If you’re like the Bus (and comedian Hari Kondabolu, who we’re about to steal a line from), than if any idea, thing or item is high concept, daddy must have it. One of the items the Bus tends to covet is the New Yorker magazine. Maybe it’s because we’re part of Fake America, or maybe it’s the cartoons, but some of the best ideas/small talk from the Bus come directly from the pages of the New Yorker.
And guess what? Today is no different.
In the latest issue, staff writer Kelefa Sanneh blew our freaking minds. His article “Beyond the pale: Is white the new black?” is nominally a book review of two recent publications dealing with race. In actual effect, the article slices, dices, carves, and reframes the existing debate around one of the top political subjects of the moment: the infamous Tea Party.
Lots of folks have written about, discussed and reacted to the Tea Party, but few have gotten below the surface of what they do (racist comments, aggressive behavior) and delved in to the “why” that lurks below. With the recent poll by the New York Times, we now have the demographic information to make it credible. And Sanneh goes there. Way way there.
His argument, though the lense of the two books he is reviewing, is that the Tea Party is, in a strange twist of history and demographics, in some ways an early formulation of identity politics. Yes: white identity politics. If that term immediately takes your mind to bunkers in the Upper Peninsula, then you’ve more or less proved Sanneh’s point: as of now, there is no culturally understood formulation of white identity in the USA. And now that’s changing.
The most pervasive type of power is the kind that is so prevalent as to be invisible. There’s no need to define it, because it shapes the actual structures of power themselves. The buzzword term for that is privilege. Specifically, white privilege.
What the Tea Party seems to be embodying, Sanneh argues, is the first inklings of a cultural shift in which other, non-white, groups are taking their rightful places at the table, shaking up the power structures. The result is that white identity and its relationship to power is being daylighted for the first time in a functional way. And that new need for definition is bringing out some bad stuff in people.
It’s big stuff, and worth a deep read for anyone curious in what’s going on in our country. You should read it. Seriously.
However, it’s also important to note that Sanneh’s analysis is focused on race, leaving out how other power dynamics factor into the discussion. If Tea Partiers are overwhelmingly white, men, and married, how do the additional power dynamics of gender and sexual orientation play in?
That’s another huge topic, and one we’re more than happy to tackle. Watch this space.
Also, check out one of the best explanations available for how to talk about race versus racism. Take it away, Jay Smooth.