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The Woke Paradox
Post #1880 • November 20, 2020, 7:11 PM • 3 Comments
Let’s notice some things, shall we? Let’s notice them good and hard.
The Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant announced its 2020 grantees this week. Awards ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 went to 22 writers. Among them there are two white men. Since one of them is “a scholar and curator whose research focuses on artists from the African continent and its diaspora and encompasses major themes of the Postwar-era such as post-colonialism, (trans)nationalism, and biennialism,” that leaves the other to be the single exception to a rule not shared with the applicants in advance: that the awards had to go to a member of a historically marginalized identity group, or his or her or their project had to valorize a historically marginalized identity group. The term for this is discrimination. The term for making a single exception to a pattern of discrimination in order to diffuse accusations of prejudice is tokenism. (And if it turns out that said exception is a gay man, not even tokenism has been achieved this year.)
The only reason that I made an exception to my policy never to apply to this thing is that I had a solid proposal to write at length about a particular non-white artist whom I think should be of broader interest. If he had been white I wouldn’t have bothered, because I know better about the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. But discrimination this brazen surprises even me. Only six of the 22 grantees are men. I refuse to characterize myself as white so long as actual white supremacists want to murder my people - according to the guardians of whiteness, I’m not whiting correctly, and I have no interest in remedying that supposed lapse. Neither do I acquiesce to the demands of the enemies of whiteness, many of whom also want to murder my people. But I am unambiguously a man and plan to remain one for the duration. Thus refraining from further applications to the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant seems advisable. Since, unlike most of the grantees, I do not enjoy an academic appointment, my project will not be realized, to the detriment of this particular artist of color whom I wanted to write about.
Having a disproportionate advantage in a competitive process on account of accidents of birth like race and sex is called privilege.
While I’m not one to question the doubtlessly godlike wisdom of the review committee, I want to take this opportunity to share what I call the Woke Paradox. Woke ideology of the kind that has overtaken the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant rests on two premises, neither of which is true and both of which are mutually contradictory:
1. Whites, men, heterosexuals, and so on (including, as far as the anti-whiteness crowd is concerned, the Jews) are so uniquely evil and greedy that they should be stripped of opportunities and resources, and forced to subsist on the margins.
2. Whites (etc. as above) are so uniquely good and generous that they will not do what everyone else does when forced to subsist on the margins, which is to stop playing by the rules of the system that is marginalizing them.
I’ll give you an example. The rules of the system in which the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant operates say that to criticize its racial discrimination is racist. My reply is that it is not a shame to be called a racist by fascists. The essence of fascism isn’t sharp uniforms, it’s unaccountable identitarian bureaucracy, such as the one perpetrating shameless discrimination in its art writing awards.
Woke ideologues are acting as if their organizations possess an unlimited account of credibility to spend from. On the contrary, they are nearly overdrawn. The awards are beginning to represent an ability to suck up to a broken system that no one, I doubt even the beneficiaries, can really believe in.
November 21, 2020, 4:16 PM
Very well expressed, and quite frankly it is discouraging to see this happening in most significant foundations, museums, art spaces, galleries, granting organizations, etc. As a white heterosexual male I am of course discouraged from pointing any of this out, lest I be forever banished—but discrimination is discrimination. It exists. The most bizarre part is when one sees other artists in similar positions (to myself, I can’t speak for you) actively encouraging this sort of system. I remember Jerry Saltz saying recently in one of his talks, “Men, stop exhibiting for a year or two! Let’s see what happens!” No Jerry, how about you stop publishing for a year or two?
November 23, 2020, 5:11 PM
John, it certainly feels like it never ends.
Erik, thank you. I’ve been in this long enough to remember when Holland Cotter declared—in 2009—that it was day-job time in America, and that’s O.K. Somehow the solution is always for us to get rid of ourselves, and not for them to get rid of themselves.
It got back to me recently that Saltz, on Facebook, complained that younger critics don’t have opinions anymore. Someone brought up my name, along the lines of, Franklin sure had an opinion about your book. He didn’t reply, a few of his sycophants made some unkind remarks about me, and the world kept going ’round like it does.
November 21, 2020, 11:56 AM
Goody Two Shoes is alive and well. The quest for beside-the-point (of art) art never ends.