Accusations of Racism and Kafka-Trapping

I noted yesterday, both on my site and on RedState, the silliness of Saira Sameera Rao and her belief that all white people, even her closest friends, are horrible racists who won’t give up their ‘whiteness,’ whatever that means to Mrs Rao. I don’t know what that means, because even though she was made aware of the articles via Twitter, she has, at least this far, chosen not to respond or take any public note of them.

Mrs Rao, despite her impressive résumé, does not seem to me to be a very stable person. But when you see an opinion piece in The Washington Post, you know that it has been through editorial review, by some intelligent people. Having said that, it does not mean that an essentially silly OpEd piece can’t get through:

Dear fellow white people: Here’s what to do when you’re called racist.

By Rebecca Hains | August 23, 2019

Trump supporters say they’re “tired of being called racists.” At a recent rally in Cincinnati, the Atlantic reported, white attendees defended themselves against the charge by citing the “evidence”: They had donated money to help black foster children; they deeply loved their black and mixed-race grandchildren.

Shortly after rejecting the “racist” label, however, these same rallygoers made racist remarks to the journalist who interviewed them. Regarding Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the United States as a Somali refugee, one woman offered: “I don’t want her stinkin’ Muslim crap in my country.”

Making racist remarks while claiming not to be racist seems paradoxical. President Trump himself is a case in point. “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” he told reporters last month, and he often name-checks black celebrity friends to support his contention. At the same time, he continues to take racist jabs at individuals and groups.

Note that one of the things Professor Hains, the author, has done is to assume that what President Trump has said is racist. There is none of the journalistic caution in stating that some of the things he has said ‘have been called racist’ by other people, which tells us exactly from where Dr Hains has come.

We are, of course, supposed to be impressed by Dr Hains’ résumé, as the Post described her as “a professor of media and communication at Salem State University, where she also serves as a faculty fellow for diversity, power dynamics and social justice.” However, as soon as I see the part of her biography that states she “also serves as a faculty fellow for diversity, power dynamics and social justice,” my mind immediately goes to suspicion of quackery; that is the description of people who believe that they have somehow been unfairly treated — though someone who was privileged enough to go through the doctoral program at Temple University hardly seems to have been unfairly treated — and that politics and government should somehow redress that.

Even white people who consider themselves good allies of people of color can be unaware of their racial biases. From public figures to pundits to public intellectuals to politicians, it’s a pervasive, bipartisan, international problem. The white Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, for example, distanced himself from a photo of a person in blackface on his 1984 medical school yearbook page by talking about how he practiced medicine. “I can tell you I treat everyone the same way,” he said. “Nobody has ever thought or accused me of being racist, and if and when I practice again, I will continue that same direction.” White actor Liam Neeson confessed that decades ago, after a friend reported that she had been raped by a black man, he felt a “primal urge” to retaliate by harming black men in general. Responding to the backlash, he said: “I’m not racist. . . . If she had said an Irish or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know I would have had the same effect.”

So, if you are a white person and someone calls you racist, and the charge perplexes you, what should you do? As a white college professor who teaches courses on media and race at a diverse public university, here’s my advice.

I cannot simply quote all of her advice; that would cross the line into outright plagiarism, and you can read it yourself by following the link embedded in her article headline. But I can tell you what my advice is: simply ignore it.

There is a concept called Kafka trapping. Coined as a noun kafkatrapping in 2010 by Eric Raymond in reference to Franz Kafka’s story The Trial (Der Proceß/Der Prozeß, published 1925) it has come to mean that denial of whatever it is one has been accused of constitutes evidence of guilt. If someone calls you a racist — or anti-Semite, or sexist, or homophobe or transphobe or whatever — laugh at it, ignore it, continue to live your life as you have been doing all along, but you should never try to defend yourself against the accusation, because you can never do so successfully. As we noted yesterday, Mrs Rao’s friends included her in everything that female friends in their situation do, and it still wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough because it can never be enough. Accusations of racism are so pervasive today that what they really mean is: “you do not agree with me.” In our polarized politics of today, not only is defending yourself against an accusation of racism, or whateverism, taken as evidence of racism, but the accusation of racism is taken as evidence of it; you are guilty until proven innocent, and you can never prove yourself innocent.

Dr Hains put forth a five step ‘program’ to accusations of racism, but they all have one underlying theme, that you were actually guilty of racism, even if you didn’t see it, because it’s all underlying and cultural and not hidden, damn it, you need to listen to those who accuse you of it, thank them for the accusation, and then get to work changing yourself. To thine own self be true is not something Dr Hains considers.

There is the matter of the article title, “Dear fellow white people: Here’s what to do when you’re called racist.” The underlying assumption is a common one, that only white people can be racist.¹ Since editors, rather than the article authors, usually compose the headlines, I cannot say that Dr Hains is taking that underlying assumption in the article title, but someone certainly is. And that Dr Hains five points of advice all assume that the accusation is correct, well I’m going to take my own assumption here, that she does see that as true.

Then there is the corollary: not only can only white people be racist, but that all white peopleor at least all Republicans — are inherently racist.

Accusations of racism are, primarily, meant not to actually point out to someone a particular slip or foible, but to gain political power. When someone is defending himself against an accusation of racism, he is set back on his heels, playing defense rather than offense. It’s what the Democrats have done to every Republican candidate since I was old enough to pay attention to politics, and it’s what the Democrats continue to use to retain the roughly 90% of the votes of black Americans they normally receive. And if you feel compelled to defend yourself, why you might take that defense so far as to actually vote for a Democrat you wouldn’t have otherwise chosen . . . and that has been the ultimate goal all along.

Defending yourself against accusations of racism simply gives power to the person who has made the accusation; don’t surrender to that, don’t give them that power.  You should do what you believe is right, even if someone else does not agree.  If someone else has a persuasive argument as to why your actions are harmful, or not in your better interests, that’s an argument to which you should at least listen and give consideration.

But when someone’s argument is simply name-calling, forget it, and forget him.  To do otherwise is simply wasting your time.
¹ – That is not one reference; each word is a separate hyperlink.
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