The Metaphysics of the Antiracist Inquisition

There are no such things as demons and devils, those unseen spirit forces that infect or possess people. I know people who subscribe to those particular religious standpoints that posit such things are convinced that such things are real. There are also religious standpoints that believe in such mystical notions as that guilt is inherited and carried in the blood. But whether demons and devils and all the rest of it are to be taken seriously, these can affect no law and policy in the United States of America because it is a secular republic. In America, the freedom to believe in metaphysical things comes with the freedom from the imposition of such beliefs.

I want to make a comparison and then pose a challenge to conclude this little essay.
During the Middle Ages, the Inquisitor tortured those accused of demon possession or suspected of having inherited guilt from their ancestors or their tribe to extract from them a confession. A confession was often necessary because the Inquisitor usually had no way of objectively demonstrating the presence of a demon in the accused. The only evidence may be stigmata, that is the mark of the devil, or bizarre behavior (the cause, of course, a matter of interpretation in light of doctrine). But not everybody carried stigmata. And not everybody behaved in a bizarre manner. The truth of the presence of a demon could then only come from the accused confessing to such a presence.

In the case of blood guilt, there may be nothing about many Jews to suggest they were of the tribe that murdered Christ. Moreover, because they were part of that tribe, the success of Jews as a group implicated every Jew in justified feelings of resentment. Of course, as with blood guilt, the resentment of Jews for their success was also an irrational sentiment and no justification at all from a secular point of view. In any case, Jews were often tortured ahead of the stake and their wealth subject to confiscation.

Today, white Americans are confronting circumstance logically similar to those of the Inquisition. Antiracists believe that whites are possessed of an unseen force, an implicit bias that directs their behavior in a manner than harms others. Antiracists believe in the mystical notion that guilt is inherited and carried on the genes. Antiracists believe not only that there really are such things as races, but also that there should be such things and individuals should be rewarded and punishment on the basis of them.

Antiracists express resentment over the success of whites. The success of whites as a group implicates every white person in justifiable feelings of resentment. Every white person stands metaphysically condemned in the eyes of the Antiracist for the alleged actions of his ancestors and the attributes of his tribe (by alleged we mean assumed without proof). Even when no direct link can be made through the genealogical line to a past crime (no less an irrational exercise), the accused is condemned by his race. He is condemned by simply being born as a member of the tribe.

And, of course, aside from a handful of devil worshippers (there are still a few white supremacists around), white privilege is best affirmed by having the accused confess to his sins, to admit to be possessing by race privilege, whether he thinks he is possessed or not. The Antiracist’s struggle session is no less in principle the Inquisitor’s torture cell. It’s still an interrogation. If the accused resists the label, like the accused mental patient who rebels against the diagnostic label of a psychiatric manual, he is denying the truth of guilt manifest in his tribal stigma: his skin color and his ancestry. There is, as well, his ordinary behavior (re)interpreted in the light of doctrine.

Critical race theorists, the theologians of Antiracism, a new religion (and the new racism), believe that the rational system of adjudicating guilt and responsibility based on individual human agency and intentionality is the “perpetrator’s perspective,” so called because it conceals the truth that the racist actions of an individual who is white is really a crime committed by all whites. Social justice deems that all whites should pay for the crimes of the individual with the tribal stigma of white skin. His ancestry condemns him. The white man is to pay not only for others like him, but for the corpses he resembles.

This formula critical race theorists call the “victim’s perspective.” It assumes that all black people (and any other group deemed historically disadvantaged, which is sometimes difficult as we have seen with Asian-Americans), no matter how successful, are victims of the racism of the perpetrator, whites collectively, who are responsible for that collective suffering. Because of the collective suffering, the oppressed group is entitled to an epistemic and moral privilege, assuming a superior position from which to judge other people and history and, finding them guilty as charged, holding them to account, confiscating their wealth, and condemning their history (and thus their future).

So here’s an exercise for you. Take the formulas of the Antiracists and, substituting the words “white” and “whiteness” for “witch” or “Jew” and “witchcraft” or “Jewish,” see if this sounds like justice or if it sounds like a dangerous, destructive, and potentially lethal ideology. Let history be your guide. That’s what the Antiracists recommend.

* * *

There is another superstitious element in Antiracism (which I am capitalizing because it is a religion) that one can find in other religious and cultural systems, namely the practice of scapegoating. Scapegoating is closely associated with witchfinding, so the explanation works for both.

Scapegoating is where a community, not understand why things haven’t been going well for them, takes an animal and loads it up with problems, defined as sins and the like, and then sends the animal to die in the wilderness, hoping that the sins will die also there in the wilderness. Witchfinding is a practice where the problems of the community are located in a person and the person is sacrificed and the community is purged of evil.

The anxiety felt by the community that manifests in scapegoating and witchfinding is often caused by some real disturbance—biological, climatic, cultural, economic, political, and so forth—but it is interpreted in terms of a doctrine that invents entities that embody these problems and explains their effects, whatever their actual causes. In other words, the unseen forces invented by the religion or the cultural system. The priesthood are there to translate phenomena in doctrinal style. A moral panic is engineered and mass hysteria spreads. Soon animals, including human ones, are punished, tortured, banished, and killed.

This is what is happening in the West. Globalization is the cause of the actual disturbance. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: work disappears, wages decline, careers are lost, homes are foreclosed on, neighborhoods are disorganized, traditions smashed, governments rendered ineffective, and so forth.

Without a sophisticated understanding of international political economy, or absent a democratic populist politics that articulates working class interests, and trapped inside racial and ethnic and other identitarian bubbles, the masses are susceptible to religious-like interpretations of their anxieties and trepidations, and rituals of scapegoating and witchfinding become the order of the day. The civilians turn on each other, and in the religiously-proscribed ways.

We are experiencing a moral panic engineered by the priesthood and pushed by the congregation of Antiracism. It translates the problems of ordinary Americans in racial and ethnic (and even religious) terms, finding witches in white people (excluding those identified as Muslim) and scapegoating them, heaping upon them what their religion defines as the transgenerational sin of wicked history in a world polluted by whiteness, and then banishing the animals to ignominy.

That’s the point of the ritual anyway. And the zealots will have their way as long the witches put up no resistance.

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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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