Letters: Bari Weiss vs. the 'Outrage Mobs'

Readers push back on the idea that “small differences, indignation, and an infatuation with being offended” have dominated the conversation about American identity politics.

Phil Noble / Reuters

Bari Weiss and the Left-Wing Infatuation With Taking Offense

In a recent article on TheAtlantic.com, Shadi Hamid discussed the controversy that erupted over a tweet from the New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss, and argued that the left has allowed polarizing identity politics to distract from more fundamental debates.

In his article “Bari Weiss and the Left-Wing Infatuation With Taking Offense,” Shadi Hamid declares the left’s “indignation” to be baseless and void of ideas, and flimsily mentions the actually concrete, verifiably existent arguments. Then, rather bizarrely, he attempts to dispute these explanations with his own emotional reactions.

I’ll be honest: When Hamid says that he’s not offended by incorrect assumptions of his citizenship or questions of where he’s “really” from, I’m happy for him. I’m glad he feels oblivious to the consistent onslaught of subtle but effective dehumanization faced by nonwhite Americans, because that is unnecessary emotional labor that I would wish on no one. But if he is privy to such luck, then why does Hamid wield it to invalidate other people’s experiences? Additionally, if he is going to treat his own anecdotal evidence as fact, then why does he believe that his personal reactions are worth more than those of, as he puts it, “hundreds” of others? Hamid’s own response is built on his emotions, and it does nothing except, perhaps, illustrate a possible lack of empathy.

The article’s subtitle reads: “Outrage mobs are chipping away at democracy, one meaningless debate at a time.” It’s unfortunate that Hamid fails to recognize that these so-called “outrage mobs” are not trying to dismantle democracy—they are composed of people who are speaking up in hopes of restructuring our democracy to be a more inclusive one. Let’s not forget that democracy is contingent on citizen participation: Its success depends on people relentlessly protesting, advocating, and being heard. If you’re looking for angry mobs attempting to dismantle democracy, then look elsewhere—I assure you, the people of color asking to be acknowledged as Americans are not the ones you’re seeking.

Karen Chee
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hamid is confused, among other things, about the basis of the complaint, hijacking and distorting it for his own personal crusade against excesses of modern identity politics.  ...

If Weiss’s supporters would like to hang their arguments on civility, ending online abuse, and freedom of speech, I, as most would, agree with them wholeheartedly and unreservedly. But most have gone several steps further by prescribing how others should or should not perceive a long-standing stereotype or behave in their own daily lives—a sort of “thought policing” in its own right. Ideas of polite speech are ever-evolving. Today, there are many outdated phrases most of us are happy to have left behind and this newfound sensitivity is not weakness, but a strength. We are a better America today precisely because of it.

Mari Uyehara
Excerpt from a GQ.com post

I agree with Shadi Hamid that we as a society should not be “infatuated with taking offense.” However, I disagree that his opening example of Bari Weiss and Mirai Nagasu is the best example to make this point.

Like Hamid and Nagasu, I am the child of immigrants. Like Hamid, I get the question “Where are you from?” and my experience is also that the question usually means “Where are you really from?” Finally, like Hamid, I am not offended by the question, per se.

However, unlike Hamid, I think we should discuss rather than dismiss the implications of the question and what it “usually” means. If a white or black person is asked “where are you from?” and he responds, “Connecticut,” the follow-up question (if any) is never “where are you really from?” or “were you born here?”

But as Hamid recognizes, when an Arab or Asian person is asked this question, those two questions are quite often asked next. My impression of Hamid’s article is that he opposes our “identitarian age” and “identity politics.” If so, then it seems somewhat inconsistent that he criticizes people who “took offense” at Bari Weiss’s tweet, while simultaneously giving a free pass to people who ask Arabs, Asians, etc. “where are you really from?”

I am not offended when I am asked where I am from. I grew up in Georgia, so I give that as my answer. I am also not offended when I am asked where I am really from. I was born in Iowa, so I give that as my follow-up answer. But if we truly want to live in a non-identitarian age free of identity politics, then there should not be any “where are you really from?” follow-up question if I say I am from Georgia. If people are instead curious about what my ethnicity is, then they should feel free to ask me that directly rather than imply that I cannot really be from Georgia. (My family background is Chinese, and I wish everyone a happy lunar new year.)

Alex Young
Fargo, N.Dak.