In light of the recent #CancelColbert dust-up, in which the Left turned into a circular firing squad over the popular TV host’s controversial tweet, Michelle Goldberg penned a column for The Nation which rapidly gained notoriety for the following line:
“White liberal” has, once again, emerged as a favorite left-wing epithet.
This inflammatory sentence only highlighted the racial faultline that had become exposed in recent days, as white liberals defended Colbert while liberals of color attacked (and as conservatives gloated from the sidelines). It did not help that this line was placed in an article accusing the #CancelColbert crowd of being part of the “Anti-Liberal Left,” comparing them to ’60s radicals, while lecturing them about how they’re scaring off people who… oh hell, you know exactly what she’s saying: they’re scaring off all the white people!
It also does not help that Goldberg herself, instead of defying all the usual stereotypes of urban white liberals, instead, uh… how do I put this… well, here’s a photo:
The hair… the bookshelf… the scarf… the book about McCarthyism… and oh no, do my eyes deceive me, or is that really Che peeking over her head?
She writes for The Nation. She teaches at NYU. She lives in Brooklyn. (Yes, Brooklyn.) I couldn’t find where she went to school, so I asked Google. And what did Google say in response?
So it was only natural that liberals of color took offense at her racial patronizing. Salon’s Brittney Cooper (who is black) simply titled her piece, “It’s not about you, white liberals!”
Goldberg tellingly reduces legitimate objections to endless war (which we find ourselves in yet again) and to conservative welfare reform like that of the Clinton era, to indictments not of liberalism but rather of white liberals themselves. She makes it personal, when the arguments are clearly about policy….
It is this larger political context of white liberal dubiousness that Michelle Goldberg omits when she claims that “white liberal” has become a favorite left-wing epithet.
The reason, too, that I place this narrative in the broader context of both post-slavery politics and the election of Barack Obama 150 years later, is because Goldberg also won’t admit that the folks she finds herself most incensed with are radical people of color on the left.
Look: I’m on Goldberg’s side of the sensible liberal vs. radical anarcho-leftist divide. I just have to object to her grouping the #CancelColbert crowd with the latter. People of color have long held mistrust of white liberals precisely because white liberals often dismiss the thoughts and emotions of minorities. Goldberg’s column does nothing to assuage this mistrust.
Bonus: Here is Slate writer Jamelle Bouie taking on urban white liberal Jonathan Chait’s dismissiveness of race as a factor.