Dear America, We’re Sick of Hearing About Race
As we leave 2020 behind, it’s worth considering what else we might want to leave behind with it: anti-lockdown protests, Donald Trump, the Mulan live-action remake.
Another thing to jettison is what has become an unhealthy obsession with race. This trend has been growing in the US since 2015, but it spiked in 2020 with George Floyd’s killing, and has since spread to many other countries around the world.
Let me state the obvious. George Floyd’s death was tragic and sickening, and the police officers involved should be severely punished. There is still serious systemic racism in the United States which needs to be addressed, including despicable efforts by the Republican Party to suppress the black vote. That said, it’s unclear if Floyd’s killing had anything to do with racism, as so far there’s been nothing to suggest that the police officers involved were motivated by racial prejudice (though it’s possible additional facts may emerge at trial), or that they wouldn’t have killed a white suspect in the same way under similar circumstances. The US is also one of the least racist countries in the world – easily the least racist place I’ve lived in, out of a list which includes Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China, and the UK. Race-based discrimination may still occur, but it’s not the result of official government policy like it is in many other countries, and authorities who are caught abusing minorities, like the cops involved in Floyd’s killing, are held to account. In fact, what makes America stand out is that over there racism is generally considered to be a cardinal sin (though the leftist dilution of the term is eroding that), and that it constantly questions whether it’s doing enough to combat it.
For all its problems, America is one of the least racist countries in the world.
There is no justification, therefore, for the race-hysteria that has swept the US since George Floyd’s death: the ludicrous denunciations of American society as utterly racist, the exaggerated claims of victimhood (e.g. this New York Times piece that begins with the hilarious statement: “My book is coming out in a few months, and I don’t know if I’m going to be alive to see it, because I’m a black man”), the endless whining about what is in effect a first-world problem. Even more unattractive than the whining is the self-flagellating: the Cultural Revolution-style confessions of “white privilege,” the insipid pledges to “do better,” to “stand in solidarity with people of color.” Then there’s the joylessness, the compulsive need to see racism in every innocuous thing – from beloved brands like Aunt Jemima and Trader Jose, to popular tv shows like Paw Patrol – and to demand that the offending things be cancelled. The combination of these behaviors makes one painful to watch and tedious in conversation.
Scene from Paw Patrol, a children’s cartoon that was deemed racist because it portrays a police dog in a positive light, and all police are supposedly racist
Of course, the good shouldn’t be the enemy of the great, that is to say, just because America is one of the least racist countries in the world doesn’t mean people should be complacent and shouldn’t strive to make it even less racist, to make an “even more perfect union.” First-world problems are still problems, and so should still be solved. But they should be viewed in perspective. The wave of race-hysteria that’s engulfed much of the country has swept away all perspective, such that not only are most of the proposed measures to combat racism ineffective, they’re likely to cause even bigger problems – see, for example, defunding the police. The obsession with race has turned swathes of the population into leftist mobs, with all the mindless, vicious stupidity that comes with mob behavior, including the impulse to censor and suppress dissenting ideas. The result has been the degradation of American intellectual life, in schools and universities, in the media, and in the public sphere. I’d like to hear more reasoned debate on issues like border control, on the deployment of troops to quell riots, on genetics and heritability, but debate on all three has been restricted, if not downright forbidden, in the name of fighting racism. In the place of true intellectualism, we’ve seen the elevation of hacks and one-trick ponies like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, and Robin DiAngelo, who are somehow treated like serious thinkers even though their only schtick seems to be to see everything through a racial lens and whine tediously about perceived racism. As the old adage goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” likewise, when all you have is critical race theory, everything looks like racism, and whilst that may be understandable on their part, this only exacerbates this unhealthy malady.
The obsession with race has turned swathes of the American population into leftist mobs, with all the mindless, vicious stupidity that comes with mob behavior.
Instead of making America less racist, this race-neuroticism has actually made it more racist, especially by bringing race into issues to which they are not, and shouldn’t be, relevant. How many times, for example, have we heard the lament that COVID-19 is disproportionately infecting blacks and Latinos, as if their lives matter more than the lives of people of other races, as if it would be any less tragic if more whites and Asians were being infected instead? Perhaps the most blatant example of this kind of racism was a recent New York Times article, which discussed who should get the coronavirus vaccine first. In it, Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, argued against giving teachers the vaccine first because “Teachers have middle-class salaries, are very often white, and they have college degrees…they are not among the most mistreated of workers.” Likewise, in the same article, Harald Schmidt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, argued against inoculating the elderly first because “Older populations are whiter. Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.” Thus we have supposedly smart people advocating for the vaccine to be doled out on the basis of your race, rather than, say, whether you’re an essential worker, or whether you’re older or sicker.
This race-obsession doesn’t even help the races it’s supposed to be helping. Instead it condescends to them, disheartening them with the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and feeding the idea of black and Latino inferiority. We see this with the frenzy of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives in organizations since George Floyd’s death, most of which seek to bring in more black and Latino candidates who don’t make the cut by lowering the bar for them. We saw it starkly in the Democratic debate in March, when then-presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, if given the opportunity. Biden’s primary consideration when choosing a candidate to join the highest court in the land, therefore, seemed not to be her merits – not her intellect, or wisdom, or integrity – but her race (and gender). I’m a fan of Biden, and I’m glad he won the nomination, and the presidency, but I cringed when I heard that. Making a statement like that ensures that if he does nominate a black woman to the court, people will question whether she was the most qualified candidate or whether she was chosen over stronger candidates because she was black and a woman. If he really wanted to empower black people, to show the world that they can do anything, that they’re just as capable as anyone else, he shouldn’t mention race at all – he should just nominate an impressive black candidate to the Supreme Court if/when the time comes and tell people he chose her because she’s the best. When Barack Obama nominated two women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to the Supreme Court, he emphasized their extraordinary abilities; he didn’t cheapen their selection by making it about their gender.
Racism is bad, not just because it’s cruel, but also because it’s stupid. Skin color is one of the most primitive and boring bases on which to look at people. And, by the same token, an obsession with skin color is one of the most primitive and boring bases on which to look at the world. Martin Luther King advocated judging people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and this exhortation rings as true today as it did back then. It is thanks in large part to MLK, and brave civil rights activists like him, that the greatest battles against racism in America were fought and won decades ago, and they helped make that colorblind ideal a reality. But that colorblindness, and the progress that has come with it, is being threatened by a movement intent on seeing everything in terms of race, and on judging everyone on that basis. This obsession with race is a bad habit that is as unattractive as it is unhealthy; we should make it our new year’s resolution to kick it.