Dear Ms. Thomas:
Traditional Tradesman

Dear Mr. Zabatov,

I read what you wrote, and my eyes began to cross. I’ve almost stopped caring, but not fully. You suggested to Ms. Nann that we should trade arguments not insults. A lovely idea were it not for the transparent fact that your “arguments” contain the olfactory equivalent of Amorphophallus titanum, houseguests who overstay their welcome and dead fish.

Your patronizing arrogance regarding what you call “the repeatedly discredited myth of an epidemic of police brutality against blacks” is but one example. I knew you were going to go there, which is why I said, in my first Cry Me A River post: What really happened to Sandra Bland? Do I know me my White guys or what! A man of your obviously God-given entitlement ought to be able to sweet talk the local law enforcement into telling you “the real story.” (1 Peter 2:18 “And you will know them by their military grade Humvees, and you will do as they say whether it be reasonable or not.”)

To me you said: >>It still seems to me that you are hell-bent on distorting what I’m saying in order to create a bogeyman to demonize. You need there to be a “white devil,” because if the myth of the “white devil” dies, the mythical “black angel” falls back down to earth with him, and what remains is a reality in which things are much more nuanced and complex than what is allowed for by such Manichean binaries.<

Oh, Mr. Zabatov! Manichean binaries, indeed! Is that your way of accusing me of some kind of moral dualism? ::right hand raised high:: Guilty! Thank you very much for noticing, however pedantically you characterized it.

If so, I would simply remind you that such dualism merely implies there are two moral opposites at work — it does not define moral nor suggest how anyone’s interpretation of moral should be represented.

So yes, I do believe there are absolutes of right and wrong. No shades of grey, sorry. You seem to think your shades of grey version of what race is (or, even, isn’t) is the most beneficial way to converge on the topic of race, and I think that reflects the fallacy of the false compromise. Sometimes, Sir, the middle ground is not always correct. Sometimes only X or Y is acceptable. Eventually, your shades of grey, the middle ground in a current controversy, later become the illogical new extreme in a continuum of opinions.
No, I think your shades of grey is dangerously close to being little more than a moderate-sounding proxy for cultural hegemony. Shades of grey, while suggesting nuance, compromise, subjectivity, even creativity, but certainly some rather obtuse and opaque middle ground wherein nothing is ever quite one way or the other, is the perfect cover for the march toward even more cultural hegemony than we already have, whether you meant that or not. Shades of grey are disguised lack of accountability.

And btw, I don’t “need” a white devil, but there are plenty to go around, and yes, they all are rather slamming quickly into earth; naturally, the black angels, are breaking their fall, though God only knows why. Just being humane, I guess, despite inhumane treatment.

I am not hell-bent on anything, much less distorting what you have said — but if I were, it would not be to create a bogeyman to demonize. I believe you have rather successfully created that bogeyman yourself, but you’re calling it something else.

Where you profess to accept the “shades of grey” you say exist on the ethical and moral spectrum, I suggest you only do so because doing so conveniently supports your unnamed bogeyman. You do not agree that race is real — and then you say: except, of course, perhaps only in the way a blonde or a brunette is real.

And then you say that while it’s (race) based on something visible to us, it’s not determinant of anything particularly important except as to the extent we social beings decide to make it important in the way we treat others. I pray to St. Hunna, the patron saint of washerwomen, that you find a way to clean that thought up!

Here’s the problem. By diminishing the importance (even the existence) of race, it diminishes the individual for whom their race is a vital component of their identity, and I contend it is a vital part of everyone’s identity. There’s no identity without it. Some people just don’t have to think about too often (White people, for instance!) If you think that is some false construct, then I think you’re shooting shades of grey so far into your veins that you don’t recognize your own addiction to what I call the White Out Syndrome. If you’re not White, you’re out of range for empathy, fairness, equality, grace, and much more. Denial is your bogeyman, Mr. Zabatov, denial.

I’m getting the impression you’re trying to send me on some wild-goose chase into the “middle ground” so that I will see how much more desirable it is. I don’t. That plus, it’s just not helpful to diminish the very thing that caused Thompson to write what she wrote. So, let me get one thing out of the way. I think you need some acknowledgement, if not of your position, then in the way you present it. While I’m not sure you are a good communicator, you are a good writer, despite my tongue-in-cheek words that follow. Ok here goes.

Your essays are gorgeous; your words flow like a strong river, damming up here, cascading over boulders there, flowing freely here, wildly yet self-reverentially coursing through the land of words and thoughts like some liquid Crusader on its way to the holy lands.

However, (isn’t there always a ‘however’?) I fear your river, pretty as looks in places, derives momentum from questioning its own existence on so many fronts that it is nearly shocking to notice that, like so many rivers before, it too does nothing more spectacular than to empty itself into a stinky cistern of human and natural debris that rivals what the muddy Mississippi picks up as it wends its way into the Gulf of Mexico, stopping off in the South to flood farmlands, uproot hundred-year old trees and generally make a soggy mess of everything. I pray to St. Anthony of Padua that I have not lost you yet because, not unexpectedly, I’m not done.

Your essays reflect a thinking person who doesn’t think anyone is listening. You pull fascinating statement from obscure antecedent referents that only sort of support your claims. For instance, do you really want to use that racist, Holocaust-denier Louis-Ferdinand Celine to capture the spirit of the dead-end “so be it” you mutually share? For eternity, even? It’s just odd you chose him, since he was such an avowed and unapologetic racist.

Then you suggest the esteemed Mary Douglas has a good point, positing as she did, that a culture is defined by how it handles ambiguities, etc. etc. And while I agree with that, I don’t think it is even remotely relevant to our discussion. I’m saying race is unambiguously immutable; you seem to think otherwise, and I doubt she was referring to you!

Therefore, your point is off topic, at best, and, at worst, it is so pregnant with gratuitous voodoo that I half expect to see a doll with stick pins come screaming out of your…well, I best not say, loins, so I’ll say, imagination!

As for de Saussure, I do not understand his calling language immutable and mutable. But I see his appeal to you: He wants it both ways, and you like shades of grey. You guys!!! Besides, I rather like something I read from Andre Martinet who said: “…it must be repeated, yet again, that it is not up to language to conform to the edicts of linguists, it is up to linguists to adapt their methods if they do not do full justice to the language being studied.” So! Is my immutable zooming your mutable? Hard to tell. I shall offer up a moment of silence to St. Gottschalk, patron saint of linguists.

And your piece on the world of wrestling…or how its practitioners co-opt every imaginable stereotype: I’m old enough to have seen Gorgeous George on TV, and that’s the extent of my knowledge and interest in wrestling. But wrestler’s co-opting racial stereotypes? I’m not getting a clear sense of the payoff here…unless, unless, it’s to perpetuate a stereotype based on the bet that the race to which the stereotype belongs is thought by the perpetuator to be a sure-fire way to get the glory from the crowd — lowest common denominator appeals to the rabid skunk among the morally drunk. Inane and not worthy of our further attention.

And finally, just because Rachel Dolezal may have been convinced/confused/damaged/manipulated to assert herself as the very definition of Black doesn’t mean anyone else is.

I must say, though, you possess an uncanny ability in the illusionary arts. How you managed to turn an article on wrestlers co-opting stereotypes into an essay on Dolezal, with a nod to President Obama, ought to qualify you for life membership at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. There is something rather intriguing and amazing about how your mind works, but who knows, it could just be garden-variety madness with good vocabulary. You’re not alone.

I will say I think some of your source material is lacking in some of the shades of grey to which you cling — I say cling because you are evidently enamored of its (the shades of grey life) changeability, you seem to swoon with a strong combination of energy and ennui over how it “says it all,” and yet…and yet, I fail to see any real personal passion in your position.

I’m perfectly fine with the notion that perhaps I’ve completely misunderstood your position. Indeed, I would be rather surprised, even disappointed, to discover I did understand it! Perhaps we’ll both have to offer up a litany to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes.

So, OK, I’ve willingly gone along for the ride, but I’m getting seasick. I’m neither a linguist nor a philosopher, and though I love learning new things, and reframing old ones, I am editing my next novel and simply don’t have time for this conversation any more, for now. (And no, you would not enjoy it: I write historical novels for and about lesbians and people who like them.)

But if it were any other subject, perhaps, I could play along endlessly, but I don’t think you take yourself all that seriously, so why should I? That is not to say you aren’t trying to carve out a conversation on this topic; I simply mean, you’re burying your point in your affection for the obscure, the arcane, the pompously delivered and the slightly bizarre

Since your race (and mine) is White, I suggest pretty much everything we say about it to one another is meaningless to Thompson, because, let’s be honest, the majority of the time, the entire subject of race only comes up when speaking of Black people.

And Thompson, despite your allegation, did not go on a “rant,” never mind a “race-based rant,” however much she certainly would have an inalienable right to do so. That was my original problem with your initial response to her. But it does suggest that Thompson thinks race is real, as do I.

On the other hand, as you don’t believe in race, its immutability would be as irrelevant to you as its existence. I have nowhere to go with that! I will, as a measure of my inordinate goodwill, read any response to this, if any, but I cannot guarantee a response from me.

Until, and if, we meet again…I shall have a word with St. Christina the Astonishing, patron saint of psychiatrists, in the hope I don’t need one after this exchange, and St. Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers, in case you are one of those lawyers who find yourself in the unenviable position of having to actually defend, in something other than ostentatious academic parlance, what you say. ;-)

I’m kidding, I’m not kidding.