Hi Mr. Sullivan,
Thank you for “‘When Racism Is Fit to Print.” There’s been a lot of vitriol surrounding the complexities of Sarah Jeong’s hiring, but let’s not let that passion prevent us from providing readers with the full story. The tweets are what they are—and it’s up to the reader to draw their own conclusions. But I think with a little clarification and some additional sources we can make your piece more complete.
To start, I’m concerned about this opening statement:
From one perspective — that commonly held by people outside the confines of the political left — she obviously is.
I would reconsider your adverbs. As I mentioned to David Brooks last week, the use of all or nothing language here can mislead readers. “Commonly” in this sentence indicates a partisan consensus, but some conservatives seem ambivalent about Jeong (to say nothing of people in the center). In a Eurasia Review op-ed titled “The Conservative Case For Why Sarah Jeong Isn’t Racist” Mitchell Blatt wrote, “hyperbolic sarcasm to respond to racism is not the same thing as racism.” Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of the conservative website The National Review, argued that although he personally felt the tweets were racist, they were also mistakes that were an inevitable byproduct of social media culture. (Even the far-right Ben Shapiro felt conflicted, arguing that Jeong’s right to freedom of speech on social media superseded calls for her firing.)
More importantly, “obviously” is a problem; what makes something obviously racist is difficult to determine, especially if there’s no clear definition you’re citing. The definition of racism divides sociologists into at least two camps: that it is a social construct or that it is based in the supposed biological differences between groups. Scholars cited in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia echo these diverging viewpoints. So it makes a big difference whether racism is defined as “a system of oppression, whereby persons of a dominant racial group (whites in the United States) exercise power or privilege over those in nondominant groups” or if it is “any system of beliefs—‘held consciously or otherwise’—that treats members of a group that is different on supposedly biological grounds as ‘biologically different [from] one’s own’ ”; the latter would broaden the definition to include Jeong’s statements, but the former would not. There’s no unequivocally correct definition, so it’s up to you. But for the phrase “obviously” to be appropriate, we need to give the readers a clear theoretical framework (and clarify that Jeong seems to subscribe to a different one).
A little more disturbing is what you might call “eliminationist” rhetoric — language that wishes an entire race could be wiped off the face of the earth.
Could you elaborate further and provide an exact rationale and sources for the term “eliminationist rhetoric?” Historically, eliminationist rhetoric originated from genocidal political policies and did feature aggression-filled overtures towards certain groups. But the definition you give is slightly misleading; the crucial part of eliminationist discourse is that it can result in direct action. Phyllis Bernard wrote in her 2009 study, “This (eliminationist) message encourages persons who feel uneasy or displaced in society to expiate their grievances not through the political process, but through murder.” Tweets don’t automatically correlate to murder, so it might be a bit of a stretch to accuse Jeong of this type of thinking. Instead of using such a loaded term, could you potentially rephrase it?
But the alternative view — that of today’s political left — is that Jeong definitionally cannot be racist, because she’s both a woman and a racial minority. Racism against whites, in this neo-Marxist view, just “isn’t a thing” — just as misandry literally cannot exist at all. And this is because, in this paradigm, racism has nothing to do with a person’s willingness to pre-judge people by the color of their skin, or to make broad, ugly generalizations about whole groups of people, based on hoary stereotypes. Rather, racism is entirely institutional and systemic, a function of power, and therefore it can only be expressed by the powerful — i.e., primarily white, straight men. For a non-white female, like Sarah Jeong, it is simply impossible. In the religion of social constructionism, Jeong, by virtue of being an Asian woman, is one of the elect, incapable of the sin of racism or group prejudice.
It’s difficult to find discussions of neo-Marxist theory that aren’t locked behind academic paywalls, but from what I was able to find it seems that the discussion isn’t centered on who can or can’t be racist (which is the way you paraphrase the theory). Instead the focus is on the factors which cause racism in the first place. Neo-Marxists assert that racism emerges in tandem with capitalism, and as you correctly pointed out, economic decisions mostly come from white men.
I’m also worried that you’re getting tangled up in questions of what things exist. The phrase—“just as misandry literally cannot exist at all” needs a source; from what I found through initial research, some liberal feminists disagree with the acceptability of misandry (especially as humor) but therefore do seem to acknowledge its existence. Maybe what you mean is that they don’t view it as misandry, but that they think it is correct to hate men?
My big concern, however, is with the last sentence. Your use of the phrase the “religion of social constructionism” seems to be dismissing the left’s views on race as something entirely faith-based, even cultish. But that is a different argument from the argument that their theory is wrong. And I worry that you’re actually just misunderstanding what people mean by “social constructionism.” The word “construction” doesn’t imply that a thing doesn’t exist (that it “isn’t a thing”); it’s a way of thinking about how it came to be a thing; that it was made by society. (In the book “The Social Construction of Reality,” social construction gets defined in three tenets: “Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product.”)
And I don’t think the New York Times should fire her — in part because they largely share her views on race, gender, and oppression. Their entire hiring and editorial process is based on them.
I try not to be overtly blunt with my writers (and at the end of the day, I’m not your editor) but I would back away from making this statement. I’m not necessarily concerned from a fact-checking standpoint but from a media law perspective. If I understand your thinking correctly, you’re implying that not only is Jeong racist but that the Times shares and fosters these views in their hiring and content? Your comment is protected from being libel (legally opinions can’t be proven objectively false) but it might cause an uncomfortable conversation with the legal department (since it could be considered injurious, it is published, and an opportunistic lawyer could argue that it has detrimental effects). If you still want to say this, could you possibly find a concrete example? If you consider the Times’ hiring practices in the recent past, they actually counter-indicate the trend you mentioned above. Possibly consider the case of Jeong’s predecessor Quinn Norton? Norton was quickly hired and fired this February after People Magazine uncovered a series of tweets using racial and homophobic slurs and her association with known Neo-Nazis. Opponents of Jeong’s hiring often cite Norton’s case as evidence of hypocritical behavior on the part of the editorial board, but it would seem, at the very least, to indicate that the editorial board does not share the views you are ascribing to them.
None of this excuses the behavior of the online hordes that are seeking her head.
Could you elaborate? Maybe consider including tweets written by Jeong’s trolls (or at least a link to them) which prompted her response? It’s just a suggestion, but I think it would be a helpful balance to the extensive discussion of her tweets at the beginning of the article, so that readers can weigh your paraphrasing of their meaning.
(But would Beauchamp, I wonder, feel the same way if anti-racists talked about Jews in the same manner Jeong talks about whites? Aren’t Jews included in the category of whites?)
I’d be a little more careful here. It’s simply true that there are many non-white Jews (Beauchamp mentions this in his response article). Although according to the Pew Research Center 94 percent of Jewish people in America describe themselves as white, 6 percent don’t. This 6 percent could include black, Asian, and Mizrahi Jews, who are of Arab descent. I worry that in taking it as obvious and idiomatic that Jews are white, you’re oversimplifying in a differently problematic way.
Scroll through left-Twitter and you find utter incredulity that demonizing white people could in any way be offensive. That’s the extent to which loathing of and contempt for “white people” is now background noise on the left. What many don’t seem to understand is that their view of racism isn’t shared by the public at large, and that the defense of it by institutions like the New York Times will only serve to deepen the kind of resentment that gave us Trump.
This paragraph brings up two questions that you haven’t supported factually, and I worry about “scroll through left-twitter” as a research method. First, can you find examples for how the left’s opinions now constitute “loathing of and contempt for ‘white people’” to the point that it has become the left’s “background noise?” Is there empirical backing? Secondly, what data did you use here to determine out how the left’s racial views aren’t “shared by the public at large?” Could you find a source here, because this might be misleading for the reader. According to a recent NBC poll, there’s very little consensus regarding racism in America. Sixty-four percent do agree that racism is a major problem in America but 30 percent of whites don’t think discrimination against African-Americans is a serious problem. A majority of people of color and even 47 percent of whites assert that whites enjoy extra advantages in society. But this doesn’t equate to your assertion about the “contempt for white people” on left Twitter.
The neo-Marxist analysis of society, in which we are all mere appendages of various groups of oppressors and oppressed, and in which the oppressed definitionally cannot be at fault, is now the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media.
This seems half-correct. Yes, neo-Marxist writers do feel that society functions through power dynamics where the oppressed are systematically disadvantaged. But you may want to temper your statement that it’s “the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media” until you have a clearer definition. What parameters are you using to categorize liberal media? Are you including anything which may differ from you ideologically or considering outlets in terms of content? There are a few Marxist news agencies, but it’s not common in the mainstream media. Could you possibly pick out a large pattern of specific stories with a Marxist bent? If not, maybe it’s best to just leave this out.
Thanks for letting me work with you on this. Best of luck with the second draft!
After I finished writing this I discovered some new information (thanks to Twitter user @15c3PO who found the tweets and Angus Johnston who publicized them) which I really feel you need to include for the sake of factual transparency. Jeong’s “groveling goblins” tweet which you mention in your piece is actually a satirical take on your own work, specifically the controversy surrounding your decision as then-editor of The New Republic to publish an excerpt of The Bell Curve. The Bell Curve argued that there is a genetic difference in IQ between white and African-American individuals. In response to the controversy you tweeted, at the time, that people need to understand both sides of an argument (after writing a lengthy blog post.) It appears that Jeong’s “goblins” statement was in direct response to you. Were you aware of this when you decided to quote that specific Jeong tweet?