One of Max Boot’s most recent columns in the Washington Post is titled “Get a grip, white people. We’re not the victims.” The headline says in nine words what the text says in 800, doing predictably little to elevate our national discourse at a moment of intense racial polarization.
Boot’s central contention is that whites in America are beset with a victimhood mentality, one that “can justify everything from a public temper tantrum to a shooting spree.” In the wake of the El Paso tragedy, Boot can make a plausible case that racial grievances (real and imagined) facilitate discord and violence, because, of course, they do. Instead, Boot denounces white-grievance politics (a politics well worth denouncing) while simultaneously granting other grievance groups a blank check to raid the expansive store of imputed guilt and collective punishment. As a matter of course, he favors any repatriation for injustices to which racial minorities and their ancestors may (or may not) have been subject — as long as it’s in an effort to “redress past wrongs,” as he puts it.
His ultimate prescription to the “white people” he instructs to “get a grip” is something like “Stop whining.” And that’s fine; we could certainly stand less whining in the United States. In effect, however, Boot sets up a Faustian choice for “white” readers: Side with the white supremacists and their detestable program, or sell your political soul to Max Boot and become one of the self-loathing whites so paralyzed by intersectional deference that they can hardly advance an argument without first reciting that neutered prelude: “As a straight, white, cisgender man with privilege, I . . .”
If Boot believes what he is saying — and I’m not sure he does — and assumes that “many” Trump supporters believe “that white supremacy is the natural order of things,” then he’d do well to provide them with a better set of options than white nationalism on the one hand and political impotence on the other. Surely there is a third way between a full-throated embrace of white identity and a supine adoption of the politics of self-hatred.
A responsible journalist would propose a realistic alternative for conservative whites who don’t want to cede their basic political premises but who nevertheless reject white nationalism. But Boot instead goes on a meandering tirade with scant a coherent point. Sometimes he rails against white people as such; his claims range from the tautological (“White people can be pretty clueless”) to the plainly calumnious (“ . . . the sense of outrage that white people feel when they fear losing their privileged position to people of color”). At other times, he aims his fire more narrowly on the “many” Trump supporters who assume “that white supremacy is the natural order of things.”
Like most white authors in this genre, Boot’s self-hatred is boutique and performative. His ire is directed more at White People in the abstract than with white people as such. Boot (who, it must be said, is whiter than almost anyone on the Washington Post masthead) must, for his piece’s title to make any sense, be in possession of the “grip” he’d like his fellow whites to “get.” I’m not quite sure he is.
The great shame of this piece is not that Boot had the audacity to instruct an entire racial group to “get a grip.” It is not even his almost libelous comparison of post-apartheid South Africa with the United States in 2019. It is the irresponsibility of speaking in such totalizing racial language in a time that, as he himself concedes, is “dangerous.” Max Boot can claim all he wants that President Trump is stoking the flames of race hatred, but if he really believes that, he ought to stop fanning them himself.