“When people show you who they are, believe them.” So said Oprah, paraphrasing hard-learned advice from Maya Angelou.
*Quickly frisks my body to ensure I’m not canceled into the ether.* Phewwww. A white man appropriating two black women? I’m shocked a woke mob hasn’t trussed me up and hauled my ofay offensive tush off to Sing Sing.
In our distracted and abstracted age filled with internet prophets postulating technofuturist theories, it’s refreshing to encounter a straightforwardly practical plan of action. In this case, it’s the elite hobbyhorse of racial dispossession, which was helpfully written in honkie blood by Michael Harriot at popular black webzine The Grio. In “Take Things from White People,” Harriot gets right to the point (kinda): all institutions historically operated by white people should be violently despoiled, then awarded to deserving blacks.
Harriot makes a quick case for racial reparations, ending legacy admissions at universities, and removing icons, statutes, and monuments of “slaveholding heroes” (read: founding fathers). Typical 1619 Project-esque stuff. But he goes further and more bizarre: “We should eliminate job recommendations, unpaid internships and other policies that promote anti-diversity, inequities and exclusion. We should ban white Santas and Christmas songs and pro-police rallies and violent national anthems and cisgender bathrooms and books about heterosexual relationships.”
So Hallmark can’t produce pale-white Santa ornaments anymore, the pimply chinless wonder who frequently breaks the Keurig in your office but whose uncle is COO is shown the door, and Jane Austen is wiped away from the western canon? Oh, and urinals are banned? That’s what will finally cut white people off at the knees, and hoist blacks to an equally prosperous level?
Did I say straightforward case in my preface? What I meant was as bald as anti-alabaster shakedown cases get. Harriot repeats the avaricious desire to “take that from white people,” while never quite defining what “that” is other than a nebulous institutional advantage. At least on the reparations front, he gives a solid figure: $10 to $12 trillion, which would be paid out by a combo of a small minority of slaver descendants and a vast majority of those whose ancestors never participated in chattel slavery. Sounds justice-y!
And justice is what Harriot professes to want. He admonishes readers that, “we should not take things from white people out of anger, payback or retribution.” Even so, “[j]ustice demands an equal response to the infraction committed.”
In that vague formulation, Harriot endorses, or at least leaves open, the possibility of open pillage. Which differs little from black grievance polemicists like Tommy Curry (“some white people might have to die”), Ta-Nehisi Coates (“carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman…releasing its eldritch energies”) and, of course, Ibram X. Kendi (“The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination”). These angry men write essays for college-credentialed audiences suggesting revolution but often veer into hedged hypotheticals. Critical race theory is, because of its academic origin, abstruse and slippery. CRT proponents assert race isn’t real, but racism exists, thus racial justice must be meted out to absolve our bigoted souls.
Harriot includes that mumbling theory, but it’s only window dressing to his real desire: rendering white people second-class citizens to balance out historic racism. Were it not for the 14th Amendment, Harriot might even suggest a century-or-so stint of forced labor is due to all American palefaces. Those white boys just love themselves some LARPing, don’t they?
Credit where credit is due: a shamelessly outlined case for racial robbery is easier to understand than jargon about “decentering whiteness” or “abolishing whiteness,” which are arcane ways of saying reverse racism can eventually erase skin-color stigma. When the racial imbalance will be leveled is never specified. The timeline is deliberately kept open-ended. That dissatisfying dialogue is deliberately obscured to make it palatable to the real power audience: respectable white elites.
As George Packer writes, the phrasing around racial equity measures has a “willed, unnatural quality” that relies on “scientific-sounding concepts.” The more highfalutin it sounds, the more it’s unironically repeated by MFA-holders on Twitter and in newspaper columns. That’s how you get MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, in his Warby Parkers and prep-school do, monologuing on the urgent need for half his salary to be appropriated for Compton gangbangers serving life in prison.
Harriot’s done us a favor by boiling down the practical aim of racemongers: forceful expropriation. He leans into baroque Baldwinism, declaring, “[w]e will never be able to take away their whiteness,” but settles firmly on, “[b]ut we can take their lash.”
And he clearly means to wield it, rather than toss it away like burly, stone-faced Ginty in “The Dark Knight.”
His revenge-porn aspirations may excite his fellow race-haters. They may arouse the sympathies of safely ensconced whites in deep-blue districts. They may even get a mumbling script-read endorsement from the panderer-in-chief.
But they’re also one more thing. Harriot’s black-supremacist braying is vile, evil, un-American, and, above all, racist. Yes, yes, screaming “DEMS R THE REAL RACISTS!!1” is corny and cringey to say. But that doesn’t make it less true.