“What happened to you?” a good friend wrote the other day. “I remember when you used to be liberal and progressive.”
Here’s the answer.
I got woke. I don’t think I’ve changed at all. The world has, however. And I am content to resist what I see as a drift into racial and gender entitlement, what I call the New Identitarianism.
I have for decades practiced law, primarily in the areas of criminal defense and civil rights. I’ve litigated claims of excessive force all the way to the United States Supreme Court. I’ve won judgments for black men beaten by cops, white men beaten by prison guards, a black woman who endured public employment discrimination, and white firefighters who couldn’t get ahead in a department run by people of color. Not to mention scores of acquittals in criminal cases ranging from murder, to sexual assault, to larceny and a host of other crimes.
Not once in any of those cases did I make an issue of the color of a client’s skin, unless there was evidence in the case to support the claim. I marched for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. I even won a pretrial ruling decades ago in Connecticut establishing the right of a transsexual to bring an employment discrimination claim under state employment law, a right only this week established in the United States under federal law.
What animated me in all those cases was a conviction that all persons deserved a fair shake, a fair trial, in a court of law. I bought the proposition that the law was color blind. I even agreed, as I still do agree, with Chief Justice John Roberts when he said that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
I thought the same of claims of sexual discrimination.
I still believe that all are equal before the law, and I still have a full complement of clients in need. Some are people of color. Some are Hispanic. Some are white. Some are women. I have no idea about the direction in which their libidinal compasses point. It just doesn’t matter given the nature of the cases.
But I have been radicalized. I am one of the seniors David Frum refers to in his latest book, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy. The fact is, I voted Trump in 2016, and I fully intend to vote Trump in 2020.
How’d that happen?
Three events come to mind. Each was small in the grand sweep of things. But in each, I was caught off guard, surprised. Each told me a brave new world was dawning. Nothing I have seen in recent years tells me my vision of what is to come was wrong.
Well before the 2016 I was at a dinner attended by a dozen or so folks. The conversation drifted from one thing to another, as did my attention. The truth is, decades of loud music have rendered my hearing suspect. So I was surprised when I heard someone, a white male, talk about “white male privilege.” This was taken as received wisdom at the table. I sat silently and took it all in. It turns out that some folks are suspect, their perspectives to be discounted, on account of their status. I’ve never had dinner with that group again with without a heightened sense of wariness. My identity had become suspect.
Several years later, I was asked to speak at a community event. The topic was police brutality. Having litigated hundreds of these cases, I thought I knew a little bit about the topic. After I yielded the floor, a black – or is it now Black? – elected official acknowledged what I said, but hastened to add, “Sometimes white people had to just shut up and listen.”
Seriously? Again, my identity had become suspect, the years I spent challenging police practices less valuable than my genes.
Not long afterward, a black lawyer asked me to handle a case. Why me,? I asked. “Your white privilege will be helpful in court,” I was told.
I bought a textbook used in college to learn about microaggressions, checking privilege, intersectionality and the like, the better to learn about this brave new world I was coming to inhabit. The text was filled with wooly minded garbage.
I’m just not buying the new claims of entitlement based on race, gender, identity and whatever else the kings and queens of diversity claim is a difference worthy of note. Diversity for diversity’s sake is anarchy unless tethered to a vision of human excellence: Tolerance for the sake of tolerance is mere vacuity, a polite form of nihilism.
The other day, I questioned whether we really needed a new national holiday, Juneteenth, commemorating the date the last state in the union, Texas, abolished slavery in 1865. Isn’t MLK enough?, I asked.
What’s my point?, a social media correspondent asked. Isn’t the end of slavery worth commemorating? I responded by saying that Martin Luther King Day reflected a broad concern for racial equality. That encompassed an end to slavery. My interlocutor responded by asking whether I was saying one holiday was enough for, in his words, “them”? I responded by saying yes.
This creepy little racial sycophant, a white lawyer, then draped himself in some half-digested Martin Luther King and ran to a newspaper editor to proudly report our exchange. An editor hungry for clickbait ran the exchange as a story. Look! A white man confronted another over, well, what, exactly?
I’m woke. When I meet you in a courtroom, on the street, in the hallway, I am open to exchange of ideas, perspectives and values on terms of equal exchange. I’m not going to “check” my privilege so that you can recite your grievances and tell me what you think I owe you on account of race. I wouldn’t tolerate such talk in 1980, 1990, 2000, or 2010; It’s a flaccid form of identity entitlement in 2020. I simply won’t play along. Sorry.
So happy Juneteenth, I suppose. The end of slavery some 155 years ago is a good thing. And true equality remains a worthy goal. But you won’t get there, and you won’t get my cooperation, by telling me I’m suspect because of the color of my skin or my gender.
I’m woke to the identitarian shakedown, you see. Take it to someone who will listen, and even bend a knee or write a check. I’m not buying what you are selling.