I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get To It!: Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom

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I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get To It!: Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom

I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get To It!: Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom

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One problem with Kendi's and our culture's promiscuous, indiscriminate use of the label "racist" is that the concept becomes diluted: "to be a racist ceases to be what it ought to be: a scarlet badge of shame… [W]hat information is conveyed by a label that collapses the distinction between Frederick Douglass [whom Kendi considers a racist] and the Grand Wizard of the K.

Among the many excellent points he makes is one that cuts to the heart of wokeness: the collective obsession with pinning a label—racist or not, sexist or not, transphobic or not—on every thought passing through one's head and every utterance one makes, and then cancelling all the thoughts that (and all the people who) stray an inch past what's deemed "acceptable," is ridiculous and paranoid.

At its core, however, beneath the variegated surface, the book is an anguished cri de coeur against pervasive cultural, political, and intellectual rot—an unapologetic defense and exegesis of the heavily maligned "Western canon" (John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, Kant, DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and the like), a sustained lamentation over how far the left has fallen, a furious denunciation of rampant philistinism and pusillanimous groupthink (quoting Mill: "That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time"), and a proudly unfashionable celebration of such quaint notions as Truth, Reason, and Justice (which Finkelstein capitalizes, in a consciously anti-postmodernist flourish). I would place myself, and I would place you, my young friends, upon grounds vastly higher and broader than any founded upon race or color… We should never forget that the ablest and most eloquent voices ever raised in behalf of the black man's cause, were the voices of white men.

We hear, since emancipation, much said by our modern colored leaders in commendation of race pride, race love, race effort, race superiority, race men, and the like… [But] I recognize and adopt no narrow basis for my thoughts, feelings, or modes of action. S. were instances of cancel culture; so is the corporate media's treatment of virtually everyone on the left; so is the woke treatment of anyone who publicly strays from the party line. The Sanders program was far more substantively "anti-racist" than the puny liberal programs of most of his woke critics. More problematic than such defense is to make a cult of group differences (group "pride") in the way of the woke, and to place class issues at the bottom of the heap rather than the top, where they belong. He is the cool Black dude who is also the reliable—in Professor Cornel West's words—'mascot of Wall Street.Although racism is real and you should always be at the ready to fight it whenever it rears its ugly head, you all, Black and white, have a helluva lot more in common. In his new book, Finkelstein focuses his keen forensic eye on the canonical texts of identity politics. You must be living an awfully precious life," he goes on, "if, amid the pervasive despair of an economy in free fall, your uppermost concern is clinging to your pronouns. He has the highest regard for the Civil Rights Movement, after all—although he would deny that that was identity politics. It consists of two parts: in the first, Finkelstein "deconstructs" identity politics and the cancel culture it has given rise to, focusing on five figures whom he eviscerates: Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X.

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