Today’s anti-racism crusaders have a lot more in common with Malcolm X than Martin Luther King, Jr. They have become so zealous in opposing racism that they see racism in everything—even breakfast cereal.
Instead of condemning actual racism, the charge of racism is now used to compel allegiance and silence dissent. No one wants to be perceived as a “racist,” so spineless individuals and businesses bend over backward and issue self-flagellating apologies at the mere utterance of the term. It doesn’t matter if they’re innocent. All must be made to fall in line.
This only makes things worse. If you “see” racism in everything, then your attempt to “fix” the problem will end up breaking what isn’t broken. If you weaponize racism, then prepare for it to be weaponized against you. If you cry wolf about racism enough times, eventually people still start dismissing real racism as politically motivated. If you destroy essential civic institutions like the police because they are “systemically racist,” then you reap the resulting lawlessness.
Be careful what you wish for.
There is a more fruitful approach. If you want to oppose racism without looking naive, then here are six things for the thinking person to keep in mind.
Understand What Racism Actually Is
The first step to opposing racism is to understand what racism actually is. Without a clear concept of what you’re fighting for, well-intentioned movements can easily run amok—which is exactly what we’re seeing right now.
So, what is racism? Some say that racism is favoring one race over another. Another definition is that racism involves discriminatory treatment for or against certain races. Both of these definitions are far too imprecise. We can have racial dating preferences just like we can have preferences in hair color, eye color, height, age, or sex. We can prefer black actors to play Martin Luther King, and white to play Abraham Lincoln. We can create scholarship opportunities that are reserved for students of particular races. We can form race-specific cultural or heritage organizations. All of these examples involve various kinds of preferential treatment that are not inherently wrong.
Properly understood, racism is the belief that people of one race possesses greater moral worth than those of another race. Racist actions are those that favor or mistreat a member of a certain race because of a belief that one race has lesser or greater moral value than another.
Why should we care about getting the definition of racism right? Because some things that the left calls “racist” are not racist, and some things that are not called racist are racist. In getting these things inverted, the left ends up creating the problems it seeks to solve.
You Can Oppose Racism Without Signing on to Bogus Ideologies
Opposing racism means affirming the equal moral value of people of all races. The modern anti-racism movement, however, has co-opted this article of common sense to sneak in elements of Marxism, critical race theory, and postmodernism. If you think I’m exaggerating, then I invite you to take a look at the Black Lives Matter website to see how these worldviews are present in their statement of beliefs.
None of these ideologies are essential to opposing racism. If anything, they make it much harder to do so. Indeed, the ideological foundations for BLM’s statement of beliefs are directly at odds with their stated values.
It’s hard to have meaningful conversations about race and sex if you’re trying to deconstruct them at the same time.
Moreover, the postmodern rejection of objective moral standards makes it impossible to ground real moral opposition to racism. After all, if right and wrong are concepts that we just make up, then the wrongness of racism is just a figment of our imagination.
It is the Judeo-Christian worldview and its conception of natural law morality that provides the best foundation for affirming the inherent dignity of all races. People of all races are equal because they all share a common human nature given to them by the same Creator. It is this common human nature that grounds the Christian ethic of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
Avoid the Temptation to Blame the “System”
Many argue that the real problem lies in “systemic” or “institutional” racism, which refers to policies that perpetuate racial inequalities across a variety of sectors, even if this outcome is not intentional.
Systems are not capable of wrongdoing. You cannot attribute moral blame to something that isn’t a moral agent. It is the people who run those systems who bear the blame for any racism that exists. Even if a system is unjust by design, the system can’t do anything without its operators. Conversely, a system designed for good can be used for evil purposes if those in charge are not nefarious.
Ultimately, the term “systemic racism” is unhelpful. If you want to blame someone, blame the people, not the system.
For that reason, the criminal justice system cannot be “racist” any more than rocks or trees can be “racist.” One might try to respond by saying that the criminal justice system is “racist” in the sense that it embodies racist intentions from those who designed it, much like how certain books and gestures can be considered racist. But there isn’t a shred of evidence that the criminal justice system is designed to be racist.
It is one thing to say that criminal justice procedures sometimes produce disparate outcomes. It is another to say that these disparate outcomes are intended by design.
The second problem is that the definition of “systemic racism” as that any power system that perpetuates racial inequalities would count as “racist.” There are inequalities and disparities across a wide range of categories in institutions such as property ownership, inheritance, marriage and family, and education. Some institutions, like the family, are inegalitarian by their very nature. Some leftists would just interpret this as evidence of further injustice, but this commits the egalitarian fallacy: just because something leads to different group outcomes doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. Not all differences are the result of oppression.
While not all inegalitarian outcomes are justified, defining systemic injustice simply as something that permits inequalities is far too simplistic. We must look at the causes of inequalities rather than the inequalities themselves.
Don’t Assume that Everyone is Secretly Racist
You can recognize and oppose legitimate problems in society without assuming that everyone who has had a negative interaction with a member of another race is a closet racist.
Consider this: medical malpractice kills 250,000 people a year. 75 percent of physicians in low-risk specialties and 99 percent of those in high-risk specialties will be the subject of a malpractice claim by the end of their career. Is there a systemic problem here? Can we infer malice or ill-intent on large swaths of medical workers? As that doesn’t follow at all, we should not project the same inference onto other professions.
Remember: “Lived Experiences” Make Bad Policy
As the old legal maxim goes, “hard cases make bad laws.” We can say the same when it comes to personal experiences: lived experiences make bad policy.
Experiences are powerful, but they are also limited and fickle. It is possible to “find” an experience to support any kind of policy agenda out there. There are undoubtedly real incidences of racism (I have felt it myself), but there are also cases where the charge of racism is abused for social gain. Perceived racism is not always actual racism. You can perceive just about anything, but that isn’t proof of reality.
According to the so-called “standpoint epistemology,” individuals from oppressed groups have greater authority to talk about issues related to their oppression. The reasoning is that their visceral experiences give them special knowledge of oppression that others lack.
It may be trivially true that only the oppressed know what it’s like to be oppressed, but these experiences provide little guidance as far as policy issues are concerned. If I lose everything from an economic depression, I know what it is like to be thrust into poverty, but it won’t be likely that I can offer any concrete ideas on the way forward.
Letting experiences serve as the only guide has been a tactic of nearly every cult leader and charlatan in history. Experiences do—and should—provide the fuel that motivates us to act. We should not, however, allow them to take control of the steering wheel. Policies must be evidence-based and thoroughly vetted, not forced down our throats in the name of sentimentalism.
Don’t Humiliate Yourself
Finally, don’t humiliate yourself. Bowing down and worshipping at the idol of social justice is an affront to your dignity as well as the dignity of those whom you elevate to the status of a deity. The thinking person knows better than to sacrifice reason to the altar of hysteria and pandering.
This version of this article was originally published at The Federalist. This article was published here with the author’s permission.