I often preface my remarks concerning race and the criminal justice system by making sure my audience knows that I am a civil libertarian and a proponent of policing reform. I recognize that there are racial disparities in police practices, most notably in investigative stops that move under the cover of traffic stops. These practices must be considered as a matter of public policy and our commitment to due process.
Each year, around twelve percent of drivers in the United States are stopped by the police. That figure is almost double among racial minorities. While it is true that racial minorities are overrepresented in Index crime statistics—in fact, in the case of blacks, overrepresentation in the most serious crimes is greater than it is in traffic stops—the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment is not triggered by abstract demographic overrepresentation.
Put another way, police officers operating on the basis of cognitive stereotypes, however much those stereotypes are supported by aggregate statistics, runs afoul of the US Constitution. This is not to suggest that all or even most of the overrepresentation in traffic stops is due to stereotyping. Police are more likely to interact with blacks because of black overrepresentation in serious criminal offending. But there are also stops motivated by profiling on the basis of perception of race (as well as perception of class and sex). To the extent that these are occurring, governments should confront the problem.
I use Charles R. Epp and associates Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship (2014) in my criminal justice course to engage students about this issue. I recommend this book to readers of my blog.
All that being said, unjustified overrepresentation (if demonstrable) should not be characterized as “white privilege.” If a police officer or department is stopping more blacks than those of other races without probable cause, then that’s an example of race discrimination, specifically racial profiling. In addressing a problem such as racial profiling, we have to call things what they are and not engage in the hyperbole of antiracist ideology.
The construct “white privilege” make no sense from a rational justice standpoint. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: It is not a privilege to not be pulled over without probable cause. Not being pulled over when the police do not have a legitimate reason to pull over a driver is the right of all civilians. The police cannot stop and detain people without probable cause. (Except for border control, I oppose checkpoints for this reason.) Constitutional rights are not privileges.
This right is found in the Fourth Amendment in the US Bill of Rights and it applies to all the people equally. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. If this rule of law is not being applied equally, then the right of the people is being violated.
This is why I argue from the equal protection/rights position. Equality before the law is all-inclusive—the principle as fundamental law secures the legal principle of due process for all the people.
Because of the problem of racialized chattel slavery in our history, in which the sphere of “the people” did not include all individuals residing in the nation, the US government clarified the extent of this right in another amendment to the US Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment was added specifically to address the problem of race discrimination. To be sure, the Supreme Court corrupted the meaning of the amendment in Plessy v Ferguson (1896), but this corruption was rooted out by a later Court (Brown v Board of Education, 1954). A decade later, Congress moved to criminalize race discrimination by government and in public accommodations in the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This progress could occur because of a national commitment to the principle of equal protection—because the just-minded pursued the goal of fully realizing a rational and humanist ethic in practice. It did not occur because of a desire to invert the racial hierarchy. Racial equality is about aligning practice with creed. That has always been the promise of America.
Equal protection under the law makes it possible to hold individuals and organizations accountable for race discrimination. White privilege rhetoric, in contrast, shifts the blame from individuals and organizations we can potentially hold accountable for discrimination to an abstract system where there can be no accountability under the law.
Because the construct of white privilege rests on the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, by supposing all individuals identified with an arbitrary demographic category enjoy a dispensation (it is plainly false that those identified as white in fact escape the arm of the law—and that has always been true), the construct of white privilege can do no good work.
Indeed, as racialized abstraction, a mode of tribalism, blame for inequalities on the basis of the white privilege notion becomes antagonistic and divisive. It’s a pernicious concept. The rhetoric of white privilege asserts the primitive ethic of collective punishment based on blood guilt. It is religious-like in character. It is not a rational principle, but one based on racial reification. It is, as such, a species of racialist thinking.
Pursuing such an irrationalism in law and policy risks destructive official practices, practices violative of constitutional principle, by providing a dispensation to members of an arbitrary demographic category. We hear this in calls for racially-differential policing practices—the rhetoric of “policing our own communities.” Such an action would represent formal or de jure re-racialization of the law and law enforcement. This would not only represent an injustice in principle, but an injustice in practice; it would undermine public safety, which is foundational to individual liberty and human rights.
Differential treatment of persons on the basis of race violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the latter written to specifically guarantee equal rights to all citizens in the United States because our slavery was an obstacle to the full realization of the former. Policing must, therefore, to square with the law, occur on a race neutral basis. If equal protection results in higher rates of arrests, convictions, and incarceration for members of some races, and no bias can be demonstrated, then an accusation of discrimination cannot be sustained. As I have written about in recent blogs, while we can identify race prejudice and acts of race discrimination, there is no systemic race bias in criminal justice in America.
Inequality is not prima facie evidence of inequity. To presume that it is, and develop policy around a false inference, establishes the regime of systemic discrimination against persons of disfavored categories. The rhetoric of white privilege identifies in its very term the disfavored race whose status under the cover of law is to be degraded: white people. This is the wrong path to go down.
The problem of racism is not solved by inverting presumed racial hierarchies. The problem of racism is solved by ending racist policies and punishing racist actors.
People are very clearly confused about what is going on in America today with #BlackLivesMatter and its surrounding politics. Reading posts and comments on various social media, it’s obvious public believes that the protests in the streets either represent a popular uprising against capitalism, which they seem rather excited about, or at least they aren’t objecting too loudly, or represent a noble network of progressive organizations pushing a moderate policing reform agenda.
The latter interpretation is obviously false. As calls go up for reparations, restructuring Western society consistent with globalist ambition, and revising history and culture, it becomes clear that BLM has something more radical in mind. Moreover, given the paucity of evidence showing racial bias in the criminal justice system, the movement’s goals would have to be more ambitious than police reform. There is, in truth, very little to reform. At least not along racial lines. The patterns are explained by the demographics of criminal offending. (See The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters.)
The other interpretation, the one often supposed by the political right, is wrong, as well. The corporate money and power behind BLM tells us it is not a proletarian uprising. BLM is funded by wealthy investors and several of the largest corporations in America and around the world. It’s easy to find out who they are. They do not hide it. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation has so much money that affiliated chapters may apply for unrestricted grant funding of up to $500,000 in multi-year grants. Those Marxists who thought it was their moment will have to wait for the revolution. They won’t find it here.
The protestors on the streets, foot soldiers available because of the COVID-19 disruption in the economy, education, and sports, are what the public relations industry called “Astroturf”—fake grassroots organized and coordinated by corporatist-globalist powers, Democratic Party functionaries, and the academic and media intelligentsia. I published an in-depth article on this tactic by the rightwing end of the political spectrum in 2002. (See Advancing Accumulation and Managing its Discontents: The U.S. Antienvironmental Countermovement. See The Anti-Environmental Countermovement for a summary and brief talk.) These tactics are used on both the left and the right.
In the present circumstances, transnationalist powers—banks, corporations, foundations and think tanks—are using faux-popular appearances to sow racial division and disrupt class consciousness. This is not to say that many of those out in the streets don’t actually believe they’re involved in an uprising. There are true believers among them (I have an upcoming blog on the social psychology of all this). But those calling the shots know they aren’t involved in an uprising. Not against the establishment, at least.
The long-term objective of the protests is to weaken the institutions, thought, and practices of democratic republicanism. The denationalization project, evidenced in the policies and practices of neoliberalism, neoconservatism, and transnationalization, has been unfolding for decades. In the near term, the objective is to disorganize the economic nationalist wing of the capitalist class (small businesses and farms and domestic industries) and its populist allies in the working class. (See Democrats Pander While Managing America’s Decline.)
The election of Trump, the success of the Brexit movement (which globalists delayed for years only to see a seismic shift in labor sympathies towards the Conservatives), the rise of nationalist-populist movements throughout much of the West, the popular demands for rolling back offshoring and mass immigration—all this panicked the globalists. Black Lives Matter is one tactics to regain the advantage.
What we are seeing is a war being waged by corporations and their allies on democracy and freedom on several fronts. The anarchy on the street is one level. Through ground-level action, elites aim to disorganize communities, disrupt policing, and create general chaos. Mob violence is designed to put the public on edge, to bully them into passivity and compliance. Toppling and defacing statues and other public works, ignoring the complexities of historical figures and institutions, all this aims to rework historical memory and popular understanding of the past and the progress America has made over its many years of its existence. It is classic delegitimization work, it purpose to bring the validity of the nation into question, to undermine the American creed and her moral authority, making the next step—dissolution in some fashion—easier.
This delegitimization project is found, as well, at the universities. Indeed, a lot of the protestors are students (past and present) operating with an anti-American program developed and installed over several decades in the public education system, libraries, museums, and popular culture. (I have an upcoming blog on the social psychology of all this.) The Black Lives Matter platform makes it explicit. This is jargon of postmodernism. Alienated and disaffected youth, the bored and the misfit, have been handed a philosophy.
There is a popular media parallel to the academic propaganda. The character of that propaganda is so obvious not much needs to be said about it (Russia election interferences, the Ukraine affair, etc.). However, social media platforms are now making open war on the republic, censoring government officials, as well as marginalizing political figures and speech that challenge globalization project. (See The Conspiracy to Overthrow an American President; Zuckerberg is Insufficiently Totalitarian.)
The goal of the propaganda is to make the antagonisms not appear as between those who want to keep their country and those who want to integrate the American (and Western) worked with the transnational institutions of global capitalism, which is the real struggle, but instead to appear as racial conflict, the warring tribes already cast: rightwing reactionary and backwards whites bent on keeping the privilege that oppresses blacks and other minorities, those marginalized groups who enjoy the advocacy of forward-thinking progressive academics, corporations, and politicians.
One’s choice of comrades in this case is complicated by the extent to which delusional thinking has penetrated the political left and ostensibly rational institutions. It raises the costs to one’s person in unique ways. But a choice is nonetheless necessary for the sake of the republic. Truth has its own integrity and demands someone speak for it.
In a June 19, 2020 editorial, AP changes writing style to capitalize “b” in Black, the Associated Press announces that it will double down on the racist tradition of essentializing blacks by elevating the word to a formal noun. The racial designations are now “Black” and “white.” Confirming that its move is politically-racially motivated, the AP “expects to make a decision within a month on whether to capitalize the term white.”
Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” That is the definition of racism. However, because that definition did not allow Mitchum to leverage the notion of “systemic racism” to sustain a charge of racism against her opponents (vague definitions are better to argue with from an ideological standpoint), she wrote to Merriam-Webster and demanded her definition be substituted.
Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster, told CNN that their entry also defines racism as “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles” (that’s good, too) and “a political or social system founded on racism,” (this definition lacks identification of necessary implementing machinery). Sokolowski then said, “I think we can express this more clearly to bring the idea of an asymmetrical power structure into the language of this definition.” Ah, the idea of an asymmetrical power structure. That’s what Mitchum wanted. That’s what AP’s change in capitalization assumes.
The change in AP’s editorial policy means to convey, according to the AP, “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa” (apparently the AP doesn’t like the Oxford comma). That’s a lot of people who don’t know each other. The move seeks to formalize the lumping of a myriad of ethnicities, groups with different languages, traditions, and so forth, into a monolithic racialized group. This is the work of pan-Africanism. (I am assuming that the editorial board at the AP are intelligent and intentional actors. If not, I can still say that the move functions towards this end.)
“The lowercase black is a color, not a person,” AP explains. It follows that the uppercase “Black” is a person. Presumably, unless whites are to be defined differently than blacks in the system of race thinking, the lowercase white is a color, not a person. If blacks have to have capital “B” so they’re persons, then are white people not persons? Isn’t leaving them as a color and not persons dehumanizing? To what extent, we many wonder, will these considerations enter at all into the heads of AP’s editors? We should, in any case, assume they should.
Why would the AP need a month to think about whether whites get to be persons, too? Don’t “White people” have “an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as [White], including those in the [European] diaspora and within [Europe]”? Ah, but can this “history, identity and community” be anything but racist? Can it be anything but racists the other way around?
Either capitalize both or capitalize neither. Me, I will capitalize neither. Race is not a proper noun. It is a racial category that really needs to go away, not become more formalized. I was infuriated when TruthOut, in 2016, in copyediting an article of mine, differentially capitalized the racial terms. But, I thought, “Well, this is a woke publication.” But now my iPhone autocapitalizes “Black people”—but not “white people.” Should my technology be a neutral platform? Shouldn’t AP be a neutral wire service?
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Both “racism” and “racialism” as terms appear in the first decade of the twentieth century and are synonymous. Racism (or racialism) is an ideology in which it is assumed that dividing the human species into subgroups around superficial phenotypic differences (which merely reflect ancestry, since offspring inherit their parents’ genes) reflects a deeper unseen biological or constitutional reality that represents a natural hierarchically. This hierarchy is organized on the basis of ideal types (lumping of phenotypic characteristics) or indicated by group averages (for example, IQ). A racist believes that whites, blacks, and other racial groups differ in cognitive ability, behavioral proclivity, occupational aptitude, and moral integrity.
As such, the concept of race commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, i.e. the reification of abstractions using arbitrary classification with no basis in sound empirical generalization. The upshot is that there are no actual races. It is an invalid construct manufactured via a false abstraction. Thus racism (or racialism) manufacture race.
As I have explained in previous writings, the idea of race in science emerges from the synthesis of animal husbandry, plant breeding, and evolutionary biology (natural history) in the 18th and 19th centuries and was debunked many decades ago. It was, like many myths, based on a facially plausible inference. But, like other myths that make naturalistic claims, the inference collapses upon closer empirical examination.
In contrast to race realists, who believe there really are races, I am what you might call a race skeptic—I do not believe there are races because I see no compelling evidence for believing such claims. But I am more than a skeptic. Because I know that there is a destructive ideology that constructs race, I am for abolishing the construction altogether. The most stubborn form of racialization in the current context is foundational to the work of progressives.
There is a version of racism that roots in tribalism where essentialist claims are vaguer. Some other etiological myth explains the perceived differences in this style of racism. These present with a religious-like character. For example, in religion, there is a belief that God created the different racial types.
To take another example, the progressive ideology of antiracism, there is a myth of social power that is supposed to work beyond consciousness to elevate the status of some groups while diminishing the status of others. You hear this in the rhetoric of “white privilege” and “systemic racism.” These are quasi-religious constructs.
This mythology imagines power asymmetries (which are asserted without concrete evidence) falsely inferred from grouped differences that are then said to justify organizing some racialized groups culturally, politically, and socially, while condemning other groups for doing so. This understanding finds a slogan like “black power” to be qualitatively different than “white power,” i.e., good against bad, because it assumes that the former is justified and legitimized by the racial hierarchy it supposes exists. As I pointed out in the my previous blog entry, it is all very circular.
One of the ways the neoracialists gloss over ideology is through academic elevation of the normal concept of institution from a concrete and formal structure of law and policy to an abstraction sociologists call a “social institution.” This is what allowed Stokely Carmichael, along with political scientist Charles Hamilton, to declare in the mid-1960s, at the very moment that the problem of institutional racism was solved by its dismantling, that institutional racism was the problem that needed solving. They coined the term in the 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. (Carmichael had popularized the term “black power” a year earlier.) Institutional racism was, according to them, “less overt, far more subtle” in its workings. As such, it was a useful mystification, a glittering generality, allowing the propagandist to assert its existence without any empirical rigor.
Carmichael and Hamilton’s construction is obviously wrong. To be sure, a concrete system that operates on the basis of racial designations, that is any empirically identifiable structure of formal institutions (law, policy) that advances/rewards some individuals while limiting/punishing others on the basis of race, is a racist system. For example, Jim Crow segregation in the US and the Apartheid system in South Africa are historic examples of racist systems. These systems were constructed to provide individuals designated as white with preferential treatment in housing and occupation. A current example of institutionalized racism is affirmative action, wherein individuals designated as black enjoy preferential treatment in education and employment. Absent these institutions there is no system of racism, therefore no systemic racism.
The accusation “racist” is being hurled about a lot lately. It follows from what I have argued that a racist is a person who believes such things are true, namely that there are races, that their members differ from each other in some regular way, and that the members of some racial groups should have more or have less good and bad things based on their racial designation.
If a person does not believe such things are true, then that person is a nonracist. That does not mean the person does not engage in racial thinking. We must recognize that there is a popular recognition of race in our society. Indeed, race thinking is a global phenomenon. We are taught race thinking from very early in life. It is, moreover, reproduced in demographic information. One cannot pretend they do not think racially even if he wishes it were not so—even when he knows it is not so. But this is not racism. Racism is as I defined it above.
What about antiracism? An antiracist is a person who supposes the existence of a racial system with embedded power asymmetries and then struggles to subordinate the perceived oppressor in order to correct history. This moves the thinking beyond merely racial into racially-oppressive action.
For the record, I am a nonracist. I reject both racism and antiracism. The attempt to claim that nonracism is an impossible position is a theological claim, not a scientific claim. The vast majority of people are likewise nonracist. The United States is not a racist society.
* * *
When associated with imagined communities—as opposed to a material reality like social class or a biological reality like sex—the notion of “social power” risks committing the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This fallacy denotes the false move of hypostatizing a conceptual apparatus as an actual part of reality. It’s sloppy and lazy thinking, to be sure. But there are other reasons influencing the error. And the error carries toxic effects.
Let me explain this with an autobiographical account. My opinion on the question of systemic racism changed when I tightened up my thinking. Maybe I can help others with this story.
As readers of my blog know, I am an atheist. I grew up in a Christian culture but the religion never took hold of me. Therefore, with respect to Christianity, I have never considered myself a heretic or an apostate because I was never baptized. A heretic is a person who speaks against his religion. A apostate is a person who leaves his religion. So, in that space, I have always been an infidel. I cannot regret not believing in something that is not real.
Because I was brought up in antiracism and even participated in it—indeed, I was as an academic on the inside as the cult became a religion—I do have regrets. I did fall for theology of antiracism. I have come out of it, I am happy to announce (as if that wasn’t obvious already). I started out as a heretic and now I am an apostate. I now know what it feels like to leave a religion. It feels good.
But it also feels bad because it’s embarrassing when you reflect on the words that once fell out of your mouth. It is moreover difficult because all those who want you to keep believing in antiracism because they have put it central to their lives. They become extremely disappointed in you. They wonder what happened to you. They even even abusive in their disillusionment. They think you have become degraded in your thinking even when you are clearly subjecting your belief to the same skepticism that they themselves apply to, say, religious belief. They believe you have betrayed them. They expected that you would always be who they thought you were. The left has become religious-like in doctrine and intensity and this reaction is a typical manifestation of that attitude.
There were many events that help me self-deprogram (9-11, Christopher Hitchens, Sweden 2018, etc.). I will tell the full story one day. But, for now, here is one of those moments. It bears directly on what I have written above about definitions.
I was lecturing to my students in Foundations of Social Research on common errors in thinking. This was early in the semester. I was on the PowerPoint slide concerning the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. I was talking about how scientists build elaborate models to use as heuristics to tentatively explore the world around them and how that method runs the risk of hypostatizing elements of the model, and even the model itself, as the reality it’s attempting to grasp. Scientists become seduced by their grand ideas. They also get sloppy. They lazily take shortcuts. Via one or all of these avenues, they wind up treating an abstract conceptual system as the concrete reality they are striving to ascertain. This is the problem of reification.
I had given this lecture many times. But this time it hit me: When I talk about systemic or institutional racism I am doing exactly what I am telling my students not to do—I am reifying a conceptual apparatus. I am eliding the fact that the institutions of racism—the real, concrete institutions, i.e. the law, policies—were dismantled when I was a little kid. I’m in my fifties, yet here I am in my classes talking about racism as if it is still this overarching system shaping our everyday lives. I am also committing the error of mystification. And the ecological fallacy.
Eschewing methods of determining the intentions of human beings, indeed, not even bothering to try, I was essentially finding people categorically guilty of a crime for which they had not be adjudicated. I had been using abstractions—demography, social institutions, social facts, etc.—as if they have some actual power to do something. I had imaginary people—personifications of abstract groups—dangling from wires. Here I was denying agency, ignoring concrete behavior, actual situations, and the beliefs people hold, assigning to every individual an abstract statistical average that throws the reality of their lives into a tangled briar patch of jargon. I was guilty of confusing inequality with inequity.
Then another thought occurred to me: Because people act on the basis of the things they believe, because they react on the basis of so-shaped perceptions, these imaginary reified structures I am conveying from a position of authority might influence people to think and act in ways that are destructive to solidarity, democracy, equality, liberty—all the humanist ideals I proclaim as my values. Here I am, a Marxist, obscuring the material structures of exploitation and deprivation, giving legitimacy to cosmological thinkings by committing the ecological fallacy, i.e., drawing inferences about individual thought and behavior deduced from statistical data drawn from groups to which those individuals are supposed to belong.
I then starting looking at claims I had been making about systemic racism. Obviously, it is wrong to suppose that I can know anything about a person because he is white. He could be anything. It wasn’t like he was a devotee to a ideological system like Islam or Nazism. I cannot substitute for him a group average since that would be only a sophisticated form of racial stereotyping. Intersecting demographic categories didn’t make things much clearer, I could plainly see. Age? Sex? There are only aggregate facts.
In a recent blog, I used an example used by psychologist Valarie Tarico—the notion that a queer female East Indian Harvard grad with a Ph.D. and E.D. position is more oppressed [has less social power, etc.] than the unemployed third son of a white Appalachian coal miner. Tarico’s example exposes the absurdity of the claim as straightaway obvious. The Oppression Olympics is a ridiculous proposition. Yet actors in our institutions are making policy out of this.
I next considered the assumption that disparities mean bias and how one might test that assumption empirically, since you can’t ask every individual their views. One way of doing this would be to test propositions using group level data in a way that permits reasonable inferences about context. The most obvious was lethal officer-civilian encounters, since it was motivating #BlackLivesMatter, a group I was suspicious of from the git-go. As it turns out, I didn’t need to do that work. It has already been done (see my review The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters). If the proposition is put in the form of a testable hypothesis, the claim of systemic racism is easily debunked.
In Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook (Routledge), racism is defined this way: “The systemic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). This subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society” (88-89).
This is not a definition. It’s assumptions reveal it to be propaganda. It arbitrarily and eternally locates individuals in oppressor/oppressed and perpetrator/victim categories based on perceived race and imagined hierarchies of social power. What is the evidence that whites have more racial power? If it is because there are statistical differences between the groups, then (a) those differences cannot prove themselves (the proposition therefore remains untested); (b) the categories arbitrarily racially organize individuals race (this is hypostatizing race). The entire exercise disappears concrete individuals whom we can no nothing about based on skin color into abstract demographic categories where grouped averages are claimed to speak for individuals.
This is the great error of sociology. It results from the attempt early in the development of the discipline to graft the methods of natural history onto the study of a qualitatively different domain of social phenomena (what is called “positivism”). It became, as C. Wright Mills put it, enamored by its own grand theatrical structure. This error is repeated because the discipline of sociology still refuses to establish itself upon the materialist conception of history. It is like evolutionary biology has never accepted the natural history approach of Charles Darwin.
And so sociology has become corrupted by ideology. The definition of racism given in Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook is part of a political-ideology of antiracism that finds its roots in New Left thinking, shaped by Critical Theory, Mao Zedong thought, and French poststructuralism/postmodernism, and represents another manifestations of the essentializing action of racial thinking. Why it has become the operational definition for those in power, as well as in the streets, is because it is disruptive to proletarian class consciousness the actual subjects of exploitation and oppression in the material mode of production we call capitalism.
Antiracism enjoys the material support of corporate power because it undermines class solidarity. Everybody is talking about white privilege today because the culture industry, using the legitimating power of academic jargon, has effectively injected it into popular discourse.
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“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Merriam-Webster editor Alex Chambers said in the email to Kennedy Mitchum. “We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner.”
Translation: we are using your email and your race to cover the corporate project to change popular thought in a direction that serves the interests of corporate power. We did not before recognize the propaganda tactic you alerting us to.
The AP means to invert the racial hierarchy, while Merriam-Webster is openly engaged in newspeak. That is damning evidence of the power of the cultural managers who shapes was thought.
As Marx and Engels write in The German Ideology (1845): “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”
In light of the scientific literature on the matter of officer-involved shootings, the greater criminal justice system, and race relations, which does not support core claims made by #BlackLivesMatter and its New Left allies, indeed, that contradict those claims, independently-minded scholars must dissent from the growing demand that that we declare ourselves allies to what amounts to a regressive countermovement against freedom and reason and an assault on the truth. In this essay I expose the myth of systemic racism in lethal police-civilian encounters.
For the record, for those who do not know what I do for a living, I am a professional criminologist tenured at a public university who has spent more than a quarter century studying patterns of crime and punishment. In the 1990s, as a graduate student at a major public university, a milieu shaped by neomarxist and postmodernist epistemologies, I came to believe that systemic racism in part explained disparities in the criminal justice system.
My dissertation, Caste, Class, and Justice: Segregation, Accumulation, and Criminalization in the United States (2000), was influenced by epistemological notions embedded in the approaches of critical race theory and the social reality of crime. I won’t elaborate these here, but the core methodological error I make on their account is conceptualizing race relations as existing on the same ontological plane as class relations. I hope it will suffice to note that sociology, as do other domains of science, elaborates conceptual schemes in order to tap the unseen structures of relations the world and thus risks reifying its constructions. While class relations are material relations, since they exist in economic institutions, the concrete institutions of segregation were dismantled more than half a century ago. A system of categories remains in demography. But demographic categories don’t do anything. Therefore, to assume systemic racism on the basis of grouped differences commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
After spending a number of years after graduate school finding my way out of New Left ideology—what I now recognize as left-idealist romanticism—I discovered that what I had believed about race and criminal justice was misguided. A testament to the power and the problem of ideology, the facts were “hidden” in plain view. I want to tell you about those facts in this essay because many others are making the same errors I made those many years ago. (I critique the fallacy in previous blog entries, so I won’t rehearse that argument here. But you can see an example of my writing on this topic in this essay: Zombie Politics: the Corporatist Ideology of Antiracism.)
* * *
In testing the claim of systemic racism in criminal justice, William Wilbanks, in The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, published in 1987, produces a comprehensive survey of contemporary research studies, searching for evidence of discrimination by police, prosecutors, judges, and prison and parole officers. Among the specific areas considered in his analysis are provisions of counsel, police deployment, use of deadly force, bail decisions, plea bargaining, sentencing patterns, and inmate classification and discipline. Wilbanks finds that, although individual cases of racial prejudice and discrimination do occur in the system, there is insufficient evidence to support a charge of systematic racism against blacks in the criminal justice system, which is the main issue animating #BlackLivesMatter. Wilbanks summarizes: “At every point, from arrest to parole, there is little or no evidence of an overall racial effect.”
Wilbanks’ findings have been repeated in numerous scholarly reviews and studies. Here are several over them spanning a quarter century (I provide a bibliography at the conclusion of the essay). I emphasized that most of these studies focus specifically on the matter of lethal officer-civilian encounters.
Robert Sampson and Janet L. Lauritsen, in a comprehensive review of studies of the criminal justice system, published in the pages of Crime and Justice, in 1997, find “little evidence that racial disparities result from systematic, overt bias.”
Heather Mac Donald, in The War on Cops, a comprehensive review of the evidence published in 2016, finds no evidence of racially biased policing. (See her recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal.)
Roland Fryer, in a paper published in the Journal of Political Economy in 2018, finds no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account when turning his attention to the most extreme use of force, i.e. officer-involved shootings.
Joseph Cesario and colleagues, report in 2018, in Social Psychological and Personality Science, that, adjusting for crime, no systematic evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects. The authors conclude that, when analyzing all shootings, exposure to police, given crime rate differences, accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for blacks.
Charles Menifield and colleagues find, in a study published in Public Administration Review in 2019, that although minority suspects are disproportionately killed by police (a rough average across various sources produce a rate that is for blacks about 2.5 times the rate for whites), white officers appear to be no more likely to use lethal force against minorities than nonwhite officers.
In a study published in Journal of Crime and Justice, in 2019, Brandon Tregle and colleagues, when focusing on violent crime arrests or weapons offense arrests, find that blacks appear less likely to be fatally shot by police officers.
David Johnson and colleagues, in the pages of the 2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, find that it is the rate of violent crime, not the race of the officer, that determines police shootings. In what is known as the “exposure hypothesis,” serious criminal activity increases the likelihood of officer-civilian interaction and this influences the frequency of policing shootings. As do Menifield and colleagues, Johnson and associates find that, taking crime rates into account, the bias in shootings appears to be against whites.
Katelyn Jetelina and associates, in the American Journal of Public Health, find that, controlling for other factors, the observed significant relationships between race/ethnicity dyads and use of force dissipated.
Contextualizing police-civilian interaction is necessary in explaining police use of force. If we look at crime statistics for blacks and whites for the year 2018, we find significant overrepresentation of blacks in serious criminal offending. Blacks are responsible for more half of all murders and more than half of robberies. Blacks account for one-third of all arrests for aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. Moreover, contradicting the claim that violence against blacks by whites is the typical, while most serious crime is intra-racial, whites are disproportionately victims of crime perpetrated by blacks, and not just per capita, but in frequencies. And not by a little.
One finds these disproportionalities in crime reports going back for years. The persistence of black overrepresentation in serious crime is documented by the Uniform Crime Report, a collection of crimes reported to the police, arrest and clearance rates collected from thousands of police department across the nation, published by the FBI. It is also found in the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Justice Department. These reports are published annually. These are the two major crime surveys produced on crime in the United States.
I want to emphasize that most blacks do not commit serious crime. There is nothing intrinsic to being black that makes a person crime prone. Race is not a biological or constitutional entity. It is a social construct. Overrepresentation of blacks in serious crime is a persistent demographic fact. But the assertion of systemic racism rests on interpretation of disparities in demographic representation, therefore we must take the facts together. Controlling for rates of serious crime and considering the context of the encounters, the racial disparity in policing killings is explained. #BlackLivesMatter is based on a myth, the myth of racial bias in lethal (and even less-than-lethal) officer-civilian encounters.
The demographic profile of crime indicate these concrete circumstances: When police are called to a crime scene, or when they have probable cause that a crime is occurring or has occurred, they are more likely to interact with blacks on a per capita basis than they are with whites. Because of black overrepresentation in serious crime, these encounters are more likely to involve serious interactions. If the suspect officers encounter is armed and resisting, then the suspect will be at higher risk of being killed or injured. So will police officers (who are every year killed in the line of duty). Police officers share with all civilians a right to defend themselves. They are, moreover, charged with putting themselves in harm’s way.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw writes that the problem with liberal accounts of the law is “treating the exercise of racial power as rare and aberrational rather than as systemic and ingrained.” The way Crenshaw puts the matter suggests that there is the evidence of systemic and ingrained racism is abundant. In fact, police shootings of unarmed black men, to take the master complaint, are in fact highly unusual. Police interact with civilians millions of times each year. There are approximately 42 million black people in the United States. The number of unarmed blacks killed by the police for all of 2019? Around a dozen. Given such frequencies, police officers killing unarmed black men is rare and aberrational. We should celebrate this fact. Instead, we hear the crowd chanting the slogan: “Defund the police.”
On the larger question of systemic racism in the criminal justice system, scientific studies find little empirical support for the claim of systemic racism in the criminal justice system as a whole. A close examination of prison demographics in light of crime statistics finds that the ascertained patterns are, as they are with officer-involved shootings, largely explained by patterns of criminal offending. Even Michael Tonry, a public intellectual highly critical of US prison policy, had to acknowledge in his 1995 book Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment that racial disparities in the criminal justice system are mainly due to differences in criminal activity among races.
John Pfaff points out, in his 2017 book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration-and How to Achieve Real Reform, more than half of the 1.3 million inmates in state prisons are there for violent offenses (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) and many tens of thousands more are incarcerated for burglary or other serious property crimes. Given the demographics of criminal offending, blacks are not overrepresented among prisoners relative to their involvement in serious crime. Moreover, the moral necessity of ending the drug war accepted, racial disparities in the enforcement of drug prohibition only minimally skew this pattern.
(On that last score, Pfaff’s work bring into question Michele Alexander’s popular 2012 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a book I dropped from the reading list in my undergraduate criminal justice class because its race-centric approach distorts student understanding of the problem. I would likely use the book in a graduate seminar to illustrate the problem of ideological thinking, but undergraduates cannot be burdened with a hefty reading list. We have to get straight away to the truth. Pfaff’s Locked In has replaced it. I have my hands full having to correct misrepresentations in the otherwise excellent The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, by Jeffery Reiman.)
The obsession with race reflected in the work of Alexander, CRT scholars, and others gives short shrift to the matter on which we should focus our attention: social class. The United States is a capitalist society. Police and the greater criminal justice apparatus constitute a system that manages social problems systematically generated by the capitalist mode of production. Those displaced and underserved by an economic system based on the accumulation of capital are overrepresented in our prisons and jails. To be sure, historic forces have played a role in producing the demographic overrepresentation of blacks in the criminogenic conditions capitalism systemically produces, but the claims presented by #BlackLivesMatter and its allies concerning systemic racism in policing and the criminal justice are not supported by the evidence. As I stated at the outset, they are contradicted by the evidence.
Finally, advocacy of the #BlackLivesMatter understanding of the problems of police brutality obscures the progress democratic societies have made on this front. As Samuel Walker, arguably the most important expert in police accountability, tells us, “Whether the benchmark is one-hundred years, fifty years, or only twenty years ago, it is possible to see significant reforms in police management, crime fighting tactics, police personnel standards and training, the diversity of the work force, constitutional standards for policing, and the accountability of officers for their actions in critical situations.” We should acknowledge progress made in this area and keep our attention on continuing that progress. This means rejecting the regressive policies of depolicing and the #BlackLivesMatter interpretation of racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system.
Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
Cesario, Joseph, D. J. Johnson, and W. Terrill. 2018. “Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 10(5): 586-595.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas. 1996. Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. The New Press.
Pfaff, John. 2017. Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration-and How to Achieve Real Reform. Basic Books.
Fryer, Ronald G. 2018. “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” Journal of Political Economy 127(3): 1210-1261.
Jetelina, Katelyn K., Wesley G. Jennings, Stephen A. Bishopp, Alex R. Piqueri, and Jennifer M. Reingle Gonzalez. 2017. Dissecting the Complexities of the Relationship Between Police Officer–Civilian Race/Ethnicity Dyads and Less-Than-Lethal Use of Force. American Journal of Public Health 107(7): 1164-1170.
Johnson, David J., Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario. 2019. “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116(32) 15877-15882.
Mac Donald, Heather. 2016. The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. Encounter Books.
_______________. 2020. The Myth of Systemic Police Racism. Wall Street Journal, June 3.
Menifield, Charles E. 2019. “Do White Law Enforcement Officers Target Minority Suspects?” Public Administration Review 79(1) 56-68.
Sampson, Robert J. and Janet L. Lauritsen. 1997. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States. Crime and Justice 21:311-374.
Tonry, Michael. 1995. Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America. Oxford University Press.
Tregle, Brandon, Justin Nix and Geoffrey P. Alpert. 2019. “Disparity does not mean bias: making sense of observed racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings with multiple benchmarks.” Journal of Crime and Justice 42(1): 18-31.
Walker, Samuel. 2012. “Institutionalizing Police Accountability Reforms: The Problem of Making Police Reforms Endure,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review 32:1.
Walker, Samuel and Carol Archibald. 2013. The New World of Police Accountability. Sage.
Wilbanks, William. 1987. The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
_______________. 1987. “The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 3(2):88-93.
You may be hearing a lot about “Cultural Marxism” lately. Steven Bannon is all over it in his podcast War Room (See The Economic Nationalism of Steven K. Bannon for my views on Bannon). The New York Times denies there is even such a thing as Cultural Marxism. It’s an “far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory,” it claims. The NYTimes is not alone. The Establishment seems obsessed with denying this thing called Cultural Marxism, always pairing it with the rightwing of American politics. So the right has a view on a thing and that makes it what it is. Way to leverage an ideology in order to engage in denialism.
The online open source encyclopedia Wikipedia takes up the line: “In contemporary usage, the term Cultural Marxism refers to a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory which claims that the Frankfurt School is part of an ongoing academic and intellectual effort to undermine and destroy Western culture and values. According to the conspiracy theory, which emerged in the late 1990s, the Frankfurt School and other Marxist theorists were part of a conspiracy to attack Western society by undermining traditionalist conservatism and Christianity using the 1960s counterculture, multiculturalism, progressive politics and political correctness.” (See Frankfurt School.) I don’t normally cite Wikipedia, but I have a point to make.
I can be of some help here. I am a Marxist—a libertarian Marxist not one of these New Left Marxoids. I have read deeply into the body of literature produced by the Cultural Marxists (you should see my library!). But perhaps more importantly, for more than quarter century, I have been on the inside of the style of politics emanating from the Frankfurt School. I am, after all, an academic in a public university, an institution that is, as you probably know, seriously woke. I am in a position to testify to the fact that Cultural Marxism is not a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory. Quite the contrary.
Cultural Marxism, or Critical Theory, is a very real tradition in Marxism and really does work through the “1960s counterculture, multiculturalism, progressive politics, and political correctness” that animates activism to this very day. Get your hands on the 1965 neo-Marxist collection A Critique of Pure Tolerance, by Herbert Marcuse, Barrington Moore Jr., and Robert Paul Wolff. Read Marcuse’s essay in particular: “Repressive Tolerance.” It’s a call for political correctness. Marcuse was a prominent member of the Frankfurt School. From the Wikipedia entry on Marcuse: “His Marxist scholarship inspired many radical intellectuals and political activists in the 1960s and 1970s, both in the United States and internationally.” That essay I cited is just one instantiation of a large literature of illiberal scholarship that feeds the New Left ideology. There is no guessing here. Marcuse advocated a synthesis of Marx, Freud, and Heidegger (see his 1955 Eros and Civilization). That’s right. Heidegger. Don’t know who that is? Look into it.
Is Wikipedia pushing an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”? Hardly. Why would identifying Cultural Marxism as being influential on elite culture be antisemitic anyway? Because Marxist intellectuals are disproportionately Jewish? That doesn’t make Marxism a Jewish cabal. It’s insulting to say that people shouldn’t criticize or recognize the fact of Cultural Marxism because to do so is “antisemitic.” That’s like saying that we cannot criticize the Nation of Islam because its scholars are black. You’re skin color or ethnic identity does not immunize your ideas from criticism. Who said all Jews agree with Cultural Marxism?
I benefitted from Marcuse’s 1964 book One-Dimensional Man. It’s an important book (I like C. Wright Mills, Guy Debord, Richard Grossman, and Sheldon Wolin more, but you should read One-Dimensional Man). But it is not a book that challenges corporatism from a liberal standpoint. Not even from a Marxist standpoint (which is, on these issues, liberal; see my Defending the Digital Commons: A Left-Libertarian Critique of Speech and Censorship in the Virtual Public Square). I have also benefitted from other Frankfurt School scholars, especially the work of Franz Neumann, Walter Benjamin, Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer. I even appreciate the arguments of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. The notion that we’re supposed to deny that these ideas have profoundly influenced the mode of thinking of university administrators and professors of humanities and social sciences is asking us to participate in denialism.
I would be pulling my hair out if I were a young conservative coming through the modern woke general education program of today’s university. So much of what is taught as the Gospel truth amounts to compelled speech. Faculty are subjected to it, as well. Frankfurters have to be in for some criticism like everybody else. They have have a huge impact on our politics. What you are seeing on our streets today is in part thanks to their methods (and to destructive ideas of the French poststructuralist and postmodernists movement, Mao Zedong thought and the Cultural Revolution, and anarchist egoism/nihilism).
The Wikipedia entry on the Frankfurt School also contains the following: “The works of the Frankfurt School are understood in the context of the intellectual and practical objectives of critical theory. In Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), Max Horkheimer defined critical theory as social critique meant to effect sociologic change….” It continues: “The purpose of critical theory is to analyze the true significance of the ruling understandings (the dominant ideology) generated in bourgeois society, by showing that the dominant ideology misrepresents how human relations occur in the real world, and how such misrepresentations function to justify and legitimate the domination of people by capitalism.” And this: “In the praxis of cultural hegemony, the dominant ideology is a ruling-class narrative story, which explains that what is occurring in society is the norm.” Good stuff. Why run away from it? Because it gives too much away. Just don’t believe anything anybody says about it.
The problem with Cultural Marxism, for both the left and corporate power, is that Critical Theory does not separate out all the rational elements of the West—all the things Marx defended—from the deformation of liberalism by corporatism. Marx sought to overthrow capitalism to bring the values of liberalism into full manifestation by de-alienating man from man and man from nature. He never sought to overthrow values of liberalism themselves. Private control over capitalism is in contradiction to the values of modernity, of which Marx was an advocate. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Given the perversion of socialism wrought by Cultural Marxism, whatever its insights, we have to recognize that, in practice, this direction has not on balance been a good thing. Indeed, Critical Race Theory is one of its obnoxious children. And this fathered Black Lives Matter. Just look at our streets today. This is not a revolutionary movement. It’s a corporatist-globalist wet dream. And that, comrades, is one hell of a paradox for something claiming Marxist roots.
There are many things that make reparations for slavery and de jure segregation objectionable. For example, making victims of people without their consent (thank you, Coleman Hughes). But what makes reparations straightaway something those who believe in a rational sense of justice must condemn—and those with a primitive or deformed sense of justice can never reasonably demand from others—is this: the racialist notion of reparations (besides being intrinsically racist) is a form of substitutionary or vicarious atonement requiring the living to accept the blame for errors and sins they could not possibly have committed and to atone for iniquity of corpses. I am an atheist. A citizen in a secular republic. I have in back of me the right to be free from such tyranny.
Not even particular corpses. One abstract racialized corpse—as if the skeleton of an Appalachian coal miner ever owned in common the human chattel of a Red Hills plantation owner by virtue of shared superficial phenotypic characteristics. As if their descendants carry crime and sin in their genes. What madness this is. As if the living can repair or undo the past—and not double down on racism—by being forced to give money to the racialized other. As if magic can be worked by prostrating oneself before self-declared representatives of an imagined community supposed by an ideology to which few people still subscribe—except, of course, those demanding reparations. Do those making this argument recognize how profoundly racist its premise is? It’s as if they want us all to be racists.
Reparations for slavery rests on arguably the most destructive idea in world history: imposed religious (or religious-like, if you wish) thinking, an ideological form the Enlightenment relegated to individual conscience via secularism. You know, keep it to yourself and we might all get along? Reparations emanates from a mythological worldview, a religious cosmology, from fantastic precepts, where the primitive constructs of collective and intergenerational guilt and responsibility dwell. Reparations depends on our trust in those with esoteric notions presuming an eschatology, a view of the final judgment, of humankind’s destiny—indeed of souls. I trust no one leveling charges of blood guilt. Making it doubly dangerous, the theology from which the (il)logic of reparations hails—antiracism—is a quasi-religion that dovetails effortlessly with the Abrahamic traditions, ironically the same body of religious thought used for centuries to justify slavery and racial separation. This makes decent people of faith susceptible to the pathology of racecraft. Tragedy upon tragedy.
The desire for reparations for slavery or de jure segregation, the desire of race identitarianism, is a secret wish to preserve a black and white world, to live in the past, to alienate people from one another via an obnoxious construct (race), to base social justice on claims of past oppressions that our ancestors—and some still living—overcame through war and democratic republican processes, proof of the validity of the processes of justice that inhere in free and open societies based on individual liberty and civil rights. Reparations seek to erase the individual, to subsume a myriad of human personalities into a reified handful of antagonistic collective identities. (Cultural managers “teach” our youth these delusions in our public schools and universities and press, shame, and coerce participation from recalcitrant faculty.)
Reparations is antithetical to human rights. After all, it is because of the ideals of individual freedom and equality before the law, the birthright of every human being by virtue of being human, that unjust institutions limiting some while advancing others are dismantled. The abolition of slavery and then of de jure segregation testify to the power of Western justice, a sense of justice that should really need no qualifiers.
The reparations countermovement, despite its members claiming to be “progressive,” denies progress. Blaming the living for the deeds of the dead and demanding from them payment for debt they did not incur is regressive. It is, moreover, pathological. It hides behind a rhetoric of “love” and “empathy” the impulse to shame and humiliate. Advocacy of reparations is at its core a rejection of modernity, the development that abolished slavery and produced human rights. Reparations is part of a countermovement that means to undo hard-fought justice based on reason. Despite only a minority subscribing to this wicked idea, they have the ear of powerful forces who see advantage in their delusions. Encouraging the idea risks civilization.
I can’t stop white people giving money to black people any more than I can stop people from putting cash and coins in the offertory. You are free to be charitable. You are free to self-loathe. You are free to self-flagellate. I’m not your therapist. (Because I have empathy, I do feel embarrassed for you, though.) But I cannot permit the state to make me or my sons guilty of the errors and sins of other people. This violates my conscience, the integrity of which, last time I checked, is my birthright (see First Amendment to the US Bill of Rights; UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
I will never apologize for something I did not do. I will not be compelled to say things to which I do not subscribe. I must never be forced to repay debts I did not incur. I will never kneel to anybody or anything. Those who demand these things from me are narcissistic. Those who shame me and my children for existing are cruel. They are not my betters. They seek to oppress me. And when they do it on the basis of race, they are racists. I am a man. My dignity is precious to me. I mean to preserve it.
I am white (it says so on my birth certificate). I’m not Christian, so there is no moment of reckoning for me with respect to that. But I’m not sure white Christians have a moment of reckoning, either. At least not on moral grounds. At least not specially on the matter of race (that will get me, too, I fear). It’s more about whether conservative Christianity will be allowed to survive alongside the new progressive religion of Woke.
Quoting from the setup to the CNN interview with Robert Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, and author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, “In survey after survey … contemporary white Christians repeatedly deny that structural racism is a problem, that shootings of unarmed blacks are not isolated incidents, or even that African Americans still face racism and discrimination.”
Jones says, “One of the challenges, historically, has been that the Christian theology developed in white churches intentionally blinds white Christians to racial injustice.” The evidence for this? “White Christians are nearly twice as likely as non-religious Americans to say police shootings of unarmed black men are isolated incidents.” Jones adds, “That is a moral and theological problem.”
The claims Jones make in this interview, claims that are being repeated incessantly and reflexively by establishment voices in the Democratic Party, the corporate media, and the progressive (counter)movement, rest on a false premise—two false premises, in fact, namely that there is structural racism (systemic or institutional racism) and racial bias in police shootings.
Let’s take up the second premise first. There is no systemic racism in lethal police-civilian encounters, as the empirical research makes clear. A dozen or fewer unarmed blacks were killed by police in all of 2019. While every death is tragic, in light of the tens of millions of blacks in the United States, these are isolated incidents. And taking context and crime rates into account, there is no racial bias in police shootings. (Stay tuned for my upcoming podcast and companion blog entry on this for details.)
On the more broad claim of systemic racism, it is true that blacks still face race prejudice and discrimination based on prejudice. So do other groups. I’m unsure whether the United States will ever end prejudice and discrimination. It is human nature to operate according to cognitive stereotypes, and as long as the administrative state and the culture industry prime them by continuing to conceptualize humans in racialized terms, prejudice and discrimination with persist—from all sides. But the United States did end systemic racism decades ago.
So we might dismiss Jones’ thesis out of hand. However, the appearance of Jones’ thesis, and his claim that this is a “theological problem,” does point to antiracism as a quasi-religious movement.
Tarico discusses the righteous and the infidel—the saved and the damned, the woke and the bigots. In this worldview, every person is seen not as an individual but as an organic member of a particular group, really a creature lying at the intersection of several group identities.
Tarico explains: “In Woke culture, hierarchy is determined by membership in traditionally oppressed tribes … based largely on blood lines and chromosomes. Note that this is not about individual experience of oppression or privilege, hardship or ease. Rather, generic average oppression scores get assigned to each tribe and then to each person based on intersecting tribal identities. Thus, a queer female East Indian Harvard grad with a Ph.D. and E.D. position is considered more oppressed than the unemployed third son of a white Appalachian coal miner.”
People are initially seen either as friend or foe. Seeing the world in black and white terms reduces people to good and evil. If a person is marked supremely good, then they can do no evil. For example, you have probably been told that blacks cannot be racist. Only whites can be racist. You also see this in the claim that, in transitioning from “man” to “woman,” one’s “male privilege” is erased—a privilege that is itself a construct of an identitarian ideology. The question of whether an evil person can do good is conditional, determined by his or her relationship to the spiritually superior categories. In any case, the evil people must be made subordinate to the good people, this determined not by what they do but what they are.
This worldview is straightaway a recipe for legitimizing authoritarian relations. We see it in cancel culture, deplatforming, doxxing, mobbing, and all the other expressions of Wokeness.
In his talks, Richard Carrier notes the way Christianity attracts followers by using a specialized language, what Tarico called “insider jargon.” Insider phrases and slogans mark people as members of tribes. “Transwomen are women” perfectly illustrates the phenomenon. You must agree with this to mark yourself a tribe member. If you don’t, you’re worthy of being canceled.
I argue that specialized language not only frames reality, but produces a reality of its own. It demarcates what is acceptable at the same time is hypostatizes ideological constructs as part of fundamental, albeit cosmological, reality. So one does not simply offend a transwomen by denying she is a woman. One is attempting to erase her as a human being—even if one fully supports the right of people to express themselves as any gender they wish. As O’Brien told Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is not enough to tell those who define reality that “two plus two equals five.” Those subjected to the party rules must believe “two plus two equals five.” Whether it’s true is beside the point. You are simply not allowed to be a libertarian or a free thinker in the religion of Woke. You are either with the authoritarian or you are crushed under the authoritarian’s boot heel. It’s like living in a Muslim-majority society governed by the sharia.
Tarico lists several of the insider concepts used by evangelicals and compares them to those used by woke people. Here are some of the latter: “intersectionality,” “cultural appropriation,” “trigger warning,” “microaggression,” “privilege,” “fragility.” She writes that “jargon isn’t merely a tool for efficient or precise communication as it is in many professions—it is a sign of belonging and moral virtue.”
She works with the concept I have been working with, and John McWhorter has been working with this concept, too, and that’s the notion of “original sin.” Tarico writes, “In Woke culture, white and male people are born with blood guilt, a product of how dominant white and male people have treated other people over the ages and in modern times. Again, though, individual guilt isn’t about individual behaviors. A person born with original sin or blood guilt can behave badly and make things worse, but they cannot erase the inborn stain. (Note that this contradicts core tenets of liberal, humanist, and traditional progressive thought.)” (That’s her note in parenthesis. I would leave out progressive thought, since it is in many ways the beginning of the rot.)
I hasten to add that there are very particular ways a person can find their way out of evil, but this depends on contradictory rules (apropos of a religion). So, as Adolph Reed, Jr. points out in his essay One Trans Good the Other Not So Much, published in Common Dreams, the theology on this is tricky. He takes on the case of Rachel Dolezal, who claimed to be transracial but was denied permission by the woke to do so and was promptly cancelled once they learned she wasn’t black (since they could not tell from looking at her). You can read Reed’s essay to understand why, but his conclusion is at least worth stating here:
“The transrace/transgender comparison makes clear the conceptual emptiness of the essentializing discourses, and the opportunist politics, that undergird identitarian ideologies. There is no coherent, principled defense of the stance that transgender identity is legitimate but transracial is not, at least not one that would satisfy basic rules of argument. The debate also throws into relief the reality that a notion of social justice that hinges on claims to entitlement based on extra-societal, ascriptive identities is neoliberalism’s critical self-consciousness. In insisting on the political priority of such fictive, naturalized populations identitarianism meshes well with neoliberal naturalization of the structures that reproduce inequality. In that sense it’s not just a pointed coincidence that Dolezal’s critics were appalled with the NAACP for standing behind her work. It may be that one of Rachel Dolezal’s most important contributions to the struggle for social justice may turn out to be having catalyzed, not intentionally to be sure, a discussion that may help us move beyond the identitarian dead end.”
Returning to the CNN interview with Jones, the buried headline is the project to delegitimize conservative and evangelical Christianity and replace it with progressive ecumenicalism centered by a theology that makes whites and the culture identified with them—Western civilization—the chief source of evil in modernity, which they reject in favor of a postmodern situation where all the older truths fall away. It is a doctrine of transcendence in world that was secularized by the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Detribalized by the dynamics of democratic-republicanism and nationalism, the left seeks to return to some comfort of the chaos of the world by retribalizing the West, which is intrinsically destructive to the values of the West: liberalism, rationalism, secularism, and so forth. It seeks to solve the problem of racism through theological means, which means not to solve the problem of all; as history tests to, solving any problem through religious means does not turn out well for those theologized to stand outside the proper moral order. Paradoxically, it seeks to solve the problem of any real antiracism, i.e., the negation of racism, by rebranding racism. The new and improved racism is antiracism.
Jones’ language is steeped in wokeness and a desire to theologize antiracism (see also Eric Mason’s Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice). This project is, at first approximation, redundant. “One measure of authenticity for white Christians is whether they link reconciliation with justice and repair,” Jones says. “It’s easy for a white Christian leader to jump in a march and put his arm around an African-American pastor. But will we see Joel Osteen preach a sermon calling for white Christians to reflect on the ugly parts of our history? Are pastors going to help white Christians free their faith from privileged claims of whiteness?”
But on closer examination the Church of Woke, while adapting Christian rhetoric of justice and repair, represents a rejection of the core principle of Christianity: personal salvation. Jones reveals the problem without recognizing it. “As long as white supremacy has a hold on our culture, it’s pretty comfortable for white Christian churches to say their theology is about personal salvation and personal lives.” Jones says. “Theology has been constricted to be only about personal piety, disconnected from claims of social justice. Everything outside of salvation has been labeled ‘politics’.”
Leaving the doctrine of predestination to one side, all brothers and sisters in Christ have a way out of their inherited sin: they can be saved. Every person is redeemable in the end. This is not true for white people in the Church of Woke. No matter how many times white people prostrate themselves before black people, no matter how many black feet white people wash, they will never not be white. They are required to be white forever. And since whiteness is intrinsically evil, white devils will always be evil. Antiracism is not an ideology seeking racial equality. This is a theology that strives to invert an imagined hierarchy.
Jones says, “White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit. Rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality.” However much this is true, it could not stop the abolition of systemic racism more than half a century ago. Far more powerful than the Christian Church is the Church of Woke. Under the guidance of Woke ideology, the country is well on its way to reclaiming systemic racism.
One last thing. Jones’ says, “Dylan Roof was a confirmed Lutheran, who, in his journal while imprisoned has been drawing crosses and white Jesus and is completely unrepentant.” The construct “white Jesus” is among the most obnoxious images of the Woke religion. Of course, there is no evidence Jesus was an actual historical person. I suppose he can be any race one wishes. Like Santa Claus. But if Jesus was a real person, he would likely have been a Middle Easterner. Since when were Middle Easterners stripped of their whiteness? Has anybody told Kasey Kasim yet?
I am 58 years old. My earliest memories of the 1960s finds me filled with optimism about the future. But I have over the many years since then watched my republic being dismantled and re-incorporated into a global economic order that has devastated the organizations of working people and undermined their class consciousness.
The dismantling and reincorporation began in the 1960s at the hands of Democrats. Democrats—progressive, neoliberal, neoconservative—have been at the helm or behind the scenes all the way. Republican leaders during this the period for the most part bent to the will of the globalist corporatist elites who were busy denationalizing America. The current president is an exception. And that’s why the establishment has turned on him in an unprecedented manner.
We were told for decades that acknowledging the truth of globalization was a “conspiracy theory.” I’m an expert on political economy. Globalization is not a conspiracy. What happened has happened in the open and is well known to anybody who troubles himself to look around. Our rulers don’t hide it. They speak of these developments in virtuous terms. They tell us that globalization is good for us. There is really no theory involved. For the most part, we just describe what has happened and what is happening.
The Democratic Party has betrayed the working people of America. Hand-in-hand with the corporatists of Europe and Asia, they have betrayed the working classes of the world.
For those of you who were not around when I made it clear that I was not and why I was not voting for Obama, and then Clinton, I want to make sure you know I will not vote for Biden and why I will not vote for him. For his entire career, Biden has been at the forefront of selling out the American working class to the globalists who are destroying my country. Biden is a corporatist shill. The worst of the worst. I could not vote for him. (See Joe Biden is the last, best hope for globalists, Financial Times.)
“But, Andy, what about Trump?” The lesser-of-two-evils argument is not only fallacious because it assumes that a vote can be used strategically in a national election, the argument is also wrong because it misidentifies the greater evil (See I’m With Her). Those who are dismantling my country are the greater evil.
Here’s what I will do. If there is no one I can vote for, then I won’t vote. I won’t let people shame me with the canard that I’m throwing my vote away because I either don’t vote for who they want me to or don’t vote at all. Not voting for a principled reason is a noble political act. Freedom means the right to participate or to withdraw consent by not participating. What is it they say? If you choose not to decide, then you still have made a choice? Exactly. My vote can only be a vote for my aspirations and values. It’s a symbolic gesture in a democratic society. The hard work of democracy is about persuading people to do the right thing.
I have published papers on lynching, so this subject is close to me. I also know how to work from a societal reaction perspective where regular events become defined differently based on the greater context in which they appear. Ideology and worldview can dramatically change the meaning of events.
I want to put in a word of caution concerning what I see as an emerging moral panic, which is perhaps understandable, but no less troubling. The risk is that public pressure could compel authorities to define things differently than they know them to be thus making the imagined appear real. Such acts of reifications will likely function to perpetuate a false narrative.
The memes circling around social media about five black men found hanging from trees has all the marks of a moral panic. Such memes conjure images of lynchings and, in the present context, are sure to heighten racial suspicions and animosities.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told Fox 26 Houston that she “believes there could be more to the story after an eerie pattern of recent suicides where black men were found hanging from trees.” What pattern? Calls to suicide hotlines skyrocketed during COVID-19. The hanging occurred in different cities. There’s security footage. No foul play is suspected. “People are on edge,” Jackson continued “They are nervous. This is a troubling, a challenging time for us. It is shocking in our community, and no death in that form should go uninvestigated. No death should go uninvestigated.
This is reckless rhetoric on Lee’s part. She is the one ramping up fear. First, the number is erroneous. Three black men, two found to have hanged themselves and another under investigation (no foul play suspected) is not five black men. Second, investigators see far more suicides than they see murders. How many more? Three times more. Investigators can tell the difference. Based on all the evidence we have at this point, the memes are inflammatory and irresponsible.
“We’re talking about multiple people hanging from trees across America in the middle of a race war that’s going,” said resident Anthony Scott, according to the station. “With everything that’s been transpiring, with all of the hangings that have been taking place within the last two weeks, why wouldn’t you automatically assume foul play?” Because there is no reason, too?
Suicide is common—even using the method of suicide we see in these cases. I’m not sure whether people know this, but more than 130 individuals kill themselves every day in America. Stop and reflect on that. In 2018, more than 48 thousand people killed themselves. In contrast, there were around 16 thousand homicides in 2018. Suicide by hanging is not unusual. In fact, hanging is the preferred method of suicide after firearms. Where people hang themselves depends. Some hang themselves in closets. Some in basements. Others from trees. Hanging oneself from a tree is rarer than other locations, but it happens. Whites are also found having hanged themselves from trees, too.
We are going through a period sociologist Émile Durkheim would describe as anomic, a period where rapid change upsets the normative structure. This leads to a profound confusion in which some individuals find death preferable to living. In fact, suicides have been rising over the last two decades.
The myth of a racist America shapes perception. We see this in the fact that a large proportion of Americans believe police officers murder black men as a higher rate than they murder white men. This isn’t true, but because of the myth, a false perception perpetuates itself on the basis of selected and misperceived facts. The false perception is even causing people to call for dismantling law enforcement, which will make their communities even more dangerous. It causes them to focus on the bigger threats to black lives. Indeed, suicide is a threat to black lives.
I recognize the psychological need to deny that a loved one did not commit suicide. Suicide still comes with a stigma. It especially tempting to suspect foul play the victim showed no suicidal tendencies. But the truth is that a lot people who kill themselves do not show suicidal tendencies. Suicide is sometimes expected. Other times, it comes as a complete surprise. It may be that one or more of these was a racially-motivated killing. These do happen. But the moral panic is unwarranted.
Update (June 18, 2020):
More signs of moral panic grow. According to several news agencies, authorities in Oakland, California, are going forward with a hate crime investigation despite the fact that several alleged “nooses” found in a park turned out to be foot swings, according to the black man who says he put them there. Mayor Libby Schaaf said Wednesday that the intentions “don’t matter” in light of the current racial climate.
“We have to start with the assumption that these are hate crimes,” the mayor said during a press conference. “The intentions do not matter, because the harm is real. They will matter with regard to whether or not this is, in fact, charged as a hate crime, but they do not matter about whether or not we should tolerate symbols of hate and violence and torture in our public spaces.”
No, Mayor Schaaf, intentions do matter. They were for exercising. There is no harm—unless somebody hurts themselves using them while working out. If the mayor interpret everything that looks sort of noose-like as a racist system I would suggest psychological counseling. Because that is crazy.
But the comment, “We have to start with the assumption that these are hate crimes,” is emblematic of a moral panic. Makeshift hoops for exercising, plainly not hate crimes, are seen as hate crimes because mass hysteria causes people to see things not for what they are but for what they expect—or want—them to be.
Update (June 24, 2020):
Bubba Wallace, the only black driver racing full-time in NASCAR, was told that he the target of a hate crime when a noose was found hanging in his garage. There was a massive public display of support by other drivers and fans ahead of the Geico 500. “I’m enraged by the act of someone placing a noose in the garage stall of my race team,” Richard Petty said in a statement. “There is absolutely no place in our sport or our society for racism. This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice and it galvanizes my resolve to use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change.”
Today, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and the FBI said in a joint statement that the noose had been in Wallace’s garage stall since the October race at Talladega in 2019. It was a garage stall rope handle. (Remember Jussie Smollett? See Hate Crimes, Hoaxes, and Identity Politics.)
DiAngelo claims that racism is the status quo in the United States. Speaking for herself, she says that “it is comfortable for me, as a white person, to live in a racist society.” That’s why white people don’t see it, she contends. She wants to, in Shapiro’s words, “sustain the momentum of these protests” by making it (again, in Shapiro’s words), “uncomfortable for white people to continue to benefit from racist systems.”
Let her speak for herself. “We’ve got to start making it uncomfortable and figuring out what supports we’re going to put in place to help us continue to be uncomfortable,” DiAngelo says. “Because the forces of comfort are quite seductive.”
Exactly. The twenty-five million white Americans who live in poverty, and tens of millions more working class people at its margins struggling daily to make ends meet, are seduced by their comfort. It sounds like DiAngel’s comfortable existence is being mapped onto all whites, doesn’t it?
Who does she think she is? Not a nice white person, she will have you know. “Nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist,” DiAngelo says, “We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.”
Get that, white people? You are a monolithic group, all enjoying comfort, and guilty of racism. DiAngelo is racist, too, but at least she’s trying. What are you doing?
According to DiAngelo, “Racism is what happens when you back one group’s racial bias with legal authority and institutional control.” Like the apartheid system in South Africa or Jim Crow in the United States South.
As I have reported on Freedom and Reason—what I thought was old news, but apparently not—the United States dismantled its system of apartheid more than half a century ago.
Undeterred by this fact, DiAngelo says, “When you back one group’s collective bias with that kind of power, it is transformed into a far-reaching system. It becomes the default. It’s automatic. It’s not dependent on your agreement or belief or approval.”
What collective bias? Backed by what power?
Plainly these claims are false. So why is DiAngelo so popular? Why is a person with a cracked theory of the United States being interviewed with such a degree of unconditional positive regard? It’s almost as if the bourgeoisie is distracting the working class by sowing racial division. Why would it want to do that?
DiAngelo says that black people have an understanding of racism that we, as white people, can never understand. Yet she presumes to speak for black people. And for white people.
There are lot of DiAngelos out there. Tim Wise hops in like an unwelcome toad in your potato salad. The white progressives on my Facebook newsfeed. The white progressives on corporate media. The white progressives in the administration and humanities and social science departments at our nation’s universities.
“Racism is the foundation of the society we are in,” DiAngelo says. “And to simply carry on with absolutely no active interruption of that system is to be complicit with it. And in that way, we can say that nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist.”
Let’s not mince words. The slogans DiAngelo and her ilk are rehearsing are more than bullshit. They’re racist. If you buy into this argument, then you are buying into racism.
This is what racism is apart from a pseudoscientific theories of racial inferiority or institutional structures that systemically privilege some over others on the basis of race: supposing that certain attitudes and actions are intrinsic to all individuals abstractly grouped by skin color and holding all of them responsible for the actions of a few.
To say that all white people are complicit in racism—especially white people who do not subscribe to DiAngel’s cracked theory about white fragility—is a racist smear. It’s like saying that all blacks are violent criminals because some blacks are violent criminals. Its like saying that all blacks are complicit in violent crime even when they are not complicit in violent crime.
DiAngel’s claims are not true. America is not a racist society. America is a country that overcame racism. In a long Civil War, white people killed other white people to win freedom for black people. Americans amended their Constitution to forbid chattel slavery, a system of involuntary servitude based on race. Americans passed a historic law—the Civil Rights Act of 1964—to end segregation in public institutions and places of public accommodations. Americans instituted a comprehensive program of reparations in the wake of that law. Today, black people move in all spaces of American society. They are in academia, business, entertainment, government, and sports.
Robin DiAngelo is a purveyor of racism. She is the worst of the worst. Okay, maybe the loathsome Tim Wise is worse. But DiAngelo is the current hack cult leader. She is the Richard Spencer of the left (see What racists and anti-racists have in common, at Spiked).
That the media has taken up the line of race identitarianism announces an agenda at work. What is it? It’s simple, really. The cultural managers in academia and in mainstream media perpetuate the myth of racism to keep working people from thinking and talking about what really matters: CLASS. If it’s not intentional, it’s functional. It’s a tried-and-true strategy of divide and rule.
The ruling class has used racism to divide the people for centuries. Racism was invented to fracture the proletariat. It will always serve that purpose. Its new form exploits the narcissist desire of progressives to appear virtuous. The only way racism doesn’t fracture the working class is if we reject it. Therefore, we must reject race merchants like Robin DiAngelo, Al Sharpton, and Nancy Pelosi.
And we need to reject it now. When I wrote a moment ago that America is not a racist country, I meant that it is not right now a racist country. But if we allow DiAngelo and her crowd and their hysterical ideas to worm their way more deeply into our culture and society, it will be.
Want an concrete example of the agenda? The matter with which progressives are now most obsessed is demonstrably false—the claim that lethal officer-civilian encounters are systemically racist. The science shows that, not only are blacks not disproportionately killed by the police, but that, controlling for crime and context, it’s whites who are disproportionately killed by the police. But truth doesn’t matter in the postmodern multiverse.
#BlackLivesMatter rests on a false premise. The elite know it. They’re neither ignorant or stupid. They push the false narrative systemic racism—what Kwame Ture, aka Stokley Carmichael, notorious opponent of nonviolence and racial integration, called “institutional racism”—to confuse the people about the real situation facing them: global corporatism and the neoliberal reorganization of social life.
The establishment is dividing America by race to keep America from democracy. Don’t let them.