No Room for Debate
Race has become the centerpiece of American public discourse, but that's not an invitation to discussion.
What do people returning to work, organic farming, and bird names have in common? They are all battlegrounds of racial reckoning, according to liberal corporate media. This demonstrates the degree to which many on the left have sought to make race the irrepressible, reductionist centerpiece of American public discourse, in a manner similar to other radical activist movements that have sought to foreground sex, gender, or—in an older, more conventionally Marxist age—class.
In July, the Washington Postfeatured an article about how black women came to enjoy working from home, where they were “free from microaggressions,” during the pandemic. Among those interviewed was 28-year-old project specialist Funke Adeniji, who manages an Instagram account in which she “fields tips, questions and complaints about being Black in the office world.” As a black woman, the Post explained, “she felt she was expected to be friendly to everyone, look presentable and field inappropriate personal questions.”
The month before, the Post ran a large interactive story on “Afro Indigenous regenerative agriculture” and its battle against a “food apartheid” white farming industry that has contributed to climate change, which, the story notes, disproportionately affects “black and brown folks.” That same month the paper published another big feature on the “racist legacy” of bird names “connected to enslavers, supremacists and grave robbers.” One Asian-American ornithologist told WaPo: “Western ornithology, and natural exploration in general, was often tied to a colonialist mind-set of conquering and exploiting and claiming ownership of things rather than learning from the humans who were already part of the ecosystem.”
One might reasonably wonder if being friendly to everyone and looking presentable is too much to ask of employees, regardless of their skin color (of course, no one should be expected to field “inappropriate personal questions,” though one wonders what exactly Adeniji had been asked—the article curiously offers no further explanation). One might also ask how exactly “Afro Indigenous regenerative agriculture” is qualitatively different from other earlier forms of organic farming that most agrarian societies have engaged in at one time or another, besides the skin color of the farmers. And one might also wonder why Western ornithology is singled out for bearing the stamp of exploitative colonialism, when Asian and African peoples have done their fair share of conquering, enslaving, and “claiming ownership of things.”
Of course, this dramatic shift in how we think and talk about race didn’t happen overnight; its antecedents can be traced through decades. But the transformation intensified in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd. Momentum had been building since the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin, when Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza posted on Facebook: “I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter… Our lives matter.” It took seven years, but in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, embrace or qualification of those three words became one of the most controversial fault lines in American society.
Now one year removed from Floyd’s death, Americans find it increasingly impossible to avoid the subject of race. It is not just the media that is driving the relentless narrative—“systemic racism,” “anti-racism,” “critical race theory.” The entertainment industry is scrambling to foreground “persons of color.” Companies advertise with attacks on systemic racism and highlighting their highlighting of persons of color. Professional sports leagues and their teams promise to do more to advance anti-racism. And public schools have become ground-zero of political and ideological battles over curricula informed by critical race theory.
If you aren’t frequently thinking about race and racism, you apparently should be. Activists declare that it is not enough to be “non-racist;” one must be “anti-racist,” and accept various tenets and proposals proffered by anti-racist thought leaders. Everyone must participate in this nationwide anti-racist agenda, evidenced by the proliferation of anti-racist training for businesses, civil servants, educators, and police officers.
If you express disagreement with or disapproval of this far-reaching social and political project, you risk being labeled a racist yourself. White persons skeptical of anti-racism, whether its premises or various manifestations, are accused of being guilty of “white fragility” and seeking to protect “white supremacist” norms. Black persons who express similar concerns are called “Uncle Toms.”
The non-stop contentious political and ideological wrangling over race in America—and the increasingly higher personal and professional stakes dependent on one’s opinions—is alarming, to say the least. Indeed, it recalls other times in American history when views on contentious topics—say, the two “Red Scares” or America’s entry into World War I—were defined not only by alarmism and hysteria but attacks on various rights, including free speech and free assembly. In our own time, media outlets are willing to fire employees for alleged offenses against the new racial orthodoxies, and major vendors are willing to stop selling certain books deemed racist.
Reaction to books such as BLM: The Making of a New Marxist Revolution, by Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez will also be instructive. By reaction, I do not necessarily mean how various media will review it—I would presume few, if any liberal corporate outlets will bother to mention it (though perhaps a few will offer a pro forma piece pillorying it for being racist or predictably red-meat conservative). Rather, I mean how certain people—say a coworker, manager, or teacher—would react to any of the information provided therein.
Take for example Gonzalez’s citation of the Insurance Information Institute (a nonpartisan wonky organization if ever there was one), which found that the BLM-inspired and supported riots in 2020 cost between $1 billion and $2 billion in damage, “marking it as the costliest civil disorder in U.S. history.” Or that of the 633 incidents in the U.S. in 2020 that the Princeton-supported Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project counted as “riots,” BLM activists were involved in about 95 percent of them. Or Gonzalez’s extensive research showing that BLM’s three founders—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Culors, and Opal Tometi—all have long-standing ties to domestic and international Marxist revolutionaries (including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro).
One could also cite Brown University economics professor Glenn Loury—quoted by Gonzalez—who in a 2021 lecture noted that of the people fatally shot by police in the United States in a given year (there were about 1,200 fatal shootings between June 2015 and May 2016, for a high-end example), about one-fourth of victims were black, which is an over-representation of black citizens (who comprise about 13 percent of the population), but far less than the majority. Loury in the same speech also noted that there are about 17,000 homicides every year, nearly half of which involve black perpetrators, and the majority of which involve black victims. “For every black killed by the police, more than 25 other black people meet their end because of homicides committed by other blacks,” Loury, himself black, observed.
Finally, we might consider the fact that BLM raised $90 million from individuals alone in 2020. Or that corporations including Amazon, Gatorade, Microsoft, Glossier, Airbnb, 23andMe, Unilever, Bungie, Nabisco, Dropbox, Fitbit, Devolver Digital, and Tinder contributed to a BLM war chest of corporately donated funds amounting to $1.6 billion as of December 2020. In other words, BLM is now a very wealthy liberal activist organization with incredible social and political influence and reach, akin to organizations like Human Rights Watch or the Open Society Foundations.
All of the above data points are not only facts, but easily discoverable for anyone with internet access. They may be controversial, and they may undermine certain talking points of the anti-racist movement, but they are, in a word, true. Yet imagine what response a federal worker or an employee of a major corporation might elicit if he or she were simply to cite them. Or, even more controversially, imagine what might happen to such a person if she had something like Gonzalez’s book—with its provocative cover and title—visible on her desk.
Answering that question, I would propose, is even more important than discerning whether or not the BLM movement is good or bad for America, if organic farming and ornithology are systemically racist, or if critical race theory represents a fundamental attack on our national identity. That is because in an increasingly concerning number of cases, even debating the above questions is labeled unacceptable. The debate, we are told by those with the ability to decide the fates of employees and students, is already over.
Casey Chalk writes about religion and culture issues for The American Conservative and is a contributing editor for the New Oxford Review. He has degrees in history and teaching from the University of Virginia, and a masters in theology from Christendom College.