FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2022
Now she's moving on: What is an "imitation of life?" An imitation of journalistic / intellectual life?
Almost surely, opinions will differ. For one possible example, consider the latest letter to one of Slate's advice columnists—the latest letter of a certain type.
The columnist in question is Jenée Desmond-Harris, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a good, decent person. She was previously a senior staff editor at the New York Times, where she's now a contributing opinion writer.
Desmond-Harris currently serves as Slate's latest incarnation of "Dear Prudence." As such, she sits at the helm of one of the site's roughly three million advice columns.
There's nothing "wrong" with advice columns; sometimes they're even instructive. Increasingly, though, Slate columnists seem to be prepared to respond to letters of this possibly suspect type:
I recently moved to a new state a few thousand miles away. My family and I found a home online and randomly moved next door to a guy from our previous town with a relative who works at my previous office. Small world. He’s been nice and recently gave our family a Christmas gift. I would like to reciprocate, but he left town the next day and didn’t get back until after New Year. I feel weird giving a Christmas gift that late. Would it be weird if I gave him Juneteenth cookies? The better half says it would be weird. I think it would be weird to give him a Valentine’s gift, and I don’t want to wait until the 4th of July. Also, part two, would sugar cookies with Pan-African flag icing be a good Juneteenth cookie? Advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time.
— Cul-de-sac of Confused Caucasians
Tell the truth! Does anybody really believe that this was an actual letter stating an actual concern?
Everything is possible, of course. But does anyone really believe that?
Desmond-Harris, the Harvard Law graduate, doesn't really believe that. But then again, so what? In one of two reports Slate devoted to this letter, Desmond-Harris began her discussion as shown:
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I hope you found this question as hilarious as I did. I don’t even know if it was fake, but it was too entertaining not to answer.
It was too entertaining not to answer, even though it was maybe fake! Disclaimers like this are amazingly common at this devolving site.
With sadness, we'd be inclined to describe that statement by Desmond-Harris as an "imitation of life." That said, Slate now seems to be running on the rocket fuel of advice columns, in which columnists respond to entertaining letters whether they're real or fake.
Slate still sprinkles in the occasional serious essay. But advice columns built around race and sex increasingly seem to be the way the site pays the bills. This seems to be what Slate has to do to get us lunkheads to click!
This particular Prudence went to Harvard Law School. She'll respond to all your concerns, even if you made them up and they carry a bit of a smell.
When Roosevelt looked around the country, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. When we look around our tribal redoubts, we see an ever-increasing array of journalistic / intellectual imitations of life.
And yes, that's basically what we thought we saw when Michele Tafoya spoke.
As we've noted in the past several days, Tafoya spoke about a certain practice at her children's schools—the institution of race-and-ethnicity based "affinity groups." In Tafoya's view, this practice is "teaching [kids] that the color of their skin matters" in an inappropriate way. She also seems to think that it's driving groups of kids farther apart.
We don't know if that's right or that's wrong. Also, nobody cares!
Tafoya discussed this topic for the first time last November 2, in a guest appearance on The View. Last Wednesday, she appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, where she restated her view.
You can watch the bulk of last week's appearance here. As you can see, Carlson played videotape of Tafoya's earlier statement on The View, along with Whoopi Goldberg's instant reaction and a brief exchange between the two which we'll show you below.
Carlson praised Tafoya for her viewpoint. At this point, Tafoya described the "affinity groups" in a bit more detail, then offered this recommendation:
TAFOYA (2/16/22): It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters...If the world is integrated, let's continue that and have everyone find out what we all have in common, not just what we have in common with people who look like us.
At this point, Tafoya's statement of principle was still pretty fuzzy. On the whole, Tafoya doesn't strike us as a hugely insightful spokesperson on matters of race—but then again, almost no one is, and at this point we'll offer a small political warning:
Carlson responded by praising Tafoya's statement. "Man!" he said. "I bet you twenty bucks that 95% of Americans agree with what you just said!"
Carlson's percentage might be a bit high, but we're inclined to agree with the general thrust of his statement. Tafoya seemed completely sincere, and her "pro-integration" stance emerges from a general framework which has largely become sacred American writ.
Tafoya still hadn't been asked to describe those "affinity groups" in any detail. For that reason, the actual merits of her complaint are impossible to assess.
That said, within the political realm, our tribe may tend to get out over its skis with our progressive views about matters of race, a possibility which was suggested by that recent recall election in San Francisco.
We've been fascinated with Tafoya's presentations because of the imitations of life with which her statements were greeted.
The floodgates really opened after her appearance with Carlson. In this lengthy report in the Washington Post, Timothy Bella described the way one team leader reacted to Tafoya's statements:
BELLA (2/18/22): Tafoya has swiftly shifted from covering the NFL—where she was interviewing players and coaches in the midst of a racial reckoning within the league—to emerging as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory and diversity initiatives in schools nationwide.
“It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters,” Tafoya, 57, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his Wednesday show.
But her interviews in recent days about her jump to GOP politics have been met with backlash from critics decrying her for fueling an already contentious culture war surrounding critical race theory, an academic framework for examining the way laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism. Though critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 systems, the intellectual movement has been a talking point for conservatives nationwide who’ve pushed back against racial equity initiatives by schools, including teaching about racism in American history, that have come in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“Imagine leaving a high-profile job over a made-up issue,” tweeted Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic and incoming CNN Plus host. “Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is? Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”
We'd call that whole passage sad.
For starters, was it true? Had Tafoya somehow emerged "as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory?"
In fact, she hadn't mentioned critical race theory on The View or on Carlson's show at all. She had spoken about those "affinity groups." CRT hadn't been mentioned.
This, of course, didn't stop Hill from offering the condescending tweet which Bella now quoted.
“Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is?" the well-meaning know-it-all asked. "Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”
We'll guess that Tafoya doesn't have kids being taught CRT in school. In fairness, though, she never said that she did.
She'd said that she had kids in school who were being taught that their skin color matters in a way which was inappropriate and divisive. We'll guess that Tafoya could have provided lots of information concerning the "affinity groups" at her childrens' schools. But no one ever asked her to do so, and the fact is nobody cares.
No one asked any questions about those groups when she appeared on The View. Carlson didn't ask her any questions either.
Do Tafoya's kids go to public schools? No one even asked that! The truth is, nobody actually cares about any of this, except to the extent that launching pads can be created for our next recitations of script.
Where did Hill get the idea that Tafoya had been sounding off about critical race theory? We don't know, but she linked to a Fox News report about Tafoya's appearance with Carlson which used that term in its headline.
That may have been close enough for journalistic work. Hill proceeded to sound off in the usual condescending way.
Later in his report for the Post, Bella quoted Dave Zirin's reaction to what Tafoya had said. Zirin seemed to have the inside track on Tafoya's monstrous motives. Greg Sargent was cited too:
BELLA: On Fox, Tafoya told Carlson that her shift from sports to Republican politics came after she had “been waking up every day with a palpable pull at my gut, that my side, my view, my middle ground, kind of moderate viewpoint is not being represented to the rest of the world.”
“And so, rather than just banging it out on Twitter or Instagram every day, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I have benefited greatly from the American Dream, and I feel like for the sake of my kids, and because I so love this country, I’ve got to start giving back,’” she said.
Critics, however, have accused Tafoya of arguing against critical race theory in an effort to raise her profile in conservative politics. Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent wrote that “Tafoya plans to devote more time to criticizing critical race theory and airing other views about race, and Carlson is trying to turn her into a new right-wing hero.”
“This is someone who’s made a mint off of Black labor and the destruction of Black bodies,” tweeted Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation. “Maybe this is in Tafoya’s mind the logical next step.”
Skillfully, Zirin knew what Tafoya had possibly been thinking. It's the ugliness of comments like Zirin's which can lead to political defeat.
Many voters have seen Tafoya working as a sideline reporter. Presumably, people had liked Tafoya or she wouldn't have stayed on the air.
Now, Zirin was telling those voters that Tafoya had thereby "made a mint off the destruction of black bodies." One thinks of the former board member in San Francisco who tweeted that Asian-Americans were acting like a bunch of "house [N-words]" in failing to criticize Candidate Trump in a way she found sufficient.
We fiery progressives may turn people off in these ill-advised ways.
Tafoya believes that her kids' schools are laboring under a mistake. When she offered that viewpoint on The View, this instant exchange occurred:
TAFOYA (11/2/22): Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.
GOLDBERG: Yes, but you know—you live in the United States. You know that color of skin has been mattering to people for years.
TAFOYA: Can’t we change it, that it doesn’t?
GOLDBERG: We need white people to step up and do that!
It proceeded from there. On its face, Goldberg's attempt at rebuttal had nothing to do with what Tafoya had been saying. But no one expects conversations on The View to make traditional sense.
To our ear, Tafoya was asked to sit silently by while her four hosts took turns issuing orations about facts which everyone already knows. To our ear, the stars were perhaps a bit rude, and perhaps a bit officious.
The stars never made their way back to what their guest had said. Instead, they sounded off about the need to teach the full sweep of American history, a topic Tafoya hadn't raised and a point she hadn't challenged.
The View exists to create big fights, thus generating publicity. In that way, the show is an imitation of life, but it reflects the way our national discourse frequently works.
A graduate of Harvard Law responds to letters she knows to be fake. When a parent describes a practice at her childrens' schools, her statement launches a thousand scripts about an array of different concerns.
Everywhere FDR looked, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. Everywhere we look, we see imitations of life.
For ourselves, we're actually curious about what's going on in the schools to which Tafoya referred. We'd like to know what's happening there! Then too, we've always liked kids.
An array of experts have asked us to cite this key anthropological point:
It' easy to see imitations of life when they're produced by Others. It's hard to see these imitations when they emerge from the streets of Our Town.
She's made a mint off broken bodies. Now she's moving on!