We Should Be Meaner to Racists
Erika Heidewald

Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner: Don’t Attack Racists; Attack “Race” Itself

by Alexander Zubatov

Back in March 2016, when Trump was starting to roll up primary victories and pundits on the Left were trumpeting the unraveling of the Republican Party, I correctly predicted which party would be the one soon facing an existential crisis and explained how the Left’s race war was a big part of the picture:

In this same article, I proceeded to explain — and document with statistics — how those claiming that Trump’s voters were racists coming out of the woodwork were missing the critical fact that according to Pew surveys, in 2008, at the time of the election of our first black President, 44 percent of whites actually leaned Democratic, while only 42 percent leaned Republican.” I explained that, as our national onslaught of identity politics and the Left’s epidemic of race-baiting escalated, whites began peeling off from Obama’s Democratic coalition, and that already by 2012, the drop in Democratic white voters was coming not in the more ostensibly “racist” contingent within the states of the old Confederacy, but rather, in less traditionally racist states like California, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as in the crucial swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, precisely the ones where Trump sealed the deal:

[T]he increase among whites voting Republican between 2008 and 2012 was still more dramatic in many of the states with white electorates commonly thought to be less racist than those in the old Confederacy: 8 percent more whites voting Republican in New Jersey, 7 percent more in California and Florida, 6 percent more in New York and Wisconsin and 4 percent more in Massachusetts.

I further explained how he was drawing his support most heavily from those whites registered as Democrats and independents.

[W]hile only 29 percent of registered Republicans favored Trump as of December 2015, 43 percent of those who self-identified as Republicans but were registered as Democrats were Trump supporters, and he received 40 percent support among unregistered self-identified Republicans and 36 percent support among self-identified Republicans registered as independents.

The results of the 2016 election backed up this data big-time. Sometimes, 140 characters (these from New York Times writer and election analyst Nate Cohn) are enough to make the point:

To say this another way, the very same whites who’d apparently been non-racist enough to vote for our first black president in 2008 didn’t suddenly become raving racists overnight (or even over the course of the ensuing eight years). And yet, make no mistake: something had made race more of an issue for these voters. As I argued in that same March 2016 article,

As a 2014 paper considering data on racial attitudes concludes, “racial sentiments rallied positively behind Obama after his 2008 election but then spiked to unprecedentedly antagonistic levels during his first term. At the same time, racial antagonism polarized dramatically by party from 2008 to 2012.”

More recent polling on the state of race relations reveals an exacerbation of these trends. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from this past summer, for instance, shows a precipitous decline in Americans’ assessment of the state of race relations:

But while agreeing that race relations have been getting worse over the past few years, blacks and whites have been increasingly disagreeing profoundly on the nature of the problem. A 2011 paper from Michael I. Norton and Samuel R. Sommers published in Perspectives on Psychological Science documents the fact that while most blacks continue to think the problem is anti-black bias, a majority of whites now believe that anti-white bias is the bigger problem, as a helpful graph in the paper illustrates:

Once again, it is important to resist the knee-jerk impulse to label all these whites racists. Note how, until recently, a majority of whites actually believed that anti-black bias was the bigger problem. Again, these people did not become racists overnight. Something made them change their perceptions of race and racism.

My argument is simple: the something that has brought about a dramatic decline in race relations and a dramatic upsurge in white anger over the course of the past bunch of years is the enormous uptick in identity politics, and, in particular, in talk about race and racism, which at many recent points during our 24/7 news cycle, has been the main issue dominating the airwaves. A big part of the problem, of course, is that the irresponsible ratings-driven, sensation-peddling media created and fueled an empirically unsupported and repeatedly discredited “epidemic” of police killings of blacks, as I’ve documented here, among many other places (and if you really want to take a deep dive into the data, I highly recommend David Shuey’s excellent posts on the issue — here’s one, but there are many more where that came from). The media’s widespread peddling of the divisive nonsense of implicit bias, which I’ve discussed and debunked here, also didn’t help.

But the media is only part of the problem. The balkanization of the humanities in our universities has fueled a destructive attack upon our canons of merit and introduced the notion that every race and other identity group gets to have its own literature, art, music, culture and history that are supposed to be more significant to or representative of members of that group than a canon of works and ideas composed solely on the basis of pure merit. Entire university departments have emerged with the goal of glorifying minority groups and their cultures while vilifying majoritarian white culture. The newest such area of “study” — “whiteness studies” — is entirely unlike African-American studies and the rest, in that, in contrast to all the ethnic and racial studies departments that implicitly or explicitly beatify their objects of study (and, by extension, the students who get their newfound “identities” confirmed and glorified in the process), whiteness studies aims to attack the construction of whiteness and “white privilege” and, by extension, the people who think of themselves as white. Graduates of these disciplines have proliferated and are becoming ever more instrumental in driving our public discourse. And, all the while, call-out culture has reached a hysterical fever pitch. As in the notorious case of the woman whose career was destroyed by one carelessly worded tweet, the slightest hint of racism is a cause célèbre.

And now I’m going to make a point that is mind-blowing in its banality and yet somehow not completely obvious to all those who believe we should be spending our time railing at racists: strange as it may seem, people don’t like being attacked. When they are attacked, they get defensive. They attack back. This isn’t “white fragility.” It’s human nature. When blacks coalesce around their newfound identity and go on the warpath, as it were, then whites start doing the same. And, in fact, research indicates that heavy-handed interventions aimed at clamping down on prejudice — as oppose to interventions that take a more choice-oriented approach — create the very thing they aim to destroy: they make people more prejudiced. As other researchers have found, external pressure to change racial attitudes, such as of the sort imposed by political correctness, commonly results in a backlash. This is precisely what’s happened in America.

Now, please, save yourself the effort: don’t start regaling me with tales about how white identity politics have been around a whole lot longer than black identity politics, how the KKK and the like are our original American identity groups. If you were to make that argument, I’d agree with you. But I’d also point out that the KKK and other fringe groups of this sort have been far from the political and cultural mainstream for many years now. It is only after blacks turned their collective backs on the Civil Rights Era’s dream on continuing to work toward a post-racial America in which everyone would be judged based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin that whites started responding in kind. In addition to not much liking it when they’re being attacked, people, you see, aren’t big fans of hypocrisy. If you want to be judged as a human being and not as “a black human being,” then start presenting yourself as a human being and not as “a black human being.” If you want your life to matter because you’re human, like everyone else, rather than because you’re black, unlike everyone else, then maybe #AllLivesMatter really would have been a better, more tactical approach to the problem.

This brings me to my final point: a better, more tactical approach to our big problem of racism. As far as I’m concerned, we have a far more basic problem than racism. That problem is the very concept of race itself. First of all, there is widespread scientific consensus about the fact that races don’t actually have much biological reality. To put a finer point on it, as the Harvard population geneticist Richard Lewontin has explained, 85% of human genetic variation is within members of the same ethnic group (e.g., differences between one ethnic French person and another ethnic French person), and between a quarter and half of the remaining 15% of variation is still within the same race (e.g., differences between an ethnic French person and an ethnic Ukranian), leaving only some 6% to 10% of human variation between members of different races. This means that we’re basing our rigid notions of “race” on little more than our subjective, superficial assessments of how people look, talk and act. Race, in other words, is largely a sociological fiction. Or, to quote the memorable definition of W.E.B. Dubois, “A Negro is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia.”

What is more, from craniology to pseudoscience about fixed intelligence to Nazi race theories, the notion of race has been used throughout history almost exclusively for the purpose of legitimating the status quo and asserting the superiority of some over others. Invariably, the “some” whose superiority is being asserted are the same “some” who are doing the asserting.

We have reached a juncture in our collective development as a civilization where we should feel confident leaving this pernicious concept in the historical dustbin and bravely proclaiming once and for all that race should have no place in our society. It is high time to stop talking about it, stop writing about it, stop thinking about it, stop categorizing others based on it, stop funding research that focuses on it and keeps it alive, stop keeping statistics on it, get it off questionnaires and applications and entirely out of our lives. In fact, the only place (other than history) in which the concept of race should remain viable is in the text of those laws that make it not okay to take it into account in any decision about employment, education, housing, funding and the like.

You see, now, how we can change the picture? Instead of counterproductively attacking and demonizing people, thereby making them angrier and more dug-in in their views, we’ve switched to attacking and demonizing an idea. In fact, we’re attacking the underlying idea that makes possible the very thing we don’t want those people to do. Racism can’t exist if race doesn’t exist. We’re rejecting the whole paradigm that made all these pernicious conflicts possible, and then everyone, whether “white” or “black” or “Asian” or “Hispanic” or “Other,” has to play by the same rules, or rather, by one three-word rule: no race allowed.

I, for one, can’t wait for a generation of children to grow up and encounter an odd, old notion called “race” for the first time in their lives in the pages of middle school history books.

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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”

Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.