John Stoehr: What the Right Gets Wrong on Race

If you tend to get annoyed when you hear pundits criticize politicians for “politicizing” an inherently political issue, then this week’s show may be right up your alley. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak to John Stoehr, frequent guest of the show and editor of independent news outlet, The Editorial Board as we examine some of his recent thought-provoking pieces on race, equity and inclusion. We delve into the political nature of “depoliticizing” the fight for racial equity, look at the Right’s obsession with “woke-ism” and what it really means, and talk about some of the people who have been publicly shunned and commercially shut-down lately, from Roald Dahl to Scott Adams, and what this says about free speech and the marketplace.

00:02 Narrator – This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

00:22 John Stoehr (JS) – He’s telling us something that’s more powerful than capitalism, and that is white power. White power has enabled men like Scott Adams, who’s 65 and been doing this for 30 years to say to himself I should be able to continue doing this for another 30 years. That’s my right.

00:41 Narrator – If you tend to get annoyed when you hear pundits criticize politicians for “politicizing” an inherently political issue, then this week’s show may be right up your alley. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak to John Stoehr, frequent guest of the show and editor of independent news outlet, The Editorial Board as we examine some of his recent thought-provoking pieces on race, equity and inclusion. We delve into the political nature of “depoliticizing” the fight for racial equity, look at the Right’s obsession with “woke-ism” and what it really means, and talk about some of the people who have been publicly shunned and commercially shut-down lately, from Roald Dahl to Scott Adams, and what this says about free speech and the marketplace.

01:47 Alex Wise (AW) – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by John Stoehr. John is the founder and editor of the Editorial Board. John, welcome back to Sea Change Radio.

01:57 John Stoehr (JS) – Thanks for having me again, Alex.

02:00 Alex Wise (AW) – Always a pleasure to talk to you. And I see that the ravages of inflation have not included the editorial boards, very reasonable prices of $6 a month. I wanted to dive into a few of the recent pieces that you wrote in February, Black History Month, about diversity, equity and race and politics and it seemed like there were, there were a lot of common threads there and I wanted to unravel these common threads. So you talk about “anti-political politics.“ Republicans are accusing colleges of answering to the “Politburo of wokeness.”  I like that term “anti-political politics.” Why don’t you explain what it means to you and how it relates to where we are right now politically?

02:52 JS – You’re referring to a piece I wrote late month that was inspired by an article I read in The Economist and the and it just it really got under my skin. So, and that’s usually a good place to begin an article. The thing about people ever since people have been people, there has been politics, right? Put two people in the room with some kind of shared and limited resource. You’re going to have politics of some kind. That’s just the way people are – we are political creatures who evolved from the creation of this planet. And whenever we get away from that fact, when we get, when we get away from our humanity, that’s where I think the trouble begins. So this economist article was saying that diversity, equity and inclusivity pledges on university campuses. This is for people who are applying for professorships. The Economist said that this kind of thing is a danger to freedom. Speech and freedom of thought and academic freedom. And so on. That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Asking people to make these pledges, it’s not a request. I mean, it’s not a demand like they can be legally discriminated against if they if they refuse to comply, it’s just it’s just politics taking its. Following its course in an institution that is inherently poor. The economists and other people who were, you know, these middle of the road, self-important enlightened people who just want everyone to be reasonable, they really want people to stop being political. They really want people to stop using democratic politics to get what they want. And these people, by asking us to stop being political, are asking us to accept the status quo as it is. The thing about the status quo, it is a product of politics. It is always a product of politics and it always will be a product of politics. The people most invested, and who most benefit from the status quo are those people who want other people to stop using democratic politics to change the status quo. See where I’m going with this? Human beings are political, full stop. Other people who are also being political are asking others to stop being political, and that’s really where we really need to understand this whole thing about free speech on campus and so on. These people who are in this enlightened middle are really just asking us to deny our humanity and that’s where we should just say “no, you can’t do that.” Democratic politics is really how the world moves, and the countervailing force to democratic politics is what I call “anti-political.”

05:33 AW – And the Economist piece that you’re talking about calls out the “threats to academic freedom in America.” So obviously, this author from The Economist agrees with us that there should be academic freedom in America. But where do we diverge from what the Economist author’s thinking? Where does the “both-sides-ism” creep in and the acceptance of the status quo take over?

06:03 JS – I don’t know the answer to that question so much is the Economist itself is owned by a company called The Economist. Group and The Economist Group has a page on the Internet and the Internet dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusivity. That that statement actually says The Economist Group says that it is quote committed to diversity and inclusion, and it works to quote actively foster an environment where all are seen, heard and supported to succeed.

06:34 AW – What are some of the bullet points that kind of compelled you to want to react and write your response to it, the bullet points are that there are people on university campuses and in any organization, any institution, there are people who want this, who want that thing to change, and then there are other people who don’t want it to change.

06:53 JS – Right, and the existence of both parties means politics. That’s always going to be politics. But there are people like. This writer at The Economist and The Economist generally speaks for the global status quo. As far as I’m concerned. These are the people who want us to stop being political. They want us to stop being people. And that’s my point. Anybody who’s saying stop being political is saying stop being a person.

07:18 AW – Stop caring.

07:19 JS – Stop caring. Stop being. Stop caring about humanity. Stop acting morally. You know, stop insisting on using your own political power to affect whatever change you want. You want to affect. Normally what happens is that you know somebody from the Economist says, you know, this thing shouldn’t happen and then everybody gets into a tizzy about whether this thing should or should not happen. Forget that we should be pointing the finger back at the economists and saying why are you telling people to stop being political?

07:48 AW – And the act of not being political is a political act, too. I remember after 9/11. At the time, that was almost anti political right? I don’t we’re not gonna politicize 9/11. We’re just gonna go in and bomb another country. But that was an extremely political act.

08:04 JS – Extremely political act. The question is, what are we going to do? With those politics. What actions are we going to take? What choices are we going to make? Those are the real questions. It’s like asking a kid to not feel bullied. You don’t tell a kid when he’s being bullied to not feel what he’s feeling. Because that kid is a human being who’s going to have feelings. In a political context like bullying….

08:28 AW – “Rub some dirt on it” is not going to help that kid.

08:31 JS – No, what you try to do is teach that kid how to use good judgment, how to make good choices, and if necessary to use violence, but only as a last resort. You know, those are those are the things that you, you we should be teaching, reminding ourselves, you know, anybody who says don’t act politically, don’t make this political is acting politically and should be disqualified from having any authority. But of course because the magazines like The Economist speak for the global status quo, they can say absolutely absurd things and it will be fine. It will just be accepted.

09:24 (music break)

10:34 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to John Stoehr. He is the editor and founder of the Editorial Board. So John, we’re talking about a kid being bullied and how an appropriate reaction would not be to ignore that child’s feelings. And speaking of children, one of the more beloved children’s authors, Roald Dahl. He’s posthumously been under the microscope a little bit as his books keep getting turned into movies and and his legacy is become much murkier. Why don’t you explain? I wasn’t really familiar with some of the darker side of Roald Dahl.

11:12 JS – So a company owned by Netflix has decided to republish Roald Dahl’s work with some censorship and some of the censorship is fairly mild. Other censorship censorship seems appropriate, since Roald Dahl was an anti Semite. Most people don’t know. And so if you’re getting rid of some direct or indirect anti Jew hatred, I don’t see the problem with that. The the thing the thing about this, this republishing is that. It gives anti liberal people more reason to blame the Liberals for their liberal idea. Is liberalism is the force that would cause this company to decide to re republished and roll bells work and and subsequently re recreate animated, not animated, sorry cinematic interpretations of that. So it’s all going to be on Netflix at some point. So what they’re doing it because liberalism is, is a presence in this in this country and so on. But what they’re doing, what Netflix is doing is kind of going halfway right. It doesn’t really. It would be just fine not to say anything and just release this new work. Without, you know, talking about the censorship. But if they just did said nothing, then they wouldn’t get credit for being woke.

12:44 AW – So you write about Netflix wanting to get credit for being woke, but when I watched some of the clips from the CPAC conference, and anybody who’s spent a few minutes on Fox News can tell you that there’s 40% of America is frothing at the mouth over the word woke. So that’s a pretty charged word. I mean, you see what Disney is dealing with with Ron DeSantis in Florida. I don’t think of the Walt Disney Company as this bastion of liberalism, but it’s been targeted as this super woke company now by DeSantis and Company. It seems like a company like Netflix would want to just stay away from getting attached to any label.

13:26 JS – Yeah, the Conservatives…first of all, I don’t call them conservatives. I call them illiberal. The illiberals are mad because corporations recognize the commercial and political power of non white people. That’s what they’re mad about when capitalism, which is the force that gives us meaning in the society, or one of the the second most powerful force that gives us meaning in the society? And that recognizes people who had not previously been recognized. Then that’s a problem for those liberals. They don’t like that you’re recognizing someone’s presence and so and therefore recognizing their politics, it would be much better for the Liberals if they if all their enemies were just erased. So capitalism is the real problem here, and for them anyway, because capitalism is actually a utopian ideology in my, in my view, I know I’m rubbing people the wrong way here, but capitalism tries to be all things to all people. Liberalism does not do that. Liberalism likes to annoy people. It likes to provoke change, get people to think for themselves. All the things that most people don’t want to do, they’d rather just watch Netflix, right? But capitalism wants to be all things to all people. So inherently capitalism has to go halfway. Things and that’s where it goes back to Netflix. It happened. Netflix wants to be woke, but not too woke, right? It wants to get credit for being woke, but it doesn’t want to to draw too much attention to itself as woke. The consequence of all that is that everyone blames the lie.

15:02 AW – Yeah, explain that and tie that in with Black History Month too, if you can.

15:07 JS – Yeah, well, Black History Month. Is being practiced in a country such as ours, which is a capitalist country and it is honored by corporations trying to be all things to all people. And inherently has to fudge things in such a way in its expression of honoring African American history, it tries to be all things to all people, which is going to annoy all the people involved. The consequence of capitalism trying to be all things to all people. And using liberal ideas in the process is that nobody blames the capitalists for getting the Liberals ideas wrong. Nobody blames the capitalists or the institutions of capitalism for going halfway in satisfying liberal demands. Everybody just blames the Liberals instead. Institutions, organizations, corporations, they all have. They’re all self-interested and they are inherently conservative in that they prefer to continue doing the way things that they can. They prefer to do things as they’ve been doing them. But because Democratic politics is this force that destabilizes everything. Sometimes corporations have to adjust, and the consequence of that is that the ill Liberals don’t like the adjustment. They’d rather go back to the way they were. All of this is very abstract, right?

16:46 AW – And you say that it also was all instigated by the election of Obama in many ways.

16:52 JS – Yeah, Obama’s election demonstrated that non-white people have political power, right? And when conditions are right, they can get what they want. I think that that was a wake-up call to corporations, institutions and so on that that it was time to recognize not only the political power of non-white people but their commercial power their dollars. And so, a company that sells stuff needs customers. And so it seeks out those customers and tries to give them what they want in exchange for money. And all of that is very bothersome to people who don’t want capitalism to recognize people they believe, do not belong. People they believe do not count. People they believe will displace them from the center of American politics. And so my point in the piece is actually to both simplify and complicate what’s right in front of us. Really, all of this is very abstract, but it’s important to just to remember who is doing. What to whom and why? Usually, it’s not liberals trying to strong arm the American people into being woke. That was all an invention resting on the misinterpretation of liberalism by capitalist entities trying to sell stuff.

18:32 AW – And on the flip side, the obsession with it on the Right. They get quite upset when you consider that America wasn’t always the greatest for everybody. I mean the term MAGA. I don’t know if you saw an interview with Bryan Cranston, but it was a little while ago and he talks about how the term “Make America Great Again” is just an inherently racist term. Because it’s just assuming how all these non-white people, where things weren’t so great for them, we want to go back to that period. So saying that is just a blatantly racist term. It seems a little more rah-rah like, “let’s get back to the good old days!” but the good old days weren’t really good for a wide swath of the American population.

19:19 JS – Yeah, that, that’s. It’s it’s good to know that somebody like him, somebody who’s so. You know has such a high perch, would just point out the obvious. You know, and that needs to be done. People tell us who they are. If we just listen and when somebody’s saying woke this and woke that, they’re telling you who they are and that’s it, you know.

19:41 AW – Or anti-woke. I mean, I just saw we just saw Nikki with Haley talking about how woke ISM is going to kill more people than any pandemic, which I don’t know how that actually. Works, but it’s insanity, obviously.

19:54 JS – That’s an illustration of what illiberal politics requires, and that is, and a huge imagination to make up stuff to make believe. You know, anti woke means this anti racist. That’s what it originally began with it. It has taken on. It used to be just a a cool nickname for anti racism because anti racism is such a mouthful to say but some very clever people somewhere along the line among the Republicans decided. That ooh woke. Is that slippery enough? Term that we can make it mean whatever. We want and we can attach it to whatever make believe we want to create about our enemies and that’s it. So any people who are telling you, they’re anti woke, they’re telling you who they are. You don’t have to think about what woke means. You don’t really don’t. They’re just telling you who they are. And when they when they when they. Say absolutely absurd, ridiculous stuff. Like Wokeness will kill more people than the pandemic. You should see it for it being absolutely ridiculous. That’s what it is and and therefore don’t think about it anymore after that. It doesn’t doesn’t deserve your attention. It doesn’t deserve your time. In fact, if you give it your time, you’re respecting it too much.

21:15 (music break)

22:30 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to John Stoehr. John is the editor of the Editorial Board. So John, connecting the dots with some of these more imaginative thinkers like Roald Dahl and JK Rowling. It was waded into some very controversial waters with some anti-trans comment. Scott Adams, the guy who publishes the Dilbert comics from what I have limited exposure to Mr. Adams, he seems like kind of an unhinged racist. His comics are not political and not explicitly racist, similar to Raul Dahl and JK Rowling’s books are not really reflections of some of their personal statements. Why don’t you connect the dots with the point about capitalism you are making and what is happening now to Dilbert comics around the country, where they’re getting pulled from newspapers? How is this going to end?

23:27 JS – Well, the news here is that Scott Adams, the author, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, said some really racist things that the people he sells the comic strip to said we don’t like those racist things and they decided to stop buying his stuff and that’s the market that’s capitalism. My point in the piece I wrote is that there’s actually something bigger than capitalism that runs this country, and that is white power. And that’s demonstrated by Scott Adams’s reaction to getting “canceled.” He kept. He kept saying things like I’m getting “canceled.” But nobody is addressing my point. And his point was that black people are constitute a hate group. What he’s saying is that he’s entitled to a counterargument. And I don’t understand why anyone would believe they’re entitled to a counter argument in a capitalist society in which I buy stuff I want. From people who are selling it.

24:30 AW – Especially if you already have had decades of having a soapbox like a nationally syndicated comic strip to espouse any kind of opinion you might want, that’s not using swear words, basically.

24:41 JS – Yeah. So in demanding a counter argument as a reason for getting “cancelled,” he’s telling us something that’s more powerful than capitalism and that is white power. White power has enabled men like Scott Adams, who’s 65 and been doing this for 30 years to say to himself I should be able to continue doing this for another 30 years. That’s my right and it’s like, no, you know, if people stop liking your stuff, or if they stop liking you, that’s it. That’s your ass. And he’s unable to accept that it’s just remarkable how and the worst thing is that we say, “oh, poor Scott Adams.” You know, really, the marketplace should be kinder to him. We would never say that to anybody else. No, it’s only old white men who get such sympathy. Meanwhile, everybody else gets the shaft.

25:38 AW – I guess in your framing of it, the market is the newspaper publisher. It’s not the consumer. Is that fair to say?

25:46 JS – You know, people buy stuff to sell to other people all the time, and that’s what newspaper publishers do, and they can decide to stop buying stuff to sell to other people for whatever reason they want. We accept that as completely normal and in every other circumstance except when it’s Scott Adams.

26:05 AW – Sure. Or like I might enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, or an old rerun of The Cosby Show, but I probably should keep that to myself nowadays.

26:16 JS – I mean there is a social cost to it. It doesn’t mean that doesn’t prevent you from enjoying it in private. Just as Dilbert fans will, I’m sure they will find a way to access Dilbert 24 or 7 if they if they choose and if Scott Adams is smart, he’ll recognize that there will always be an audience for his stuff, and he will provide people with his stuff he’s not entitled to. A platform, I mean, that’s a pretty common thing to say these days. He’s not. But he’s not entitled to a market he’s not entitled to be bought.

26:47 AW – We may someday look at “Dilbert” comics the same way we look at the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” or something. There are these cult classics called Dilbert.

26:57 JS – (Laughs) Maybe, maybe. But you know, it’s funny. You make that comparison to Henry Ford in his anti-Semitism, which was, which was what he was. And comparing it to now see anti-Semitism back in the 1920s it wasn’t controversial, right? It was a perfectly acceptable to talk the way Henry Ford talked, right, and now it is not acceptable to talk the way Scott Adams talked. And that’s just history and change and developing culture that will continue to develop in and break in various unpredictable directions and if capitalist like Scott Adams, cannot adjust to the changing marketplace, well, big shrug. That’s his loss.

27:47 AW – Well, your insights are always illuminating and I highly recommend our listeners go to and subscribe to John’s site. John Stoehr, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

28:02 JS – You’re very welcome, Alex. Thank you.

28:17 Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Rodney Jones, the Neville Brothers and Sharon Van Etten. To read a transcript of this show, go to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.