Ironies of the Anti-Racism Industrial Complex: Kicking Up Dust and Taking Names
by Alexander Zubatov
In December 2008, shortly after the election that brought Barack Obama to the White House, the prominent African-American linguist and commentator John McWhorter wrote an article for Forbes entitled “Racism in America Is Over.” The title was not meant ironically. “[I]n answer to the question, ‘Is America past racism against black people,’ I say the answer is yes,” McWhorter wrote. “[W]e can call ourselves a post-racial country,” he continued. And he offered a word of caution to those eager to keep the flame burning: “Journalists, academics, community leaders, concerned citizens, NPR listeners — all must break the habit of supposing it is our moral duty to keep racism front and center in discussions about how to help disadvantaged black people. Because in 2009, that’s all it is — a habit.”
But it is hard for humans, especially humans victimized by historical trauma, to stop fighting the last war. We cannot blame a nation traumatized by a history of slavery and discrimination from being haunted by the specter of racism any more than we can blame Holocaust survivors for seeing Nazis-in-waiting around every corner. Such historical habits being hard to break, McWhorter’s sage advice to the powers-that-be fell on deaf ears.
Over a decade has passed since his proclamation that racism is dead was written, and in retrospect, it appears rather naïve. But that is not because McWhorter was wrong. This last decade has witnessed a veritable explosion of what might be seen — from a certain standpoint — as further progress in the direction of anti-racism. The nation should be, if anything, still more post-racial than the America of 2009. And yet we are not. What McWhorter did not anticipate is the extent to which anti-racism — with its metastasizing academic departments and all their graduates that had entered the job market and found their places in media, government, education, thinktanks, diversity consulting and activism — had become a self-perpetuating industry. Like the Cold-War-fueled military-industrial complex that had to find new wars to wage to justify its existence once the Cold War had ended in victory, the anti-racism industry keeps on chugging along. When the demon that industry was conceived to combat had been vanquished, it had to imagine a still bigger and badder version of the same boogeyman back into existence.
We live with this irony: at a time when nearly everything that used to be called “racism” is either long dead and buried or else in its final death throes, confined to the outer fringes of society, we are witnessing an all-systems-go assault directed against the corpse. The result, predictably enough, is lots and lots of collateral damage, with all species of innocent bystanders trampled and bludgeoned on the path towards an unattainable goal.
But the irony goes deeper still: the anti-racists have become the very thing they purport to despise. To shield themselves from that horrific recognition, they have devised an entire vocabulary and conceptual apparatus designed to conceal the truth.
Take the notion of “racism” itself. If ordinary, common dictionary definitions of “racism” — roughly, something like “race-based prejudice” — are used, then many of the inflammatory generalizations we keep hearing about white people, their alleged “white privilege,” “white fragility” and the toxic culture of “whiteness,” etc. — are surely classic cases of racism. And that would mean that all those academics, petulant Twitterers and high-powered media and entertainment industry figures and sources who routinely deploy such terminology, usually with lots of anger and vitriol in the mix, or make other vicious and sweeping remarks about white people would stand accused. We can’t possibly have that, can we? Here’s a solution: let’s define anti-white racism out of existence by stacking the deck. Let’s just stipulate that racism isn’t just a belief system, but rather, a system of oppression (who says?), and so it requires power to be racist (how much power?), and black people don’t have power (really?), so black people simply can’t be racist. Got it? If not, let the good folks at The Huffington Post explain it to you.
Don’t like that? Here’s another strategy. If true anti-black racism seems to be dying a natural death, let’s play some more word games to keep the crusade going. Even while we’re defining anti-white racism out of existence, we’re going to expand the definition of anti-black racism so that it becomes ubiquitous and unfalsifiable. First, we’re going to invent a whole pseudoscience called “implicit bias” to claim that pretty much every white person in existence is racist, even if they’re not consciously racist. Never mind that, as researchers have revealed, the Harvard University gold standard tests that purport to measure implicit bias show totally different results every time you take them and don’t correlate with any real-world behaviors. We’ll sweep those inconvenient truths under the rug. Focusing on the prize of getting to claim that every white person is irredeemably racist is well worth it. If we can get large and influential organizations like the American Bar Association or New York’s Department of Education to glom on to and perpetuate the idea, so much the better, right? If the end-result is that teachers are taught to be racist against white kids and to favor even middle-class black kids against their poor white counterparts, that’s better still.
But implicit bias is just one of multiple feeding tubes artificially sustaining the life of the concept of anti-black racism. The other big lifelines are the invention and mainstreaming of the tropes of “structural” and “institutional” racism and, with them, the myth of a pervasive culture of “white supremacy” infecting America and the rest of the Western world and even justifying serious talk of race-based reparations in Congress. Ignoring what is obviously a far more complex and multi-valent history consisting of proponents, opponents, difficult compromises, bitter defeats, hard-won victories and bloody conflicts and wars, these myopic and hateful bigots — chaperoned to their one-step dance by the sour, seething and repetitive rants of anti-white hatemonger extraordinaire Ta-Nehisi Coates — tell us America was built on slavery and white supremacy. Still more outlandishly, they insist that our culture of white supremacy persists to this day. Finding no support for this conclusion in anything accessible to ordinary sense perception, their evidence consists of unvanquishable phantoms of structural and institutional racism that are alleged to be deeply seeded throughout our land. But when concrete proffered instances of such phenomena — whether the repeatedly discredited falsehood of cops disproportionately killing unarmed blacks or the larger fabrication of “mass incarceration” and the “carceral state” — are scrutinized, the house of cards rapidly collapses.
The reality is that the only real and tangible “structural” and “institutional” forms of discrimination out there are not the fiendishly hidden ones the existence of which we are asked to accept either on faith or on the strength of tendentious and politicized social science, but rather, the ones in plain view: affirmative action, minority set-asides, discriminatory grants and other racial preference schemes operated by universities, big (and small) corporations and government bureaucracies, diversity quotas imposed by powerful bullies in academia, media and the entertainment industry and all manner of minority cultural and support groups at universities and throughout our society offering racial and other minorities a leg up in nearly every aspect of life. If we dig a bit deeper, we find that even on a subtler level of experience, entrenched media and social media monoliths and similarly potent institutional actors are hard at work privileging speech and action that exalts blacks and silences whites unless those whites deign to speak out as anti-white racist enablers, a/k/a “allies.”
Much of this, as I have said, is there in plain sight, but it is hidden in plain sight. We remain unaware of it only because its pervasive character has numbed us to its diabolical designs. To ensure our sheepish acquiescence in the face of the onslaught, we are indoctrinated in a laughably topsy-turvy paradigm — supported by appeals either to politicized social science or ancient and, at best, decades-old history — wherein black people — who, in today’s America, despite comprising a mere 12–13% of the population, occupy center stage in nearly every public drama and dialogue — are depicted as victimized, oppressed and marginalized, while white people are still held to play the role of privileged oppressors benefitting from every social and political advantage, as though we were actually living in some version of the old Eddie Murphy SNL skit in which, when black people aren’t looking, white people get stacks of cash handed to them at the local bank.
The artificially flavored cherry on top of this upside-down cake is the noxious notion of “white fragility,” the brainchild of the delusional and virulent academic racist Robin DiAngelo. “White fragility” is a kind of checkmate or, more accurately, fool’s mate in the game. It is a ready-made accusation always available for deployment against any white people who fail to play their bit part as repentant perpetrators in the inquisitory melodrama and, instead, dare to declare that the emperor has to clothes: said white person is just being defensive and fragile, unable to bear the threat of displacement from the position of privilege enjoyed by white people since America’s very founding. There is, of course, no possibility held out that the white objector’s refusal to take part in the charade could be rational and legitimate.
To appreciate the delicious irony of the charge of “white fragility,” moreover, one need only reflect for a moment on the fact that this, like so many of the rooms in the anti-racism industry’s funhouse, is a mirror-image reversal of reality: we are living through an epoch when many black people (and other groups inculcated into the cult of victimology), spurred on by crazed virtue-signaling white elites, have become unimaginably fragile, taking umbrage at everything, levelling wildly off-the-mark accusations of racism at everyone in sight (or simply trying to Smollett us into buying into total hoaxes), showing no ability to assume responsibility or handle adversity and manifesting aggressive defensiveness at the slightest hint of pushback. To speak of white fragility under these circumstances is nothing other than a brazen ploy to distract us all from the elephant in the room. That the ploy has enjoyed substantial success in the narrow but influential circles of wealthy, white progressive elites is a testament to just how much institutional power the anti-racism industry has deployed to perpetuate the ruse.
There is no question that, judged by any objective metric, African Americans today remain far behind nearly everyone else, whether whites, Asians, Hispanics or black immigrants not born in America. African Americans are outliers. The causes for that status are manifold (with plenty of blame to go around), but lingering racism is not one of them and has not been a serious factor for decades, and fighting a war against such racism won’t improve a single black life. Despite the shameless manner in which the media manipulates public opinion and makes high-profile sensations out of the few genuine cases of racism still in our midst, such cases are few and far between. But while racism is all but dead, anti-racism, now bolstered by the massive industry devoted to its cause, remains alive and well. And there are very real dangers to waging a never-ending crusade against a phantom: the crusaders cannot win, the phantom cannot lose, innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire and the entire surrounding countryside is set ablaze. If we still entertain hope of making John McWhorter’s proclamation of a post-racial America a reality, we must stop those who continue to fan the flames. We must begin putting monkey wrenches aplenty in the works of the mighty machine the anti-racism industrial complex has deployed to pollute our atmosphere.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, Tablet, Times Higher Education, Quillette, Areo Magazine, Public Discourse, The Imaginative Conservative, Chronicles, Front Porch Republic, The Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).