Here’s the thing about Jodi Shaw: she’s real; she’s right; and she can rap.
Recently, I shared a link to her Library Rap with a few friends. They liked it, but mostly they just didn’t get why Jodi’s whiteness was problematic. Unfortunately, the story about how the Library Rap, created and performed by a middle-aged white woman, became a point of contention, is a long and convoluted story. The story about how Jodi became a solitary individual standing up for principles that many of us share is a sad, but true, example of what happens today to people who care deeply about liberal values that underly American culture.
I discovered Jodi online last November, after the 2020 election. Over the summer of 2020, I became aware of some Democrats pulling away from the Democratic Party as the party became more entrenched in the jargon of Black Lives Matter, trans activist ideology, and general wokeness. I never wavered to the point that I considered voting for Trump, but at some point, I stopped thinking of myself as a Democrat. When the votes were counted, I was surprised that Trump got more votes than he did in 2016, and further, that he got more minority votes as well. I began searching for some Trump voters who’d be willing to converse with me and found Jodi Shaw along the way. She has more regard for Trump than I do, but I’m not sure how she voted.
Using a series of videos she posted online, Jodi has described events at Smith College that disturbed her. In the summer of 2018, an incident took place that involved a black student accusing white employees at Smith of racism. Prior to an investigation that exonerated the white employees, the college issued an apology to the student, put the employees on leave, and began an intensive effort to indoctrinate employees about whiteness, white supremacy, and the inability of white people to be anything but racist.
Jodi was caught up in this whirlwind. A project she had worked on all summer, developing a “wild and crazy” introduction to library services for incoming students (as requested) was scuttled at the last minute. Her new supervisor said that because she is white, she could not use the rap she had created.
Many things happened thereafter that I cannot fairly summarize. The diversity, equity, and inclusion training that followed upon the summer incident at Smith was much like trainings that occur across the country in colleges, non-profits, corporations, and government agencies. It is crafted around the framework of Critical Social Justice Theory, an approach that feels to many of us as exactly counter to the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Only recently have I learned that Dr. King is not regarded favorably by adherents to CSJT. King’s vision of his children being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin is passé. New thinkers believe in race essentialism, i.e. the belief that we cannot get past our history of institutional racism: racism is an essential feature of people with white skin; those who believe that the US has made progress in addressing a history of racist policies and actions are mistaken; we are as racist today as we have ever been.
One discouraging thing about Critical Social Justice Theory is that it is now playing out in scenarios that challenge the success of Asians, not just white people, in the push to limit the number of Asian students at competitive public high schools. Another is that CSJT is unforgiving; proponents engage in canceling people who tweeted unwise sentiments in their teens regardless of their apologies or current work. CSJ activists assume systemic racism is the explanation for all unequal outcomes without explaining what needs to change (other than results). Cultural factors cannot be studied. Example: why are Asian kids, including recent immigrants and kids from low income families, so successful? Is there a story there? Can’t even explore that question.
Back to Jodi Shaw. After she was prevented from doing her Library Rap for the new student orientation, Jodi moved to a different position at the college hoping to avoid some of the pressure that was coming down on the teaching side of the school. But the race essentialist ideology was pervasive. She couldn’t escape it. After filing official complaints that were ignored, she left her job, rejecting a financial settlement that would have limited her ability to speak publicly about her concerns.
Most people in Jodi’s position are unable to walk away from a job. Jodi has found support online, but it’s not the same as a paycheck. She has been interviewed on many podcasts, and her cause has been publicized by conservative media. Many of us who track her progress wonder why left wing media won’t touch her story. Are they so cowed by the CSJ crowd that they cannot listen to a woman whose artistic work has been censored because of her white race? I, for one, am disappointed. If you wonder why the Jodi’s of the world show up on conservative media, it’s because that’s who invites them. It’s not because their cause is conservative. It’s not.
Meanwhile, Democrats are contemplating their prospects in the mid-terms, and I think they need to be worried. A lot of people who would have voted for Ds without much hesitation in the past are deeply concerned about the impact of CSJT. We see it in liberal cities from coast to coast, corporations, non-profits, government agencies, the military, and in many, many K-12 schools. I’m not alone with my concern, but some of my closest friends think I’ve gone off the rails; a few friendships are at risk.
The feeling of being odd-man-out is not new to me. I’m willing to stake out positions that are at odds with the ideology du jour. I don’t enjoy it – I’d much rather enjoy the camaraderie of friends who either share my concerns or at least accept that my point of view is a legitimate one. But at least I have a lot of experience caring about things that people close to me just don’t get (e.g. GMOs (I’m pro), Medicare for All (I’m not gung ho), Big Organic (I’m anti)). My isolation on the CSJ issue has prompted me to find people to talk with online who are far outside my normal list of conversation partners!
So, where are you and I regarding Critical Social Justice Theory? If you think Asian kids who are at the top of the academic game should step aside so more brown and black kids with lower test scores can go to those selective high schools, we don’t agree. If you think men in prison can just decide to be women, and move to a women’s prison without any degree of transitioning (self-ID), we don’t agree. If you think that police should not go where the crime is, we don’t agree. If you think K-12 schools should pit kids of one race against kids of another race, we don’t agree. I’m happy to listen to your point of view, happy to explain my thinking on these issues, but please don’t call me racist or a trans-phone, because I’m neither.
Thanks for reading my blog! Your comments are welcome.
NYT: Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College
A very kind friend has alerted me to a typo. No, not transphone, duh. Of course meant transphobic. There was another equally awkward typo earlier that I think I corrected. Don’t know why, but I’m having fits with WordPress on this particular post. When I go to edit mode, half of it is covered with black. I can’t see the text to edit it. Anybody got any ideas on how to get out of that jam?