Repenters, Repressors, and PoC Intelligentsia
Liam Kofi Bright wrote a fascinating article called “White Psycodrama”. (Available here: White Psychodrama Final Version (philarchive.org)) In it, he describes three archetypes involved in the culture wars: Repenters, Repressors, and PoC Intelligentsia. He argues that the culture wars make us all worse and that the only way to improve things is to opt out of them altogether. I agree with Bright on that. But I want to focus here on the three archetypes.
The Repenters are defined by guilt. They feel guilty for all the wrongs that white people have committed over the centuries. Their goal is to alleviate that sense of guilt. These are the people who put Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns. They’re the people who celebrate diversity and celebrate black achievements. They go out of their way to help their black friends and acquaintances. They participate in awareness campaigns. Some of them go overboard as if they are doing it for the praise, but many of the Repenters are sincere.
Repressors are the opposite. They are aware of the history of inequality but choose to downplay it rather than emphasize it. They play up the historical successes and point out how far we’ve come. They wish for a colorblind society, a type of meritocracy. These are the people who will counter Black Live Matter with All Lives Matter. They repress any guilt they may feel. Like the Repenters, Repressors come in two stripes. Some are racists who know they shouldn’t be racist and use these tactics to cover it up. However, others are sincere in their colorblind ideals.
The third archetype is the PoC Intelligentsia. These are the black people who participate in the mostly white culture wars. They participate by going on talk shows, news shows, and writing articles. These appearances are supposedly from the black perspective but serve to prop up the Repenters or Repressors. The Repenters are more likely to use the PoC Intelligentsia, but Repressors do as well. Think of all the black hosts and guests we see on Fox News. I think everyone can think of some who fit the profile of the PoC Intelligentsia.
None of these three archetypes are painted in a flattering light because all three are interested in maintaining the status quo. Or, at least, they are not interested in the radical changes that would overturn the very real oppression that has occurred and continues to this day. For the Repenters, the work is on themselves rather than society. They are interested in becoming better people, not building a better society. Repressors are trying to justify their status and position in society. As for the PoC Intelligentsia, they depend on the Culture Wars for their living. If society were made better, the culture wars might end.
These three are not the only types out there. The white supremacist, for example, doesn’t fit in any of these groups. The three archetypes are simply the most prominent in the culture wars. I’m thankful to Bright for articulating these themes. I’ve long had similar feelings about the culture wars without understanding what I was feeling. I believe these insights go beyond racism and can be used in the fight for any marginalized group. We need actual change, not just talk that maintains the status quo.