Chronicles of the Crazy Time (5)

Today’s liberal institutional meltdown is brought to you by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), the folks who bring us an annual slate of book awards that are not to be confused with the National Book Awards, but who cares since they all think alike. Anyway, it seems the president of the NBCC drafted up the now mandatory institutional statement affirming Black Lives Matter with the required white guilt codicil, and circulated it to the board. And then things got weird.

I’ll let Vulture pick up the story from here (though do read the whole thing if you have time):

One board member, Carlin Romano, said he disagreed with some of the claims in the letter but didn’t want to “distract the great majority of the Board from its mission.” Nevertheless, he went on to detail his objections to a number of those claims, dismissing the statement’s fundamental premise as “absolute nonsense.” A white critic and former board president, he took issue with the idea that the publishing business operated with “the full benefits of white supremacy and institutional racism” and that “white gatekeeping had been working to stifle black voices at every level of our industry,” as the statement contended. These assertions, he argued, amounted to “calumnies on multiple generations of white publishers and editors” who had fought to publish authors of color. “I resent the idea that whites in the book publishing and literary world are an oppositional force that needs to be assigned to reeducation camps,” he wrote.

In her reply, [NBCC president Laurie] Hertzel reassured Romano that she’d always appreciate his perspective. It “shines unlike anyone else’s,” she wrote, adding, “your objections are all valid, of course.”

Well, this macroaggression could not stand! This exchange made its way to Twitter, and you know what happened next. I’ll skip over all the sturm und drang and get right to the bottom line: More than half of the 24-member board of NBCC has resigned, including all of its members of color. The president, Hertzel, resigned her position, but one person who hasn’t quit is Romano:

In response to Wabuke’s assertion that his email displayed racism and anti-blackness, [Romano] wrote, “It did nothing of the sort. I’m not racist and I’m not anti-black. Quite the contrary. I just don’t check my mind at the door when people used to operating in echo chambers make false claims.”

He added, “A few Board members in recent years have sought to turn the Board, for decades committed to fair-minded judging of books from every political stripe, into a ‘No Free Thought’ zone, an ideologically biased tool for their own politics. In my opinion, they oppose true critical discussion. Good riddance to any of them who resign—the NBCC will be healthier without them. I’ll attempt to stay on the Board, despite concerted opposition, in the hope that I can help NBCC return to its earlier, better self.”

I just may need to give this Romano fellow a second look. I did once spend an idle hour thumbing through his book America the Philosophical, which purports to be a refutation of the common cosmopolitan view, which can be found in Tocqueville among other places, that America is un- or even anti-philosophical, but despite the apparent inclination to stand up for America’s love of wisdom, Romano’s book looked as though it was merely an extremely wordy paean to pragmatism, which is indeed America’s distinct contribution to bad philosophy. But a half-ally against extremism is an ally nonetheless.

P.S. This part of the story also worth passing along:

Each of the black board members who stepped down did so for different reasons. John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. . .  He disputed the idea that the publishing industry is plagued by racism. “The way he said it was an unideal,” McWhorter said. “He was not being a modern person in the way he responded.” Still, McWhorter added, “all racial disparities are not due to bigotry or even structural barriers.”

He left, he said, because he felt like he no longer fit into the culture of the board. “There’s an idea that we’re supposed to subscribe to these days. That to disagree with a black person’s views about something having to do with race is racist,” he told me. “I don’t subscribe to that.”

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