn’t universal.

            I usually just tell them to fuck right off. And I had no trouble doing that when I was 20. But “fuck right off” is also bad political strategy.

            And so it goes.

        2. “As annoying as Suey Park/Identitarian Twitter is, it’s just that, annoying.”

          This post is specifically and explicitly supposed to be a criticism of white people advocating on behalf of minorities.

          So I think it’s a bit off to seamlessly segue into criticism of minorities advocating on their own behalf in a way you don’t like.

        3. “I can call it “Dave Hunter Twitter” if that would make you feel better.”

          You just can’t have it both ways. Surely you understand that, if you’re a white person who wants there to be less talk about the appearance of prejudice in the arts, that there’s a certain safety in insisting that it’s only other white people you think need to quiet down.

          If you want to throw Suey Park in there, too, then obviously your problem isn’t with white people and it isn’t with people speaking up on behalf of races not their own.

          1. I have no problem with him considering Suey Park an honorary Clueless White Activist/Accelerant/whatever, because the “White” in that phrase is typical, not essentialist.

      2. The relationship between them — as writers — is that they likely share a similar narcissistic impulse to be heard, and so share their “thinkpeace” thoughts on mediocre digital rags (Atlantic, NYmag, Slate, etc.) that are still desperately trying to capture the “cultural zeitgeist” (their turn of phrase not mine) of Millenials, i.e. people who use Facebook as a linkfeed.

        The difference between these thinkwriters is more subtle. My methodology would be to extrapolate the proportion of assholes or morons in society that have liberal arts degrees to say that a similar proportion of assholes or morons would exist among Team-Selma; regarding Team America(n Sniper) we can say with unequivocal certainty that each and every one of them is either an asshole or a moron if not both.

  5. Spencer Kornhaber is a pop culture journalist. His job is to write about pop culture. So that article is not an example of what you were talking about at all.

  6. Every year since I’ve known there was such a thing as the Grammys, the day after the Grammys has been full of pop-culture “analysis” amounting to “_______ was robbed!” The stated reasons why the award should’ve gone to somebody else change, but the “controversy” over Grammy picks is a constant, and remains absolutely crucial to maintaining the fiction that these awards are something other than an industry-insider sales award. Since current pop-culture criticism has seamlessly moved from the model of “your music sucks because you’re not as cool as me” to “your music sucks because you’re not as righteous as me,” the flavor of this year’s version of obligatory Grammy controversy reflects that.

    So apparently Beck made a bunch of money for a record label last year. Or maybe he appeals to a demographic that pays for music instead of downloading it for free? Or he generated a lucrative product tie-in with a video game / movie / comic-book franchise. Who knows?

    Maybe his album was good. I haven’t heard it.

  7. The problem, I think, is that pop culture under capitalism can never be progressive – any more than clothes, cars, or any other commodity can be “progressive.” Analysis of pop culture usually ends up being some weird form of commodity fetishism.

  8. Kanye beefing with Beck at least carries some semblance of substance; its far more annoying to me when artists like Pharrell and Beyonce start incorporating ‘Black Lives Matter’ into their performances with the body language Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. Rarely do any performers go out of their way to mention social movements today, or even materially support them, except for folks who are already out of the mainstream like Talib Kweli and Killer Mike. Arguably the most relevant musician at the moment politically is D’Angelo, with songs on his album directly addressing the slayings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Pharrell shares none of the politics or analysis of these other artists, pays lip service to a movement and has article upon article written about his ‘daring’ performance. Which is odd when you look at this: “The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues,” said Pharrell, one of the world’s most successful musicians, to Oprah, billionaire queen of the world. “The New Black dreams and realises that it’s not pigmentation: it’s a mentality and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on.”

    Well, that and Zach Braff comparing him to a monkey.

    either way, its all a daft distraction.

  9. Are serious talks even possible for us normal folk though? At least in terms of starting conversations with friends and coworkers, it seems easier to use something like beckanye as a segue and since (as you point out) the responses are relatively predictable it’s easy to lead the conversation around.

    1. I’m not sure if this was a fully serious comment, but I agree with this, and I’d be interested in anyone who knows of any real research on this topic.

      In terms of convincing people, of moving people left, I think it’s probably far easier to do so with these “teachable moments” where you say to, oh, teenagers with vague but budding political interests that the reason the music they like doesn’t win awards is because there are racial issues at play. I’d guess–and I can’t say with any data, but I’d guess–that it’s far more effective than protests, etc. I live in Boston, and everyone I knew was furious about a recent protest that stopped traffic on a major highway. I do not think it won any sympathy for the movement. Whether that’s fair for people to be mad or not is another issue; I’m talking more in terms of moving people left.

  10. Do you think the symbolic and the representational has political and emotional salience for black people? Do you think recognition, acknowledgment and praise for black cultural markers has a positive (or even potentially positive) effect for black people? And lastly, do you think the dominance and success of black genres/aesthetics when divorced from black artists (e.g Sam Smith being called the new face of soul, Macklemore being haralded by the New York Times as “the first post-black pop-star rapper”, or Miley Cyrus sexually essentializing black female bodies while getting credit for creating/popularizing their work or Iggy’s success, despite being an Australian transplant that’s rapping in a fake accent) has a negative effect?

    Your “actuals” carry a condescension that fails to reflect or textually consider the diversity of opinions and perspectives commenting on these subjects. You may think you’re highlighting “real” racism by prioritizing and sneering at white strawmen as though they’re the only ones driving this discussion, but all you’re doing is acting as an underqualified rhetorical gatekeeper for slights that just don’t just express real racism, but act as useful, substantive examples of a range of dynamics that include racism (as well as its intersections). Your disinterest in discussing or identifying those dynamics does scarce little to extricate them from actual politics. And, indeed, it’s somewhat ahistorical to pretend that aesthetic depiction and aesthetic success is easily separable from how blacks are viewed and treated. You are, afterall, living in a country where depictions of a certain race was partially responsible for reviving a terrorist organization.

    If you want to say most white people are being self-serving, clumsy and unhelpful at best when they discuss race and art, you should say that more clearly. Because your current mode of expression tends to frame the very presence of these conversations as a consequence of juvenile political gibberish replacing Real Political Thought. I find that perspective ignorant, unpersuasive and a little parochial to say the least, particularly given that most of the people having these discussion are adults (and non-white adults at that) who are fully capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Many can be, and are activists and political commentators who are also talking about Beyonce getting snubbed. It’s not like they’re mutually exclusive. Nothing about discussing this makes discussing “actual” racism impossible.

    I’ve said this before, but you really need to diversify your online reading. I’m sorry you haven’t curated your timeline to be a little more interesting and varied, but that’s your fault. I can’t wait until you grow up and realize that Twitter is a perfectly flexible medium that involves more than just the people who annoy you.

    1. “Do you think the symbolic and the representational has political and emotional salience for black people?”

      Yes, but the “symbolic” and “representational” is less significant than the concrete. I assure you, young black kids are more inspired by Dr. Dre’s business career than they are by Django Unchained.

      “Do you think recognition, acknowledgment and praise for black cultural markers has a positive (or even potentially positive) effect for black people? ”

      “Recognition, acknowledgment and praise” from who, white people? I think for the most part, black people have no problem recognizing, acknowledging, and praising their own culture. Again, Dre not Django.

      “And lastly, do you think the dominance and success of black genres/aesthetics when divorced from black artists…”

      I get what you’re driving at, but I have to question the notion of “black genres/aesthetics” being “divorced from black artists,” and would go even farther to say this concept carries with it a little nod to racism. The examples you cite just brings this home.

      If your complaint is the overly effusive praise heaped on these people by journalists, that’s one thing. But your complaint seems to be that there’s something “off” about these white people doing “black genre” things. That’s a notion I cannot agree with.

      Indeed, to quote yourself, “I find that perspective ignorant, unpersuasive and a little parochial to say the least.”

      1. “Yes, but the “symbolic” and “representational” is less significant than the concrete.”

        Emotional salience for black people is not separable from “concrete”. Assessments of racism aren’t separable from power relations and their history. Reception is not separable from race. Aesthetic expression and creation are not divorceable from a politically created/enforced social and cultural context. These are substantive dynamics that stand as constants when art is discussed and framed.

        If these basic 101 first premises can’t be established and utilized, this conversation can’t be worthwhile. This is about as close to handholding as I’m willing to get.

        1. Q-

          “If these basic 101 first premises can’t be established and utilized, this conversation can’t be worthwhile.”

          One of the things that Freddie is continually hinting at is that the concepts you accept as givens, “basic 101 first premises,” are not, in fact, givens.

          For instance:

          “Aesthetic expression and creation are not divorceable from a politically created/enforced social and cultural context.

          If that’s your understanding of art, then it might be safe to say you don’t understand art. If “aesthetic expression and creation” is not “divorceable from a politically created/enforced social and cultural context” why do so many artists put in so much effort to make their work universal?

          This is why: Because the best art -as much as this conflicts with your theories- transcends the “social and cultural context” in which it is created to tap into a deeper well of common human experience. The point is not to have “emotional salience” for a certain group of people, but for people in general.

    2. “Do you think the symbolic and the representational has political and emotional salience for black people? Do you think recognition, acknowledgment and praise for black cultural markers has a positive (or even potentially positive) effect for black people?”

      Can’t answer for them, but I can tell you the salience it has for many white people: “We’ve given Beyonce 20 Grammys, now shut up.”

  11. I’m new to this blog, and very interested in this idea: “progressive educated white types have essentially replaced having a politics with having certain cultural attachments and affectations.” Can you point me to other posts where you’ve written on this subject? Thanks!

  12. This reminds me of the reaction to Missy Elliott. The live-tweeters were falling over themselves to praise how amazingly super-awesome Missy Elliott.

  13. You are assuming that race is the angle that will be picked up here, making it into a Beck/Kanye thing. However, it could just as easily be gender that gets the traction, making this a thing about Kanye West’s compulsion to “white knight” for a successful woman (Beyonce).

  14. It’s drawn across very, very obvious lines in the cultural battles we love to fight!

    I don’t think the lines are as clear as you think. Beck is a beloved quirky 90s indie musician and therefore a celebrated left-wing figure in his own right. Additionally, left-wing sympathies are anti-corporate and in love with the archetype of the Dylan-esque wandering soulful troubadour, and therefore an obviously talented independent solo multi-instrumentalist like Beck has some degree of supremacy over industry established pop performers who work with teams of producers and marketers like Beyonce and Kanye.

    So in reality, I haven’t seen very many people try to defend Kanye’s words. I’m sure if instead of Beck we were looking at someone like Lynyrd Skynyrd, then it would be a different story.

  15. irrelvant wrote:

    “I have no problem with him considering Suey Park an honorary Clueless White Activist/Accelerant/whatever, because the “White” in that phrase is typical, not essentialist.”

    “White” as Freddie has been using it lately, is an absolutely essential descriptor. He’s very explicitly limiting himself to criticizing white people who engage in this behavior. Anyway, being volubly upset that Beyonce lost to Beck is not typically white behavior.

    Describing a minority as an “honorary” white person because they engage in activism is pretty questionable. It certainly sounds like the kind of thing you would never say to someone’s face.

  16. The cottage industry of you-must-love-Beyonce articles really is bizarre. The Atlantic is especially bad about this. Their response to the worries about the “death of rock music” was to run an absurd article saying that if only people would get past their encultured biases and racial pigeonholing of genres, they’d realize that Beyonce is basically rock music. And oh yeah, Pink Floyd isn’t really that iconic.

  17. 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.

    1. Hey; you’re probably long gone Q and will never read this, but I just wanted to say thank you, for both the kind words and the skepticism. I can’t really say how much I appreciate that you’ve given that much thought to my work.

      If you ever want to reach out, I’d love to talk further. I mean, I presume you would have if you had wanted to already, but I just wanted to make the invitation if you ever read this. Thank you again.

  18. Speaking of walking and chewing gum and “actuals”, if you mosey on over to Ashley Yates’ timeline @brownblaze, you can see one of the activists directly involved in Ferguson talking/retweeting about Kanye AND Banks; affirming the cultural value their widely covered actions confer to her, while also objecting to how they’re belittled and caricatured. By some dark sorcery, she manages to do this while still engaging in “real” politics and having a positive political impact. So strange.

    https://twitter.com/brownblaze/status/566470972924907520

    Someone should tell her that this is a politics-like substance that steals attention and energy away from real political and racial issues.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *