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The Racism Paradox
The demand for racism continues to exceed the supply of racists.
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I am firmly of the belief that the biggest threat to racial comity today isn’t racism but rather the false promotion of narratives about racial conflict that border on conspiratorial. There’s abundant data showing that we’re essentially living in a version of Tocqueville’s paradox: Racism has never been less of a problem than it is today, and yet pessimism about racism and race relations has increased substantially in America.
One needn’t be exceptionally perceptive to note which side of the ideological spectrum routinely promotes said narratives. The ideologues of whom I speak practically salivate over the chance to publicly pillory transgressors of what John McWhorter describes as the new “anti-racist” religion. They are the New York Times-reading, National Public Radio-listening, MSNBC-watching do-gooders who genuinely believe idiotic virtue signaling about race is the province of the morally enlightened and that feeling bad is the height of moral behavior, even though the religion they practice is often egregiously condescending and racist in the ways it demeans and belittles black people, encouraging them to curate a persona as victim that requires the forfeiture of all personal agency and a degradingly infantile self-conception.
This social framing endows white people with the power to change themselves while portraying black people as powerless subjects whose fate is dependent on the goodwill of white folks. The point, it would seem, is to resurrect the moral clarity ethos that gave rise to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, even though today’s America, which is one of the most color-blind nations on earth, would be unrecognizable back then. But this moralizing contrivance is also about pandering to a voter base pathetically in need of confected drama that allows Leftists to bear the mantle of righteous Good Persons™ rescuing black people to compensate for the utter absence of meaning and purpose in their lives.
Anti-racist hokum, of which the laughable race grifter Ibram X. Kendi1 is the foremost preacher, teaches that racism is literally and intrinsically part of every facet of society — baked into everything from car traffic to rational thinking and hard work — and that by dint of an immutable characteristic, white people are automatically complicit. As an ideology, it depends on black people viewing their oppression as the totality of experience and white people viewing themselves as morally compromised betters who must endlessly atone for their original sin of “whiteness.”
Anti-racism adherents aren’t just smug moralizers who think of themselves as enlightened because they know to be offended about certain things, and who self-flagellate specifically to appear more holy than others, a pantomime of humility driven by hubris; they’re zealots who believe it’s their duty to unleash the digital mob on those who don’t share their degree of offense and performative ardor. Indeed, there are now many examples that suggest these inquisitors have progressed to the point where they’ll excoriate and condemn folks just for being deemed insufficiently aware of their own whiteness, which often provokes preemptive apologies for being born with less melanin in one’s skin.
In The Social Construction of Reality, sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann illustrated how society’s dominant ideology influences roles, norms, and expectations, shaping the way people think about the social world. Ideology is central to the social constructionist argument, as it defines right and wrong and sets the parameters on what constitutes a violation of moral “reality”—that is, the social facts everyone “knows” to be true (even if they’re not based on objective truth).
The regnant ideology in today’s cultural institutions is Left-modernism, AKA wokeism. It’s rooted in intersectionality, which holds that multiple “interlocking” oppressions — racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, economic inequality, and what have you — are inflicted on multiple victim groups by a “matrix of domination.”2 This hybrid worldview is based on anecdote-driven reasoning that applies socialist theories of conflict to identity categories first developed by liberalism, organizing society into a series of overlapping hierarchies that only a “social justice” revolution can correct.
Religions usually focus on several totemic issues. The Church of Woke is primarily centered on the three horsemen of the liberal apocalypse: race, gender, and climate (with race sitting atop the totem pole). The sacralization of this trinity lies at the heart of the progressive worldview, making it difficult for progressives to objectively evaluate whether or not a claim made about a disadvantaged identity group is valid, lest they transgress the sacred woke values and be accused of blasphemy.
Due to the prevalence of this ideology in America’s key knowledge-forming institutions and the influence it has on the narratives that underpin society, there’s been a shameful degree of cultural distortion about the pervasiveness of racism. The ideologically-driven conceptual stretching of the term needs to stop. It has expanded well past any reasonable point as part of an effort by progressives to exaggerate threats to minorities so as to justify silencing speech, no different than the ever-elastic “hate speech” purism used to ban people on social media. Social justice political culture has inculcated progressives to believe that if their delicate sensibilities are upset, they can comfortably silence whatever views they arbitrarily place into this category without being guilty of censorship. This undeviating conformity in speech and opinion and racial attitudes is policed by online inquisitors who have surrendered to a collective fantasy in which the slightest point of dissent is interpreted as evidence of a host of -isms, and who consider it their solemn duty to purify the public sphere.
The Mainstream Media’s Racialization
It’ll probably shock you to learn that it’s the mainstream media, which works within a defined ecosystem to impress a narrative upon the populace, that has the biggest influence on public perception of racism, and that this perception skews negative, leading people to see “racism” where previously they had not and creating the impression that it’s far more prevalent than it really is.
There are two key reasons why this is so. Number one, our perception of whether a particular issue has worsened or improved is shaped by the availability heuristic—that is, what we can easily recall, and it’s very easy to recall news items that the media obsesses over or sensationalizes. Number two, we’re more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive ones, and because the media specializes in negativity, outrage, and superficial issues that inflame, it distorts our impression of the world around us.
Coverage of certain racial incidents will inevitably affect the prominence of issues of race and racism in the public consciousness, but the mainstream media goes well beyond simply reporting on events, shaping how people evaluate the quality of race relations. Framing matters. And the woke worldview, having wholly infected media elites, has led to a new moral-political framework applied to American society. Tablet’s Zach Goldberg detailed how beginning around 2015 or so, while “exotic new phrases” like “microaggressions” and “white privilege” were entering the social lexicon, the usage of terms like “racist(s)” and “racism” as a percentage of all words in our largest newspapers skyrocketed.
By 2019, these terms constituted 0.02% and just under 0.03% of all words published in the New York Times and Washington Post—an increase of over 700% and just under 1,000%, respectively, from 2011. Also by 2019, the phrase “racial equity” was being used in the Times 32 times more frequently than in 2013. In the Post, “racial equity” was not only being used 27 times more frequently in 2019 than in 2013, but it’s rate of usage actually surpassed that of “racial equality.” The massive difference between the Wall Street Journal and its more liberal competitors suggests that the increase in racialized terminology was not based on a preponderance of racial incidents, but merely the application of a new ideological construct mandated by the Church of Woke.
Of particular note, the Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, actively seeks to report stories through the lens of Critical Race Theory3 and anti-racist doctrine, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms.4
Political scientist Paul Kellstedt has provided evidence showing that shifts in racial attitudes follow shifts in race-related news content. While mentions of racism and its corollaries in the mainstream media have soared since circa 2014, this has coincided with a decline in the number of Americans who describe black/white relations as good. Gallup polling data shows that from 2001-2014, nearly 70% of Americans said that relations between whites and blacks were good, but after the Ferguson protests, this fell to 47%, and has since tumbled to 44% in the wake of the 2020 BLM protests. More pertinently, in 2011, just 35% of white liberals thought racism in the United States was “a big problem,” according to national polling. By 2017, this figure had more than doubled to 77%.
The Manhattan Institute published an extensive study showing how a media-generated narrative about systemic racism distorts people’s perception of reality. The study also found that ideologically motivated reasoning plays a role in governing perceptions of how frequently young black men are shot to death by the police. According to survey findings, 70% of white Americans and 95% of black Americans who agree with the statement “white Republicans are racist” believe that young black men are more likely to be shot by the police than to be killed in a traffic accident. Cars are actually around ten times more lethal to young black men than police bullets, but fully 53% of Biden voters got the answer wrong—compared to just 15% of Trump voters.
Notably, educational attainment made no difference in the result. Indeed, rather than a corrective, higher education — where students are increasingly exposed to far Left ideas on race — leads to even greater sensitivity to racism. Research finds that minorities with degrees are more likely to report discrimination than their non-college educated counterparts. Surveys also show that college-educated black Americans are significantly more likely than those without a degree to be offended by “microaggressions,” like people saying, “I don’t notice race.”5
More Harm Than Good
In his book Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker illustrates the truth about racism in America, which is that there’s been a precipitous decline. The reality is that things have gotten remarkably better. In the early 1900s, lynchings occurred at a rate of three per week. Today, racially-motivated killings of blacks occur at a rate of zero to one per year. Moreover, racist attitudes that were once typical have become fringe. A Gallup poll found that only 4% of Americans approved of marriages between blacks and whites in 1958. Today, that number stands at 94%, marking “one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history.”
But a new moral imperative sold by the Church of Woke about unremitting racial oppression that never improves despite myths about progress has metastisized among Left-wing minds, polluting discourse beyond all recognition in many cases. The Church’s core doctrine is that of Black Lives Matter—that black lives are systematically degraded by an overarching white supremacy that’s tainted every aspect of American life, an unfalsifiable premise that urgently demands reparative justice in the form of everything from establishing formal and informal preferential systems that this time prefer blacks over whites, to a complete overhaul of public education capped by the abomination that is the 1619 project.
There’s no doubt that racial discrimination still occurs. But the notion that a disparity between races is evidence of systemic racism and that other factors like culture play no role is ridiculous, and it’s particularly toxic because it means no matter how much racial relations improve, no matter what degree of comity is achieved, progress will never be acknowledged for what it is.
There are some things that we must accept as certainties. Just like crime, racism will never be completely eradicated. It’s just not possible. You cannot control how someone thinks. Yet, that’s how far this has gone: One of the prevailing ideas is that it’s possible to reform one’s subconscious mind with such self-standing, totemic acts as mandatory implicit bias trainings and the mouthing of vacuous mantras/apologies for being white. The ritualistic acknowledgment of white privilege is little more than self-flagellating piety meant to make the ruling class feel better about itself, but it’s item number one on the “end racism” agenda. Zero racism is no less dumb than zero covid, but that’s the benchmark these new puritans are demanding—a Sisyphean movement that guarantees the Left will never stop demanding institutional reforms and performative atonement.
Progressives who use the moral calculus of “social justice” to racialize everything need to understand that the perceptions they’re shaping are doing more harm than good, and that a society that, if not colorblind, can at least see past color is being jeopardized because they apparently can’t see anything but color. And when the mainstream media exaggerates the true extent of racism in America, redefining benign words and actions as racist, they’re not just falsifying reality; they’re actively disempowering the very people they seek to protect, telling them that the essence of their lives is oppression. The sooner we dispense with the crude, reductive prisms of race and identity, the better off America will be.
Says Kendi: “As an anti-racist, when I see racial disparities, I see racism.” Any instance of whites outperforming blacks is adduced as evidence of discrimination. But of course when a disparity runs the other way and blacks outperform whites, discrimination is never invoked as a causal factor.
The matrix is a fata morgana, an ideological fiction concocted out of the familiar group of alleged “oppressors”—white Christian heterosexual males.
Surveys show that liberal whites are more supportive of punitive Critical Race Theory principles than blacks, who are more likely to aspire to personal agency and resiliency. Notably, CRT appears to have a negative impact on blacks’ feeling of being in control of their lives. In casting black Americans as uniquely in need of protection, white liberals are actually shaping a reality that harms black people.