The Religion Of Antiracism
Here’s an excerpt from the black linguist John McWhorter’s new essay, part of his serialized new book:
One can divide antiracism into three waves. First Wave Antiracism battled slavery and segregation. Second Wave Antiracism, in the 1970s and 1980s, battled racist attitudes and taught America that being racist was a flaw. Third Wave Antiracism, becoming mainstream in the 2010s, teaches that racism is baked into the structure of society, so whites’ “complicity” in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them, including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct.
Third Wave Antiracist tenets, stated clearly and placed in simple oppositions, translate into nothing whatsoever:
When black people say you have insulted them, apologize with profound sincerity and guilt. But don’t put black people in a position where you expect them to forgive you. They have dealt with too much to be expected to.
Black people are a conglomeration of disparate individuals. “Black culture” is code for “pathological, primitive ghetto people.” But don’t expect black people to assimilate to “white” social norms because black people have a culture of their own.
Silence about racism is violence. But elevate the voices of the oppressed over your own.
You must strive eternally to understand the experiences of black people. But you can never understand what it is to be black, and if you think you do you’re a racist.
Show interest in multiculturalism. But do not culturally appropriate. What is not your culture is not for you, and you may not try it or do it. But—if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it, you are a racist.
Support black people in creating their own spaces and stay out of them. But seek to have black friends. If you don’t have any, you’re a racist. And if you claim any, they’d better be good friends—in their private spaces, you aren’t allowed in.
When whites move away from black neighborhoods, it’s white flight. But when whites move into black neighborhoods, it’s gentrification, even when they pay black residents generously for their houses.
If you’re white and only date white people, you’re a racist. But if you’re white and date a black person you are, if only deep down, exotifying an “other.”
Black people cannot be held accountable for everything every black person does. But all whites must acknowledge their personal complicity in the perfidy throughout history of “whiteness.”
Black students must be admitted to schools via adjusted grade and test score standards to ensure a representative number of them and foster a diversity of views in classrooms. But it is racist to assume a black student was admitted to a school via racial preferences, and racist to expect them to represent the “diverse” view in classroom discussions.
I suspect that deep down, most know that none of this catechism makes any sense. Less obvious is that it was not even composed with logic in mind. The self-contradiction of these tenets is crucial, in revealing that Third Wave Antiracism is not a philosophy but a religion.
The revelation of racism is, itself and alone, the point, the intention, of this curriculum. As such, the fact that if you think a little, the tenets cancel one another out, is considered trivial. That they serve their true purpose of revealing people as bigots is paramount—sacrosanct, as it were. Third Wave Antiracism’s needlepoint homily par excellence is the following:
Battling power relations and their discriminatory effects must be the central focus of all human endeavor, be it intellectual, moral, civic or artistic. Those who resist this focus, or even evidence insufficient adherence to it, must be sharply condemned, deprived of influence, and ostracized.
McWhorter explains that he’s not addressing conservatives, though he welcomes them to listen in. He’s addressing two audiences that he considers to be his people: New York Times-reading, NPR-listening people of any color who have accepted this new pseudo-religion of antiracism; and black people who have embraced victimhood as identity. He also says that he doesn’t expect to argue the religiously antiracist out of their creed, for the same reason he wouldn’t expect an atheist to succeed at arguing a church full of fundamentalists out of believing in God. What he does hope to do is to figure out how to live among these zealots without letting them suck all the air out of the room.
McWhorter’s list of the contradictory principles of the Antiracism religion boil down to this important dogma: if you’re white, you’re guilty. There is no way to get on the right side of the Elect (as he calls them). It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s your racial identity. In Live Not By Lies, I also call out the antiracists and other social justice extremists as being in a cult. From the book:
The reach of contemporary thoughtcrime expands constantly—homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, biphobia, fat-phobia, racism, ableism, and on and on—making it difficult to know when one is treading on safe ground or about to step on a land mine. Yet [Roger] Scruton is right: All of these thoughtcrimes derive from “doctrines”— his word—that are familiar to all of us. These doctrines inform the ideological thrust behind the soft totalitarianism of our own time as surely as Marxist doctrines of economic class struggle did the hard totalitarianism of the Soviet era.
One imagines an entry-level worker at a Fortune 500 firm, or an untenured university lecturer, suffering through the hundredth workshop on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and doing their very best not to be suspected of dissent. In fact, I don’t have to imagine it at all. As a journalist who writes about these issues, I often hear stories from people—always white-collar professionals like academics, doctors, lawyers, engineers—who live closeted lives as religious or social conservatives. They know that to dissent from the progressive regime in the workplace, or even to be suspected of dissent, would likely mean burning their careers at the stake.
For example, an American academic who has studied Russian communism told me about being present at the meeting in which his humanities department decided to require from job applicants a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity—even though this has nothing to do with teaching ability or scholarship.The professor characterized this as a McCarthyite way of eliminating dissenters from the employment pool,and putting those already on staff on notice that they will be monitored for deviation from the social-justice party line.
That is a soft form of totalitarianism. Here is the same logic laid down hard: in 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:
Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.
Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.
A softer, bloodless form of the same logic is at work in American institutions. Social justice progressives advance their malignant concept of justice in part by terrorizing dissenters as thoroughly as any inquisitor on the hunt for enemies of religious orthodoxy.
These cultists — the Elect, to use McWhorter’s preferred term — are making normal human relations, especially across racial lines, difficult to impossible. You never know if the person with whom you are talking is one of the Elect, and if something perfectly innocent you have said will earn you denunciation or worse. In normal social discourse, if one inadvertently offends another, one apologizes and asks for forgiveness, and the aggrieved party, if they believe the repentance is genuine, grants it. This is what makes social life possible. As McWhorter avers, though, among the Elect, mercy is not practiced. Only the fiercest condemnation. And we know all too well that this condemnation can easily include serious, career-ending penalties. Why risk that to make a new friend, especially given how fast the spread of what is considered to be bigoted is changing? You have to walk on eggshells, never knowing when one of them will turn out to be a landmine.
The dogma is inhuman, and it’s tearing us apart as a nation. I am so grateful for courageous men like Prof. McWhorter. Ten thousand white conservatives speaking out against this stuff won’t do remotely as much good as a single center-left black intellectual doing so. He is fighting for all of us who value free speech, fairness, and real intellectual debate and inquiry.