Returning now to the must-read interview between Bari Weiss and Glenn Loury. This is where both interviewer and interviewee get down to brass tacks.
BW: The word racism has been redefined, particularly by Ibram X. Kendi. First of all, it's no longer about personal bigotry. It's about any system that results in disparity. So if you have any kind of disparity between racial groups in any given institution, school culture system, it is evidence in and of itself that racism is present.
It’s the concept of “systemic racism” which is simply a dodge. It was invented because, after the dramatic changes to race relations that began in earnest in the 60s, a trenchant question arose - “Who?” If racism is so widespread in American society, who are the racists? The America-Is-Racist crowd was at a loss to name them. Oh, the occasional David Duke came along, but that only made matters worse. Duke and his ilk only highlighted, by their outrageous pronouncements, the chasm between them and the huge majority of whites in America. If black-white disparities were due to anti-black racism, it was necessary to name, not only white racists, but enough of them with enough power to give widespread effect to their racism. The David Dukes of the world fell far short of that mark.
So, rather than change their minds about racism in America, rather than conforming their ideas to the facts, the America-Is-Racist crowd discovered a way in which, according to them, America could be racist without human racists - racist systems. Now, to those of us who point out that human systems are made up of people and who inquire how a system can be racist without being operated by racists, there has been no sensible answer.
Nor has the A-I-R crowd explained away the more obvious behaviors that patently do contribute to black-white disparities - high levels of crime commission, fewer hours of homework and more hours of television among black offspring - even those of the black professional class - stratospheric levels of out-of-wedlock childbearing, etc. Plus, what should we do about “systemic racism” in the unlikely event it exists? Should we, for example, give a pass to a black man who kills a child in a drive-by shooting in order to help even the proportions of black and white prison inmates?
Here’s Loury’s response to Weiss:
GL: That is exactly what Kendi is saying. He's not mincing words about it. What it brings to mind is George Orwell's essay “Politics and the English Language,” in which he talks about how words and the meaning of words fall in the service of political programs. And people think they can make reality by playing with words. I don't know why anybody takes Ibram X. Kendi seriously. That's a silly book, “How To Be an Anti-Racist.” Kendi’s formulations are sophomoric. They don't bear up under the least bit of serious, rigorous social scientific scrutiny. He's not standing on any literature. He's not citing any intellectual development that has any deep roots in anything. It's pablum. It's froth on the intellectual surface of our life.
Thanks to Loury for giving Kendi his much-deserved and long-overdue Emperor’s New Clothes moment. “Sophomoric,” “pablum,” intellectual “froth” - those are the types of words we should be hearing regularly about not only Kendi, but the rest of the America-is-Racist crowd. Their claims lack merit and belong in the dustbin of history.
To his credit, though, Loury goes deeper.
[I]t behooves us all to think pretty hard about why it is that we're content with that kind of analysis. When civil disorder in American cities is consuming the lives of black people like a machine, our political leaders and intellectual class and journalistic representatives haven't got a word to say about it.
As long as we’re thinking about why those people accept, without a peep of protest, the snake oil peddled by Kendi, et al, we can draw at least one obvious conclusion: since those elites champion a patently false narrative, there must be something in it for them. They must perceive a benefit.
That brings us to Shelby Steele’s analysis of white guilt about past racism as in fact a self-serving phenomenon. If present-day racial disparities can be put down to white racism, then white people maintain power over the lives of blacks. If purging that racism is the sine qua non of black progress, then black well-being is effectively in white hands. White guilt is a power trip.
Naturally, white guilt throws a bone to blacks too. Of course it does; that’s how it demonstrates its power. How many jobs, how much prestige, how many book deals, gerrymandered seats in legislatures, admissions to college, appearances on talk shows, etc. rely on the viability of the America-Is-Racist narrative is anyone’s guess, but whatever the case, the black victimization industry has been going strong for decades, secure in the knowledge that its partner, the white guilt industry, will continue tossing crumbs its way. Those crumbs, Ibram X. Kendi, for one, is glad to accept.
That brings me to Loury’s swipe at Black Lives Matter that I’ll get into next time.