The view that “racism” is limited to the prejudices of individuals and/or the discriminatory policies of the government dies hard.
Those who have thought longest and hardest on the evil of racism—the “experts”—have been telling us for quite some time that racism contaminates the very institutions or “structures” of Western civilization. The philosopher Richard Wasserstrom is a case in point.
While “institutional racism” is more “subtle” and “unintentional” than more covert or traditional expressions of racism, Wasserstrom tells us, it is also the most intractable for this reason. In fact, institutional racism pervades our very concepts. “Quite often,” Wasserstrom explains, “without realizing it,” our concepts “take for granted certain objectionable aspects of racist ideology without our being aware of it.”
Take for example the concept of “a common humanity,” a concept that supplies the philosophical backbone of such related concepts as the rule of law, equality before the law, the dignity of persons, and the ideal of “color blindness.” Though treated by most people as an antidote to racism, the concept of a common humanity reinforces racism. Moreover, it makes it that much more difficult to defeat the latter.
As the political scientist Iris Marion Young informs us, in spite of posing as “neutral and universal,” the concept of a common humanity is a “culturally and experientially specific” instrument by which whites, and white men particularly, “structure privilege and oppression.” That is, “cultural imperialism” continues courtesy of the ideal of a common humanity. Young writes: “Blindness to difference [color-blindness] perpetuates cultural imperialism by allowing norms expressing the point of view and experience of privileged groups [whites] to appear neutral and universal.”
The verdict is inescapable: white people are incorrigibly racist. How can matters be otherwise when the very ideas that whites use to combat racism are themselves racist?
If racism really is embodied in our institutions, our modes of perceiving our world, then it is as ubiquitous as is the air we breathe. It is omnipresent. And if it is omnipresent, then there is no place to which we can turn to evade it.
Whites are incorrigibly racist.
The great philosopher David Hume observed that the more general and abstract an idea is, the more plausible it is. When we spell it out concretely the idea of institutional racism, there is no getting around the following.
If you are a white, you are a racist. So too are your children racist.
Since I am white, I am a racist, as is my three year-old son.
The 20 children gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut last month, are racist.
Gabbie Giffords is a racist.
The four Americans murdered during the latest attack on an American embassy in Libya are racist.
Abraham Lincoln, Joe Biden, FDR, Glenn Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, George Washington, Dick Clark, Andy Griffith, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Sean Penn, Audie Murphy, and the mostly white firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 to rescue strangers are all racist.
Chris Mathews, Ed Shultz, St. Francis of Assisi, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Moore, and Rachel Maddow are racist.
The most saintly of whites no less than the most evil, the most committed anti-racists no less than the most virulent neo-Nazi skinheads and Klan members, are alike racist.
Richard Wasserstrom and Iris Marion Young, both white, are racist.
Those white editors who would refuse to publish this article for fear of being portrayed as racist are as racist as those who have no such fears.
There are still other implications of the claim that racism is “institutional.”
If even the most seemingly innocuous, anti-racist of the concepts in which whites routinely trade are mired in racism, then the concept that racism is immoral is also racist! The thought that everyone deserves to be treated equally regardless of their race is a racist thought, for it is a thought rooted in that of a common humanity, a thought that was conspicuously absent from the Earth until men of European decent fought hard for it.
Translation: in advocating on behalf of measures that benefit, or ostensibly benefit, racial minorities—the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow, say, and “affirmative action”—non-whites prove just how “culturally imperialistic”—how racist—they remain.
If institutional racism is a reality, then every single white person is a racist. And if we want to overcome racism, then the only way to do so is by “fundamentally transforming”—i.e. repealing and replacing—Western civilization.