By Benny Huang Feb 28, 2016
If white people are inherently racist, what's the point of trying to reform them?
Columnist and playwright Jim Grimsley penned an editorial last week in the Los Angeles Times that accused white people—all white people—of being racist. Grimsley, who is white and grew up in Georgia at the tail-end of the Jim Crow era, railed against the cluelessness of white America on the issue of race. Even white people who consider themselves enlightened on racial issues, he argues, are often unaware of the racism that lurks within their own hearts. “…I have found that black people are all too aware that progress on racial issues has hardly moved forward at all, while white people are nearly as blind to their racism as ever,” he wrote.
I wish Grimsley had been clearer on one point—that is, whether white racism is cultural or genetic. Within the space of the same sentence he seems to blame both nature and nurture for white racism. Grimsely writes: “…[T]hese are symptoms of the insanity of white culture and our refusal to understand that racism is part of our makeup — each and every one of us, north, south, east and west — from cradle to grave.”
At first glance he seems to be blaming culture; he even identifies it by name. But look closer. If culture were to blame there would surely be exceptions to the rule because it couldn’t be “part of our makeup.” Learned behavior can be unlearned. Furthermore, no one would be racist in the cradle, as he asserts, because infants haven’t yet undergone socialization. Babies are blank slates upon which anything can be written.
The idea that white people are irredeemably racist is central to the social justice movement. All white people are racist, even good white liberals. White liberals may be a little better than some backwoods sharecropper with tobacco juice running down his shirt; but not by much. And they’re obtuse to boot.
Enter Tim Wise, another white southerner. He may be America’s best known “anti-racist activist” and he’s pretty extreme in his beliefs. Wise has made a career out of countering anti-black racism, most of which is entirely fictional, with anti-white racism. Even Wise admits to harboring certain racist tendencies though he blames it on growing up in a “white supremacist” culture. He nonetheless believes, despite his efforts to be the best friend black people have ever had, that he has internalized certain racist attitudes. And no, he isn’t talking about racist attitudes towards whites though that would at least be true. According to Tim Wise, icon of “anti-racism,” even Tim Wise can’t claim to have washed away the stain of racism. Without exception, all white people must be racist.
Allow me to depart here with most conservatives and say that white people, all white people, are at least a little racist. But so are all black people, all yellow people, and all brown people because racism is part of the human condition.
I don’t mean to imply that anyone is born with animus toward a particular race or ethnic group. At birth we don’t even know what racial or ethnic groups are. Yet contained within human nature are two of the necessary ingredients for racism—tribalism and generalization, without which racism would not exist. Let’s examine these.
Tribalism is the urge to care more about the group you belong to than the group that you don’t. This isn’t always negative but it can be. Tribalists don’t really care if The System offers maximum fairness to all people. They just want the best result for people who look, speak, and act like they do. This usually results in a lot of huddling together in groups—think of BET, FUBU, and the United Negro College Fund. Tribalists will, for example, take offense at the slogan “All Lives Matter” because to them only the lives of people with shared racial characteristics have value. They won’t admit that “Black Lives Matter” is chauvinistic, but who would?
It should be noted here that this attitude has existed in all time and in all places. The only societies in history that have even tried to resist the tribalist urge are modern Western societies—this is, white societies of the post-World War II era. If you regard tribalism as negative–and in most cases I do—then Europe and North America are actually paragons of virtue. Colorblindness is an idea that modern Westerners have strived for even if they have not perfectly achieved it. Within those societies, it’s the white majority that has been the most willing to suppress their instincts. Other races seem less enthused about colorblindness. They have demanded and received preference which they will cling to from now until eternity.
The second trend is generalization. Generalizations are mental shortcuts that come with certain pitfalls because they aren’t universally true. For example, not all Canadians like hockey but most do. In short, generalizations are useful even if they may sometimes steer us wrong. If a woman is walking home through a bad neighborhood it will help her to be on guard. She may be afraid of a young black male but not an elderly Japanese female. There’s a reason for that and it shouldn’t be dismissed as rank prejudice.
The idea that we’re born racist, something I think at least some social justice warriors would agree with as long as we’re discussing only white people, has certain ramifications. If we accept it (and I do), we must accept that racism will always exist. The war against racism can never be won but we can lose our freedom fighting it.
I’ve noticed that liberals often use human nature as an excuse for behaviors that would otherwise be rejected. If we have an urge, what’s the use of trying to suppress it? Consider homosexuality, for example, a behavior regarded as aberrant by nearly every society prior to the late Twentieth Century. Putting aside moral and religious arguments for a moment, homosexuality comes with certain health risks, particularly the male variety—rectal cancer, AIDS, gonorrhea, etc.
But don’t tell that to liberals. “Gays” are just “born that way” they argue with very little evidence. No “gay” gene has ever been found and studies indicate that children exposed to sexual abuse tend to become homosexuals. Liberals reject this notion because they believe that homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuals therefore have no obligation to suppress their urges. Be your true to yourself, they say. Telling anyone that homosexuality is shameful is a form of abuse because it forces that person into the proverbial closet.
It’s a mystery to me how homosexuality differs from racism if they are both inborn traits. According to dogma, “gays” couldn’t stop being “gay” any more than a leopard could change his spots. But isn’t the same true of racists? If racists are born, not made, then even heavy guilt tactics won’t cure them. What’s the point of trying to make racists change? All of this “racist shaming” seems both pointless and destructive to its subjects.
As a certified “homophobe” I am often asked if “gays” choose to be “gay.” I always answer the same: yes, because people choose who they sleep with. That doesn’t satisfy the homofascists who always respond, “If being gay were a choice, who would choose it?”
They mean to imply that homosexuality carries a stiff social penalty, which it does not. Homosexuality is fashionable. Everybody’s doing it! Look at the way we celebrated Michael Sam and Jason Collins, the first openly homosexual athletes in the NFL and NBA, respectively. There’s reason to believe that Sam, a mediocre defensive lineman, would not have been drafted by the St. Louis Rams if he hadn’t announced during his senior year that he enjoys butt sex. Collins, a lackluster center, certainly wouldn’t have made the cover of Sport illustrated if he weren’t America’s first big league homosexual.
The social penalty for homosexuality is non-existent. The same cannot be said about the social penalty for racism. You can lose your job for the slightest episode of racism, real or perceived, which is really hypocritical in that everyone is at least a little racist.
A simple question demands to be answered: do people choose to be racist? If say you say no, then what’s the point of shaming them? They’re beyond reformation. If you say yes, that necessitates a follow-up question—if racism is a choice, who would choose it knowing that it would mean living life as a pariah? Certainly no one I know would knowingly accept the social penalty that comes with harboring forbidden thoughts. It must therefore be an inborn characteristic.
Benny Huang is a lonely conservative in the very liberal Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He strives to make the world a better place through his writing. He is a veteran.