SJWs, Cognitive Dissonance and the Fixation on Race

I know the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a lot to live down as inheritor of the Richmond News Leader, the infamous cheer leader of Massive Resistance in the 1960s, but I can’t help but wonder if it has gone overboard in making amends. The newspaper, it seems, has gone full Social Justice Warrior. Here are articles an op-eds in Sunday’s newspaper:

  • Front page: a tragic story of a 51-year-old African-American woman with diabetes who requires dialysis and is losing her eyesight. An accompanying sidebar makes the point that diabetes disproportionately affects African-Americans.
  • Front page: an article about the history of race and racism in Governor Ralph Northam’s hometown, Onancock, on the Eastern Shore.
  • Inside A section: a Virginia Commonwealth University arts museum exhibit reimagining Monument Avenue without its Civil War statues.
  • Inside A section: a reprint of a Washington Post story profiling Front Royal residents recounting de-segregation.
  •  Op-ed section: a profile of Jonathan M. Daniels, a white Virginia Military Institute graduate who became a freedom rider during the Civil Rights struggle.
  • Op-ed section: a column by Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras decrying institutional racism in Richmond schools.
  • Op-ed section: a column by journalist Margaret Edds speculating how Virginia Civil Rights icon Oliver Hill would have responded to the Northam blackface scandal.
  • Op-ed section: a column by the Rev. Peter J. McCourt describing the new Cristo Rey private school as an educational alternative for black, inner-city Richmond children.

Any one — or two, or three, or four — of these articles is defensible. But this is overkill. All but one reflects the progressive obsession with race and racism as an all-pervading reality of American society. (The exception to progressive orthodoxy is the op-ed suggesting that a private Catholic school might offer poor blacks a pathway out of poverty.) In the real world blacks and whites seem to get along pretty well in everyday interactions, and African-American joblessness is at the lowest level since records have been kept. Yet we see virtually no reporting on how attitudes toward race are changing or how the condition of African-Americans is improving. Try Googling “signs of black economic progress.” The results provide a litany of despair. You’d think it was 1940 again.

What’s going on? What explains the preoccupation with racial injustice? One possibility — the idea at the heart of the progressive narrative — is that racism is deeply embedded in American society. Another possibility is that the Left is grappling with a profound cognitive dissonance.

The United States has has striven for more than 50 years to eliminate poverty and ameliorate the effects of past racism through welfare programs, urban renewal programs, education programs, affirmative action programs, and the like. Yet African-American poverty persists. In some ways, poverty and the social ills associated with poverty appear to be more deeply rooted than ever. Confronted with that reality, liberals have two broad choices: admit that their policy prescriptions of the past half century have had massive unintended consequences (something they are unprepared psychologically to do), or double down on the racism narrative.

Liberals have doubled down on the racism narrative. Accordingly, they cannot acknowledge any sign of racial progress. They focus only on racial grievance.

This doubling down takes many forms. More than 50 years after the enactment of Civil Rights legislation, we see a wave of nostalgia for the Civil Rights movement — when liberalism was indisputably on the side of the angels. One manifestation is the surge of Hollywood movies such as “Loving,” “Hidden Figures,” “Marshall,” The Green Book,” and “The Help.” All tell stories that are worth retelling and remind us of injustices that needed righting. They also keep the wounds of racism fresh and alive, and they allow liberal viewers to bask in cheap moral righteousness.

On a parallel track, universities, the temples of progressivism, highlight the evidence of racism that permeated their past. The bizarre “Corks and Curls” controversy (see the previous post) is only the latest manifestation. A cottage industry of academics gins up studies showing statistical disparities in outcomes in every sphere of society. The existence of statistical disparities is deemed to be not the legacy of history and poverty but proof of ongoing racism and discrimination.

We also see ever-morphing definitions of which words and deeds can be described as racist, and what transgressions — such as Governor Ralph Northam’s donning of blackface 35 years ago — are forgivable, and which are not. Once upon a time racism was the view that blacks were morally and intellectually inferior, typically coupled with hostility toward and overt discrimination against them. As institutional barriers fell, prejudicial attitudes receded, and the expression of open bigotry declined, the Left focused on more refined manifestations of racism, such as white using the N word or dressing in blackface. Now, progressives have declared that not only is dressing in blackface morally unacceptable today, but having done so 35 years ago is so morally compromising that Virginia’s governor must resign.

Keeping alive the fires of moral righteousness from times past and fixating on ever more refined manifestations of bias allows liberals to avoid confronting their moral responsibility for 50 years of failed schools, failed anti-poverty programs, failed urban revitalization plans, failed housing plans, and failed higher-ed access programs, not to mention the disintegration of the black family, the erosion of social capital in poor African-American neighborhoods, and other unintended consequences.

Racism may exist in diluted form — I cannot pretend that it does not — but it is not what is holding back poor African-Americans today. The pathetic losers of the white supremacist movement, who are marginalized and powerless yet loom so large in the liberal imagination, do not cause black poverty. We need to seek a more profound understanding of what ails our society — in particular social breakdown in poor African-American communities, which, incidentally, is increasingly prevalent among lower-income whites as well. We have to choose: Do we enact anti-poverty policies that make liberals feel better about themselves — or policies that actually work?

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9 responses to “SJWs, Cognitive Dissonance and the Fixation on Race”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Well, well. Sounds like you are still smarting from the autism debacle.As far as institutional racism and Richmond’s newspapers, there is no doubt that the News Leader was far worse. But the RTD was very bad. They back Massive Resistance, too, just weren’t so wacky about it. When editor Virginius Dabney didn’t want to write a piece puffing segregation, the Bryan family got some advertising guy to do it. Not exactly intestinal fortitude but some kind of demented “Virginia” sense of dishonest decorum. I also don’t get why you are trashing all of these so called “Social Justice Warriors.” I have been a fan of Margaret Edds since the 1970s. The story about the freedom rider from VMY is the first decent piece Commentary has had in months. Usually, it’s some crap from some lobbyist about how great fossil fuels are. And, when did you get such a bug up your nose about “Social Justice Warriors?” Is that anyone who believes passionately about something? That is somehow wrong?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      There is a certain lingering denial of Virginia’s racist past by those who grew up white and economically comfortable. The majority who grew up inside NoVa are far too young (even at 65 or so) to remember segregation. 1955 proceedings in the General Assembly noted that Northern Virginia openly opposed the Stanley Plans. John Baker Boatright, a typical RoVa General Assembly member of the day, used Virginia’s strict adherence to Dillon’s Rule to pass legislation prohibiting federal employees from serving on school boards. In other words, RoVa politicians tried their best to stop NoVa from de-segregating. By 1960 the courts allowed districts like Fairfax County to proceed with de-segregation. The vast majority of people alive today who grew up in NoVa figured that the whole state went that way – Brown vs the Board of Education was decided and, relatively shortly thereafter, the schools were desegregated. People who grew up in NoVa are naive about the depth of relatively recent institutional racism across Virginia. In my opinion, people who grew up white and comfortable in Virginia outside of NoVa are in denial about the depth of relatively recent institutional racism in Virginia. It took until 2009 for the Times Dispatch to express regret for its editorials supporting Massive Resistance! 2009?!? One would have thought that 1979 would have been a late date for that apology but 2009? Less than 10 years ago? It took that long for the Richmond establishment to accept that aggressively supporting that manifestation of Jim Crow known as Massive Resistance was wrong? No wonder there are commentators on this blog who struggle to acknowledge that wearing blackface in 1980 is an issue.

      As far as Social Justice Warrior – that’s an inept term of art on the part of conservatives. Who doesn’t want social justice? What the conservatives mean is race baiters. But I guess even the conservatives have gone politically correct of late.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I had exactly the same reaction to yesterday’s paper, Jim. I noted the same pattern. Margaret’s piece was a transparent message to today’s Democrats to emulate Oliver Hill and Stand By the Party! If Godwin could be supported, so should Northam! Schapiro was also sending a similar message of party loyalty. Sometimes I think you overreact, Jim, but you are dead on that the TD was really laying it on yesterday.

    It’s pure politics. I’ve told you Jim, the Democrats NEED 80-90 percent black votes to survive, and this modern version of waving the Bloody Shirt is the only way to achieve that. And yes, it distracts from policy failures.

    1. Waving the bloody shirt is an apt analogy. Republicans used the Civil War for decades as a useful ploy to maintain their moral superiority. Now Democrats use the Civil Rights movement to maintain theirs. At some point, the tactic gets really old.

  3. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Steve,

    “Skeer” out the bloc vote and make ever louder, bolder, brighter and darker, and more flavorful, distractions. Because failure stinks. Especially when your party owns it and its only answer is “even more of the same thing!” “The march to nowhere” a friend once called it, and we gangpressed into making with ’em. “A rising tide drowns all who wear cement shoes” a famous politician once said, too, I think. Mine are feeling pretty comfy about now. These threads are getting inane.



  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Good post, Jim.

    In addition, I think the growing willingness of many people to speak plainly and in a determined manner on these issues is an important step forward and a necessary one if we are to articulate the real underlying problems at hand and their causes which as I have said many times has little or nothing to do skin color (race), hence the lack of recent progress in part fueled by the growing fixation on that red herring, race, that we are witnessing today. This fixation, however, is an understandable default position in the face of the chronic failures of long obsolete and now counter productive policies, attitudes, and cultures.

    More importantly, I think now there are new exciting opportunities, growing out of important new research being done and reported by highly talented researchers that can help us begin to better explain the old projection and scapegoat issues, and also begin to far more clearly explain, based on that same new research, new ways of looking at old problems so as to make progress on overcoming our chronic failures to achieve better results in the raising and education of our kids that they deserve, if we can find the will (always a big if). These new understandings will apply to all our youth, and as typically the case, benefit most those who are disadvantaged. Originally inspired by Cranky’s work, and Steve Moret’s question, I hope to be able to get this going here in an article or two within a few weeks.

  5. “Waving the bloody shirt” is an apposite opposite (always wanted to say that!).

    Whatever the TD’s current biases, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the one most fascinating revelation from “l’affaire Northam”: a majority of blacks did not want him to resign. Of course they did not approve of his behavior; of course we are left to speculate what might have happened if “l’affaire Fairfax” had not occurred simultaneously. But the poll was clear: a majority of black Virginians believed Northam should not resign. Their judgment was tempered by consideration of the consequences and by their common sense appraisal of the man. The “progressive obsession with race and racism” is a white phenomenon. Not that we aren’t teaching a generation of black college student activists how to milk the situation to their advantage — but the average black voter out there knows that life is complicated and Northam has turned out to be a pretty decent governor from their perspective, warts and all.

    So why can’t the SJWs take a hint from that poll and move on? I’m with Steve on that: they need their own modern bloody shirt movement to turn the widespread loathing of Trump into support for their own progressive agenda. It’s going to be a long election year in Virginia.

  6. Posted on behalf of Bob Shannon:

    Perhaps your very best, and also one of the best to address the issue of race I have ever read. In the comments section the observation was made that you did not include any suggestions as to how to remedy the problem you laid out with such clarity. Allow me to offer some suggestions starting with School Choice.

    In greater detail I would suggest going one step further . One of only 6 Public Charter Schools in Virginia ( vs the 154 in N. Carolina ) Patrick Henry in the city is rumored to have some 300 families on the waiting list desperately trying to get their kids our of the city schools and into one that has demonstrated what is possible. The results are truly stunning.

    Antione Green is Senior Advocacy Associate for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and was a guest speaker at one of our meetings two years ago. This organization is attempting to pry open the jaws of the VDE here in Virginia and break the stranglehold they have on public schools

    Like all monopolies public schools are the largest impediment to progress for Americans of color. A correlation with the Irish Catholics at the turn of the 20th century when the Labor Unions and the Federal Government opened the doors to Union dominated Police & Fire Departments employment a subsequent dependency developed locking in the Irish Catholic vote for 60 years until these citizens began to climb the education ladder and their eyes were opened to just what had developed. Only then were the iron clad bonds of dependency weakened.

    Unless and until school choice is implemented nationwide these groups will continue to experience a lack of real progress. The poverty pimps, (many of whom are elected officials ) practice with precision the identity politics you spelled out as a root cause for this fixation on race. You understand that it is how they maintain what power they have.

    I attended St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Highland Park for over 3 years 2008-2011 and formed solid friendships with members of a congregation that was 99% African American. This is the same Catholic Church that Tim Kaine and his wife were married in and still regularly attend when he is in Richmond on Sundays.

    One of the reasons I chose St. Elizabeth’s in the first place was I wanted to make a contribution to a Parish that needed my help and talents. It was also the opportunity to get a deeper understanding on the specifics regarding the lasting chasm between the races. Many reasons exist , deep felt animosity , particularly among my friends I made while attending there who were often citizens who served in Vietnam just a few years after they were segregated when visiting Virginia Beach or had only 1 bathroom stop they could make in Oilville when they were on a team bus headed West to play a football or basketball game. These hard feelings don’t dissipate so easily for these proud men who felt terribly conflicted with being drafted and sent to a war just years after such terrible mistreatment in the very nation that had sent them off. I was an active duty Marine during the Vietnam war and can recall the raw emotions many of these men felt.

    My friendships with these members where always tempered with the reality that I could never fully appreciate what they had lived through. I had candid discussion with them , telling them after their generation was gone , their children didn’t have that ax to grind, their children had never experienced that same treatment , therefor did not have a legitimate claim to having ever suffered discrimination in the manner their parents had.

    The other clear impediment to moving past this continues to be the absolute level of ignorance on so many levels. Historical , economic ignorance is rampant, so over the top as to be almost beyond the ability of many of us to begin to understand. My interactions with scores of my fellow congregants across all age ranges allowed me to get an insiders view of how deep the ignorance was. As an example one Sunday after Mass a young boy , around 10-11 years of age asked me ” where was my farm” ? I initially was befuddled since I had grown up in a city and had never had anyone in my family who had farmed or owned a farm. I question him on why he had asked me that to which he replied ” all white men are rich and own big farms” This was in maybe 2009-10 and for a child that age to have that impression of white men was astounding.

    I need not elaborate on the economic ignorance, largely born by now two generations either entirely dependent or partially dependent on big government. It goes well beyond warped, so deeply entrenched into the culture itself as to force recognition that it will take 2-3 generations to wean it out. Needless to say in summary school choice is personally my top political priority for the remainder of my life.

    For source information Antione can be reached at C (804) 439-7856

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Bob Shannon’s comments are to a degree put into context when contrasted with the statement by a highly accomplished and reliable source:

      “Public Education’s Dirty Little Secret:

      “It is not poor teaching or a lack of money that is failing our most vulnerable populations. The real problem is an ethos of rejection that has never been openly admitted by those in authority.

      Why should millions of perfectly normal adolescents, not all of them ghettoized, resist being educated? The reason is that they know deep down that due to the color of their skin, less is expected of them. This they deeply resent. How could they not resent being seen as less capable? It makes perfect psychological sense. Being very young, however, they cannot articulate their resentment, or understand the reasons for it, especially since the adults in charge hide the truth. So they take out their rage on the only ones they can: themselves and their teachers.

      They also take revenge on a fraudulent system that pretends to educate them. The authorities cover up their own incompetence, and when that fails, blame the parents and teachers, or lack of funding, or “poverty,” “racism,” and so on. The media follow suit. Starting with our lawmakers, the whole country swallows the lie.

      Why do precious few adults admit the truth out loud? Because in America the taboo against questioning the current orthodoxy on race is too strong and the price is too high. What is failing our most vulnerable populations is the lack of political will to acknowledge and solve the real problems. The first step is to change the ”anti-discrimination” laws that breed anti-social behavior. Disruptive students must be removed from the classroom, not to punish them but to protect the majority of students who want to learn.”

      These are the concluding paragraphs from one of the finest descriptions of what is really going on in many of our public high school today, a cultural wasteland that we allow to destroy the futures of hundreds of thousands of our kids every year. Anyone truly interested in what is wrong with public education in American must read this February 10, 2019 article written by Mary Hutson in its entirety.” See Quillette article found at:

      The author Mary Hutson taught in New York City schools from 2001 to 2010. (She) “is a former teacher and the translator of Fable for Another Time and The Indomitable Marie-Antoinette. She has a PhD in French Literature from CUNY Graduate Center, and got her late husband Jack Holland’s last book, A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, published posthumously when Viking Penguin abandoned it upon his death. It has recently been reprinted.”

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