When a youthful but electric Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, there was much talk about what it would mean to America to elect its first black president. The very prospect of it was exhilarating. It tapped into our truest democratic ideals, a major national milestone and giant leap in rectifying our racist past. Both black and white Americans shared the symbolism of the moment.
Obama’s political opponent, John McCain, was an old white male, a war hero who had been brutalized as a prisoner in Vietnam, and a longtime serving United States Senator. Immensely qualified and deserving, but he never stood a chance.
Color blindness has disappeared, replaced by full floodlight x-ray vision—deep into the soul of the nation.
What Obama represented was too intoxicating and exotic to ignore. Even the rest of the world wanted to vote for him. Before there would ever be an Italian, Jewish, Asian, Puerto Rican, Indian, or Greek president, America would first elect a black man. How appropriate; how morally vindicating. Not even a woman would reach the White House first, since Obama handedly dispatched Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. It was a historic and touchingly romantic moment in American history. Obama won Iowa, with a 95 percent white population. More white people voted for Obama in 2008 than they did for John Kerry in 2004.
Obama’s victory carried with it the implicit possibility that a vote for Obama could lift the disgrace of racism that has strangled this nation since its inception. An Obama presidency would signify that white Americans once and forever will regard their darker-skinned fellow citizens as equals. The message to African Americans would be that feelings of inferiority and damaged dignity now and forever shall come to an end. And, hopefully, in time, all lingering resentment toward white Americans would dissipate in this newly “post-racial society.”
True colorblindness. Race-free judgments. Pigmentation a vague sidenote, scarcely visible in all interactions between blacks and whites.
Obama’s campaign slogan was, “Yes, we can.” He made it easy, spending little time discussing race. It wasn’t a campaign issue, and the press did everything it could to deliberately leave race out of this presidential race. Anyone who wanted to racialize this presidential contest would be breaking the new ground rules, trespassing on the free lane that had opened up for Obama, and Obama alone.
Who would want to be remembered for pulling such a hope-dashing stunt?
For his part, Obama never once presented himself as a younger version of Jesse Jackson, a black activist clinging to the coattails of the civil rights era of the 1960s. That was the old guard of Congressman John Lewis, adorned with the moral authority earned at Montgomery and Selma, and with the actual scars to prove it. Obama wasn’t appealing to the old-time movement religion of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., or, for that matter, Malcolm X. And he wasn’t a militant like Black Panthers Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael, and Bobby Seale.
Obama embodied a new-look to old-school liberalism—classy, cool, bookish, cultured, procedural, deliberate, Ivy League educated, and, well, black. He was the kind of smooth intellectual who could easily befriend John Locke, or better yet, Abraham Lincoln—two sons of Illinois, one a rail-splitter, and the other a racial barrier breaker. Obama was married to an African-American woman with similar credentials and charisma.
The State Department had just been presided over by back-to-back African-American Secretaries of State—Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. There were black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, black Supreme Court Justices, black women partners in Wall Street law firms, black university presidents, astronauts, surgeons, and billionaires. Much of mainstream media featured black anchors and editors at their news desks. And at the grassroots level, more than 80 percent of Americans morally approved of interracial marriage.
Does this scream South Africa to you? Is Jim Crow the first thing that comes to mind?
Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) and the New York Times’ 1619 Project have dominated discussions about race for the past several years. With schools in lockdown, chaos everywhere, and untimely police shootings, the adherents of this new racial agenda took advantage of COVID-19 and proclaimed a competing public health crisis. This one involved a nation at war with the use of language—which words can and cannot be said—while introducing new words like “woke” and “intersectional.” It would require a complete reimagining of school curriculum—what students must now know about themselves, books they can no longer read, academic standards that no longer applied to them. And the nation was also being asked to reassess its morality and reexamine its patriotism.
Mostly, there was one singular, unequivocal refrain: The United States, at its origins long before it even became a series of colonies and then a new nation, is an irredeemably racist enterprise. The ghosts of slave ships, slave auctions, and plantations haunted the entire land. Racial hatred lurked everywhere. Oppression was a white man’s Pavlovian affliction. White Americans all benefitted from the power differentials between the races, the oppressor class imposing its will over people of color. African Americans can never succeed in this land—not because they don’t want to, but because a systemic deck was stacked against them that dwarfed Mount Rushmore.
What about that lineup of high-achieving African-American advancement I mentioned above? What about Obama’s two terms as president? How could that have happened in a nation that practiced and celebrated such widespread systemic racism? It is a question that hangs in the air amid swirling winds of accusation. An inconvenient question deliberately unanswered. Asking it betrays racism. White Americans should simply listen, learn, and, most of all, bring equity to all those they have harmed.
So “systemic racism” has become a national talking point despite most people not knowing what it means. Institutionalized, systemized racism is taken for granted. Anti-racism policies must be implemented—everywhere. An entire apparatus of educational, legal, public, and corporate policies, with the avowed purpose to bring about racial equity, have materialized almost overnight.
Changes to American culture have been swift. Hollywood, publishing, and television have adopted the ethos of diversity and inclusiveness. The making of art must avoid cultural appropriation, or worse, misappropriation. An image and a voice may not belong to your imagination.
Americans are paying more attention to skin color than perhaps ever before. Color blindness has disappeared, replaced by full floodlight x-ray vision—deep into the soul of the nation. There are new warning signs, premises that go unchallenged. Whiteness is now self-incriminating. It is a pigment very much out of fashion. Worse still, it carries with it guilt and complicity—with no presumption of innocence. Collective guilt, based on skin color alone. Indictable offenses brought by people of color, without color of law.
What changed? Everyone accepts, or used to accept, that there are those who hold unfavorable views of black people. Some are even profoundly prejudiced. As a Jewish-American, I know that anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest enduring prejudice. I wish I could convince the haters of blacks and Jews to feel otherwise.
But such animus among human beings is not systemic. Anti-humanistic, yes; but systemic? The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution along with the passage of pivotal civil rights legislation throughout the 1960s, dealing with public accommodations, employment, desegregation of schools, voting, fair housing, welfare, and Affirmative Action to advance educational opportunities for black students—all are examples of the system doing the very opposite of racism. They are designed and enacted to address, and redress, racial disparities.
Yes, surely there have been “systemic failures” in the delivery of these governmental initiatives. Governments are imperfect. There’s red tape and dysfunctional cogs in every bureaucracy. But the remedial intent of all this legislation demonstrably contradicts the charge of systemic racism itself. Did these governmental programs completely redress America’s racist past? Do they amount to restitution? Could more have been done, and could the programs themselves have been executed better? Are economic disparities between white and black American families still present?
Outcomes are not the same as intention.
More importantly: is the “system” configured to perpetuate black failure? Many urban cities with large concentrations of African-American residents have black mayors and police chiefs. That means that many African Americans, at the local level, have black leaders who are the custodians of the “system” that is built to prevent their progress.
Perhaps what is meant by “system” is just the ill-motives and race-hatred of all white people. It is what’s lodged in the soul of white Americans—a much deeper depravity than the mere pulling of levers. President Biden pretty much acknowledged that recently, defining “systemic racism [as] a stain on our nation’s soul.” Machines can be repaired. But there is no redemption for white skin.
In a woke world, there is no forgiveness, and contrition rains down hard.
Americans are being told to always check their white privilege at the door. Bow their heads. Contemplate the sin of their skin. And yet, nothing can be done to rid themselves of this chronic condition. Perhaps that is as it should be. Some, but surely not most Jews believe that Germany can never remove the stigmatic black mark of the Holocaust. The enormity and legacy of the loss condemns Germans for eternity. Many Germans, however, resent how much the crimes of their grandparents are imputed to them. Why should the guilt and responsibility be inherited? After all, doesn’t the nation deserve some measure of forgiveness? America, in fact, could learn something from Germany. The United States can’t quite claim the same levels of introspection, moral scrutiny, and restitution when it comes to its African- and Native Indian-American victims.
Critical Race Theorists are not predisposed to granting pardons—not even to descendants. They see plantations on Park Avenue. Rodeo Drive is tantamount to a slave market—the oppressor’s power on full display in the obscene price tag of a Rolex. In a woke world, there is no forgiveness, and contrition rains down hard. Some members of the white race are as fanatical as the leaders of the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement itself.
Not everyone is obtuse to the implications of these new heresies. Paul Rossi, a math teacher at the Grace Church School in New York City, was suspended and his contract not renewed. He audaciously raised concerns about the school’s anti-racism protocols. Standing alone, he charged that harmful indoctrination had replaced critical thinking. Curiously, the school’s Headmaster did not deny the anti-white propaganda he was peddling. “We’re demonizing kids, we’re demonizing white people for being born,” he acknowledged, without embarrassment. Further adding, “We are using language that makes them feel ‘less than’ — for nothing that they are personally responsible for.”
Andrew Guttman yanked his daughter out of Brearley, an all-girls school in Manhattan, one of the citadels of “higher education” where CRT has inserted itself into the curriculum. Guttman wrote a letter to all Brearley parents, accusing the school of brainwashing their daughters. It doesn’t appear as though he has succeeded in starting a revolt.
So much for “white privilege.” Being able to financially afford the annual $54,000 in tuition—and the scholarships that subsidize the costs for underprivileged students—buys these parents everlasting damnation. And their children are debased, being held to account for the Middle Passage.
Everything is now racialized. Playing the race card is a game of 52-Pickup where every card is the race card. Simon & Schuster succumbed to the pressure of its own employees when it cancelled the publication of Senator Josh Hawley’s new book. It is now facing renewed pushback to cancel a two-book deal from former Vice President Mike Pence—for the same reason: employees insisting that Pence is responsible for white supremacy.
So much for the diversity of ideas.
Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, and Delta Airlines took political stands against Georgia’s new election laws. It was a calculated risk. Surely many customers will feel alienated. But it was, apparently, more important to ingratiate themselves to the captains of the anti-racism industry.
Coke wanted to demonstrate that it was woke.
A post-racial society is now a fantasy. Remember the Nazis and their Master Race? Now race has become our master. We have become prisoners to our racial past, with whiteness as the new scarlet skin.
Democratic, liberal values, perhaps, is the “system” that is being rejected as racist.
Fairness is the essence of liberalism. To liberals, this means never allowing someone’s race to be the cause of inequality, or the denial of opportunity, or access to resources. Equality of opportunity is what Thomas Jefferson meant by the “pursuit of happiness”—no assurance of happiness, only a level playing field. But this is not what “racial equity” means today. The leaders of BLM and CRT have a vision of enforced equality of outcome. They place no trust in opportunity; white playing fields are rocky and uneven to people of color. What they want is to make things equitable, to correct for historical imbalances.
That’s a very different vision of America. But then again, they don’t believe in the promises of America. They mistrust liberalism and its false, oppressive values: meritocracy, intellectual rigor, free speech, individual liberty, equal opportunity, the rule of law, freedom of contract, hard work, and intact families. There is also little faith in multiethnic democracy with its power grab in favor of white people. Democratic, liberal values, perhaps, is the “system” that is being rejected as racist.
The presidency of Barack Obama proved nothing. It didn’t eradicate poverty, income disparity, or the disproportionate incarceration of black males. It did not eliminate racial profiling, or address lower standardized test scores, or stabilize single-parent families.
The pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, and the unexpected ease with which CRT graduated from college and coalesced with the ground troops of BLM, created a perfect storm of progressive racial activism. It also benefitted from President Donald Trump’s MAGA message, a presidency committed to dividing the nation between red and blue, patriots and traitors, white and black. In this new anti-racist crusade, America was never great in the first place.
What was also different in the loud voices of the progressive left was their access to funding. They had discovered a secret weapon: white guilt. The suffering and victimization of African Americans attracted corporate sponsorships and the political donor class. The taking of a knee, improbably, became big business. Colin Kapernick kneeled himself out of a job, but the gesture ended up funding a revolution.
How else to explain the co-founder of BLM, Patrisse Khan-Cullers, an avowed Marxist, purchasing four homes in the United States for $3.2 million? Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who traveled to Minneapolis before the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial and spurred on public protests and called for more “confrontation,” lives in a $6 million Los Angeles mansion, far from her dilapidated district. That’s one way to look at “equity”—real property rather than racial politics.
Feelings of white guilt are understandable, given this nation’s abysmal racial history. George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” galvanized peaceful and violent protests, resurrecting the ghosts of this nation’s original sin. But how far can guilt go? Financial support is one thing; lawlessness quite another. Social activism and racial justice revealed a violent streak—purportedly in honor of George Floyd, and to reform law enforcement. Once the BLM movement caught some momentum, any violence emanating from it was downplayed. The same excuse-making did not apply to the Capitol rioters on January 6th, who overall caused far less destruction and constituted only a single event. Hundreds of them are sitting in jail and most will remain there.
The vandals and arsonists of BLM had a very different experience with the justice system. A Minnesota Freedom Fund was established to provide bail for those arrested during the Minneapolis demonstrations. There, and in other cities, police precincts and squad cars were torched, businesses ransacked, and outdoor diners harassed. Over a dozen Biden campaign staffers donated to these funds. Then presidential candidate Kamala Harris encouraged others to contribute. The vast majority of the over 2,600, from 15 different cities, arrested in connection with the BLM protests, were charged with misdemeanors. No one who participated in the violence is still in jail.
Indeed, the violence itself was casually accepted. CNN’s Don Lemon suggested that the violence was justified, as compared with the siege on the Capitol. His fellow anchor, Chris Cuomo (disclosure: a friend and former student), asked, “Please, show me where it says that protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful?”
Well, you could start with Mahatma Gandhi and then work your way to the teachings and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many Americans believed it was racist to identify violence associated with BLM. It was similar to the response one receives at the mere mention of “black on black” crime. Could police misconduct become a license to loot? Was vandalism now a protected right under the First Amendment? Mayors told their police chiefs to stand down in enforcing laws against rioters. New York City’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, helped paint a BLM mural on Fifth Avenue.
The linking of arms has been replaced by the fierce raising of fists.
Others were more forthcoming, drawing a moral equivalence between peaceful and violent protests. BLM activist Bree Newsome tweeted, “I’m definitely in the camp of defending looting as a legitimate, politically-informed response to state violence.” Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib called for defunding the police and recently tweeted, “No more policing, incarceration and militarization.”
This is all very different from the example set by Martin Luther King, Jr. Peaceful nonviolent resistance is a phrase scarcely heard. The linking of arms has been replaced by the fierce raising of fists. And a different legal standard is being applied to lawbreakers, which coincides with a rethinking of police practices at the point of arrest.
Police shootings of black males is the heartbeat of BLM. Without them, upheavals about race would have remained on campus. A nation that legalized slavery and Jim Crow for most of its history will invariably awaken the dead whenever an African American loses his or her life to an abuse of power.
But is law enforcement actually targeting African Americans—is that ground zero for systemic racism? It sounds preposterous, especially since police officers are wearing body cameras, and bystanders are trained to video any encounter when police approach a suspect. How brazen are cops nowadays?
What isn’t being said amid all the talk about defunding militarized, trigger-happy law enforcement is that, generally speaking, these videos depict crime scenes, not church picnics. African Americans disproportionately live in high-crime neighborhoods, which just might explain why, of the 1,000 Americans shot by the police in a given year, a higher percentage are African-American males.
That doesn’t mean the police should have carte blanche authority to fire upon anyone, especially African Americans. But it does mean that context matters, and the context of many of these shootings involve African Americans resisting arrest.
One of the reasons why Derek Chauvin was so decisively found guilty on all three charges brought against him in the death of George Floyd is because while Floyd was agitated and mentally in distress, he wasn’t resisting arrest. He was handcuffed for the final nine and a half minutes of his life. Americans, historically, have been sympathetic to police who patrol high-crime neighborhoods. In courtrooms, juries have traditionally granted the police more leeway in not second-guessing split-second decision making.
Chauvin rightfully received no benefit of the doubt.
The circumstances of the recent police shooting of the teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, in any other year but this one, with searing racial tensions, the politics of race overshadowing the coronavirus, and demoralized police officers taking early retirement, would have been regarded as the tragic loss of a teenage girl who, if not for the intervention of the police, would have taken the life of another teenage girl.
But this isn’t any other year. While many were sheltering at home, others, more progressively inclined, rebranded the debate over race in America, weaponized language, and mobilized a powerful new political movement that is fundamentally antithetical to what America once represented.
Indeed, it is a toxic amalgam of illiberal, anti-white, anti-capitalist, anti-American zealotry. It has permeated our schools, media, museums, corporate suites, and seats of power. Its influence is unchecked and disproportionate. Yet, it would be wrong to assume that a majority of Americans agree with any of it. Everyone is simply too fearful to voice dissent. The consequences are all too well known. Accusations of racism. The leaders of this intersectional madness—and their Internet trolling minions—are warlike in defense of their anti-racist cult.
They cancel. They intimidate. They shout down. They make demands. They form digital mobs. They threaten corporate America, and their human resources departments, with mass walkouts and declining shareholder value.
We are living in a race-first universe, and the soft bigotry of low expectations has become softer still.
No one seems to be willing to risk calling their bluff. And it appears they are having their way with President Biden, who, so far, isn’t governing like a moderate. Count the number of times he has invoked the term “systemic racism.” He’s now a racial justice warrior of the first order.
Wokeness has awakened America to a new racial reality. We have become obsessed with skin color; the prerogatives and taboos of pigmentation are everywhere. Dr. King’s wish to be judged by the “content of one’s character” is now wholly obscured. We are living in a race-first universe, and the soft bigotry of low expectations has become softer still.
Professors at Harvard Medical School are advocating for race-based discrimination in order to give preferences to minorities in the delivery of health care. They are not alone at Harvard in advancing this approach to “structural racism.” Such policies would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, but no one seems especially concerned.
Following the death of George Floyd, dismantling police departments became a BLM ultimatum. Lisa Bender, a Minneapolis city councilmember, told CNN that she understood the trepidations of white people no longer being able to call the police in an emergency. But she reasoned that given the overabundance of “white privilege,” it would be beneficial for white people to experience what it feels like not have access to police protection.
Maybe so, but only if you have never been placed in such a defenseless, fearful position. The actress Alyssa Milano, a staunch defund-the-police activist, failed to rise to the challenge. She placed an emergency call to the police when she noticed an intruder with a gun on her property. The Los Angeles Police Department rushed over and arrested a teenager shooting squirrels with an air-gun.
The Virginia Department of Education just announced that it is ending all accelerated math courses for high-achieving students below 11th grade. All students will be at the same math level for their grade—without exception. Purportedly, this is a way to achieve racial equity. It’s also an excellent way to ensure that bridges built in the future will collapse, drug discoveries will come to a halt, startups will stop-down, and China, unburdened by such regressive educational models, will own this century. Violence is excused. Complex math is deemed too complicated. STEM snaps like a twig.
When inclusivity becomes more important than Euclidean geometry—we have a serious problem.
This is all a very different understanding of equity. It’s apparently more than just fairness. It is wholly remedial and regressive. Anti-racism has become a proxy for anti-American. We are being taught to hate our own country. No wartime American adversary has ever conceived of such a potent weapon.
With each passing day, our liberal democracy appears less liberal. A different America, altogether—browbeaten, ashamed, and unforgiving. And, perhaps, worst of all—tragically in denial of all the immense progress African Americans have achieved once their rightful American liberties were restored.