John McWhorter, Lara Bazelon, Glenn Loury, Kmele Foster, Chloé Valdary and Kenny Xu weigh in.
Thoughtful pieces, all. Unfortunately, I’m all raced out. I’m exhausted by the barrage of virtue and by the race industry that profits from keeping race at the center and I’ve stopped listening. Sorry, I already gave at the office.
We spend an awful lot of time talking about 13% of the population and here’s some math that nobody wants to discuss. That same 13% commits 50%+ of the violent crime in the US, according to the DOJ. Violent crime is mostly men so we’re down to 6.5% and yet most are just like the rest of us, trying to making a living and take care of their families so now we’re down to say, 2%. So, 2% of the population commits 50% of the violent crime. And yet all i hear about is how the system makes this happen. It’s not the individual, it’s the amorphous system.
Most people just don’t care about race anymore. Do your job, take care of your family, live your life and it all works out. Yet at the center of all racial conflagration is one simple common thread - MONEY. Money for social programs and their consultants and money for reparations and loans and tax credits and scholarships and of course, shelter for the founders of BLM.
Putting #BLM on your Instagram doesn’t cut it. If you want to help, go figure out how to fix the 2%. Or go back to work or send your money wherever you want but stop telling me that race is at the heart of everything. It’s at the heart of an industry with an agenda that doesn’t care about the 2% or the 98%. They only care about getting paid.
Thank you Bari! Some of my favorite folks in here, a delicious tapas bar of intellect, with some sharp, palate-cleansing intermezzo of counterpoint thrown in. Tasty.
I'm not woke. I work in an elite private school, so I have to disguise myself, live a double life, watch what I say, etc. I listen to woke crap all day, every day, and have ample opportunity to digest it. That rumination has revealed some points that the wokesters make that, in some sense, I actually agree with. E.g., we're all racist. Yes. Of course we are. To widely varying degrees, but yes, humans are hard-wired with deep autonomic reactions to "others". These were useful to us when we were tribal hunter-gatherers and early farmers, and frankly, some vestigial presence of that genetically-supported caution serves us even today. That applies, by the way, to people of every hue. And, as a corollary of the fact that our systems are human creations, and reflections of us, I'll concede a point here: It is likely that there is some racism in our systems. The question is: How much? And, what is to be done about it? I challenge the idea that confession, awareness, or "doing the work" (whatever that means!) are going to extract every last drop of vestigial, naturally-occurring "other-fear" from our very complex bodies. At some point, we're going to have to accept that we've done enough. But... how to measure that?
Now I'll switch hats and confess that I am an economist by training. As such, I'd like to inject the concept of "diminishing marginal returns" (DMR) into the conversation about "systemic racism." The basic notion of DMR is that you get more bang for your buck at the beginning of a project, and as time goes on, after the low-hanging fruit is all picked and competitors have entered your space, you start to find yourself working harder and getting smaller returns on your invested time, money, and effort. Think of the Emancipation Proclamation as anti-racism's "IPO"... how much moral good, do you suppose, was precipitated by the freeing of slaves in America? Could it even be measured? Ah, those were the days of HUGE ROI. Now, though, post-black-vote, post-Jim-Crow, post-Civil Rights Act, post-half-black-President, we find ourselves with a bloated race industry, crowded with players, chasing a relatively small remaining sliver of barely-visible national racism. And, naturally, when both public interest and return on investment begin to wane, one strategy is to turn up the marketing effort, to create more demand. (Demand is so low that people go out of their way to create racial incidents when there aren't enough to go around.) I believe that we are currently in that stage of the game... high effort and little return leading to frustration, panic, irrationality, and ultimately (moral) bankruptcy.
Another begrudging agreement I have with the woke is that privilege is a problem. However, I don't see it exactly their way. Privilege isn't purely a white thing. As a school administrator, I've gotten to know my coworkers over the years. They are racially diverse, and from several generations, but they are mostly women. And, regardless of race, they all have one thing in common, which is this: A middle-or-upper-middle-class upbringing that bestowed upon them life in a safe, quiet neighborhood, a college education and, in most cases, a graduate degree. Almost universally, their lives were seamless, from high school to college and straight into secure jobs in academia. This common experience, this level of privilege, that they all share, doesn't make them racists. It does quite the opposite. It renders them overly empathetic to those who appear to have less privilege due to their race. This empathy excess comes from having no experience of walking in other peoples' shoes.
The woke often assert that one cannot speak about, think about, or help with, the lived experience of intersectionally-oppressed folks because one does not share their experience. One should just shut up and listen. And again... the woke are partially right about this, but not in the way that they wield it. My coworkers are incapable of any kind of nuanced reflection about these race issues, not only because they can't relate to being another race, but because they have no experience outside of their societal class. Sure, my white colleagues have black friends, and brown friends. But those friends are all from middle- or upper-middle-class homes, they all have college degrees, and they are all woke.
I came from a different background. I have experienced poverty, neglect, and abuse. I have stolen a car, I have robbed people, and I have sold drugs on the street. I've been shot at by a police officer. I've been beaten up while in the custody of police. I grew up out in the street, and in my youth, had a warped set of values. And I am as white as Wonder Bread.
People from privilege (of any race) can be astoundingly unaware. They can look at a white cop roughing up a black suspect, and automatically read racism, and only racism, into the exchange. Those of us who have been on criminal side of that exchange know differently (as do the ones on the police side). E.g. it is generally a bad idea to resist arrest once you are caught. E.g. it is generally a bad idea to have anything in your hands when police have their guns trained on you. Yes, the situation you find yourself in may very well be partially a function of race, and racism, and even some kind of systemic racism coupled with a family history that put you in the place and time that you were born into. But there are many, many other factors at play. White people wind up in those places, too, with a cop's knee on their neck or bleeding out on a sidewalk, but they can't explain it away with the race card. To ignore that simple fact is to be blind, uninformed, miseducated, and doomed.
Education was barely mentioned as an example of Systemic Racism. If Systemic Racism is more than a convenient rhetorical cudgel then why haven't the loudest voices mentioned the state of black education. Inner city education is abysmal. We know it’s bad and yet we do nothing. The people in charge routinely ask for more money then fail to fix things with the money. Which leads to requests for even more money. Money won’t solve the problem.
The system is broken. It’s a jobs program for education majors. If we used the same standards for food and drug companies how many would die. Would we give the companies more money and chances. Would we put up with the companies blaming their victims for the poor outcomes? There would be outrage and calls to close down the offending companies. But we put up with decades of failure - decades! We steal the future from generation after generation and the faculty lounge cowards and the corrupt politicians do nothing - say nothing - because there are no enemies to their left. We are killing these kids just as surely as if we fed them bad food or drugs.
It’s a disgrace. Why aren’t BLM, ANTIFA and the little white college kids and their out of touch professors marching and picketing and even rioting against these abattoirs? These kids don’t have a chance because they don’t have a CHOICE. They don’t have a choice because the shamelessly corrupt politicians only listen to their shamelessly corrupt funders and the shamelessly corrupt media. Shame on all of us. This is truly the civil rights issue of our time and we are failing to meet the challenge.
Systemic Racism doesn’t mean anything. I dare say that the ambiguity is by design. If something can be defined then it can be studied and solved. Systemic racism, and those that push the theory, specifically ANTIFA and BLM, are Marxist/anarchist organizations that can’t have the issue solved. Those movements need it to be unsolvable in order to solidify their power base and their end goals. Marxism and socialism’s movement in American is genuine. The systemic racism narrative is designed to create a wedge in society that only drives itself deeper rand deeper until the system fails. No doubt there are millions of woke individuals that buy into the shallow slogan - the useful idiots. But that doesn’t mean the slogan is simply sloppy branding for a real problem. It’s just bullshit that lures the intellectually lazy.
Dear Friends: Many of you are saying you are tired, exhausted, sick of this discussion. Please... have a caffeinated beverage, eat something with a lot of sugar in it, do some jumping jacks, and re-gird your loins. It has been said, "You can ignore politics, but politics won't ignore you." Something like that. This craziness is coming for you... for your job, for your status in society, for your children's education, and for your children's children's basic human rights. Re-energize yourselves. It's going to be a long haul... and likely to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
Thanks Bari - a strong collection of great minds speaking honestly on a complex issue. Can we have a long form discussion with this group? It would be very enlightening especially if more "dissenting" voices are included. Lara's example is insightful as it is a real example of something we can actually fix! Shouting BLM and systematic racism doesn't solve the real problems facing black and brown communities in this country. Citing real examples where policy and/or law can be corrected is how change happens. Also, I am thankful for black and brown voices who are brave enough to speak truth to these issues as they cannot immediately be dismissed as racist like a white person would be. They are given some room to speak in circles where others are not and perhaps that is the first step to opening minds and breaking the bubble of ignorance when it comes to the complex challenges facing many minority communities.
I think each interpretation is true. We’ve never had a “discussion” on race; we’ve had one-sided lectures, so it’s nice to see a range.
There is no black monolith, and examples belie a system. There is a black middle class and an upper middle class building wealth, one hopes, and an upper class.
Witness the Prince Harry-Meghan Markle-Oprah interview: Oprah is a billionaire and savvy businesswoman; the interview was taped in the garden of anchor/host Gayle King’s Montecito estate. The interviewee, an actress, had married a prince of England and recently signed several multi-million dollar media deals. That’s quite a capsule. If any one of these things isn’t raging success, nothing is. Nonetheless, the lens for all three was race and complaints.
Often the people banging that drum seem unaware that their own lives or careers disprove their case -anchors, lawyers, the former first lady of the United States, academics, physicians, black-owned businesses. Times have changed -- are changing, in some cases, mightily. The ‘everything is racist lens’ is too wide. Recently, Michelle Obama saw racism when a clerk ignored her to serve the person behind her. Raise your hand if that has happened to you at least 20 times, and you’re white. Oprah’s fawning audience was mainly white. Early on, she acknowledged the man who had recognized her talent and given her a chance. He was white. Mentioning either now would be bad form. “White savior,” instead of simply someone who gave a young person a chance.
Biased media ignore moderate, classic liberal, and conservative black intellectuals and writers, and that’s cheating the public of some of the sanest, most interesting, and least ideological voices around. People are finding them and their podcasts through other writers on social media and Substack. Bari featured a few here.
Part of what has brought us to this point is the explosion of “diversity, equity and inclusion ” consultants and officers, the industry that grew out of black studies. DEI perpetuates race as a business. It has broadened "white supremacy" to include almost everything. A few years ago, a BLM individual trying to force groups to adopt CRT said she was going to “go into race.”
Some aren’t seeing the change. Once, maybe ten years ago, I took the wrong exit and got lost in the heart of a decayed urban city. It was midnight on Christmas Eve. I had left a lovely, warm home with three Christmas trees, a table groaning with antique china, good food, and good wine. The neighborhood was ablaze with Christmas lights.
The city was pitch black—not a Christmas light in sight. A 7-Eleven, surrounded by spotlights and a high chain-link fence, was the only place open. Black teens hung around the parking lot, on Christmas Eve. I drove into the lot, rolled down the window, and asked a terribly thin, shaking old man how to find the highway. He kindly told me. It was devastating because the contrast was so stark. No way out without a guiding hand. No hope. I called a few organizations at the time, and came up empty. We know culture, family and home life -----lack of any or dysfunctional or violent home life - plays the life-launching role. It determines who and what one is going to be. How to get an economy there? We;ve had several programs that were to do just that. The city and schools are run, lousily, by Democrats. How do young teens get from that grim streetscape to college or a good job? These kids need mentors. They need substantive, interventionist, concrete solutions. In that context, indulging Kendi’s “anti-racism” schtick is asinine.
I find it telling that Kenny Xu's piece has been largely ignored here.
He clearly documents a well known example of institutional racism against Asians in college admissions. This racial discrimination is obvious, and it is systemic. Why is this largely ignored by those concerned with social justice?
Loved the format of this edition. Each author was concise in their point of view which made it for easy reading while at the same time getting various viewpoints. Would love to see more articles in this format.
The election of Barack Obama to two terms as President was emblematic of how far America has come from the days of slavery and Jim Crow, emblematic of how far America has come in eliminating barriers to black achievement and success, and testimony to how no country has done more to right the wrongs of its past than America has. And if the Democratic Party and its leaders had an ounce of intellectual honesty in them they would have said as much to their constituents. But instead of telling black voters these truths and trying to reduce the despair, hopelessness, and violence that sadly pervades too many black communities, the Democratic Party upped their drumbeat messages of despair. And since there wasn't enough identifiable racism to point to, the Democrats were forced to invent new forms of racism; invisible racism that they would call "unconscious bias" or "implicit bias." And because there were no longer enough identifiable groups or individuals engaging in racism, they had to invent the all encompassing term "systemic racism." When asked to identify which systems and which individuals within those systems were engaging in racism, the purveyors of this mythical racism were often left speechless. On college campuses indoctrinated foot-soldiers of this fraud created "safe spaces" for minorities who were being terrorized by the "micro aggressions" of evil racist white students. Race hoaxes became commonplace as the demand for racism far exceeded the dwindling supply. To silence white resistance to these lies the woke mob set out to maximize white shame and guilt and began battering whites with with the racist guilt inducing term "white privilege." This strategy apparently worked as little resistance was offered as ugly examples of antihite racism began to proliferate. This anti white racism was encouraged through new theories, books, and projects designed to promote the deceit that America and its white inhabitants are irredeemably racist. The "Critical Race Theory", the book "White Fragility", and the "1619 Project" are but a few examples; and this will only get worse until enough people begin to vote against the Party that is promoting this scourge. This Democratic Party is "all in" on keeping women and minorities believing that they continue to remain victims of oppression from evil white Republicans. Leftist propaganda exaggerates incidents of white on black racism and likens those incidents to eras of legitimate racism. This strained effort to convey that America is no less racist today than it was 6 decades ago would be comical if it wasn't so pervasive. At every opportunity Democrats strain to use the words "lynching", "Jim Crow", "slavery", "KKK", and "White Supremacy" to disingenuously link their manufactured narratives and hoaxes to periods of racism long passed. While white racism has become a phenomenon of the insignificant fringe, the left's accusations of white racism have escalated to the point of terminal absurdity. Thus BLM continues to describe America as "white supremacist nation" against a country that outlaws racial discrimination, that has twice elected a black president, has recently had a black four star general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two black secretaries of state, three black national security advisors and two successive black attorneys general along with thousands of black elected officials, mayors, police chiefs, and congressmen; and now a black female vice-president.
John McWhorter touches on, but does not quite nail down a central problem with the notion of systemic racism. He observes that “the expression of overt personal prejudice was increasingly proscribed and such prejudice itself waned ever more, leaving behind subtler kinds of bias less easily addressed.” Subtle, indeed. The causes of disparate outcomes is akin to the case of “climate change”. There are myriad influences on the outcome, only some of which we can identify, and of those, we have no useful metric to assign to them. This, of course, is the great strategic beauty of the whole idea of systemic racism – when it is impossible to measure or even to innumerate all the causes, simply intoning “systemic racism” – or, as “Beto” O'Rourke called it, “foundational racism” – does the trick.
Glenn Loury went there, though, and summed it all up nicely. It is really black Americans who are the ultimate victims of all the “remedies” cooked up by the woke mob for their imaginary systemic racism.
Hysteria about “white supremacy” is the McCarthyism of our time (with no help from Joe Stalin). From “reds under the bed” we have gone to “white supremacists under the bed” Guess what? It ain’t real. The richest ethnic groups in America are non-white. “White supremacy” is a useful myth however.
One of the characteristics of our time is that hysteria is frequently inversely related to the facts. In China under Mao, “capitalist roaders” were supposedly everywhere and subverting everything. At that time, the number of actual “captialist roaders” (outside of jails and death camps) was around zero. China has vast number of very real “capitalist roaders” these days, but no hysteria. Hitler was hysterical about the supposedly omnipotent “Jews”. The power of penniless refugees is not apparent to me. Hitler knew better. Not to be outdone, Stalin had his “doctors plot” (also involving Jews) and his famous show trials. Khrushchev admitted that it was all a fraud.
Now we have “white supremacy” and “racists under the bed”. The very magnitude of the mania shows how false it is. The dominants ideology of our time is “diversity” (really racial quotas). For ever real Klan sympathizer, America has 100 (or 1000) “diversity” fanatics determined to find the “reds under the bed” (make that “racists under the bed”).
Racism is very powerful in America, PC racism that is. Just the facts. Let’s try college admissions. Quote “How much harder is it for an Asian-American applicant? Mr. Zhao and the complaint cite 2009 research by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade that found an Asian-American student must earn an SAT score 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic and 450 points higher than an African-American, all else being equal. So if a white applicant scored 2160 on the SAT, lower than last year’s Harvard average, an Asian-American would need to hit 2300, well into the 99% percentile, to have an equal chance at getting in.”
So racism is actually quite real in the U.S. Anti-Asian racism is pervasive and profound. If “white racism” and “white supremacy” were even trivially real, whites would be the richest group. The truth is otherwise and the numbers aren’t even close. Average family income for Indian Americans ($107,390), Jews ($97,500), Taiwanese ($85,566), all Asians ($74,245) is greater than Whites ($59,698). As can you see, non-white ethnic groups are at the top and Jews earn (far) more than non-Jewish whites. “White supremacy” is a useful myth however. Don’t give it up.
What is 'Institutional racism' - on Wittgenstein, Socrates, round holes and square pegs.
The question of defining 'systemic racism' reminds me of Socrates game of definitions - for example, asking for the definition of 'virtue'. Of course, no one could define it, being an abstract concept. You actually need to give examples of virtue, and each example has a different context. The concept may be a beautiful round hole in your mind, but the real world unfortunately has pegs of many shape - round, square, triangular, trapezoid...a virtual kaleidoscope of pegs!
Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." When we come up with terms, which in the end are just socially constructed, we sometimes end up reifying the abstract concept, instead of seeing if it applies to real life situations. We get hung up on the term, when we should be focusing on fixing real problems one at a time - think of the concept of 'tikkun olam', our moral obligation to repair the world - one act of kindness at a time.
A concept is a handle we use to get a fingerhold on the world we experience. The world is 'the dog' so to speak, and the concept is the tail. By reifying the concept, the tail ends up wagging the dog. We are much better off testing the hypothesis, the concept, by applying it to the real world. When we do, we see that instances of police killing unarmed people of color is very much the exception to the rule, and that they actually kill more white unarmed people than black. And these instances altogether are actually quite rare. Ideally, of course, they should never happen, but, alas, the world is imperfect, or 'perfectly imperfect, as I like to say - ergo, tikkun olam.
So the concept 'institutional racism' is another instance of the ideological tail wagging the existential dog. It has become a sacred idol in the temple of this iteration of political post-modernism. How do we know? Just try and criticize it, and watch the twitter mob rise up in holy indignation, accusing one of blasphemy, then proceed to excommunicate you - cancel, doxx, shadow ban, censor, ostracize, virtually tar and feather - and then they will happily attend your execution while knitting their Jacobin caps.
How do we treat such idols? Nietzsche wrote about just such a thing (see his book 'Twilight of the Idols). He would tap on the idols with his philosophical hammer, and, if they were found hollow, he would rear back and - smash them, quite easily...to borrow a page from the icon-destroyers on the radical left... (of course, Abraham was the original smasher of idols - but that is a whole other conversation ;- ) ).
This phenomenon we are discussing reminds of the lyrics of a certain 1968 Rolling Stones song:
'...every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints"
When we get caught up in the abstract terms we invent as we try and describe the world, and lose sight of the reality of the world around us, we literally become untethered from that reality. As Voltaire said, "If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."
This whole 'anti-racism/neoracism' bit has really gotten out of hand. Martin Luther Kings Jr.'s crusade against racism, which he won in the end, was based on judging people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Today we are seeing the proponents of this political post-modernism's iteration as identity politics doing exactly the opposite, and in the process dishearteningly undoing MLK's work. Today we are being judged by the color of our skin, not the content of our character, to the point of teaching 10 year old grade school children that they are born racist. This, to not put too fine a point on it, is simply wrong. If this ideology were a meal at a restaurant, I'd send it back...
After all, what is more racist than prejudging people by the color of their skin - prejudice? Stereotyping? And now, neo-segregation?
When you wear institutional racism-tinted glasses, everything starts to look institutionally racist. When you have an institutionally racist hammer in your hand, a lot of things start to look like institutionally racist nails. This is what is called the self-righteous fanaticism of ideologues.
Jason L. Riley penned an excellent op-ed appearing in today's WSJ on exactly this question. https://www.wsj.com/articles/race-relations-in-america-are-better-than-ever-11619561751?mod=opinion_featst_pos1 . The fact is that race relations have never been better in this country, and this is something we should be celebrating, instead of using it as a politically partisan cudgel to tear this country apart. It is a point from which we should continue to build upon. "Build back better" - remember that? Tikkun olam.
Bari, I look forward to your newsletter every week. Mission accomplished on having the best opinion page around, in my opinion. My brother in law sent me this twitter feed by a woman who, along with her husband, started a non-profit addressing justice issues with vulnerable people in her city. It was later overrun by woke staff who tried to sabotage the mission with nebulous claims of harm caused to the staff by the white founders of the mission. She seems like she would make for an excellent interview. Blessings on you and your writing.
The legacy media, much like elite academia, suppress diversity of opinion in favor of agenda driven thought. This post was a rare breath of fresh air - diverse opinions, thoughtfully articulated. We need more fresh air.
What's going on with Louisiana? Lara Bazelon's article is deeply troubling, but also ironic. Hasn't New Orleans and its environs been governed by Democrats -- many of them black -- for as long as anyone can remember? I do not doubt Ms Bazelon's account, but it points to a much deeper problem than persistent Ol' South racism, though it certainly highlights that. Perhaps those entrenched attitudes are really more cultural than racial. "Foundational" racism? What does that even mean? "Beto" O'Rourke coined that term during last year's election cycle and we still have no idea.