Such a Beautiful Moment—The Self-Flagellating of White People

Houstonians gathered Sunday in the Third Ward to pray for the family of George Floyd and beg forgiveness for racism. The prayer was followed up by black in attendance accepting the apology and joining them in prayer. The organization of bodies in physical space was telling: blacks stood on a platform, elevated over whites, while whites prostrated on the ground, weeping and moaning. The scene was captured on video:

It was only a matter of time before the religion of antiracism was taken up by those of another faith that strives to reduce its followers to sheep who always fall short of the glory of God. After all, both reference mythical things, find man broken, and command him to be well by shame. (See my previous essays on the problematic of white privilege/fragility. Against White Privilege: Clarifying the Critique of a Problematic Term. Debunking a Sacred Text in the Church of Identitarianism. The Rhetoric of White Privilege: Progressivism’s Play for Political Paralysis. You are Broken. We Will Fix You. For the Good of Your Soul: Tribal Stigma and the God of Reparations. Not All White People Are Racist. The Psychological Wages of Antiracism.)

But unlike baptism making salvation available (even if you are always a sinner), always being white means always being broken with no chance of absolution. That’s because the individual is completely disappeared into race in antiracist thinking. Whites cannot remove the skin covering that heralds their eternal damnation. By virtue of their phenotypic surface, they are unfixable. Their children will inherit the sin and all whites should forever self-loathe and self-flagellate.

Antiracism is, in this sense, a superior religion. Being unfixable means always being subjected shame. It is also a superior religion in that it brings into the religious mode of thought and action those who aren’t particularly religious. It may be that those inclined to seek the transcendent in a secular society, but are reticent to adopt a theology, are drawn to antiracism for greater meaning and purpose. At any rate, religious-like tribalism is prone to zealotry.

The white privilege/white fragility rhetoric is hectoring and, ultimately, racist. Antiracists demands whites to self-loathe, gaslighting them, while obnoxiously pandering to blacks. The recorded scene is a pathological expression of extreme virtue signaling through self-flagellation—a type of masochism. It’s also a manifestation of narcissism in attention-seeking behavior. The white privilege/white fragility paradigm rejects equality and instead seeks the resurrection and inversion of a hierarchy long ago abolished. Men and women are not to be seen as individuals but as members of racialized groups that must exchange places in the hierarchy. The Old Civil Rights movement was about overcoming racism. The New Civil Rights movement is about entrenching racism, restoring the social logic of race relations at the center of political and social life. You are not allowed to be nonracist anymore. Logically, the white privilege/white fragility argument doesn’t work. It commits a fundamental error called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, or reification—that is, treating an abstraction as a concrete thing. (See Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and the Problem of Conceptual Conflation and Inflation. The Origin and Character of Antiracist Politics. Race-Based Discrimination as a Model for Social Justice. Kenan Malik: Assimilation, Multiculturalism, and Immigration. “This Goes On”: Did Arbery Die to Perpetuate a False Narrative About Contemporary American Society?) This conceptualization substitutes for flesh and blood individuals abstract demographic categories, categories with at best questionable validity, judging individuals in terms of identity not character. Operationalized and put in practice, the concept become malignant.

Antiracist practice must assume some objectivity about race as a mind-independent reality, which we know, from science anyway, is a false assumption. But the argument, moving as it does on the postmodern terrain of truth, doesn’t care about the science of all this. It insists, instead, on a different truth, one that epistemically privileges emotion and ideology over facts and reason, where, because I was designated white on my birth certificate (not my choice), I am racist and privileged. If I deny these allegations, then I am fragile and in denial—and doubly racist. I get get better if I don’t admit I am sick. But, then, I always will be sick. The obvious fact is that neither allegations are necessarily true. Some whites are racist. Some whites are privileged. At the same time, some blacks are racist. Some blacks are privileged. That should be obvious anyway.

* * *

Antiracism is a new religion with a very old message. It considers certain people on the basis of skin color fallen by virtue of a tribal stigma—skin color. A white person is a sick person who must confess his sins and beg to be healed. Alas, this is a sin from which he can never be absolved. This will always be the white man’s burden—to be an albatross around the society’s neck. He is the product of intergenerational guilt, an unfixable creature in need fixing, a broken machine that cannot be repaired. Racism is his nature.

The rhetoric puts people so stigmatized in an impossible situation. Whites are blameworthy merely on this basis: they had white parents. Whites prove the truth of the accusation by defending themselves against the charge. Whites wear their guilt as a “perpetrator” on their bodies. They’re wrapped in it. Whiteness heralds their condemnation, a condemnation they must own to approximate any sort of legitimacy in the realm of justice. Whites would be guilty until proven innocent, except that they will always be white. Every black person is a “victim” of white people even though individual whites could never meet most of the black people they’re accused of oppressing.

The white privilege/white fragility argument assumes things about people it cannot know and does so based on skin color. This practice has a name—it’s called racial stereotyping. This is what we are trying to rid our society of. The antiracist insists on keeping it and elevates it to a virtue. But the crimes of the father do not transfer to his children. My sons are as blameless with respect to racism as I am. They have never harmed a black person. Nor have I. And that claim is not simply the resistance of a privileged white person to taking responsibility for his whiteness. It is empirically true by every conceivable metric—eschewing ethereal ones. Neither my sons nor their father can be guilty of an offense simply by being, by merely existing. To suggest they are is to falsely accuse them, to bear false witness. In some circles, this is itself sinful. This is racism. And the rebuttal that racism depends on power is just one more fallacious manifestation of the postmodern attitude.

This is a deranged way of looking at the world. It’s false and wrong and it put lives at risk by giving people a reason to hate and ruin. People who never wronged a black person are being beaten and killed on the streets of America today because they are white. These are hate crimes. Meanwhile, the majority of victims of lethal police violence are forgotten because they are white. Most of the poor are forgotten because they are white—or because they possess privileges they obvious don’t. Because of this ideology, only some lives matter. It’s a profoundly racist way of looking at the world.

Once more, we find ourselves enduring symbolism over substance. This moment in Houston is emblematic of the problem. Rather than tackle the issue of police brutality in our communities, we see people perpetuating a false narrative about America. This false narrative is not benign. It distracts from the actual issue and undercuts the building of working class solidarity required to build a mass movement to reform policing, not just in America, but throughout the trans-Atlantic world.

* * *

I want to close with a few observations about our present and likely future and how antiracism keeps us from the task at hand. For there is a nice symmetry to open borders, globalists exporting jobs and importing foreign labor and building up China, and Mexican drug cartels importing fentanyl from China to distribute to disemployed and low wage American workers in despair, addicted or overdosing in neglected parks and dilapidated cars. These are the conditions that prepare the fire that the police slaying of black men ignites.

Here’s another symmetry, this one in part coincidental: everybody wearing masks just in time to anonymously loot stores and assault the people finally allowed to go back to their lives after an unpredicted lockdown. This is enabled by a racially divisive ideology that selects the targets of violence on the basis of race, and the politicians and journalists who conflate protests and anarchy and shame law enforcement from doing their job. This former is the result of decades of work to construct and entrench a mythology about the West, one designed to delegitimize Western civilization and prepare it for its integration into the global capitalist order. This connects this symmetry to the previous one noted.

“Lockdown” is a term used to describe the control of rioting prisoners. In this new world order we lock down the law abiding citizen and stand down law enforcement for those who break it. This new normal indicates something working class Americans need to pay attention to. There is an explanation for their despair. Western civilization is in decline because global capitalists and their functionaries are selling out their countries—and the people of the West are losing confidence in themselves. The saddest piece is the self-loathing and self-flagellation that indicates this. It’s like the dying bargaining with death. We are witnessing the managed decline of the American republic. If we lose the West, the future is a boot stamping on a human face forever.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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