• The Price of Wokeness is Stupidity

    December 13, 2021 // 5 Comments »


    One of the great things about not being obsessed with racism is not having to go through the mental twisty turns required to see racism in everything. Of course not being obsessed with racism still allows me to understand that racism has played a sordid role in our country’s history. I can understand anger and the sting of discrimination because I, too, am a human being. But I don’t have to pretend moving from New Jersey to Manhattan to find a new job was for a free black man in the 19th century was the same thing an Irish immigrant underwent boarding a “coffin ship” hoping to survive the journey across the Atlantic knowing his only alternative was to die of starvation amidst the Potato Famine.

    That unexpected example infiltrated my life a week ago because of an article I wrote criticizing New York’s Tenement Museum for including an exhibit about a (black) person who was neither an immigrant nor lived in the tenement building the museum occupies, two of the criteria that kept the museum from telling the story of say any Haitians, Spaniards, Japanese, and blacks until now. The museum has told, magnificently, the stories of a handful of the 7,000 actual residents of its building on Orchard Street since 1988 — German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian families. I should know; I worked there as an educator in 2016, quitting after the Trump election turned the institution into some sort of woke bunker fighting imaginary fascism.

    After my article suggesting the black family from New Jersey’s story could be best told elsewhere, I became a racist. I’m not, but no less than the liberal coven at the Daily Beast sort of called me that. They wrote a story calling my argument nonsense, said I’d provoked an ugly fight by even asking questions, took a headline from a New York Post reprint of my article and attributed it to me as a quote, mangled another quote, and hinted I might just be a disgruntled employee seeking revenge over a minimum wage job I quit almost six years ago. Every story needs a villain and in 2021 that would be a old, white, straight man writing for a conservative outlet. The Beast even selected their “race and diversity” editor to interview me. They go hard in the paint, these folks.

    That’s how I found out how difficult it was to be woke. In order to shoehorn the Jersey guy into the immigrant world, the Museum told the Beast that the black guy, who was born free in America and was never a slave, left New Jersey for New York in 1857. The Museum claimed “though he was not an immigrant in terms of leaving one country for another, he was still embarking on a new life in a society with social norms that differed from what he was accustomed to.”

    So an immigrant from New Jersey? That sounds like the set up for an SNL gag except wokeness has no sense of humor. If you surgically remove the woke, here’s what the Museum should have said. Jersey, seriously? The immigrant experience involves being desperate enough to leave absolutely everything you have ever known behind on often a one-way trip, including but not limited to language (the early Irish immigrants spoke mainly Gaelic), culture, religion, food, profession, and family, cross an ocean at direct risk of life, and fight your way out of the status that you’re given when you step ashore in a new land overtly hostile to your presence, except for those standing by to exploit you as you cross that stern barrier at Ellis Island. I cannot see anyone seriously claiming that was the experience from someone moving from New Jersey to Manhattan, black or white.

    Well, check that. A white woman (photos show 11 of the 14 Museum senior staff are white, ten are women) so guilty her Museum doesn’t have a black guy in it that she is willing to ignore the base realities and somehow claim a guy who took the ferry over from New Jersey is an immigrant. That is what wokeness drives otherwise intelligent people to do, twist facts to match a narrative (“we have a winner, folks, nobody suffered more than black people”) rather than allow facts to create a narrative (America treated its 19th century white immigrants poorly, visiting upon them many of the same discriminations as it did slaves, because class and capital, not race, is controlling.)

    No less than The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) said it is also concerned about the Tenement Museum’s replacing its Irish single family tour with a hybrid story of Irish and black families. The Museum was quick to respond they aren’t doing away with the Irish, just pushing them toward the back of the bus a bit to make room for some 2021 white guilt. “The history of anti-Irish Catholic bigotry in the U.S. is little told,” stated the AOH. “The Museum proposal to eliminate it in favor of a ‘hybrid program’ only furthers the trend of airbrushing it from American history… The Museum’s strategy of pitting the story of one heritage against another is a recipe for enmity, which is the last thing we need in these divisive times. It would indeed be sadly ironic that the telling of the story of the 19th-century history of ‘No Irish Need Apply’ at the Tenement museum should fall victim to a 21st-century incarnation.”

    I am glad I remain unwoke. Unwoke, I see no special reason to celebrate a transperson won Jeopardy. I see no progress in an endless series of wordplays that means nothing actually changed, things like “raised awareness” or “increased representation.” Unwoke, I do not skip a beat when some made up superhero character is cast as Asian or gay or disabled. I remain free to ask troublesome questions. Wokeness, and flippant accusations that anyone who disagrees is a racist, shields society from asking questions, and creates a stage where any intellectual bull is accepted as long as it sells the narrative, whether at the Tenement Museum or the Daily Beast.

    At its heart wokeness is anti-intellectual, almost medieval, with today’s canceled comedians or perhaps the Irish of the Tenement Museum, as the modern Galileo.

     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy

    Wokeness Claims Another Institution; History Fights Back

    December 7, 2021 // 5 Comments »


    When will our intellectual life return to normal, the place Socrates, et al, once left it, where facts come together into conclusions? Today in service to ideologies like CRT a conclusion is established and facts are manipulated or just ignored to support it.

    You can’t argue intellectually against something so profoundly unintellectual but you can still take note of it in hopes someday we will want to untangle ourselves. That’s why we’re visiting today the Tenement Museum on New York’s Lower East Side.

    When I joined the Museum as an educator in early 2016 it was a small, elegant, good place. Inside a restored 19th century tenement apartment house, it told the story of some of the actual all-immigrant families who had lived there, from inside their actual apartments. Of the over 7,000 people who inhabited that building over its lifespan, researchers established who had lived in which rooms, detailed their lives, forensically reconstructed the surroundings, and we shared that with guests. Rule 1 was always “keep it in the room,” focus on specific individuals and how they lived in the room where you were standing. Over the years these included Irish, Jewish, German, and Italian immigrants. There had been no Bangladeshi’s, Spaniards or blacks; their stories lay elsewhere, “outside the room.” It is the same reason there is no monument to those who died on D-Day at Gettysburg. That didn’t happen there. That story is told somewhere else.

    Imagine the power of telling the story of an immigrant family’s struggle between earning a living in the new factories demanding labor in New York, and the pull of maintaining their own religious traditions from their living room where such family arguments took place. Think about explaining sweat shop conditions in a room that was actually such a place. No need to talk about lack of space and privacy, it was literally all around visitors. The Rogarshevsky family walked this hall. The Baldizzi family put their hands on this banister to climb the stairs at the end of a weary day. They came home to this evening light in their parlor. They smelled the rain as visitors did on a March day. You could literally feel history.

    After Trump’s election everything changed. Our mission at the Museum went from telling real stories to “fighting fascism and destroying the patriarchy.” With our focus on immigration, we were given tips on handling what the museum snidely called “red hats,” MAGA-capped Trump supporters, usually parents visiting a hip child in NYC who dragged them in for reeducation. I witnessed an Asian museum educator say out loud without any concern by management “No more Jews, I want to tell my story!” Her parents were university professors from Asia and she was born in a toney NYC suburb, so I’m not quite sure what her story was. Narratives were rewritten, so for example the Irish immigrants went from suffering anti-Catholic discrimination in Protestant New York to being murderers of innocent blacks during the 1863 Draft Riots. Never mind the Irish family spotlighted by the Museum lived there in 1869 with no connection to the Riots.

    The wokeness which drove me to quit is now poised for a new lows in a desperate move to shoehorn a black family into the mix because of course everything has to be about race. The Museum is planning for the first time not only to feature the story of a (black) family who never lived there, the family were not even immigrants, born instead in New Jersey. To accommodate this change, the Museum will do away with its current Irish family tour in lieu of a hybrid to emphasize black suffering and deemphasize the actual life experiences of discrimination imposed on the Irish by “whiter” New Yorkers. They will build a “typical” apartment of the time on the fifth floor for the black family, an ahistorical space they never lived in, an affront to those whose real life stories once did. It would make as much sense to build a space to tell Spiderman’s story.

    The existing Irish tour is particularly important because it supports a classist, not racial, basis for discrimination in America. It forces guests to think through the roots of inequality given that rich white people already established in New York discriminated against poor white people (the Irish first, then the Jews and Italians.) That narrative is problematic in 2021 because it spreads victimhood broadly, and chips away at the BLM meme that race is the cause of everything.

    The story is also problematic in 2021 because it emphasized how the Irish organized themselves politically to fight back and claim a more equal place in society. Many of the Irish had entered the United States before there even was any immigration law, simply walking off ships into the New World. Later, as nascent citizenship laws demanded proof of several years of residence as a condition for regularized status, many Irish could not prove it, the purest form of undocumented as no documentation existed when they went feet dry. The post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution designed to overnight change freed slaves into American citizens with the right to vote also scooped up masses of Irish immigrants. Aided by the sleazy needs of men like Boss Tweed who were willing to trade patronage jobs for votes, the Irish began to prosper.

    If you wanted to ask the question of how the Irish did that, and later the Jews, Germans, Italians, Hispanics, and Chinese, but not blacks, you were once welcome to do so. In better days the museum referred to this as “introducing complexity,” asking questions without clear answers instead of imposing a pre-written doctrine on guests. No more. The Irish are once again not popular among the rich white people running New York, this time in the guise of the Tenement Museum. Their story will exist only as a sidebar to a black experience that never really was. It is a literal rewriting of history. What a shame a place designed to help us remember wants to make us forget.

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy