Charlottesville (Pt. 2): The Strange Intersectionality Between Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar Johnson

Adam Coleman

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September 8, 2017

In the first article of this mini-series, Charlottesville (Pt. 1): Of Blood and Soil, we explored the relationship between race and identity. I introduced the idea that the biblical worldview provides a more solid foundation for identity than one’s race. Our main premise was that the race-centric identity concept which in many ways define our society is ultimately grounded in subjective claims we make about ourselves and one another rather than objective truth’s about the world. Our first step to exploring that claim was to grapple with how the concept of race that plays out in our society is not firmly rooted in biological fact—it is a social construct.

As I was pulling together sources for the first part of the article I found myself listening to more Richard Spencer speeches and interviews than any healthy-minded person probably should in one life time. After a while I detected something familiar about Spencer’s rhetoric and the argumentation he puts forward for his race-based “identitarian” position. I realized that Richard Spencer is essentially the Alt-Right version of the avowed pan-Africanist community leader, Dr. Umar Johnson. This really clicked for me when I heard Richard Spencer refer to himself as a pan-European during a Q & A session at Texas A & M. As I thought about it further I began to see more and more how alike these two were which led me to dig a little deeper to gain some insight as to why that is the case. As I combed through some of their recent public appearance materials I discovered that, not only do Spencer and Dr. Umar have a great deal in common, these similarities can tell us something about the racial tension in America which was exemplified in the recent Charlottesville riots.

Separate but Equal

When it comes to identity Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar are on the same sheet of music. Each of them believes that race is the foundation for identity. As Richard Spencer explains it, we have different levels of identity. He would say that we have “elective identities” like what football team we are a fan or maybe an identity related to a hobby (i.e. video-gamer). Spencer would also say that if we “dig deeper” we come to more central aspects of our identity like family, place of origin, etc. and then if we dig deeper than that we eventually come to the bedrock of our identity—our race. Spencer puts it more succinctly in saying, “Race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity.“

Interestingly, if we leave aside the white empowerment and just consider the bare bones of Spencer’s identity claim, it would seem that Dr. Umar would say, “Yea and Amen”, in agreement with Spencer at this point. After all, during a recent interview with “We the God’s” Dr. Umar was asked to give clarity about his pan-Africanist position and stated that the number one principle of pan-Africanism is that “Africanity” is the centerpiece of who black people are and who they owe allegiance to. Neither of these two ethnicity evangelists would leave their understanding of race to just genetics alone. According to Spencer, one is white both in ancestry and spirit. For Dr. Umar, Africanity is the only “organization” that black people are a part of that is not of our choosing but rather by God having ordained it that way. Not only do Spencer and Dr. Umar share the same view on the primacy of race in one’s identity concept, the two of them also share the same flawed reasoning in how they reach or account for these conclusions. Spencer claims that if you work your way to the base of who you are you can’t go any further than race. Dr. Umar would agree and say God ordained it that way. Amazingly, neither of them takes the step of acknowledging that we are all human. Upon listening to a number of their recent talks and hearing them get challenged on their views I think its fair to say that the idea of humanity being a core aspect of identity has not escaped their attention. Spencer and Dr. Umar choose to discard humanity in favor of race-based identity. I’m not sure I blame them though. If Spencer and Dr. Umar were to consider constructing their identity beginning with humanity rather than race then the ideologies they have built their lives and livelihoods around would dissolve and the emotions, that I suspect are in the driver’s seat of their thinking, would have less justification. Spencer and Dr. Umar are two peas in a pod; both of them being equally or at least similarly illogical in their sectarian understanding of the world.

Power and Empire

Not only do Dr. Umar and Spencer share the same half-baked central premise concerning their framework for identity, they are often making the same exact case as they attempt to win others to their cause. I’ve encountered plenty of Spencer and Dr. Umar types who would say that their race possesses certain characteristics and abilities that would point to their race being head and shoulders above all others. They point to things like great civilizations, inventions, architecture, accomplishments, etc. brought about by their people which they would say speaks to the fact that their people function more effectively in the world. Richard Spencer might point to Rome, Greece, and American as testaments to the glory of white people. Dr. Umar might call out early Nile Valley civilizations, Ancient Nubia, and the never colonized African nation of Ethiopia. Following this they would undoubtedly then argue about whether or not the Egyptians were black and who can claim them for their racial group. Observations like these are often put forth by proponents of their group’s success as evidence that their people are swimming in the better end of the gene pool, operate more successfully in the world, and are therefore of more value.

Anyone who is trying to establish the supremacy of a race based upon the idea that that race has certain characteristics and abilities to accomplish things in the world that other races cannot is assuming that certain types of accomplishments are the measuring stick by which all races should be evaluated. But why think that? If it were the case that there is a particular race that has shown itself better able to achieve certain ends, why think that those ends are the sorts of things by which all people groups should be judged? Who says so? Who gets to decide what outcomes are the objective standard to evaluate all races by? Some might look to nature for an objective goal by which to judge a people group. They might say survival is the ultimate goal and the law of the jungle suggests that the more powerful ought to dominate others in the same environment. On this view, if there were a dominant race then it’s only natural for that race to have its seat at the head of the table in society. However, just because dominance of the fittest is nature’s way doesn’t necessarily mean it “ought to” be that way for mankind. It is a widely agreed upon principle that when it comes to nature one cannot get an ought from an is. That is to say just because something is a certain way in nature doesn’t mean that is the way it must be. If observations of nature cannot tell us what “ought to” be the case then we can’t look to nature to establish that guideline for what a races “should” be accomplishing. In the absence of an objective end toward which all races must strive and show themselves able, it seems to me that claims of a race’s value based upon what it has done or can do are arbitrary and subjective.

Also, I think basing the value of a person or people group on how they function in the world puts us on dangerous ground that reasonable people on all sides would be uncomfortable with. If we take on this sort of utilitarian/ability-based approach to valuing ourselves and others out to its logical conclusions then we find ourselves back at the doorstep of Nazi ideology. In addition to the Jews, the Nazis attempted to eliminate anyone who was not a benefit to the master race. Logical consistency would require that society would be within reason to commit to taking the lives of the mentally disabled, person’s with physical disabilities, children born with certain birth defects, and so on. Disciples of Nazi ideology might be okay with that. However, I think most others would take exception to the idea that when grandma reaches the point that she is no longer producing anything in society or shows signs of Alzheimer’s it’s time to roll up to the nursing home and have her put down. If society did function that way it would certainly add new meaning to being of “retirement age”. As I mentioned in my last article, identity claims seem to run right up against issues of morality. Even in how proponents of race-centric views of identity and the world around them we find that the ways in which they attempt to justify their position can have serious moral implications.

Morality

Speaking of morality, it seems to me that Spencer and Dr. Umar both articulate a fractured yet single opinion when it comes to the “moral history” between Africans and Europeans. Asserting racial superiority by claiming that one’s race is more morally fit than another is a tried and true strategy of racial sectarianism. For example, as the Americas and Caribbean were being colonized and slave labor became the modus operandi for much of the Western World, there were a number of ideas floating around that were aimed at establishing some justification for the horror of chattel slavery. One of those ideas was that the dark or savage races were morally depraved so for their own good needed to be controlled and forcibly developed into a more moral race. This paternalistic paradigm for slavery hinged upon the idea that one group was superior to another group on the grounds of moral fitness.

Such a position takes for granted that morality is an objective feature of reality. If there were no such thing as objective moral truths and one could only speak on morality in a subjective sense, then in principle it cannot be objectively true that one race is morally superior to another. The moral goodness or badness of a race would then be just a matter of opinion. So in the case of Africans and their enslavers, the slave-master could say to an enslaved person that their predicament was justified because the enslaved person was morally inferior. Of course, the enslaved person could look at the slave-master’s blatant disregard for personhood and say that it is the other way around. At that point the two of them would be at an impasse. Seeing as how, if there is no such thing as an objective moral reality, neither of them is correct: both the slave-master’s appeal to moral inferiority as justification for trampling the personhood of Africans and the African enslaved person’s appeal to intrinsic human worth would be as a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal—devoid of any real weight or meaning.

But for Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar these things do have real meaning. However, this meaning takes them beyond a simplistic “we’re better than you” perspective. The implications of the moral dynamic between Africans and Europeans have left Spencer and Dr. Umar both gridlocked and in agreement. For Dr. Umar chattel slavery, the European colonization of Africa, and Jim Crow are all sins of the white race which inform how they should be viewed today: as enemies capable of moral evil that would ultimately exterminate the black race for their genetic survival. Richard Spencer sits at the opposite end of the moral history between Africans and Europeans. As he engages that complicated history, Spencer concludes that “white guilt”, from the sorts of things Dr. Umar would burden him with, is itself a handicap that impedes white people today and threatens their survival. His resolution is to cast off white guilt and stand against anyone who would attempt to perpetuate it as a tool for race shaming of white people. In his speech “Why Do They Hate Us?” Spencer says:

“There is a fundamental asymmetry to the white guilt phenomenon. There is a difference between being sick with guilt and being decadent as so many millions of white people are and on the other hand promoting white guilt as a means of making your enemy sick and decadent…Why do they hate us? The fact is our enemies are giddy in imagining a world without us…White guilt is the foundational morality of this global transformation we are now experiencing; what can be called the great erasure. It is a transformation of a world created and once dominated by Europeans into a world with many Europeans shapes and forms democracy, feminism, free love, and the Iphone…but a world without Europeans in it. In other words sit down and let us abolish you. Opposing this coming world and offering alternatives to it is the mission of our movement. In order to achieve this…In order to fight we must learn to rise and greet the dawn with a clear conscience.”

In their opposition to one another, Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar find themselves at a strange point of unity. I would describe it this way. When it comes to the history and interactions between the “black” and “white” races, morality is essentially a weapon to be used or defended against in a more complex struggle for power, social position, and ultimately the survival of one’s race. Between these competing worldviews I see little hope for progress. For the sake of resolving this stalemate it sure would be nice if there was a worldview that could reconcile the necessity of confronting personal evil with the need and means by which to be absolved from that evil—a synergy of justice and mercy. (cough, cough, Christianity)

It would seem that one would need something meatier than a framework of subjective morality to meaningfully speak of the moral superiority or freedom from guilt of one’s race. I won’t get into too much detail here but I would argue that if objective morality exists then the best explanation for its existence is a transcendent God who is the foundation for morality. Surely to the disappointment of all the Odinists and practitioners of African natural religions out there, I would go a step further and suggest that the God of biblical theism is a more reasonable candidate for how we might account for objective morality than what other theisms or concepts of God might offer. We will explore this further a little later.

Same Team Same Goal

If we remove the race content from their claims, we find that Spencer and Dr. Umar are selling the same story. It goes something like this:

“There is an explanation for the problems and frustrations you face in your personal life and observe in society. You as a (insert race here) person are more than you realize. You belong to a group of people who are special and have done great things in the past, however, there are ‘others’ who would you and your group from being all that you can be. What makes you different from those others and the same as us is more important than what makes all humans the same. (Don’t bother to ask or think critically about why that is just accept it.) These others are easily identifiable as those who do not look like you, share your history, and are not part of your group. You and your group should be in a more advantageous position in society but these others don’t want that and are even afraid of that happening. The others are not to be trusted. They are the opposition for you to overcome. If you, me, and our group don’t take the necessary actions to fight for our group then the others will exterminate us and when you look around society you can see them already attempting to do just that. Either we will win or they will win but it can’t be both. You can take your rightful place in fighting for your group and in doing so share in the glorious destiny that is meant for us.”

In the source links I listed below you can hear these themes flowing throughout their sales pitch for racial revival and/or revolution. I probably should have said this earlier but in comparing Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar Johnson, I am not so much concerned with them as individuals. The real meat of this discussion lies in examining the ideologies and movements they represent. At first glance it would appear that they are two diametrically opposed factions battling it out. But if we look more carefully we find they are actually on the same racially collectivist ball club. Rather than being on opposing teams Spencer and Dr. Umar are more like two quarterbacks on the same team jockeying for a position in the starting line up. Likewise, whether it is a Hebrew Israelite, Klansman, Kemetic, or Neo-Nazi these same themes are present in their rhetoric along with the similarities in how they argue for their respective positions. I think that is because, at bottom, they all really want the same thing—value and power.

Conclusion

Ideologies have consequences and how or which ideas take root in the public square can have a profound impact on us all. For anyone who doubts that we can simply ask: What came first—Darwinism or Dachau? As we wrap things up in this next article we will take a look at the biblical worldview and what it can offer as it relates to a foundation for identity.


Sources

Interviews and speeches of Richard Spencer and Dr. Umar Johnson I referenced:

Plus, Shoutout to tha Big homie Leroy Hill for helping me think through this topic

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About the Author

Adam Coleman

Adam Coleman is passionate about equipping Christians with evidences for the faith and engaging the culture. He is a husband, father of three busy children, social worker, writer, and public speaker. Upon graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Master’s in Social Work Adam began a career of community development, mentoring youth, and service to our nation’s veterans. Currently, Adam is primarily focused on using his "Tru-ID Podcast", writing, and public speaking to promote the gospel of Christ through Christian apologetics.

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