Race-relations have intrigued me from at least the time I was a young teenager. Since I started writing four years ago, I have written my share of essays on this topic—including essays in which I sail unchartered waters by subjecting the notion of “racism” to interrogation.
Recently, to my surprise, an editor for one of the sites for which I write decided to pass on publishing my latest submission. In this article, I argue both that “racism” is not the unitary concept that typical usage of the term suggests, and that none of the mutually distinct conceptions of “racism”—none of the “racisms”—succeeds in showing how or why “racism” is the especially horrible thing that we treat it as.
My editor chose to pass on it because, he contended, it lends itself all too easily to being read as coming dangerously close to sanctioning “racism.” In other words, in arguing that “racism” is not the Mother of all Abominations that our political orthodoxy would have us believe it is, I imply that it is not an abomination at all. “Racism” is an evil, my editor assured me, because it is a species of “collectivism,” and all expressions of “collectivism” deny the worth of the individual.
My editor is a good man, a friend, who has always been generous to me. That being said, he was mistaken on a couple of scores.
The purpose of my article was not to suggest that “racism” isn’t evil. Nor, for that matter, did it mean to imply that “racism” is evil. I simply wanted to do what no one, shockingly, has thought to do: I wanted to pull back the proverbial curtain on a word that inspires unprecedented fear. I wanted to determine whether this fear was warranted. My article was meant to be descriptive, not normative. Just as an analysis of the concept of God does not necessarily reflect belief or disbelief in God, so neither should my analysis of “racism” be read as a function of my own attitude toward it.
Furthermore, it may or may not be true that “racism” is an evil because it is a form of “collectivism.’ This is because it may or may not be true that it is properly classified as a specimen of “collectivism.”
“Collectivism,” not unlike virtually every other ingredient of our political-moral vocabulary, is anything but an unambiguous term. A collectivity is a group. Presumably, when our focus is on the collectivity, it is set upon something that is supposed to be greater than its individual members. So, according to my editor, “racism” is evil because if “the racist” sees the individual at all, it is only inasmuch as the individual is a member of the collectivity known as race.
To this line of reasoning, a few quick replies are in order.
First, if “racism” is evil because it is a form of “collectivism,” then my thesis remains in tact, for it isn’t “racism” as such that is the Mother of All Evils, but “collectivism.” That “collectivism,” in this instance, happens to possess a racial character is irrelevant.
Second, the line between “collectivism” and “individualism” is not nearly as hard and fast as this objection indicates. Marxism is regarded by self-avowed “individualists” as the prototypical version of “collectivism,” yet even Marxists deny that they are collectivists. It is indeed the individual who the Marxist wants to protect and strengthen. The difference, though, between the Marxist’s idea of the individual and that of the libertarian is the difference between their respective thoughts on “freedom,” “liberty,” “equality,” and “justice.”
For the Marxist, liberty, equality and the rest are substantive. Justice requires that there exists an equal and, thus, equitable, distribution of material and “social” resources so that liberty can be a reality for each and every person. For the libertarian, in stark contrast, liberty, equality, and justice are procedural. Resources are to be earned or otherwise acquired—most definitely not supplied by the government.
The point, though, is that, theoretically at least, the individual is as much valued by Marxism as by libertarianism.
Third, while the libertarian is certainly entitled to question the Marxist’s understanding of the individual and “individualism,” before he casts stones he should make sure that his own house isn’t made of glass. Is it really the case that any of us ever see just the individual? After all, “the individual” is an abstraction. In actuality, what we encounter—even when we look in the mirror—are complex, concrete beings with distinctive histories and experiences. It is impossible to make sense of our world—indeed, it is impossible to coherently speak of the world (i.e. a single, self-continuous reality)—in the absence of categories according to which we can classify its limitless phenomena.
The libertarian, no less than anyone else, navigates his way through life by means of categories. When he makes a claim, like, “We are all Americans,” he sees the collectivity—America—before he sees the 300,000,000 or so individuals who compose America. When the libertarian affirms patriotism as a virtue, whether he realizes this or not, he casts his vote for something that a certain sort of “collectivist” will just as readily embrace. The reason is simple: the country to which the patriot pledges his loyalty is the collectivity to which his own interests will now be subordinated.
“Racism” may very well be a meaningful term, and it may well be an evil, but until we determine exactly what “collectivism” is, we would be well served to avoid linking the former to the latter. An investigation of “collectivism” is due first. For that matter, we need to revisit the term “individualism” as well.
Let me say, finally, that while I put the concept of “racism” on the hot seat, I have not and would not think to deny either the reality or the awfulness of inter-racial cruelty. The thing of it is, though, is that I abhor cruelty whether it is inter-racial or intra-racial. And I abhor it regardless of the racial backgrounds of the perpetrators and victims.
As a Christian, I have an obligation to God to renounce “Satan and all of his works.” For this reason, to say nothing of my own devotion to liberty, I am committed to using all of my resources to the end of retiring the agents of the Racism Industrial Complex (RIC) once and for all. All of us are all too familiar with RIC. Its agents are those peculiar creatures who seem to exist for the sole purpose of discovering “racism” in every nook and cranny of American life.
While some of its more naïve agents doubtless believe that they are doing good work, its veterans know by now the many benefits to be had from furthering their industry. They know as well thatAmerica’s white majority lives in perpetual, paralyzing fear of being charged with “racism.” There is no single accusation other than that of “racism” that most white Americans dread as much. And RIC agents continue to exploit this fear for all that they can—regardless of the cost in bloodshed at which it has come.
RIC agents, like those who are either demanding George Zimmerman’s head on a platter, or those in the media who have labored inexhaustibly to provoke them to demand Zimmerman’s head, are guilty of evil. They are evil, or at least it is true that they act evilly, because they could care less whether Zimmerman is really culpable of any crime.
RIC agents are concerned only with advancing the mission of RIC—the mission of exposing and combating “racism” (white “racism,” to be exact). And since this in turn requires stoking the belief that “racism” not only continues to endure, but that it is ubiquitous, instances of “racism” must be invented. As the specific case of Zimmerman proves, RIC agents have reached a point at which they feel the need to invent whites, for just a brief glance at Zimmerman reveals him to be a Hispanic.
The threat posed to our liberties by “anti-racists” is much larger than any posed by “racists.” In the name of combating “racism,” our professional “anti-racists” have managed to transform America from a civil association—an association of laws specifying liberties—to an association of a fundamentally different kind—what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott referred to as an “enterprise association.”
Thanks to our “anti-racists,” our laws have largely been replaced by policies, instrumental devices designed for the sake of advancing the goal, not of justice, but of “racial or social justice.”
For as unpleasant as he finds it, the Christian and the lover of liberty must—he must—spare no occasion to reckon with the evil of the Racism Industrial Complex for what it is. If not, evil will prevail and liberty will continue to vanish.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.