COVID-19 and Confronting America’s Racist Past

I want to use today’s blog to talk about two things. First, COVID-19 appears to be winding down. It will likely make a comeback next winter, since strains of the coronavirus pass through the population every year (many of you reading this blog have already had a coronavirus at some point in your lives), but because of herd immunity, it likely won’t be as bad as it appears it was this time around. Second, the reparations discussion, like the coronavirus, is also making the rounds again. However, unlike the coronavirus, there appears to be no effective immune response to the virus of racial animosity and resentment. We have to expose the agenda behind it.


On the COVID-19 front, we are now at a weekly average of cases we haven’t seen since March 2020. On June 1, 2021, the seven-day case average was 17,119. It is almost certain that there were far more cases in March of last year. We are currently daily testing many thousands of more subjects for the virus than we were back then. Cases began falling after the peak in early January, 2021, indicating that the population had reached herd immunity.

Although authorities are eager to promote vaccines as the reason for the sharp decrease in cases, the vaccines cannot be responsible for most of it. The peak case frequency was January 8, 2021 (more than 300 thousand cases). At that point 0 percent of the population was fully vaccinated and only 2 percent had received one of the mRNA vaccine. By March 10, 2021, with only 10 percent of the population fully vaccinated, we had already seen a more than 80 percent decrease in daily cases from the January 8 peak. Many of those who have been vaccinated had already had the virus, so any efficacy claims later in the year is confounded with what we now know is effective natural immunity from SARS-CoV-2 (if you have had COVID-19 a vaccine is unnecessary).

Despite this, the campaign to be vaccinated is now targeting children. It is profoundly unethical to persuade children to take an experimental vaccine for a virus that, for the vast majority of them (and for the vast majority of the general population), carries no deleterious effects (see “A Moral Panic. A Year Later”). That we got to the point where parents would not en masse rise up and protest the exploitation of children as experimental subjects indicates that we are far down the authoritarian road of trusting corporate power and the functionaries in its employ (fear and misinformation haves played roles in this; see “‘Whatever that number is’”). And how forgotten the horrors that produced the Nuremberg Code (“The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg”).

We already had an indication of how far down that road we already are when virtually the whole of the medical-industrial complex, for the sake of investments in vaccines, refused to treat those with COVID-19 or at risk from COVID-19 with therapeutics, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and the public dutifully went along with it (“The Enduring Panic Over SARS-CoV-2”). Tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily. At least from a moral standpoint (corporate profits do not seek moral means when they don’t have to). Perhaps now that Trump is no longer in office, and we are actually able to publicly question the role of the People’s Republic of China in spreading and possibly manufacturing SARS-CoV-2, we can shake up popular consciousness.

(Note: I have written extensively on the COVID-19 pandemic on Freedom and Reason going back to March 2020. To find those blogs, search and “COVID-19” or “SARS-CoV-2.”)


In an article in Politico concerning the one hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa massacre of black Americans by white Americans, a descendent of a survivor, Anneliese Bruner, calls on the former vice-president Joe Biden to embrace reparations. For his part, the former vice-president, in a speech from Tulsa n May 31, 2021, spoke about “reaffirming our commitment to advance racial justice through the whole of our government, and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts.”

“The argument was a striking contrast from his predecessor, Donald Trump, who promoted a heroic vision of American history,” David Smith of The Guardian writes. In typical Trump-bashing: “On the massacre’s 99th anniversary, Trump had posed with a Bible outside a historic church after security forces teargassed protesters outside the White House. He headed to Tulsa later that month for a campaign rally that breached coronavirus safety guidelines.” Smith continues, “Biden’s message appeared to be the opposite of ‘Make America great again’ [referencing the slogan President Trump lifted from Ronald Reagan]—an acknowledgment that America’s history includes slavery and segregation, and that only looking that fully in the face can allow it to move forward.”

In that speech, Biden claims that, “there was a clear effort to erase [the Tulsa massacre] from our memory, our collective memory.” I have long known about the Tulsa massacre. I lecture on it in my sociology courses. But even before that, I knew about it and discussed it with those around me. I am not aware of any efforts to erase the event from history. Biden means to represent the case as something hidden from Americans in order renew the reaction to crimes perpetrated long ago in order to advance the antiracist project of racial justice. To remember something does not mean it was forgotten.

Although unintentional, Smith’s characterization of Biden’s speech as lying opposite to Trump’s draws a nice contrast between the attempt to portray America as fixed and frozen and those who tout the record of America’s progress. In the former, America’s historic paralysis is found in its establishment in 1619 as a racist slave state. In the latter, America’s progress is thanks to its founding in 1776 on the Enlightenment principles of equality and liberty for all. In other words, Trump’s MAGA slogan has its antithesis in Biden’s speech: MARA, or “Make America racist again.” (See “Truth in the Face of the 1619 Project: The United States and the West Did Not Establish Slavery—They Abolished It.”)

The title of Smith’s article: “Joe Biden calls for US to confront its past on 100th anniversary of Tulsa massacre” suggests we haven’t. The facts determine whether this claim is true. Since Tulsa, the United States has abolished Jim Crow segregation, passed landmark civil rights legislation, and made discrimination against black Americans illegal. Before Tulsa, our ancestors overthrew monarchy and established a democratic republic that protects free speech rights, the right to assembly, the right to privacy, and the right to self-defense. Having inherited slavery from a world in which the practice was ubiquitous, our ancestors abolished the slave trade and fought a devastating civil war to emancipate blacks from slavery, setting an example for the whole world. More Americans died in that war than any other war America has fought. Having inherited patriarchy from a world in which sexism was ubiquitous, the United States affirmed the right of women to participate in politics. In the 1940s, the United States help lead the effort in defeating the threat of world fascism, a war that encompassed the globe, and in its aftermath led the world in the global recognition of universal human rights (and in establishing the Nuremberg Code). More recently, the United States led the way in marriage equality. Let’s celebrate our past instead. The claim is untrue.

Those who claim no progress have an agenda (see “The Elite Obsession with Race Reveals a Project to Divide the Working Class and Dismantle the American Republic.”) Critical race theory is organized to overthrow liberalism and replace it with an illiberal system of group rights based on race. Instead of equality before the law, antiracists call for equity, in which those who have little make a claim on those who have more and do so on the basis of ancestry. Moral entrepreneurs are exploiting Tulsa and other unforgotten moments in history to extract wealth from others on account of the suffering of others, most of whom are long in their graves.

To be sure, those who perpetrated the Tulsa massacre should have been held accountable for their actions. Are there any still alive? We know there are three survivors. Are there surviving perpetrators? There is no statute of limitations on murder (that goes for lynching, too). Find them and drag them into court. Justice delayed or never made is justice denied. While we can regret that nothing was done then, the crimes are in the distant past and, without perpetrators to hold responsible, nothing can be done now—not without creating more victims.

Nobody is to blame for criminal actions except those who perpetrate them or, perhaps, those who could have prevented them but didn’t. To ask the descendants of those who perpetrated a massacre a century ago to pay money to those descended from the massacred is to hold children guilty for the crimes of their parents. This is a deeply immoral principle. Blood guilt is a primitive quasi-religious notion. Surely we’re not talking about reparations from all those who share the skin color of those who perpetrated the massacre. That would be a deeply racist proposition.

* * *

Imagine, if you will, a theory that explains the evolution of natural life by idenfiying God as the causal force. In order to see God, one needs a specific language that reveals him, since God is the unseen causal force operating behind the seen/scene. Now imagine that this theory catches on at colleges and corporations and administrators set up training sessions to make sure all employees align their thinking with the theory. Let’s call the theory “creationism.”

Now consider a theory that purports to explain the evolution of social life by identifying racism as the cause force. In order to see racism one needs a specific language that reveals it, since racism is the unseen causal force operating behind the seen/scene. The theory has caught on at colleges and corporations and administrators have set up training sessions to make sure all employees align their thinking with the theory. Let’s call the theory “critical race theory.”

You can substitute natural selection for God in the first paragraph. We teach natural selection in the classroom. But we don’t require all employees to attend training sessions to make sure they align their thinking with natural selection. There are college professors who believe in creationism. We don’t send them to struggle sessions or cancel them on the basis of their beliefs. Moreover, there are competing ideas in the field of natural history. We don’t punish a teacher for teaching punctuated equilibrium. We do worry when they teach creationism, since this is a secular society.

However, critical race theory is not comparable to established theories of natural history. Critical race theory is comparable to the first theory I articulated, the one that appeals to supernatural forces. Critical race theory comes replete with a theory of original sin and collective guilt. A child is guilty for the crimes of his parents and on account of his race, an abstraction without any empirical underpinnings. Natural selection proceeds by induction from empirical generalization. There is a world of difference between critical race theory and science.

We are in the grip of a religious movement.

(See “Awakening to the Problem of the Awokening: Unreasonableness and Quasi-religious Standards.”)

* * *

(Note: I have written extensively on the racial justice and reparations on Freedom and Reason going back for years. Here are a couple of more recent blogs: A specter is haunting America—the specter of reparations”; “For the Good of Your Soul: Tribal Stigma and the God of Reparations.”)

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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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