Rod Dreher spent a day sputtering about Sarah Jones’ exploration of Dreher’s stance on race. Her essay in The New Republic pushes on the tacit racial nature of Dreher’s words.
The blog post was classic Dreher, … (he) did not specifically refer to people of color, but he didn’t need to; he just invoked their ghostly outlines and let the reader fill them in. His defense of Trump’s remarks are damning, not only for him personally, but for a certain kind of conservative intellectual who believes he is better than the vulgar ethno-nationalists at Breitbart. It is the logical end of a train of thought that often trails off and goes unspoken, just as those minorities in Dreher’s post are not directly identified but targeted under broad euphemisms like “the poor.” It is a conspicuous silence that has been there all along.
Is Dreher an enabler of the racist alt-right? or the victim of one more over zealous SJW (our Social Justice Warriors). Or could it be, as he argues, that her stance is basically one of privilege?
I don’t know Sarah Jones and her crowd, but I have a strong suspicion that a lot of them are lashing out so strongly at me over the “shitholes” stuff, and wildly distorting my words, because in their heart of hearts, they know that they would never live in impoverished neighborhoods marked by violence and chaos. Where in the DC area does Sarah Jones live? If she doesn’t live in a poor, violent neighborhood, why not? She could save money if she did. Where does Jonathan Merritt live in Brooklyn? Where does Jemar Tisby live in Jackson, Miss.? And so on.
This is deflection (Jones her self does not live in Washington, but in Roanoke, at some distance). Some part of Dreher’s discussion in fact lies with the question of race and what is at best, an indifference to race. DuBois observation for the 20th C is still pertinent, as policies and tweets of the administration have shown. I would suggest that this larger context, this cultural shift underway provides a frame for understanding conservative commentary. So what appears to a conservative as benign or even obvious, may be read in quite different ways elsewhere. To this we can also add the geographical frame. Think about it: Louisiana has a history, an approach to race; so does Appalachia; and for that matter in my case, so does growing up in a university town in the Midwest.
Now the case in point: it is difficult to read the paragraph from the perspective of Michigan without thinking of race; it’s the stuff of our region’s history. When Jones says “fill in…” — ah, we do this a lot, especially over by Detroit. Likewise, the question Jones asks of the Benedict Option — did it really only mention race a handful of times? That seems like a valid, if awkward critique, not in making Dreher a racist, but in pointing to a blind spot, itself the creature of a particular and local setting.
But before we mount that high horse, we should note, we all suffer from the same disease, simultaneously better than and yet worse than our words. It happens.