Opposites

by John Quiggin on July 3, 2021

In comments on a previous post, Thomas Beale takes exception to a statement by Ibram X Kendl (about whom I know nothing) that “The opposite of racist isn’t “not racist”. It is “anti-racist”.”

It occurred to me that, the opposite of “anti-racist” isn’t “racist” but “anti-anti-racist”

That raised some interesting thoughts for me. The construction “anti” doesn’t function like a negative sign in standard mathematics. It was first (AFAIK) used in “anti-anti-communist” to refer (mostly pejoratively) to those who thought that anti-communists like McCarthy and Nixon posed a greater threat to the US than did (domestic) communists.

Is there a tenable position that is non-racist without being anti-anti-racist. It’s not a logical impossibility – for example, I am neither pro-Nickelback, nor anti-Nickelback, nor anti-anti-Nickelback – but it’s hard to see how it could be sustained in the current state of US or Australian politics. Certainly, the critics of CRT come across much more as anti-anti-racist than as non-racist.

{ 20 comments }

1

nastywoman 07.03.21 at 4:48 am

@
‘Certainly, the critics of CRT come across much more as anti-anti-racist than as non-racist’.

How true –
and that’s ‘the thing’ – as nearly all the Right-Wing Racists now using the argument KT2 didn’t quote – that CRT is ‘a philosophy that advocates self-hatred, hatred for their own country, and racial enmity’.

While in reality – it’s just – as ” the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said:
“But I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.”

AND as we also believe in this ‘theory’… or better said ‘reality’ –
that nearly all ‘racists’ we ever met – were NOT ‘open-minded’ or ‘widely read – or in other words just ‘stupid idiots’ – perhaps the solution IS – what -(how ironic?) this general prescribed?
(not only ‘for those of us in uniform’?

AND perhaps teaching some kind of ‘Critical Race Theory’ –
(from Kindergarten ON) –
could help?

2

KT2 07.03.21 at 6:44 am

This paragraph written just for JQ (kidding) to continue to focus on costs & benefits of policy. But the asides, such as this thread and meta arguments, are enlightening, of interest and compelling. This article below was for me anyway. ymmv. 

And I found it interesting that a problems of this education board are also buracratic, human & personal – both, familiarity breeds contempt, and tedious work within a group in zoom may allow for mistaken actions enhancing potential for jumping to conclusions. No need of meta arguments for these foibles.

Thanks for the aside T Beale >… JQ.

“As long as sharp disagreements persist about what causes racial inequality and how best to remedy it, deliberations rooted in the specific costs and benefits of discrete policies will provide a better foundation for actual progress than meta-arguments about what “anti-racism” demands.”

Article:
“Anti-racist Arguments Are Tearing People Apart
“What a viral story reveals about contemporary leftist discourse

● [! Leftist discourse ! almost rendered me senseless. Antirightist? Nonrightist? Anti anti rightist?. ‘Leftist Discourse’ is about as useful as ‘Rightist Discourse’ or gen xyz. And this is a widely published Atlantic writer – perhaps someine here may have a background of writer or The Atlantic more generally.

I’ve asked before and so, please discuss socialism.

Your are all academically wiser than I, so open to your framing. 1 caveat – no mention of left or right. Oh, that would excersize your grey cells too much so no caveat.]●

By Conor Friedersdorf

“The viral youtube video was cued to begin at 42:23, the moment most likely to elicit incredulity. A webcam was tight on the face of Robin Broshi, a middle-aged white woman. She was upset. The edge in her voice sought to explain, to emphasize, to insist, that a wrong had been done.

““It hurts people,” she said, “when they see a white man bouncing a brown baby on their lap and they don’t know the context!”

“Wait. What?

““That is harmful!” she continued. “That makes people cry! It makes people log out of our meetings.” The video’s description mentions the “NYC Community Education Council for Manhattan District 2,” which serves more than 60,000 students spread across 121 schools.

“I made a series of rapid assumptions about what I was watching. I surmised that Broshi was a college-educated, upper-middle-class progressive who sits on some sort of education council in the public-school system and owns copies of White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist. I surmised that she was calling someone out. And I surmised that her white, male target was offscreen rolling his eyes. All of which turned out to be correct.”
●[ I posted the above paragraph so to confirm our intuition, subconscious & biases]

“But I also felt confused. Why would a New Yorker in 2020 see an adult holding a baby with a different phenotype and presume something nefarious was afoot?

●[ whole body clipped including “A more inclusive anti-racist canon would include …”. Who would have time and motovation to read 17 “and others” whilst being a single parent – me – and be able to rewire even your subconscious? (h/t James W) So I read crooked timber. And I have tsundoku – bought another 5 today –  so 17 more deep reads I’d have to borrow, would be programmed in about 2024 – or earlier if another pandemic]


“As long as sharp disagreements persist about what causes racial inequality and how best to remedy it, deliberations rooted in the specific costs and benefits of discrete policies will provide a better foundation for actual progress than meta-arguments about what “anti-racism” demands.
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/meta-arguments-about-anti-racism/615424/

And Nastywoman – absolutely – “AND perhaps teaching some kind of ‘Critical Race Theory’ – (from Kindergarten ON)”

3

Stephen 07.03.21 at 10:10 am

Umm. Before condemning anti-anti-racism, one should consider whether there are aspects of anti-racism that can reasonably be opposed.

I came across a post stating that ‘In their 2001 work Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic described CRT as a “movement” consisting of: “A collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism and power… Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”’

Now, I am unlikely to get access to Delgado and Stefancic’s work myself, so can I ask the very erudite CT community:

Is that an accurate quotation?

If so, is it being unforgivably anti-anti-racist to declare a strong preference for step-by-step progress, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law? (The latter I understand to mean the belief that courts must issue principled decisions resting on reasons that in their generality and their neutrality transcend any immediate result that is involved: thank you, Wikipedia.)

Do any CT readers have any real problems with legal reasoning, etc? If so, what?

Lastly: what is equality theory and why should anti-racists object to it?

Yours in hope of (lower case) enlightenment.

4

Phil 07.03.21 at 10:24 am

It occurred to me that, the opposite of “anti-racist” isn’t “racist” but “anti-anti-racist” … Is there a tenable position that is non-racist without being anti-anti-racist.<

The opposite of “anti-racist” is “not anti-racist” – which may be someone who hasn’t been alerted to the evil of racism or someone who thinks it’s more important to be anti- something else. The [Mouffean] antagonist* of [an] anti-racist is [an] anti-anti-racist.

*And, potentially, the even-more-Mouffean agonist, although this is hard to imagine: the terms of debate on both sides are very much about the urgency of utterly and definitively excluding the other side, rather than anything as friendly or contingent as victory and defeat.

5

SamChevre 07.03.21 at 11:20 am

Is there a tenable position that is non-racist without being anti-anti-racist.

I think yes, at least individually. (I’m going to switch to sexism because that’s where I have direct experience.)

As a manager and as a senior professional, I hired both men and women–slightly more women, in a profession that had slightly more men. I mentored both men and women, and my mentees seemed to find that it helped them accomplish their professional goals.

I’d describe that as “non-sexist.”

When my employer started setting specific quotas for what proportion of hires and promotions needed to be women for managers to get their full pay, I left. I’m not anti-sexist: I wanted us to treat everyone as an individual, not make the numbers come out by hiring and promoting less capable people.

6

BenK 07.03.21 at 12:20 pm

The whole dilemma is resolved very simply by realizing that there are more dimensions to the problem set – and that by standing against an entire community, one is ‘anti-‘ that community, not advocating for one or another party within it. One can also be ‘anti-‘ the anti- and the community, by standing outside that system.

But all this makes a hash of neat dichotomies. Oh desolation!

7

Tim Worstall 07.03.21 at 2:19 pm

If “anti-racism” means a certain specific analysis of and then set of policies to counter racism then sure, it’s clearly possible to be anti-anti-racist and also not racist. One is disagreeing with the analysis and subsequent policies of “anti-racism” rather than promoting racism itself.

Which does lead on to it being true that the opposite of anti-racist is not racist but anti-anti-racist.

8

steven t johnson 07.03.21 at 2:49 pm

“… It was first (AFAIK) used in ‘anti-anti-communist’ to refer (mostly pejoratively) to those who thought that anti-communists like McCarthy and Nixon posed a greater threat to the US than did (domestic) communists.” It does not seem to me that there was ever much use, neither pejorative nor approving, of anti-anti-communist to refer to those who thought McCarthy and Nixon and others were messing up the anti-communist crusade by excesses and incompetence. Those who disapproved of the attacks on civil and political rights tended to be insulted as fellow travelers (today, “tankies.”)

But continuing with this more appropriate analogy, yes, there is a difference between non-communist and anti-communist. And there is a meaningful sense in which being
a non-communist and an anti-anti-communist really is a coherent position, as well as leftist, progressive.

But even, maybe especially, in the sense the OP attributed to anti-anti-communism, as in making more problems instead of making solutions, there could be an anti-anti-racism. I would look at the anti-racism policies of critics of CRT but criticism of CRT is defined as racism, end of discussion. Or I would look at the anti-racist policies advocated by CRT but I’m having trouble understanding what they are. I don’t understand what CRT proponents mean by “systemic,” for a start, because they seem to end up talking about the collective white mind. It that’s even a thing, it’s not a system.

9

Jake Gibson 07.03.21 at 4:26 pm

It may be a quibble over semantics, but could it be more productive to to talk about anti-racism versus anti-racist. There could be some awkward linguistic constructions, but it usually works better to focus on the action and not the person.

10

MisterMr 07.03.21 at 6:29 pm

I propose a semiotic square:

Racist is the first term
Anti racist is the opposite racist
Not racist is the subcontrarian of racist
Not antiracist is the subcontrarian of antiracist

Just to muddle things more.

11

Sebastian H 07.04.21 at 1:21 am

The problem is that Kendi wants his policy prescriptions and policy lens to be seen as anti-racist and suggests that opposition to that is racist.

12

Tom Hurka 07.04.21 at 1:57 am

Is by “opposite” meant (vy Kendi and then by Quiggin) “contradictory” or “contrary”?

13

Quiop 07.04.21 at 9:17 am

If you want to understand contemporary anti-racism and anti-anti-racism, you probably do need to know something about Kendi. His board book Antiracist Baby might be a good place to start: “Antiracist baby is bred, not born. Antiracist baby is raised to make society transform. Babies are taught to be racist or antiracist — there’s no neutrality. Take these nine steps to make equity a reality. […]”

(Amusingly, the link features praise from Amazon Editor Seira Wilson describing the book as “smart, wise, and hopeful, a reminder that children are born without racism, and it’s up to us to keep it that way,” suggesting that her reading of the book didn’t get as far as its third sentence. Perhaps she found the pictures charming.)

14

Patrick 07.04.21 at 2:13 pm

Imagine if I wrote,

“Is it possible to be an anti-racist and not a horrible, emotionally abusive troll? It’s not a logical impossibility, but it’s hard to see how it could be sustained in the current state of US or Australian politics.”

I could back that up. Easy. To start I’d just throw out tons of quotes from self described anti-racists saying horrible, bigoted things, and then using social pressure to force others to accept it. Maybe I’d start with Coates’s love for saying a particular six letter slur for homosexual- a word he loves explicitly because he thinks that him getting away with saying it (so often its like he’s getting royalties) proves that black people have it harder than gay people and deserve preferential social treatment that gay people do not. I could do this for a while, there’s a hardcore edge-lord trend in social justice that gets off on crossing lines and then using social power to get away with it.

If you were firing on all cylinders the day you read that, you might wonder, “Wait, is Patrick using the real world instantiation of anti-racism when critiquing anti-racism, but switching to a sort of theoretical, abstract concept separate from it’s real world instantiation when discussing being against anti-racism?”

You’d be right.

This one was easy because you’re just copying 1990s era Christian fundamentalist apologetics. “Define us by a theoretical construct built from the best of the gospels, not by what we do. Define our opponents by what they do.”

15

J-D 07.05.21 at 12:12 am

Imagine if I wrote,

“Is it possible to be an anti-racist and not a horrible, emotionally abusive troll? It’s not a logical impossibility, but it’s hard to see how it could be sustained in the current state of US or Australian politics.”

I could back that up. Easy.

Cherrypicking evidence is often easy, and it’s well within the capability of many people; it may be well within your capabilities, but that proves nothing.

What you have not done to meet John Quiggin’s challenge is provide a description of a position, tenable/sustainable in the current state of US or Australian politics, which is non-racist without being anti-racist.

16

nastywoman 07.05.21 at 6:36 am

So –
NOW! –
as everybody very obviously has agreed here –
that:
“It’s important, actually, NOT ONLY for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.”

Right?!

Why did (some of) you guys made so many different other words in order to agree with:
“It’s important, actually, NOT ONLY for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.”?

17

Gorgonzola Petrovna 07.05.21 at 7:41 am

Too many ‘anti’, methinks. It would help ‘anti-anti-racists’ if the term ‘anti-anti-racism’ was replaced with something positive. Rename ‘anti-anti-racism’ to ‘pro-unity’, address ‘anti-racism’ as ‘anti-unity’ or ‘pro-divisiveness’, and it’s a whole different story. Framing is everything.

18

oldster 07.05.21 at 10:34 pm

I think Sebastian H’s analysis offers the greatest insight, i.e. that the point is to drive behavior via social disapproval.

The Kendi quote from Quiop shows that Kendi intends “anti-racist” to be the class-complement of racist: “Babies are taught to be racist or antiracist — there’s no neutrality.”

If there’s no neutrality, then whatever is not racist is anti-racist, and whatever is not anti-racist is racist. (Possibly this holds only within a limited domain, e.g. persons and social institutions. It may not apply to nitrogen atoms.)

Now, the Kendi game is to hold fixed the opprobrium attaching to “racist,” and then ratchet up the normative demands of “anti-racist.” To be an anti-racist requires at least 5 hours of training. No training? Then you cannot be an anti-racist, and so (it follows) you are a racist. But you surely don’t want to be a racist: that’s a manifestly bad thing. So you should want the training.
Come to think of it, being an anti-racist requires at least 10 hours of active commitment to social activism. Can’t spare the 10 hours? Then you’re a racist. Come to think of it, being an anti-racist requires at least 10 hours per week. And so on.

The danger for Kendi and others is that when it becomes so demanding to be an anti-racist, and thus when so many of us wind up racists by default, the term will inevitably lose some of its opprobrious effect. Given its traditional conditions for application (e.g. being a hateful bigot), being a racist was something that one definitely did not want to be. But given the new conditions for application (e.g. donating less than 10 hours a week to social justice causes), you are a “racist” not for being bad, but merely for being less than ideally good.

And notice that the same ratchet can be applied, to the same ultimately self-frustrating effect, for any cause you care to mention. Example: “Between the eco-criminal and the climate warrior there is no neutrality!” Okay, I don’t want to be an eco-criminal, so I suppose I’m a climate warrior. “But to be a climate warrior, you must sell your large car!” Okay, I’ll sell my large car — better than being an eco-criminal. “But to be a climate warrior you must sell all of your cars! And eschew plane travel! And live in a yurt!” Hmmm…if there is still no neutrality between eco-criminal and climate warriors, and if climate warrior is impossibly demanding, then I suppose I’ll resign myself to being an eco-criminal after all.

Moral: if the extreme terms really are each others’ class-complements (“no neutrality!”), then at least one of them will have relatively undemanding conditions for application. If you don’t make it easy to be an anti-racist, then you will make it too easy to be a racist. If both have demanding conditions for application, then they will not meet in the middle, will not be class-complements, and there will be a large area of (relative) neutrality.

19

J-D 07.05.21 at 11:42 pm

The problem is that Kendi wants his policy prescriptions and policy lens to be seen as anti-racist and suggests that opposition to that is racist.

I think Sebastian H’s analysis offers the greatest insight, …

The Kendi quote from Quiop …: “Babies are taught to be racist or antiracist — there’s no neutrality.”

If there’s no neutrality, then whatever is not racist is anti-racist, and whatever is not anti-racist is racist. …

Whether it’s possible to oppose Kendi’s policy prescriptions without being racist is not a matter of definition but an empirical question.

Whether it’s possible to raise children in a way which does not have the effect of raising them to be anti-racist and also does not have the effect of raising them to be racist is also not a matter of definition but an empirical question. It comes back to John Quiggin’s challenge: provide a description of a position, tenable/sustainable in the current state of US or Australian politics, which is non-racist without being anti-racist.

20

Just_Dropping_By 07.08.21 at 12:20 am

…if there is still no neutrality between eco-criminal and climate warriors, and if climate warrior is impossibly demanding, then I suppose I’ll resign myself to being an eco-criminal after all.

At which point the climate warriors will declare that you were an eco-criminal all along and that their condemnation of you was correct from the outset.

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