Serial: Guilt, Innocence, Viewpoints, and Motivation

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40 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Dude, did you even read Wong’s piece? She lays out the argument for how white privilege and, more broadly, race is playing into the narrative that “Serial” presents pretty clearly. There is room to disagree but your argument against it seems to boil down to, “Koenig is Jewish and therefore immune from white privilege so it can’t possibly be a factor.” That shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what white privilege is.

    Also, in discussing Wong’s piece, you quote her as “Chang”. SMH…Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy, I’m excessively tired of the social justice types trying to have jt both ways when it comes to Jews and white privilege. When they need us to be oppressed to get our support for a particular cause than we are oppressed. When we need help or they don’t want to support our cause than we have white privilege. They need to make up their mind about it.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq (and Saul):

        My general view is that Jewish people are considered white or not depending on what is ideologically convenient and necessary for the decider at the time of his or her decision.

        When they need us to be oppressed to get our support for a particular cause than we are oppressed. When we need help or they don’t want to support our cause than we have white privilege.

        Both of those things are probably true, but not the whole story. Whether Jewish people count as white or not does not wholly depend on the ideological whims of the (for lack of a better term) “bona fide whites” or “social justice types.” Sometimes, if you’re phenotypically white, you enjoy white privilege in at least some case regardless of all those other (very real, I acknowledge) cultural and antisemitic conditions placed upon who gets to count as “white.”

        In my last guest post, I mentioned a tenured professor who bullied a bureaucrat in a transcript department, and I raised the possibility that the fact that the professor was Jewish may conceivably have influenced the bureaucrats reluctance to help. One thing I didn’t raise, but could have, is that if the professor in question had been black, the issue could have played very differently. It’s hard to believe that in that particular situation, the professor in question did not enjoy any white privilege, even if at the same time he also didn’t enjoy the full privilege.

        There’s nothing about that sort of privilege-norming that doesn’t stink. It’s not good. I’m not saying it’s good. I am saying that it’s much more complicated than simply one group’s identity and privilege depending totally and completely of the whim of another (not always very well defined) group.

        Now, not having read or listened to any of the links, I can’t knowledgeably comment on whether Koenig is off base or not, or whether Wong is off base or not. But I don’t see how Koenig’s Jewishness necessarily exempts her from the charge of using the model minority trope. If Wong is explicitly accusing Koenig of white privilege, as the OP says, then that’s a weak part of her argument, not because Koenig is Jewish but because it’s typical of the trope of calling privilege and because it’s irrelevant to the model minority charge. (One needn’t enjoy white privilege to use the model minority trope.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq

        I don’t know if I qualify as a “social justice type” but I’m sorry if reality is tiresome for you. Privilege is not a binary. It is far more complex than that. White Jews enjoy privilege as a function of their race and face oppression as a function of their faith/ethnicity/culture and all sorts of other complexities exist due to the interplay between the two. But to say that Jews don’t have or can’t have/exhibit privilege because they have and continue to face oppression is erroneous.

        Whether “Serial” indulges in privilege or some other form of racism, Wong’s criticisms deserve to be engaged with further than Saul has done here.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy says:

      That shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what white privilege is.

      Maybe. Or maybe it shows that white privilege, as people most commonly use it, is not a very meaningful term.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        The idea that Jewishness eliminates the possibility of possessing/benefiting from white privilege shows you don’t know what white privilege — or privilege/oppression in general — is.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        That is partly true. I don’t know what white privilege is, but that’s mostly because it is a messy, imprecise idea that contains some truth, but a whole lot of spurious, jargon-ey, half-formed ideas.

        More often than not, when I see someone use the term white privilege (or any other privilege), it is a short-cut to avoid rigorous thinking.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to j r says:

        It used to be they just called you a racist. But that’s getting harder and harder to back up because so few people do things that are straight-up racist anymore. So, to get those white-guilt switches tripping, people have changed over to “white privilege”.

        Which is extra awesome because you don’t even need to actually have benefited from it for it to be used as a reason why You’re Morally Inferior. “You’re white, so if you went out and if you got in trouble and if you got caught then you’d probably get an easier time of it from the cops! And that’s white privilege! Now shut up and accept it when I tell you how everything is your fault.”Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        it is a short-cut to avoid rigorous thinking.

        Being able to simply dismiss the idea demonstrates your privilege.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        @jim-heffman

        I do not use it as shorthand for “You’re racist.” I refer to myself as having boatloads of privilege. But I don’t think I’m full of racism or sexism or homophobia or anything of the sort.
        @j-r
        I recognize that privilege is a really tricky concept. It is neither a binary nor fixed. People can be privileged along certain dynamics and oppressed along others: white American Jews would certainly know that. Privilege can also shift depending on context. In most situations, I enjoy male privilege. But in some situations, being male works against me. On the whole, I gain more from being male than I lose and, as such, identify as possessing a “net” male privilege.

        So, yes, I get that it is complicated. Saying, “I’m Jewish and don’t always get treated like non-Jewish white people therefore I can’t have white privilege,” is the simplistic thinking.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

        Being able to simply dismiss the idea demonstrates your privilege.

        Yes. I am quite privileged in my ability to think critically.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy

      Dude! Like Chris below, you are being completely lazy by accusing someone of not reading a piece just because they came to a different interpretation and disagreed with you. An accusation of not reading the piece comes from the “Someone is wrong on the Internet” school of rhetoric and is not very convincing and the sheer attack and insult of your opening line is not going to really convince me that I am wrong in my interpretation of the Buzzfeed and Awl pieces. The attack reads more as a statement of your personal feelings for me than anything else.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        You didn’t even know the author’s name, subbing in “Generic Asian name” when quoting it. You didn’t explain how or why you were uncomfortable with the accusations of white privilege and didn’t actually engage with what the author wrote. Let’s not talk about lazy.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      I edited my mistake. Thank you for pointing it out.Report

  2. FYI, this post seems to have been posted twice. Might it be a good idea to close comments on one of them so as to have one “master thread”?Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    For my part, I’m a bit bemused that an essay about how a Jewish person stereotyped Asians, and blacks produces an essay about how an Asian stereotyped Jews.Report

  4. Avatar Chris says:

    I’m not sure what Wong wants except to express how horrible it is that someone is looking at this case again and we should just take it that Syed is guilty because a jury convicted him of murder.

    Dude, for someone who reads as much as you do, you are consistently terrible at reading.

    I can’t argue that Jay is innocent, or that Adnan is innocent, because I don’t know. None of us do. I do think it’s obvious that Adnan was convicted without sufficient evidence, and I hope that Koenig’s coverage of his case results in something closer to justice.

    The reason you were terrible at reading this, and so many other things, is pretty obvious: you didn’t read what Wong wrote, you read what you wanted Wong to write so that her article would suit your purpose. You saw the phrase “white privilege,” and because it was leveled at someone like you, you recoiled from her writing and never came back to it, giving us a post that never really gets beyond those two words, a post that is little more than a desperate plea for us not to see you, not anyone Wong wrote about, as white privileged.

    You’re smarter than this. I hope you’re better than this.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @chris

    Dude! Just because I came to a different interpretation as you and disagree with your interpretation of Wang’s piece does not make me a bad reader. The statement on being a bad reader comes down to “OMG someone had a different interpretation and was unpersuaded by a piece I found to be informative.”

    There is a lot of dissent on the left about Wang’s piece and the piece in the Awl.

    http://www.cafe.com/r/f2797784-739b-4495-b2c6-b7fa8f508b51/1/a-response-to-the-serial-podcast-and-its-white-privilege

    “I actually found myself wondering if Kang had listened to the podcast. You’d have to be a moron not to acknowledge the racist trope of, “Wow, I didn’t expect you to be so well-spoken” etc. But Koenig’s comment was about the extent to which, as she sat down with Lee’s diary, she found it so utterly textbook typical—mercurial, sappy, teenager-y. And it wasn’t that she felt surprised that this particular diary was so typical, but rather that any diary could be so straight out of Teen Girl Diary Central Casting. It’s not about a Korean person writing it. I listened to that part several times, and don’t see any way you could come to Kang’s conclusion about Koenig’s comments. That whole section is about how she’s falling in and out, and in and out, and in love with Adnan, and the way the diary tells that story. It’s all rather sweet.

    As to Kang’s later point that Koenig is “muting notions of identity to have a clean and relatable narrative”? That’s the opposite of what would serve Koenig’s project here. Again, first and foremost, she’s telling the story of a murder. A confusing story. She wants to know who did it, and she needs to describe the personalities and the lives of the people involved in a reasonably accurate and digestible way. For example, Syed smoked a lot of pot. We need to have it in our minds that this is something his parents, given the context, might have been pissed about. So we need to characterize them. Might that characterization involve some generalizations? Yes. Do generalizations often employ white privilege? Yes. Do these? I don’t think so.”

    The nature of Serial is that it is not supposed to be a finished product like a newspaper story or a This American Life story done after lots of editing. The audience is informed that a lot of investigation is happening concurrently with the story being recorded and we are supposed to get a behind-the-scenes view. This is as much a personal piece as a piece of journalism including hearing Sarah Koenig’s doubts and about dead-ins.

    I do believe there is such a thing as white privilege but that does not mean I need to believe that every accusation of white privilege is correct.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Dude! Just because I came to a different interpretation as you and disagree with your interpretation of Wang’s piece does not make me a bad reader. The statement on being a bad reader comes down to “OMG someone had a different interpretation and was unpersuaded by a piece I found to be informative.”

      Seriously, read the quote I gave from your post, then read the quote I gave from her article. It’s not a difference in interpretation, it’s that you didn’t read it. Pretty sure you didn’t read my comment either, now, since you failed to notice that.

      Slow down.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Reading through the Miller piece, she at least addresses what Kang said, and presents reasons why his interpretation may be wrong. Your criticisms amounted to getting upset that Wang called a Jewish person “white” and then attributing motivations to her that directly contradicted what she said. Compare Miller’s post to yours, and you may very well see what I’m talking about.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “There is a lot of dissent on the left about Wang’s piece and the piece in the Awl.”

      You did it again. You’re really not helping yourself when you keep inserting one common East Asian name for another.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s the problem with Chinese telephones, every time you Wing you get the Wong number.

        (thanks folks! I’ll be here all week! Try your server, tip the veal!)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Hey, a joke that’s about both native Chinese speakers’ pronunciation of English phonemes and Chinese last names! It must be hilarious.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember thinking it was pretty funny when I read it a few decades ago, but apparently I was wrong to do so.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        The Oompa Loompas were victims of colonialism, kenB.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        Strictly speaking, the economic exploitation associated with neo-colonialism: minimal wages, no chance to advance beyond menial labor, and hazardous working conditions. To take just one example, white lung disease was near-endemic among the nougat miners.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        a joke that’s about both native Chinese speakers’ pronunciation of English phoneme…

        Anyway, that’s not even accurate– Chinese speakers tend to pronounce “r” as “l”, not as “w”. The joke is just a pun on the names.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

        Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator, actually.

        “Can we please blow them up? It makes such a lovely noise! WHOMP-WHOOOOOOMP!Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        Oh, right — I was having a hard time remembering where that quote would’ve fit in to C&tCF.

        All I really remember from Great Glass Elevator is the Vermicious Knids, although my brain has decided to conserve storage space by packing them in the same box as the red monster from that Bugs Bunny cartoon. Also I associate the hotel the Knids were in with the Aleph Null Hotel puzzle, which I must’ve read around the same time — so I picture an infinite number of big red sneaker-wearing monsters in a space hotel.

        Brains are weird.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Edit note: I incorrectly referred to Wang as Chang in this post and Kazzy pointed this out in the comments below.

    It’s WONG, not Wang.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:

      @james-hanley

      Today is not my fucking day and this is not my fucking piece. I’m rather tempted to trash it but that would probably go against policy here.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @saul-degraw

        Props for stepping up and handling the pushback you’ve gotten here. It’s never fun, but I’ve grown a lot when I stepped in it and got called out. Try to avoid stepping in it but if and when it happens, use it as a learning oppourtunity.

        Also, never blog angry.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        The blog angry thing doesn’t always work well for me. On the other hand, it hasn’t always worked out terribly, either. I am pedantic and long winded by nature, having a good head of steam has a tendency to produce fewer words with more feeling.

        I’ve stepped in it before, myself. Scrape off the shoe, back up, start over, try again.Report

      • I can’t think of a time when I was angry, and didn’t blog or comment, and regretted not blogging or commenting. Unfortunately, I don’t always heed my own lesson and end up “stepping in it” quite a lot.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @saul-degraw

        I have a number of posts in my drafts that will never get published. Sometimes the writing helps me blow off the steam, and then I’m good, and I realize I’d be smarter not to hit publish ’til a day or two has passed and I’ve reviewed it. And then sometimes on reviewing it I decide it doesn’t need to be published. Sometimes I obsessively revise and rewrite it, despite knowing I’m not going to publish it.

        It’s not so much discipline, as a dread of dealing with the pushback I’d likely get on certain posts.Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I incorrectly referred to Wong as Chang in this post and Kazzy pointed this out in the comments below

    Thanks for wonging it.Report

  8. Avatar j r says:

    After listening to a couple of episodes of Seial and reading the two links from the post, I am going to say that @saul-degraw has a point. It may not quite be the right point, but it is a point.

    The appropriate defense against the charges of Koenig’s white privilege is not to mention that she is Jewish. The appropriate defense is to point out that she needs no defense, because the charges are asserted, but do not even come close to being proven.

    The idea that the podcast is an attempt to racialize the story is well off-base. Koenig plays with the children of immigrants angle, but she almost always does so by letting the people in the story tell that story themselves. Yes, she offers comment, but the comment is generally in support of the reporting. Koenig is certainly using a bit of editorial license to frame this story in a particular narrative, but that narrative is largely shaped by her personal affinity for Syed and her belief that there may be an innocent man sitting in jail for the last 15 minutes.

    There are lots of reasons why someone might wish to criticize the journalism or the storytelling in Serial, but to do that well the critic has to actually grapple with the material and do the work of critiquing. The claims of white privilege are really just a sloppy shortcut for a couple of writers who don’t want to do the real work.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

      @j-r

      “The appropriate defense against the charges of Koenig’s white privilege is not to mention that she is Jewish. The appropriate defense is to point out that she needs no defense, because the charges are asserted, but do not even come close to being proven.”

      Exactly. Does “Serial” and Koenig indulge or fall victim to the biases allowed by white privilege? I can’t say; I haven’t listened to the series. But it seems like a question worth exploring. To say that we can’t even begin to explore it because Koenig is Jewish and, by definition, can’t possess white privilege is to shut down a legitimate line of inquiry and exploration into her and her work. Your analysis here indicates that the criticism may be unfounded. Another piece of evidence in the exploration.

      Frankly, I’m not all that interested in “Serial”. But I am opposed to the idea that certain questions can’t be asked because of someone’s faith (or ethnicity or race or culture or gender or sex or sexual orientation or whathaveyou). That is what it felt like Saul was saying. To the extent that Koenig’s questions drew conclusions instead of asking questions (though the latter seems to be a necessary part of the former), I can’t say. It appears they looked at the same evidence you did and came to a different conclusion which really shouldn’t be surprising.Report