Hang on to Your New Sincerity, White People

Hang on to Your New Sincerity, White People

When I saw Mr. Rogers appear in a post on The Awl on November 9, 2016, and when I clicked and discovered it wasn’t a joke (it was about how to find and be a “helper” in tragic times) I thought I saw a deeply sweet, intense vulnerability. It seemed to match a loss of self-assurance, a new, mostly ego-free self-awareness—in real people and on the terrifying Internet—that wasn’t quite as cripplingly sarcastic as it was before. I guess it’s hard to be sarcastic when nothing can be taken for granted; it’s also hard to be sarcastic when you’re eye-bleeding mad, which I think is a cousin to this new sincerity, and worth keeping around.

(Then again, I’m just living in a new version of last week’s media bubble. Does that undermine everything I think and write and do? Yes, but I can’t stop trying to understand. That’s part of it.)

This new sincerity seems to be overwhelmingly white, because people of color have been rightly mad for ages. For nearly four years, the Black Lives Matter movement has been deeply sincere, and deeply angry. Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock skewered white liberals on SNL (their clip has 2.5 million more views than Kate McKinnon’s bizarre, heart-wrenching Hallelujah cold open) in a way that’s barely funny because it’s so real; they giggle when the white girl says “Oh my god… I think America is… racist!”

The realization is real, though late (and usually phrased more like “I didn’t realize America was this racist); similarly, this potential new sincerity is real, though late. The subway sticky notes; the circulating of this “Yes, I’ll Accompany My Neighbor” form that connects volunteers with their LGBTQ, Muslim and/or neighbors of color, covered in this Gothamist article and accompanied with the phrase “There’s a way to make people feel this now” under an image of women holding “Everyone Is Welcome” signs; the outpouring of articles describing how to give money and volunteer to make a difference—the sweetness kept appearing everywhere late last week and into the weekend.

And it was paired with real-life, angry protests across the country; hate crimes at our universities and throughout our cities; articles like “Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America” in the Washington Post and elsewhere, and David Remnick’s astonished admission, on CNN, that we are already normalizing this insanity.

Damon Young, one of the funniest writers I know, wrote “I’m Tired of Good White People” for GQand unfortunately, it’s not funny (it is good, though). Unlike Remnick, Young is not surprised at the tendency to normalize: he’s utterly frustrated at the fact that most white people have nothing at stake, truly, and nothing to offer except a “glib curiosity.” These “‘well-meaning’ white people” need to do more, says Young.

I agree, but I’ll add that as a woman, I do actually have a great deal at stake, and actually, every goddamn person has something at stake even though they might not know it yet, and every goddamn person needs to be responsible, now. Am I repeating everything that’s already on the Internet? Yes! But it must be repeated, because otherwise the constructive anger, the anti-sarcasm, and the new sincerity will disappear, and we’ll be much worse off than we already are.

I leave you with this actual representation of America right now (a 1994 episode of Fresh Prince), which is part of the wild machine that glorified and commodified Donald Trump and  then turned him into our President, because we were content to laugh and point rather than act.

Facts lmao

A video posted by Daquan Gesese (@daquan) on

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for writing this. It’s cool to see this question poised in the context of post-election actions like the Accompany Project, angry protests, increased FB ‘activism’ and the USQ subway sticky notes. It’s also interesting to read your article in relation to a Paste article from August 2016 which talks about New Sincerity and Trump: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/08/donald-trump-and-the-new-sincerity-artists-have-mo.html

    You are discussing this new sincerity in the context of the visible shift that occurred on 11-9 for white / privileged people. I’m not sure whether or not you are trying to reference the New Sincerity– a kind of ‘post-ironic’ movement articulated by David Foster Wallace in reaction to late 20th century post-modern irony. Whether or not you are, I think the phenomenon you are describing is related to millennial culture’s reaction to our long-standing attitude of irony/ distance/ removal.

    In the Paste article, he describes a mostly- white privileged youth culture reacting to its own apathy and irony with ‘New Sincerity.’ When you read more about the New Sincerity, you realize that most artist and musicians and authors making work within said ‘movement’ are white people (not all, but many).

    I think what has occurred post-election is a kind of ‘New-New Sincerity’ (if I had to name it, which I would rather not) for white people, where we now have been dropped a few degrees from our previous position of privilege (yet of course we still have relative privilege— we still do not have to confront the magnitude of issues that POC and others must deal with in the new Trump era or even pre-Trump). Such a shift becomes a ‘shock’ that ‘opens our eyes.’ I agree that we all have a lot at stake, even as white women– but of course we must still recognize the relative privilege we occupy and had blindly occupied pre-election. The election has incited us with more responsibility because it now becomes highly inappropriate to not address the political and ethical challenges in the face of such a bigot, in this new era. This urgency and sense of responsibility existed before– we white people were just able to disavow it more easily. The New Sincerity pre-election seemed insular, a-political, and perhaps even self-absorbed, despite its articulated goal to fight against apathy/ irony.

    The interesting thing about the Paste article is that it posits that sincerity for sincerity’s sake can be dangerous, just as irony for irony’s sake is excessive and regressive. I think a difficult question that we must ask ourself now is how to establish ‘sincere’ ethical positions in the face of a ‘post- truth’ society, where all identities and positions are very easily dissolved within such plurality of perspectives. Trump is sincere and unfiltered, and through this he reveals his vacuous, confused, and easily changeable opinions. He reacts to the immediate situation, changing his stance in order to please people and therefore is relatively easy to manipulate. The only thing he feels strongly about is his own ego and his need to win in order to feel better about himself and his identity.

    Such an attitude is prevalent in a culture inundated with disinformation, multiple versions of ‘reality,’ and the growing complexities of the world’s unpredictable ecological situation, economy, and political climate. If you look into the methods the Kremlin uses to manipulate and control its citizens, it is akin to what has occurred via (social) media in this election. Russia deploys a kind of gas-lighting directed by Vladislav Surkov in order to control its citizens. To quote from a 2014 NTY article: “In a novel presumed to be written by Mr. Surkov, who is also an art-loving bohemian when not waging covert wars, he celebrates the triumphant cynicism of a post-Soviet generation that has seen through the illusions of belief in any values or ideology. / ‘Everything is P.R.,’ my Moscow peers would tell me. This cynicism is useful to the state: When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world. Thus the paradox: the gullible cynic.” This clearly was happening on both sides during this election— the right and left has lost every shred of faith in the political establishment. This is especially true for millennials who have access to the resources of the Internet, which reveal and confirm the long-suspected corruption of the media and political establishment… but it also holds true for the long- disenfranchised lower/ working class citizens who have been ignored by the elite neoliberal political establishment for decades.

    Sorry for the long response, but I’ve been thinking and writing about this as well, so when I saw your article I wanted to try to flesh out some sort of dialogue (I usually never comment on articles on the Internet, so I guess I’m entering a new sincerity through this interaction). To circle back to this new sincerity that we both sense post- election, I think it needs to be maintained and built upon. This new disposition stimulates a sense of responsibility and commitment to a larger community — such selflessness is usually lost in our increasingly atomized, polarized and cynical social media landscape, and in our choice- obsessed, individualistic culture.

    I disagree with the Paste article’s easy conclusion that our response to Trumps sincerity should be a ‘New Irony.’ I think irony is utterly impotent today and has long been impotent, and what we need now is not the destructive tool of irony and distance, but rather an ethically responsible, constructive sincerity that still somehow avoids ideology. This is perhaps a paradox. But I feel as if the only answer to the mounting complexities that are revealed daily via Wikileaks, our Facebook newsfeed etc, is to build up communities and to uphold thoroughly- considered ethical positions in the face of the absurd excess of contradictory information. This conclusion is not too concrete, but I would love to hear other views on this as well.

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