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There's currently a diary on the recommended list lamenting the fact that self-proclaimed "principled" progressives have no place ... somewhere. I'm completely baffled by this complaint, so I'm writing this piece to ask the community to help me understand what's going on here.

My work unfortunately prevents me from engaging here as often as I used to; however, I am certainly aware of NSA story and the gross miscarriage of justice in the Trayvon Martin case. Those topics seem to be the most dominant here lately. The aforementioned diary has been written in the context of both of these events, and I assume in response to both, though I'm not sure. In any case, though this latest lament is perhaps written in response to current events, this isn't the first time I've seen it. Variants of this argument have been written ever since some progressives first felt themselves alienated from the Obama administration.

More over the jump.

I think this diarist's argument can be fairly summarized thusly: though white privilege is pernicious and pervasive, its resistance should never be used to stifle so-called "legitimate grievances" with the Obama administration. Those who would use the President's race to call into question such grievances are unprincipled.

Assuming I have correctly summarized the argument, here's what I don't understand about it. Obama has been elected and re-elected. We are now in the fifth year of his Presidency. Reams of criticism have been written about Obama, his administration and its policies for the last four years. There have probably been tens if not hundreds of millions of man hours spent criticizing the Obama administration, and such criticism has been produced from all quarters and across the entire political spectrum. So the premise of the argument that debate has been stifled is self-evidently false. Nevertheless, the perception exists that it has been and is being stifled.

I don't get it.

There are many people who quite ably criticize the President without invoking race at all. On this site, kos, Armando, Joan McCarter, brooklynbadboy, Jed Lewison and Meteor Blades are just some of the many voices that have sharply and effectively criticized the Obama administration. Such able critics have managed to figure out how to wage critiques of the Obama administration without invoking his race or race at all. I'm not aware that any of these and other voices have ever complained that they can't be as critical of the Obama administration as they wish. They just do it.

So, now, let's consider the claim that those that challenge what may or may not be the racist subtext of some criticisms of the Obama administration are doing so to stifle debate and to defend unprincipled policies. Here's the thing I don't understand about this. Such an argument assumes that those who may object to certain words or phrases that may or may not be freighted with racist baggage are incapable of thinking two things at once and that such people are not themselves critical of any of Obama's policies. Such an argument is ridiculous on its face. There are tons of people who are both critical of Obama's policies and suspicious of various hyperbolic tropes that have been mobilized by racist critics. So why are certain people insisting that discussions of race and white privilege impede their ability to be critical of the Obama administration? Why?

I don't get it.

And while we're at it, why is the invocation of race in order to suggest that debate has been stifled not itself problematic? Seems to me that you can't have it both ways. You can't say: don't bring up white privilege in order to shut down debate; but I reserve the right to complain about race being used to trump what I have to say. Either both arguments are racist or neither are.

So help me out here. I can readily understand why people are critical of Obama administration policies. What I don't understand is why people would complain that discussions of white privilege undermine their ability to do that. Whenever I encounter this complaint, I usually think those who wage it are doing so because they want to criticize the administration outside of a context in which people are permitted to challenge any racist or racialist subtext of their arguments. Otherwise, the argument that their ability to criticize the administration has been stifled just doesn't make any sense.

Originally posted to fou on Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 11:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

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