Anjuli on racism

Someone pointed me to a post by Anjuli Pandavar, right here on FTB, in which she discusses people of color being racist towards White people. I am deeply unsympathetic to this post. So this is a critique.

The case of Linda Sarsour

Anjuli’s comments were prompted by Linda Sarsour. In 2011, Sarsour made a tweet towards two pro-Israel activists, saying, “I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” This is problematic in two ways: a) it’s identifying women with their vaginas, and b) it wrongly treats womanhood as something that must be earned.

But wait, back up. Who the heck is Linda Sarsour? Why are we talking about a tweet she made in 2011?

Linda Sarsour is best known as a co-chair of the Women’s March. We are hearing about her because the right has recently become interested in sliming her (e.g.). Some apparently think discrediting this one person will discredit the Women’s March. This is a bit silly because the Women’s March had 440-500k people and was clearly not the work of any single person. But anyways.

According to the article linked by Anjuli Pandavar, someone approached Linda Sarsour at a public event and asked her about her 2011 tweet. Sarsour’s response was captured on video:

So, let’s give some context here, because, y’know, we have — Uh, this is an event organized by an Asian American, right? Let’s just get — let’s get some context to what is going on here. Celebrating a community, right? Talking about communities of color who are being directly impacted by this moment and I have a young white man in the back who is not directly impacted by any of the issues I mentioned. [applause drowns out her voice]

…a copy and paste that he got from a right-wing blog. He doesn’t even know if it actually came from my Twitter account because he has a screenshot of it. He never actually went to my Twitter to see if it’s actually there. Right? That never happened.

But let me just say this to you: You’re college students, I was in my twenties, when was that, 2011? People say stupid shit sometimes, right? I will be judged by my impeccable track record for black lives and immigrants rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights, you judge me by that record and not by some tweet that you think I did or did not tweet ten years ago or seven years ago or whenever it was. So that’s my answer to your question. Next.

The bad: Sarsour doesn’t apologize for the comment, and implies that she didn’t make the comment in the first place. The good: She does not stand by her tweet, and rightly points out how ridiculous it is to judge her by a 2011 tweet rather than her larger track record.

So, why was Anjuli calling Sarsour racist? Oh yeah, Sarsour referred to the young white man as “a young white man”.

But that part makes sense. She’s giving a talk about Asian Americans, but for some reason this questioner is asking her a totally unrelated question, about a 6-year-old tweet that could only have been found on a right-wing site intent on sliming her. Looks like a heckler, doesn’t it? Do we have any other evidence he’s a heckler? Oh yeah, the questioner is a young white man who probably wasn’t otherwise interested in the event. Relevant point, no?

Now, after the fact, we have proof that he was a heckler, because the exchange was filmed by a Zionist group, and that’s how we have this video in the first place. This was a sting! Sarsour simply had the audacity to treat it like one.

The individual and institutional

So Anjuli read an article on right-wing news site, and completely failed to be critical of it. But let’s zoom out and focus on the larger point. Her point is that people of color are sometimes racist towards White people.

Of course, the obvious objection is that it only counts as racism if it’s systematic and has institutional support. Anjuli apparently didn’t think of this objection until someone raised it in the comments. Her response:

Of course there is such a thing as institutional or systemic racism: a civil service can be racist, as can a workforce. An all-pervasive culture can compel even those who would not otherwise indulge in racism to at least acquiesce in it. This level of racism is not possible without individual racists, alone or collectively, imposing their views and practises on the institution or system. Statutory racism, such as Segregation, Apartheid or Nazism, similarly, is at least in part dependent upon there already being a bedrock of actual or latent racism present amongst individuals.

In other words, according to Anjuli, there is racism on an individual level. And upon this foundation of individual racism, we build institutional and systemic racism. Okay, so it’s a two-tiered system: individual racism, and institutional racism.

Of course, the problem with having a single word refer to two distinct things is that there’s a danger of equivocation. For instance, if we were to (wrongly) accuse Sarsour of individual racism, and then to act like it was institutional racism, that would be equivocation. But I’m sure Anjuli, in her discernment, can avoid such an error.

Did those clapping supporters even know that what they did is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany and in Apartheid South Africa?

Oh. She compared Sarsour and her applauders to Nazism and Apartheid. Huh.

Anjuli, listen. Compared to some social justice activists, I’m relatively open to entertaining different definitions of “racism” or whatever. I accept your conclusion that Black people can be racist towards each other. But anti-White racism is something that White supremacists are extremely interested in establishing. It really doesn’t look good when you link to a conservative news site, find a bullshit article, and use that to make an argument that would be bullshit even if the article were true. You’re just being a tool. And since we’ve already pulled out the Nazi analogies, what you said has a more direct connection to actual Nazism than anything Sarsour said.

The tip of the racist iceberg

What does Anjuli blame racism on?

Political Correctness, multiculturalism and identity politics not only lend cover to racism (except, of course, if the racist is white), but encourages it, entrenches it and applauds it.

What is political correctness? What is multiculturalism? What is identity politics? Marcus Ranum has asked the same question, and as far as I know there was no response. Mostly, Anjuli seems to chant these phrases whenever she needs to blame a problem on something.

I, personally, am a product of multiculturalism, as a mixed Asian/white person. I, personally, am part of identity politics because I identify as gay and ace and a physicist and a number of other things. I’m on fucking Tumblr. Until Anjuli clarifies otherwise, she is blaming me. And if that seems like a stretch, conservatives use the very same phrases to blame people like me.

Anjuli also mentions another article from the same conservative website. It’s about some professor Williams, being mean to White supremacists. Boo hoo. Uncompelling and uninteresting. I only mention it so I can highlight another quote from Anjuli:

whites will seldom be exposed to more than the tip of the black racist iceberg, Johnny E. Williams being a rare glimpse of the depth of it.

Tip of the iceberg indeed.

After time of writing, Anjuli published “America’s black racists can all learn from this white man“.  The white man in question is Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who she refers to as a “damn good journalist”.


  1. Vivec says

    Thank goodness people are speaking out against Anjuli now, and I hadn’t even been aware of the Sarsour post in particular. Real vile stuff coming out of that blog.

  2. Siobhan says

    The equivocation of individual and institutional racism is pretty astonishing, especially considering she clearly understands the distinction. If it were one post I would have left a comment saying as much, but her history is riddled with these kinds of bizarre topic-flipping errors that are normally endemic in motivated reasoning.

  3. says

    I’ve tried a couple times to get Anjuli to defend the substance behind her labels, since I think labelling is a weak rhetorical trick. I don’t see that defense as having been made, but I may have missed it.

    Part of the problem with labelling people as “racist” is that it’s vague. For some people, conveniently, “racist” is “anyone who talks about race” while for others it’s “anyone who is unfair to someone because of their race.” So, when Anjuli says someone is being racist, is she talking about the former, while ignoring the latter? They’re on the same spectrum but they’re not the same thing, at all. That’s why I try to cut past the label and question what someone did.

    Jay Smooth puts it better than I ever could:

  4. says

    In her most recent posting, I thought her reply to Brony was excremental.

    Basically, what she did was replied with a bunch of false dichotomies constructed by conveniently cherry-picking reality. I.e.:

    Many Saudis (Arabs) employ housemaids from the Philippines, South Asia and other Asian countries. They treat them as close to slaves as it is possible in the present day. Is this racism or just bigotry.

    The Nazis were no more white than the Jews they tried to exterminate. Was this racism or just bigotry?

    People from the Caucasus (white) suffer abuse and discrimination at the hands of Russians (also white). Would this be racism or bigotry?

    See, that’s not an “or” question. Any one of those questions could be answered better with a more careful analysis, and perhaps race or bigotry would come into it, but my money is on economics, differential power, and tribalism/nationalism. Asking Brony to say “Would this be racism or bigotry?” is high school debating club-level stuff. Except we were more thoughtful than that in my high school debating club.

    I don’t see the role of a blogger as winning arguments or being right all the time. I believe our role is to be the host of a stimulating conversation, to whatever degree we get involved in it; we don’t need to whip out cheap rhetorical tricks to pound our commentariat with, and I feel that if we lack intellectual honesty, it doesn’t matter whether we “win” any particular thread, because we’ve failed overall. Anjuli’s fond of characterizing people who question her broad stereotypes of muslims as “pro muslim” (another label) and then hammering on that label. She even accused me of strawmanning her by pointing out that she was using a lot of straw, herself. It’s not about winning, the play’s the thing.

  5. says

    @Marcus Ranum,
    Yeah, I made a deliberate choice not to quibble over definitions of “racism”, because it seems beside the point. Neither Sarsour or Williams actually said anything wrong, and Anjuli compared it to Nazism. No definition could overcome that logical leap.

    If we were presented with a more ambiguous case, then maybe we could have an argument about definitions. (Although personally, I’d nope my way out of that one.)

  6. Vivec says

    Not to mention that, vis a vis the Nazis and Jews both being white, its blatantly false and a-historical.

    The Nazis went to great lengths in order to establish that they were a master race above the “lesser races”, and Jews as a group are seldom included as “white” in european standards of race, so claiming that this was some kind of race-neutral thing is so absurd its laughable.

  7. says

    I just commented on her recent post, but I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s going to “disappear”, so I’m going to post it here for posterity’s sake…

    The fact that you willingly call Tucker Carlson “a damn good journalist and a rare specimen these days” tells me that you have absolutely ZERO understanding of US-American sociology or politics or… anything about the US, quite frankly… and thus have even less business commenting on it.

    Tucker Carlson is to journalism what war is to peace… the exact fucking opposite. Tucker Carlson is like the poster child of everything that’s wrong with modern journalism in the US. He is a pundit… and a right-wing pundit who has been worshiping at the altar of the Republicans for as long as he’s been on the air (and yes, there are pundits who worship at the altar of the Democrats, too… I am not ignoring or dismissing them; this is about Tucker Carlson). He is a disgrace and a sham and you insult the entire profession of Journalism and all the journalists alive and dead by even using the word in reference to the man. “Tucker Carlson” and “journalist” do not belong in the same reality, let alone the same essay or sentence.

    Also, black supremacy? In a country where literal actual Nazis just marched and committed a terrorist attack in Charlottesville, VA and are planning marches throughout the rest of the country (do you even know what Nazis are)? Where an actual, literal White Supremacist (by the name of Steve Bannon) works at the White House?

    Again… stop commenting on what goes on in the US. You continue to prove that you have absolutely zero understanding of what goes on here and you continue to put your foot in your mouth.


    It’s insulting.

    PS… yes, it was a racism thing when the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Jews only gained the privilege of being called “white” within the last few decades, and that privilege is extremely fragile and strained… we could lose it very easily right now. Nazis did not, and still do not, consider us to be white. They consider us to be a different race.

  8. Saad says

    Thanks for this write-up, Siggy. It’s good to see an FtB blogger officially speaking out against it.

    sonofrojblake, #8

    The last three sentences wouldn’t be out of place on the Daily Stormer.

    You’re one of her commenters who talks similar bigoted shit. That you would walk in here and think you can play both sides without being noticed is hilarious.

    Sound familiar?

    How about: when we don’t risk being on the receiving end of a shrill lecture from a black person about how only white people can be racist because Racism® is part of a System of Oppression, white people are the ones with Privilege, and if you’re one of the oppressed you can’t be a part of it because you don’t have the structural power to oppress white people or even other black people. When I stop seeing that one being trotted out, I’ll feel comfortable calling black people racist, and not before.

    How about this one?

    Here’s the thing, Anjuli: calling black people racist is like using the n-word. Black people can do it, but they might get a lecture for it. White people can’t do it, period.

    Go ahead, try to change that. Good luck.

    Where is the applause for the young white man […]? It is thanks to people like him that slavery was abolished

    I would love to see you put that argument to some of the other people on this blog network. I reckon I could barbecue a steak on the reaction

  9. says

    I’ve been low on communication because It’s a bit intense trying to feel out this encounter. It’s not that I don’t want to comment, it’s that my processing buffer is a bit full. I’ll definitely take any criticism people may have.

  10. says

    @Brony, Social Justice Cenobite,
    My preferred way to respond to Tillerman is to spend as little time as possible and ask him to dump more and more walls of text. He went silent after I said I was doing that. 10/10 would recommend.

    He tried commenting on this post but has been banned.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    Saad: you interpreted those posts as being supportive of her? Really? That is hilarious.

  12. says

    When I asked around, most people found Tillerman to be an unrewarding person to talk to, and I agreed. But to each their own.

    Honestly I don’t understand what point you were making in your responses to Anjuli. But whatever, I don’t care anymore.

  13. says

    But nobody has noticed how problematic Ally Fogg is? I mean, I’m not sad to see Anjuli go, I found her unpleasant at best, but you also have a blogger that pushes harmful myths about domestic violence. For example, the idea of “reciprocal abuse”, wherein a victim’s physical attempts at self-defense are labeled “abuse” and the victim “just as bad as the abuser”. His assault is counted as ONE act of violence, even though it may incorporate a number of actions on his part. Her self-defense is counted as several acts of violence, e.g. one for each time she tried, during that one incident, to pry his hands off her neck.

  14. says

    I’ve seen some people complain about Ally, so I wouldn’t say nobody had noticed. I don’t really agree with the complaints.

  15. Vivec says

    I find Ally’s commentariat largely unsavory anti-SJ sorts, but I actually don’t mind Ally much. I have no idea why he attracts so many weird anti-feminists, but hey.

  16. Saad says

    sonofrojblake, #13

    You were making the same points as her. Both of your quotes are the type of things she whines about.

  17. says

    I think Ally is what is needed when it comes to Men and social justice. I would not say there are not areas of tension, but on balance Ally’s presance is one that is valuable. He does get anti-social justice types in his comments but I think that is a reasonably complicated situation. Some people see the way he is doing things as politically threatening for reasons including direct competition, being feminism friendly…

    I’ve avoided his comments because I’ve been concerned I would have a bad effect with my usual strategies. I’ve thought about how I might do things buy that has been in-progress stuff.

    I understand. Many find those confrontations to be unpleasant or counterproductive so I try not to judge.

  18. sonofrojblake says

    @Saad: I was not making the same points as her. For starters, I’ve got the memo about what Racism® means (as your quotes of me show, thanks). However, as a straight white Englishman, I felt on somewhat dodgy ground mansplaining/whitesplaining about it to a gay woman of colour who’d experienced apartheid. If you can’t see the opprobrium in what I said, well, OK.

    I didn’t see you calling it out.

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