The Fabrication of “Anti-Racism”
Race relations has been a topic of fervent discussion in the contemporary North American political sphere. Particularly, the socio-political philosophy of Anti-Racism has been presented as the solution to America’s foundational structure that perpetuates racism. Racism, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary1 states that it is “The inability or refusal to recognize the rights, needs, dignity, or value of people of particular races or geographical origins. More widely, the devaluation of various traits of character or intelligence as ‘typical’ of particular peoples.” American history, and more broadly world history, has seen the effects that racial discrimination has had on civilization as a whole through historical records of the transatlantic slave trade, Japanese internment camps, segregation, and a litany of other offenses. Discrimination based on race, no matter what the goal is, is widely considered wrong because it incorrectly attributes stereotypes and assumptions on an individual that are not consistent with whatever preconceived average is associated with that individual’s race.
This is where “Anti-Racism” fails miserably at its attempt to ‘right’ the wrongs of racism: its methodology. Anti-Racist ideologues propose an intellectual space where there are is no neutral ground between Anti-Racist ideas and racist ideas, however such a proposition is erroneous, if not ignorant to the multitude of intellectual approaches to the problem of racism. Secondly, it establishes an authoritarian stranglehold on the conversation and singles out deviations from its theory as ‘other’ so any form debate would result in an automatic loss from the perspective of an Anti-Racist. This, however, is not how civil discourse functions and so when an idea presents itself with an heir of superiority such as this, it must be scrutinized and questioned until its inner workings lay bare.
Ibram X. Kendi is a notable writer of Anti-Racist philosophy and establishes a core thesis in his book How to Be an Antiracist. Kendi remarks that “Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity,”2 Kendi notes the distinction that racism creates racial inequity but equity is a result of anti-racism. The methodology between racism and anti-racism, as Kendi writes about in great detail, are actually not dissimilar but rather two sides of the same coin with different outcomes depending on the coin toss. The main point that Anti-Racists tend to ignore when discussing its core philosophy is that Anti-Racism is in favor of discrimination, so long as that discrimination achieves Anti-Racist goals. Kendi writes in his book that, “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. . . . The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Through the logic of Anti-Racism, certain contested examples of racial discrimination would be legitimately acceptable so long as they uplifted historically disadvantaged people. Take the example of racial discrimination in affirmative action, in fact a case concerning such discrimination against asians in Harvard was a hot topic only a few years ago. From the perspective of an Anti-Racist, it would be acceptable to discriminate against asian students because they have overwhelmingly higher academic profiles in comparison to black or latino students who have generally lower academic profiles. Discriminating against asian students in order to ensure the black and latino students get into college at the same rate is fine by the standards of Anti-Racist socio-political theory. Despite the fact that the example presented is clearly an act of racism, and that swathing generalities were made of entire races, it all somehow makes logical and emotional sense in the ideological bubble of Anti-Racist theory.
Anti-Racism also takes a stand against capitalism because, as Kendi puts it in How to Be an AntiRacist, “Since the dawn of racial capitalism, when were markets level playing fields?... When could Black people compete equally with White people?” Apart from being a profoundly racist statement that presumes economic competency based on race, this statement is also false since it presumes that there can only be success in a capitalist economy if there are systems of discrimination instituted to separate races of people. According to The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars3, by Jenifer Roback there is considerable evidence, particularly in the case of streetcar companies, that free market forces will tend to avoid racial discrimination because it excludes a huge market potential and clientele from being tapped into. If the goal of a streetcar company is to provide comfortable rides in exchange for money, it would not make sense for a company to exclude a certain group of people from their market because the goal of the company is to return a profit to their shareholders, and the only way they can do that is by providing their goods and services to the people. If anything, Kendi’s claims are inconsistent with capitalist economic theory and there is additionally, no elaboration on the claims made about racial capitalism in Kendi’s book. The subject of racially influenced capitalism is presumed to be a given so as to serve as a jumping off point for the next topic but it is not addressed as a component of Anti-Racist theory that is essential to its philosophy.
Racial discrimination, no matter what the goal is, is not the answer to solving inequality in a civilization as complicated and diverse as the one we all currently inhabit. When an idea that captivates huge groups of people in such a short amount of time is not scrutinized effectively, the intellectual health of a society deteriorates. Bad ideas left unchecked destroy civilizations, and political philosophy especially should be analyzed with a fine toothed comb to ensure that altruistic, yet misguided ideals aren’t the reason for the downfall of a nation.
“Racism.” Oxford Reference, www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20111012125231893.
Coleman Hughes (@coldxman) is a writer and philosophy student at Columbia University. His writing has been featured in Quillette, the New York Times. “How to Be an Anti-Intellectual.” City Journal, 28 Oct. 2019, www.city-journal.org/how-to-be-an-antiracist.
Roback, Jennifer. “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 46, no. 4, 1986, pp. 893–917. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2121814. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.