This Election Marks The End Of America’s Racial Détente

Thought-provoking article by David Marcus in The Federalist, arguing that America has always been deeply divided on race, and at best there was a détente, never a consensus. And this election has shattered that.

There is a misconception that political correctness was responsible for the breakdown of the racial détente. This is incorrect. Political correctness, as loose a term as it is, was the means by which we continually renegotiated the terms of the deal. After all, the primary rules for whites had exactly to do with what was acceptable to say.

Privilege theory and the concept of systemic racism dealt the death blow to the détente. In embracing these theories, minorities and progressives broke their essential rule, which was to not run around calling everyone a racist. As these theories took hold, every white person became a racist who must confess that racism and actively make amends. Yet if the white woman who teaches gender studies at Barnard with the Ben Shahn drawings in her office is a racist, what chance do the rest of have?

Within the past few years, as privilege theory took hold, many whites began to think that no matter what they did they would be called racist, because, in fact, that was happening. Previously there were rules. They shifted at times, but if adhered to they largely protected one from the charge of racism.

It’s worth reading in its entirety even if you don’t agree with his conclusions. America is a racially-divided nation for reasons going back to that nation’s early history in a way that’s sometimes difficult for Europeans to comprehend. But many of the academic theories that arose in that American context have crossed the Atlantic.

One thing that makes it hard to have constructive conversations with those who aren’t steeped in academic theory is that there is no longer a consensus on what the word “racist” even means. Does it mean individual bigotry towards members of races other than your own? Or does it refer to structures of power that put minorities at a disadvantage? Or does it mean both?

The worlds of left-academia and activism have redefined the word to take exclusively the second of those meanings. That’s fine within closed spaces where everyone shares the same assumptions and definitions. But when people move outside those spaces into the wider world that doesn’t share those assumptions, it’s easy for people to end up talking past one another. It also means that appalling bigots like Arthur Chu and Bahar Mustafa can deny accusation of racism because “You can’t be racist against white people”. See also the frightening rise of anti-Semitism on the left, justified because Jews are defined as “privileged”.

The liberal-left needs to continue opposing racism and sexism that blights lives, divides communities, and keeps people from fulfilling their potential. But it also needs to recognise that the current iteration of identity politics has failed with disastrous consequences, and something smarter needs to take its place.

At the moment a lot of people are still in shock over the election result, they’re hurt, angry and justifiably afraid. It’s still too early to be too aggressive in calling out those who double down on identity politics. Give them the time and space to figure why things have gone wrong for themselves.

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One Response to This Election Marks The End Of America’s Racial Détente

  1. ard sloc says:

    Your question on alternative definitions of “racism” is timely. It is important to cover both individual bigotry and discriminatory structures of power. But in debate it is necessary to say which one is talking about. As an elderly white male I grew up in a society that reflected both, and maybe elements of prejudice remain in both me as well as in society. Surely I am less a racist than Trump of Farage? I hope so! Racism is not an “either/or” question. We, individuals and institutions, are all prejudiced in so many ways: the important thing is to recognise that and act.