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Possibly one of the most frustrating aspects of the right/left divide is the way conservatives view racism in contrast to how progressives do. Racism itself seems like a fairly simple concept. If a person judges another person based on their skin colour, they are considered racist. However, the left has added levels of complexity, expanding the idea to contemporary concepts of systemic racism, white supremacy, white privilege and colonialism. More frustratingly organizations like Black Lives Matter openly discuss racial segregation, have posited a worldview of global racial identity, and argue in favor of concepts like "blackness."
Systemic racism, for example, is viewed as the underlying cause of all social ills facing black Americans, and as discussed in-depth in June of this year in The Oprah Magazine, even undermines the long-standing idea of a colour-blind approach to ending racism. The article explores the idea that white people stating they do not see colour denies the lived experience of black Americans and allows systemic racism to thrive. With the system being one that positions black Americans on a different, static and separate path than white Americans, disadvantaging them in all areas.
But understanding how the left understands racism as a concept goes far deeper, and it all goes back to colonialism. Progressivism is deeply invested in historical justice, or the idea that the impact of oppression lasts for generations, self-perpetuating until it is formally addressed by society. This is why the left is outraged by the actions of Christopher Columbus in 1492, destroying statues inspires social revolution and the 1619 Project holds so much power over their collective imagination.
Writing for the Washington Post on Black Lives Matter, Vivien Chang argues, “The late 1950s and early 1960s coincided with the early years of the modern civil rights movement and decolonization in Africa and Asia. Out of the global crises wrought by white supremacy and imperialism emerged a strengthened sense of solidarity among people of color." The idea of collective people of colour versus white colonizers is a powerful narrative described under the phrase, "white supremacy." This is what Black Lives Matter is referencing when they say on their What We Believe page, "Our continued commitment to liberation for all Black people means we are continuing the work of our ancestors and fighting for our collective freedom because it is our duty."
When the left references white supremacy, they aren’t talking about white supremacists or Neo-Nazis in the United States, they are describing a global history of white countries dominating non-white countries and people, suppressing or erasing their cultures and autonomy. The idea being that European countries invaded, oppressed and superimposed "white" culture, law, morality and social standards on the people. This has persisted ever since and only today are these cultures fighting back to regain their cultures and identities.
This is why concepts like "cultural appropriation" are so important to the left and why arguments abound that things like objective truth are tools of white supremacy. White supremacy is believed by the left to be an umbrella over the globe that imposed a singular standard on everyone else, against their will. Within this paradigm, the left argues, the person of colour is a descendent of oppression and they live within a system of racism built on the erasure of their ancestral culture. In order to win justice for their ancestors they must "dismantle" white supremacy by rebuilding their original culture free from white influence and control.
This is why arguments for "blackness" or racially segregated spaces are not viewed as racist in the same way as "white power" and "white-only" spaces of the past. White privilege is, in turn, the inherent benefit a white person holds living in a society built by white supremacy and designed to promote white culture and standards. All of this frames white people in a permanent position of power with an obligation to reverse the damage of the past and elevate POC and culture as separate and autonomous entities.
Essentially, while racism best describes the tangible expression of this mindset in which race is prioritized, in practice the left is engaging in three separate, but connected ideas. Ethnocentrism, racial essentialism and colourism.
Ethnocentrism is the focus on ethnicity as the primary perspective of a personal worldview. Ethnicity being the culture, language, food, religious beliefs, etc., that make each distinct group unique and connected, often positioned in contrast to a more homogenous and universally standard white culture.
Racial essentialism is defined as "[T]he idea that differences between racial groups are determined by a fixed and uniform essence that resides within and defines all members of each racial group."
Colourism is discrimination based on skin color. It originates within the black community in which those with lighter skin were perceived as holding an advantage over those with darker skin. But more and more this defines the idea that skin color defines a person’s place in society.
What it all comes down to is a belief that historic justice is required to remove the influence and damage of white supremacy from the world by elevating ethnocentrism under the belief system of racial essentialism, while practicing strict colourism. For conservatives, this translates to racism. To the left it translates to justice.
When discussing this topic, it is important for conservatives to understand the framework of the left’s argument. When progressives cite historical injustice, white supremacy, white privilege, systemic racism and then go on to demand and celebrate racial segregation and pride, they simply do not see any of it in the same way our culture as a whole views traditional ideas of racism. Its also important that conservatives adapt language to better describe what it is they oppose.
While we all oppose racism, the left has successfully framed the discussion to exclusively discuss racism within the white population. What conservatives oppose is not only racist thinking, but also colourism, ethnocentrism and racial essentialism.
We simply do not view history as "white" countries dominating "brown" cultures as the left describes. We do not hold a collective idea of "white culture" or even history. We see diverse countries in various eras with various cultural and social motivations, values and morals acting independently of one another. We do not see people who descended from various groups around the world in 2020 America as being the ancestors of the oppressed. We see everyone as unique individuals living within their own time and equal under the law.
More to the point, these world views fall within Marxist ideology of classism and injustice which directly conflict with the ideals of individuality and liberty. Beyond the American white and black racial divide, the real battle is one of liberty and freedom for all.
We seek to live in a society free from the restrictions and prejudices of skin colour and ancestral and tribal grudges. We value culture, heritage, history and the uniqueness of every group across the globe, but we oppose the idea of elevating one over another.
Finally, we oppose the idea that our skin colour defines who we are today and our social obligations to others based on their skin colour. We must not only be vocal in our opposition to racism, but also understand the position the left is coming from as to better address their arguments.