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As someone coming from the political left, one of the many frustrations I have felt with leftist critiques of power in recent years has been the reduction of political talking points to emotional, virtue-signaling orthodoxy.
Over the past decade we have seen feminists no-platformed, assaulted and defamed for stating that men cannot be women no matter how much they might claim to "feel like a woman," identity politics of gender espoused by the left dispenses with all the material analysis that the left had heretofore employed. And where material analysis has been abandoned, a politics of empathy and moralism has taken over.
In fact, most leftist analyses of power today rest almost entirely upon this precipice of empathy whereby any disagreement means that you fail to sympathize with the appropriate cause. Therefore, one unknowingly commits to a confession of being both cruel as well as immoral by simply refusing to respond emotionally, instead asking for facts to back up claims made. This same dynamic has also been manifested within the protests in the US and around the world in response the police killing of George Floyd.
Within journalism, this callout culture is the norm. As Matt Taibbi has recently noted, public calls to sack writers have been mounting against journalists covering both sides of the Black Lives Matter protests. Taibbi writes: "There is symbolism here that goes beyond frustration with police or even with racism: these are orgiastic, quasi-religious, and most of all, deeply weird scenes, and the press is too paralyzed to wonder at it. In a business where the first job requirement was once the willingness to ask tough questions, we’ve become afraid to ask obvious ones."
And as most gender-critical feminists who have long been campaigning against the reform of the UK's Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in recent years, the callouts are hardly limited to criticisms of Black Lives Matter protests.
In this vein, we are beholden to many Inquisition-styled scenes these weeks where white Americans are asked to apologize for the "sins of the father" even if one such incident was discovered to not have been elicited by a member of Black Lives Matter. But then, it doesn’t even matter what is or is not BLM at this point since we have a plethora of leftists fixated on "white fragility."
In her 2018 bestseller, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo sets up the perfect tautology whereby one cannot but agree with her premise that white people are born "entitled" and live their lives unaware of how black people live.
And this is both an ethical and moral failing of DiAngelo’s book as well as the works of leftists who cannot concede the possibility of either a white subject born without entitlement or a black subject not living in constant paranoid fear of the police. Moreover, DiAngelo has clearly not sat down with either Glenn Loury or John McWhorter (among many others) to hear their experiences of being black men, such that her book reads as a recasting of age-old stereotypes of how white Americans imagine black Americans live.
There is a whiff of racism emanating from DiAngelo’s statement, "It's liberating to start from the premise that there's no way you could have avoided internalizing a racist worldview" when nobody is in agreement as to what this "racist worldview" is. Might it be that today racism also includes rejecting race as original sin?
Coleman Hughes has recently discussed the topic of George Floyd’s murder and has elaborated some of the problems of this discourse of racialism currently being embraced by progressives to explain incidents of police brutality, even in the absence of proof.
Hughes details his concept of the "racism treadmill" into which theories like DiAngelo’s fits perfectly, writing, "As long as cultural differences continue to cause disparities between racial groups, and as long as progressives imagine that systemic racism lies behind every disparity, then no amount of progress in reducing systemic racism, however large or concrete, will ever look like progress to progressives."
Hughes gives examples of the racism treadmill to include how studies strongly demonstrate a lack of racial bias in police shootings, despite the fact that these same shootings have continued to be represented in the media and within society as "racist" despite the lack of evidence. A study on mass incarceration by Nathaniel Lewis demonstrates that after controlling for class, race is not "statistically significant" and that "class appears to be a larger factor than usually reported when studying racial disparities." The same can be observed when it comes to affordable access to a lawyer and fair sentencing within the justice system.
Racist acts of course occur, but the rhetoric surrounding racism by many protesting Floyd’s death weighs far more heavily than specific evidence that this man’s death was indeed motivated by racism. While the push from the left and mainstream media urges us to join the crowds and demand justice for George Floyd, I am at odds to align myself with that narrative which proclaims that Floyd was murdered for reasons of racial discrimination alone and not structural grounds of poverty and police violence.
As Hughes points out, there are many white Americans killed by cops, such as Tony Timpa, from Dallas, murdered almost precisely as George Floyd was—a cop's knee on his back as he suffocated, begging for his life. "And when that video came out, there were no protests, there were no riots, they didn't even go viral so far as I was concerned," Hughes notes.
There seems to be a will to racialize miscarriages of justice in the spirit of moralizing action. More tragically, there is no room left to allow for individual reading of the deaths of these black men in custody without amassing their lives with others by mere virtue of their skin color. The left’s abandonment of class analysis in the misdirected spirit of social justice has simply resulted in a perplexing racializing force.
How else to characterize the left today where it has formulated its own Church of identity politics and privilege hierarchy and where the high priests of this movement require that white subjects apologize for a history they were not responsible for?
There is something strangely reminiscent of the Inquisition here whereby the accused heretic, before going to trial, was urged to confess and repent for his sins. The problem today, just as it was in the 14th century, is that the subject is regularly accused of a thought crime which cannot possibly be conferred, much less proven. When we cut and paste the horrors of our collective past into the present we are doomed to relive this past as a projection of our social and cultural anxieties.
Our current political challenge is not to see that racism persists constantly at all levels of cultural and political life, but to admit that it doesn’t. As we cling to the reading of the past through the singular lens of racism, hoping for an exegesis of the present, the reality is that there are other explanations that we need to reach for as we try to give explanation for a senseless murder.
The war on racism obscures, in the same way that the war on terror shows us, that we are contributing to the systemic belief that only certain types of violence or hatred are enacted by certain types of people towards other certain types of people. We saw this post 9/11 with George W. Bush’s question, "Why do they hate us?" We are seeing this again with leftists intent on ridding the world of racism, with the co-operation of the mainstream media.
Where we attempt to create racial parity by creating tribunals of public confession, while doling out punishments for those who do not repent, we are committing to a pernicious form of neoliberalism that will never result in any meaningful transformation of the carceral state enterprise.