How To Be An Anti-Anti-RacistRoundup
tags: racism, antiracism
John Torpey is presidential professor of sociology and history and the director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at City University of New York.
The backlash against anti-racism has begun. Call it anti-anti-racism.
After an extended wave of activism fueled by police killings of unarmed Black men, scholars and activists like Ibram X. (“How to Be an Antiracist”) Kendi, Robin (“White Fragility”) DiAngelo and a cottage industry of diversity, equity and inclusion consultants led an accelerating anti-racism movement. But we are now witnessing the gradual unraveling of that movement as a way to address the very real problems of racial inequality in America.
This is not simply a matter of a conservative counterattack, although that counterattack is very much underway; conservatives were never on board for an anti-racist crusade, so they are not at issue here. Rather, what I’m calling anti-anti-racism arises from the defection of racial egalitarians who have decided that the anti-racist wave has rolled in the wrong direction — an illiberal and politically counterproductive one. Reports of high-octane battles over anti-racist excess at elite private schools that had previously embraced anti-racism are only the tip of the iceberg of disenchantment even among those who sympathize with racial equality.
Nesrine Malik, a columnist for the Guardian, calls much of the anti-racist movement “a kind of group narcissism … that promotes this notion that identity politics is about easing the passage of people of color in elite spaces. … It also promotes a view that reform is via individual guilt and correction, and distracts from the systemic ways that identity politics is being nurtured by the media and politicians.” The Columbia scholar John McWhorter, a linguist well-positioned to make sense of what is largely a rhetorical movement, calls anti-racism a “religion,” complete with the power to excommunicate those who fail to speak in canonical ways. But anti-racism is more than a religion; it has had real and dispiriting political consequences. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has noted, it arguably helped defeat the Bernie Sanders brand of social-democratic populism in the battle to define the left wing of the Democratic Party.
At its heart, anti-racism comes from a progressive impulse. It seeks to address the glaring inequalities in American life that are suffered by non-whites, and to identify the historical roots of these inequalities in imperial conquest, slavery and the legal codification of racial subordination. It urges the country to take seriously its long history of racial discrimination and has called for finding ways to overcome these injustices. In its illiberal form, however, anti-racism has replaced substantive political thinking with an emphasis on symbolic cultural changes like replacing school names, become dangerously intolerant of dissent and sidelined discussions of class exclusion and oppression that affect Americans of all races.
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