I sort of thought this would be over after last week but apparently, it’s not. The left is still on the defensive about Sarah Jeong and still repeated the same claim about racism being about power and their “spot on the pyramid” of institutional racism. Here’s a snarky piece published Sunday by NBC:
These have been challenging times to be white in America.
People who aren’t white may find this surprising. After all, it has been decades since white people could feel so free about loving their whiteness, or so openly celebrate whiteness, or talk about how much they relish being white and doing white activities. Recent trends in politics and media have amplified the interlocutors of pro-white sentiments, who certainly always existed but were traditionally somewhat less overtly vocal. It seems like a special Christmas for white people almost every week, courtesy of an extra-caucasian Santa Claus.
Obviously, this is snark and not meant to be taken literally but the thrust here that white people have it so much better than everyone else in America is just not true for a lot of people. I’m linking to Vox here as a source to point out that this isn’t something coming from the right’s fever swamps:
In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population…
Along with worsening job prospects over the past several decades, this group has seen their chances of a stable marriage and family decline, along with their overall health. To manage their despair about the gap between their hopes and what’s come of their lives, they’ve often turned to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
The researchers note that black and Hispanic Americans are not seeing the same uptick in mortality, so this is not just about poor people having a tough time. The reality outside the woke bubble is quite the opposite of “a special Christmas for white people almost every week.” Back to the NBC piece:
Racism has always been and always will be about possessing, maintaining and applying power. Racist jokes told by white people about non-white people superficially mock this or that alleged racial characteristic, just as Jeong’s tweets about white people did. But rhetorically, racist jokes are told to reassure white people about their top spot on the pyramid, and to reinforce that position by degrading nonwhite people who encounter such jokes.
In contrast, as should be obvious to anyone reading them, Jeong’s tweets vented the collective frustration of everyone else struggling on that pyramid of institutional racism. The reason her tweets can be reversed into racist jokes is because racist jokes inspired them. “White people jokes” intrinsically mock all the racist jokes, scientific treatises, magazine covers, and Founding Fathers’ statements about non-white people’s supposedly immutable inferiority, and point out how stupid they are and always were.
Thus, white people getting mad — or publicly performing anger, at least — about white people jokes is actually white people getting mad about threats to white power. Threats like a woman of color joining the editorial board of the New York Times after telling smarter and funnier jokes than them on Twitter. Racism is a mechanism of maintaining an imbalance of power — making it literally impossible, by definition, to be racist against white people, or to tell a racist joke about a white person.
We’ve heard this many times in the past few weeks. Under this definition of racism, power is all that matters, not the act of reducing individuals to part of a reviled and undifferentiated group. There’s some truth to it of course in the sense that racism and power usually go together. The point of nearly all jokes of any kind is to get people to agree that some 3rd party, i.e. the butt of the joke, is risible. So in many cases, ethnic jokes really are about establishing that hierarchy by trashing a disfavored group.
But as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not clear how Sarah Jeong would find herself at the bottom of this particular pyramid. She’s neither black nor Hispanic. She’s part of an ethnic group that excels in America, earning more than any other racial group (on average) and getting accepted to the best schools at much higher rates than other ethnic groups. Jeong herself has excelled personally and went to Harvard Law School. Yes, I understand she is still the target of hateful and misogynist attack on Twitter. I don’t deny that. But in terms of her group or personal power in the scheme of things in today’s America, Jeong is in a much better position than most people of any race. So when she’s making jokes about white people she’s not really punching up in most cases. She’s punching down at a lot of people who aren’t as universally well off as she seems to imagine. Even NY Times readers seem to get that that isn’t funny.