Here's his summary at the end.
The question of setting fair boundaries for debate may not be as important a problem as racism, but it is a major problem for the left...He's basically suggesting that liberals give conservatives the benefit of the doubt on the question of whether or not their arguments are based on racism and that its important to set fair boundaries for the debate about what is/isn't racist.
There’s no contradiction between grasping the deep and continuing power of white supremacy in American politics and culture while still affording one’s opponents a basic presumption of fairness. One might even call this an important part of the definition of liberalism.
What's interesting to me is that this is exactly the question that was discussed by Nezua and others at his blog The Unapologetic Mexican in response to the quote I used in my last post by Glenn Greenwald. The backstory is that Greenwald made the statement about white people not wanting to discuss racism because of the unwritten speech rules that result in being called a bigot. In the comments to Nezua's response to that, a poster cited Greenwald doing something that rang dog whistles for her. Greenwald became incensed that she didn't give him the benefit of the doubt. Another poster, Kai, brought it all together:
Look closely, Greenwald is applying prescriptive standards to two separate things: (1) white folks talking about people of color; and (2) people of color talking about white folks.All of that reverberated around what I've called the "diversosphere" (blogs by people of color) for weeks as they identified with this pattern of constantly being asked to give white people the benefit of the doubt when that same benefit was never extended to their own lived experiences.
1. When it comes to white folks talking about POC, Greenwald thinks POC should loosen up their demands on white folks. He says racial dialogue is hindered by "unwritten rules" imposed on white folks by POC, thus characterizing being educated about respectful language as an unfair and arbitrary imposition on white folks.
2. When it comes to POC talking about white folks, the rules shift toward increased sensitivity and an (I believe unconscious) assertion of actual unwritten rules ("assume pure intent", "assume race-neutral interpretation", "don't imply I said or did anything racist"). And if a POC says something hurtful to a white person...based on the POC's lived experience observing the patterns of racial dynamics, this explains why we're not making more social progress.
...But this is why Nez is saying that talking about racism openly and honestly is going to be painful; and why it's important for all of us to do our homework and try to learn one another's histories and learn how to speak respectfully before we pick up megaphones, so that we treat a painful subject with the respect that it deserves.
And so my question to Chait would be: who gets to set those boundaries for a fair debate and who is/isn't afforded the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps the foundation of white privilege has always been what we know to be the answer to that question. And perhaps some of the heat being generated on this topic lately is because people of color aren't buying that one so much anymore.