When white-male progressive journalists denounce white males as a class, I usually roll my eyes and don’t bother to dissect what they’re saying, but writer Freddie deBoer has done a superb job of breaking down what white-male writers are really saying when they bemoan white males.
Citing, for instance, the tweets of David Roberts, a former writer for the lefty young-adult site Vox.com, deBoer notes that Roberts obviously does not mean what he says when he categorically states that “white dudes came to their theories & worldviews not solely through the vigorous application of Reason, but because of where & when they are embedded through history, shaped by forces they do not control or fully understand.” Roberts adds that the notion, which he supports, that “You just think what you think & say what you say because you’re a white guy in the 21st century” is “absolutely maddening to white guys” because it represents “a violation of their deepest self-definition.” (To any white guys out there who may be reading this: Are you “maddened” by what Roberts is saying, or do you merely snort in derision? I wonder if Roberts can tell the difference between rage and dismissal.)
If Roberts believed these statements to be categorically true, it would undermine his value as a thinker as well. If he is a mere feather on the winds of white-male history, tossed this way and that by forces he does not control nor understand, his writing is not terribly useful, is it?
So Roberts is implicitly asking his readers to believe that he is an exception to the rule of the intellectual deficiencies of white guys. But if there are exceptions to the rule, why bother making such a sweeping statement? DeBoer:
Once you admit exceptions to the “white man” designator, you’re really just saying “conservative white men” or “unenlightened white men” or “white men who don’t think exactly like I do.” If you’ve done that, why bother with the categorical at all? Why not just restrict your critiques of believing stupid s**t to people who believe stupid s**t, which yes includes many white men but also includes Candace Owens and Dinesh D’Souza and those two Black Trumper ladies with the WWF tag team names I can never remember? I don’t understand why people make a big show of condemning entire classes of people while also making it very plain that they believe there are exceptions, most importantly themselves.
Since Roberts, and presumably most of his white-male pals and coworkers at young-adult policy websites, and in activist circles, and in entire neighborhoods of Brooklyn are notable exceptions to the rule, he’s really just telling us he disagrees with people who think in a way he ascribes to certain white males. Which is just another way of saying he disagrees with those with whom he disagrees, regardless of their whiteness or maleness. He makes such claims to curry favor with the identity-politics-obsessed progressive Left, to announce to these people that he is one of the good white men. Don’t hate me; I hate the right people too, even though that means hating myself!
Roberts is trying to build his brand in a dying media industry, and no matter how many hundreds of white dudes desperately jockey to be the good white dudes of media there still seems to be some residual value in showily renouncing white maleness as a white male. People tend to get all weepy about this, but I don’t know how any honest observer could deny it. In the contemporary progressive marketplace for personal brands, there is still some value in being the kind of white man who gets it, despite the crowded field of guys trying to earn that designation and “getting it” often includes engaging in very showy criticism of the categories you yourself reside in. (It’s essential that this criticism somehow does not implicate you personally at all. Tricky!) If you think it’s untoward to ascribe ugly motives to people based on their group associations while ignoring their professed motives, then you should take it up with Dave Roberts.
DeBoer calls himself a Marxist, yet he fails to adhere to a notable rule that applies to nearly all Marxists these days: He isn’t boring. His Substack is amusingly contrarian and highly engaging. I recommend it.