Is today’s racial inflammation in the United States the crisis before the fever breaks?
My Magic 8-Ball says, “Signs point to yes.” One can only hope. What a blessing if, after 150 years, America’s bankrupt race mythology finally collapsed under its own weight and contradictions.
Progressives have depended on factitious racial categories since the Civil War. In the late 1800s, the newly minted progressive Democrats used pseudo-Darwinian racial theories to justify second-class status for Americans of African descent–especially freed slaves–whom they painted as evolutionarily unfit to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship in a liberal democracy.
Fast forward 80 years or so, and the Nazis had saddled progressive racial theorizing with a bad odor. In spite of this setback, progressives were unready to give up on their “modern” racial sorting system. Rather than dump the whole mess and embrace the Lincolnian precept that all men are created equal–full stop–progressives pivoted to a new plan. To wit, the federal government should embrace socio-racial categories to *fix* local circumstances for Americans of African descent. Racial separation and privileges were kept in law, but with a righteous odor restored.
This grand pivot culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a dog’s breakfast that supercharged the administrative state; put the federal courts in the lawmaking business; hobbled local autonomy not just in the Southern U.S. but everywhere; turned countless Americans into impoverished wards of the federal government; and effectively seeded a new constitution that overgrew the first Constitution like ivy on a brick wall.
And now here we are.
Activists obsessed with race have transformed into the enemy they purportedly despise. They are demanding widespread unequal treatment of Americans, including re-segregation, more affirmative discrimination, “reparations”–a welfare payment only for Americans of African descent–and race-specific speech restrictions.
A YouTube comedian captured the towering absurdity in all this with a fictional conversation between a woke “anti-racist” and a white supremacist, who discover they share a foundation and way of thinking about socio-racial engineering. If you haven’t had your laugh today, don’t miss this:
It’s funny because it’s true. Woke race hustlers are recylcing the storylines of early-20th-century racial theorists. Only now, white people are genetically inferior. White people are incapable of participating fully in liberal democracy. White people are by nature a violent race who will murder and destroy if not suppressed and reeducated. Present-day race hustlers have merely dusted off old racial canards and applied a coat of paint. As Christopher Caldwell writes:
Since the killing of George Floyd, a lot of anti-racist political reforms have been suggested and even carried out in the name of progress, but much of this “progress” looks strangely like a segregationist’s dream.
For their part, conservatives have adopted progressives’ fictive racial categories without realizing their error. Simplistic jargon like “white,” “black,” and “Asian” lack all precision and objectivity, scientific or otherwise. The overbroad racial terms all Americans reference on a daily basis–even when expressed in the latest politically correct cant–only serve to derail intelligent, productive conversation.
As soon as vague racial terms make an entrance, discussion crumbles into misunderstanding and perilous bickering over definitions. This perennial breakdown of communication is not a bug but a feature of factitious racial categories.
The disconnection was brought home to me in an overheard conversation between an American and a visiting Nigerian. The American referred to the Nigerian as “black,” and the Nigerian lost no time correcting him:
“I am not ‘black.’ I am NIGERIAN.”
The Nigerian explained that he held nothing in common with Americans of African descent except approximate skin tone–no language, no culture, no tastes, no habits, no history, no mores, no worldview. He pointed out that lumping a Nigerian together with “black” Americans made about as much sense as associating pale-pink Americans with Russians living in Moscow.
Of course the Nigerian was correct. His American interlocutor had developed the habit of relying on racial jargon to prop up “enlightened” but fantastical political beliefs. In the process, the American fell into speaking nonsense–nonsense that was obvious to a foreigner unindoctrinated in America’s race mythology.
Such exchanges occur more and more frequently these days. Events are forcing Americans to confront the lack of objectivity or substance in their inherited racial mythology. The reductive groupings bequeathed to us by progressives fail miserably as descriptors of reality. They lead to circular reasoning and cascading ambiguity. The more charged and racialized the public debate becomes, the less grounded it is in the world around us. Thus we get headlines like:
The silliness of both the AP’s style choice and the ensuing criticism of that choice becomes apparent when unfamiliar but equivalent terms are substituted:
Odd as it may strike Americans accustomed to thinking in racial categories, discussion of “whites” and “blacks” requires nearly as much imagination and distance from reality as discussion of “elves” and “hobbits.” To be sure, some folks identify themselves as “black” or “white”; but recall that legions of Comic-Con attendees choose to identify themselves as elves and hobbits, too.
The racial sorting project is spinning from ‘distasteful’ into ‘preposterous’. Progressive racialists have sapped race categories of the crude and impoverished meaning they used to possess–relative lightness or darkness of skin tone. Light-skinned attention seekers in the mold of Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King style themselves “black,” while others of African decent are pronounced “not really black” because they happen to embrace traditional American culture or conservative politics.
Meanwhile, intellectuals in the social sciences have fabricated pseudo-platonic forms from already-flimsy racial categories–barren super-abstractions like “whiteness” and “Blackness” (to abide by the AP guidelines).
Such naked idiocy cannot endure forever. Progressive racial theorists have developed into parodies of themselves. Even the man on the street grasps that something doesn’t add up. He senses that–like debates about the various inhabitants of Middle Earth–racial mythology amounts to fruitless and exhausting word games.
A loss of faith in racial sorting signals catastrophe for progressive leaders and organizations who depend on manufactured racial conflict to amass attention, power, and money. As Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi observes:
The people who run this country have run out of workable myths with which to distract the public, and in a moment of extreme crisis have chosen to stoke civil war and defame the rest of us – black and white – rather than admit to a generation of corruption, betrayal, and mismanagement.
Racial categories and hierarchies are articles of progressive faith and thought control. Questioning their existence tears a hole in the woke universe and threatens the entire grievance-industrial complex–the burgeoning pyramid schemes of campus diversity czars, white-privilege instructors, witch-smellers of “implicit racism,” and grifters riding the wave of racial demagoguery.
Those who wish to champion the old Lincolnian ideal of universal equality for all Americans might begin by eschewing progressive racial categories entirely. Engaging with ludicrous generalizations like “America is infected with systemic anti-black racism ” validates the psychosis underlying it–that “white” and “black” describe something meaningful about individuals or describe objective groups.
To pierce the trance, one might ask instead: “What makes you think that categories like ‘white’ and ‘black’ exist–or have any utility–outside your overheated imagination?”