The Sound of Wringing
April 09, 2008
Some time ago, the estimable Scott Burgess remarked on the ability of some commentators to detect racism “in homeopathic concentrations.” As if to prove the point, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams, a hand-wringer of note, today detects something sinister in the word “hoodie”:
The term hoodie initially seemed racist to me, a way of saying “a group of young black guys”, without actually calling anyone black, and nobody could point it out, because the first person to say the racist connection would be the first person who made it. It never became necessary to protest over this sleight of hand, however, since the criminal connotation of the look was immediately subverted by that very association - all young people, of all races, of all classes, anyone under 25 who wanted to look a bit downtown, started dressing in this way.
Tom Paine comments on Ms Williams’ convoluted outpourings and outlines a phenomenon noted here once or twice.
We laughed at the obsessives on our university campus who could explain everything in terms of race, class or sexual orientation. University was such an exhilarating experience after the squalid anti-intellectualism of our comprehensive schools that we could not take seriously those who preferred such formulae to thought. Most hilarious of all were leftist students from privileged backgrounds who, on any logical application of their own formulae, were the enemy. They simply decided that holding with greater intensity the views that cast them as such would exonerate them. Indeed, in a classic piece of doublethink, heterosexual whites from wealthy backgrounds seemed to think themselves more virtuous for being leftist witch-hunters of racists and homophobes…
We should not have laughed. While those of us who were there to learn left university to get on with our lives, the class/race/sex retards stayed on as academics or left to go into politics, journalism or both. They would do anything to escape the need to think, it seems. Zoe Williams’ piece today is a case in point. I can honestly say that I had never considered “hoody” a codeword for black youth. Any mental images I had formed when I heard the word had involved the sort of pizza-faced yob who constitutes the main threat when walking the streets of my home town. In her warped view of the universe however, Zoe has scored bonus points for “discovering” concealed racism in public discourse. Sadly, she has more influence in the world than those of us who can see her for the obsessive thought-avoider that she is.
Mr Eugenides notes the same and adds,
Zoe inhabits a particular corner of London media life so insulated from the real world that she has to project all her own experiences onto the rest of us as a substitute for actually knowing what she’s talking about. A glance at any daily front page in the Independent gives you an idea what I mean. Mm, yes. Plastic bags. Something must be done. Food miles. Absolutely. A Chilean glacier retreating? Terrible. Terrible. Shit, we’re out of tapenade.
In a sense it’s classic Guardianista handwringing - Zoe hates herself for the slightly jittery feeling she gets when she sees a group of black youths on a street corner, and if her spider sense can detect lurking racism inside even herself, then it stands to reason that the rest of us, whose liberal credentials are far less impeccable, must be far, far worse, surely?