Brittney Cooper’s latest intersectionalist travesty on the internet’s premier repository of race-baiting known as Salon shows yet again that intellectual sloppiness, subpar writing, and overt racism need not be obstacles to getting published there.
On Monday Cooper all but telegraphed her next column topic on twitter in response to some comments made at the Oscars by Patricia Arquette the previous night. During her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Boyhood), Arquette sounded the clarion call for equal pay and equal rights for women. She elaborated backstage, and that’s when the trouble began:
“People think [women] have equal rights; we don’t. Until we pass a constitutional amendment, we won’t have anything changed. It’s time for all women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
Arquette can certainly be criticized for apparently downplaying the myriad of issues and obstacles that gay people and people of color still face in our society, but the main the thrust of her remarks is that everyone should support and fight for women.
But of course, that’s not how Brittney Cooper read it:
Given the #AskAWhiteFeminist hashtag, you could be forgiven for thinking you must’ve missed the part where Arquette said that everyone needs to fight for white women only, but in fact Arquette made no such qualification.
No matter, Cooper, a Rutgers University professor, had some Critical Race Theory-fueled outrage to exhaust, and the resulting piece features a poorly-developed thesis which rests upon the baseless assumption that Arquette was speaking as a white feminist for white women, and not as a feminist for women. Cooper says that Arquette likely made her comments with “the best of intentions,” but if this is the case, then it’s baffling that Cooper would say, “I will not ignore Arquette’s ridiculous backstage comments about what other groups – men, gays and people of color—owe to white women freedom fighters.”
Cooper is speaking of “facts” that are simply not in evidence, and it’s clear that she’s actually projecting the worst of intentions on Arquette by assuming the actress is talking about just white women. Essentially, she’s saying Arquette was being racist.
But then again, based on Cooper’s voluminous body of emotionally-driven work that is rife with straw men, sweeping generalizations, and non sequiturs, she has never had any problem seeing racism, even where none exists. And in the process, she often demonstrates that she, and not the target of her ire, is the racist.
Take for example, her recent excoriation of Maureen Dowd.
In a column on Selma, Dowd notes that she watched the film in a theater full of black teenagers from various D.C. public schools, and describes the audience’s “stunned” reaction to the part where four black schoolgirls are killed in a Birmingham church bombing.
Dowd takes issue with the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in Selma, lamenting that, “Instead of painting L.B.J. and M.L.K. as allies, employing different tactics but complementing each other, the director made Johnson an obstacle.” She quotes historian Michael Beschloss, who asserts that Johnson wanted to pass a civil rights act since his first day as president, but the difficult political climate made such quick action impossible.
Of course, anyone is free to disagree with this assertion, and a proper rebuttal to it must necessarily involve an argument that cites evidence contradicting the idea Johnson wanted civil rights from the get-go. If one wants to show that Johnson was in fact a hindrance and not a help to civil rights, this is what would one would have to do.
Or, one could do what Cooper did, and that is make no attempt whatsoever to address Dowd’s argument, and instead simply point out that she’s white, thus presumably rendering Dowd’s opinion illegitimate and racist. So while you or I might think Dowd was trying to set the scene by describing the audience’s reaction to the film, Cooper naturally sees something far more nefarious and of course, racist, at work. Hence Cooper writes that Dowd’s description of the audience’s reaction was the result of a “voyeuristic and clueless white gaze often used to devalue and pathologize urban youth.”
Our enterprising race studies professor then counters Dowd’s objection to Johnson’s portrayal, not by offering evidence to the contrary, but by chalking it up to the “white racial anxiety of not being at the center” of attention.
Truth be told, simply attributing Dowd’s favorable view of Johnson to her whiteness while ignoring her central argument is what’s racist here, and as such is intellectually lazy. Cooper’s rebuttal is made invalid by her glaring unwillingness to address Dowd’s main contention. Furthermore, Cooper’s (unfounded) critique is totally inapplicable to any nonwhite person who happens to share Dowd’s pro-Johnson view. Thus, if any black person believes as Dowd does, Cooper would need to formulate an entirely different response because her attack on Dowd is a classic ad hominem fallacy that is basically: Well, what did you expect? She’s white.
Indeed, one wonders what Cooper’s response would be to the large numbers of black people who viewed Johnson favorably during the civil rights era. Perhaps “white racial anxiety” is contagious, and is so across races.
This “white racial anxiety of not being at the center” also manifested, according to Cooper, after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January. Apparently dissatisfied with the mere several months of coverage of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police officers, Cooper expressed her outrage that a solidarity movement focused on something else might have the gall to arise:
“[T]he Je Suis Charlie movement among white American liberals is nothing short of disingenuous. It represents an attempt to displace black people from the center of a political moment that has been about state-sanctioned terror against black people.”
Many thanks to Cooper for pointing out that freedom of expression is about “white American liberals.” I did not know that.
Cooper also isn’t very self-aware. Last year, she bemoaned the alleged pressure placed on black community to condemn the killings of two police officers in Brooklyn by a black man, arguing, “We do not blame the white community when young white men shoot up movie theaters, schools and public events.”
That sounds like a good policy except for one small problem. Here’s Cooper discussing the University of California at Santa Barbara mass shooter Elliot Rodger (who was half white, half Asian) just months before:
“How many times must troubled young white men engage in these terroristic acts that make public space unsafe for everyone before we admit that white male privilege kills?
Cooper’s breathtaking hypocrisy speaks for itself.
There was also her column about a seating spat she had with a fellow passenger on a train to New York which, based on nothing other than the fact that the other passenger was a white male, she attributed to his sense of white entitlement. Then there was her dismissal of Jonathan Chait’s broadside against political correctness which she dismissed simply as a “white male temper tantrum.” And her defense of the incomprehensible Cross Examination Debate Association championships, which have degenerated into a marathon of competitive gibberish-uttering while dodging actual debate questions, is predicated on the notion that coherence and intelligibility are actually “pathological and imperialist” byproducts of white elitism.
As a white man, I ascribe to Louis C.K.’s view that there really is nothing that can be said to me that would hurt my feelings. Unfortunately, this is not so for women, people of color, gay people, and others who do not enjoy the undeniable privileges that accompany white maleness. Thus, it would be ridiculous for me to get offended at any jokes made at my expense as a white person. In fact, some of those jokes are quite funny.
But as soon as whiteness is introduced into a discussion as if it alone can settle a matter rather than reasoned argumentation supported by facts, that’s when I stop laughing. I challenge people like Brittney Cooper to do better than rely heavily on anecdotes, generalizations, and specious assumptions while disingenuously ignoring their opponents’ points and denying them agency as thinkers by constantly ascribing to their views the base motive of racial tribalism.