Great America

The New Orthodoxy of Lies

American structural racism takes a number of forms, some of them quite subtle. So, apparently, does gratitude.

The lies have been around for half a century, wafting through America’s elite institutions until, in the last few years, they began to coagulate into an orthodoxy—a process that has reached its culmination in just the last few weeks.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) says America invented slavery. CNN’s Don Lemon says: “If you grew up in America, you came out of American soil, considering the history of this country . . . how can you not be racist?” The New York Times’ Pulitzer-winning “1619 Project” says that America was founded on slavery and racism. 

Lies—outrageous lies. America, uniquely among all nations, was founded on freedom. Like virtually all other nations up to that time, it inherited the stain of slavery. Our Founders recognized this contradiction. Three generations later, in an unprecedented war, 400,000 white soldiers died fighting to free black slaves. But now it’s racist to say so. 

Racist to say that the first European settlers in North America didn’t introduce slavery to the New World, because the practice of enslaving members of defeated tribes was already common among American Indians. 

Racist to say that white Americans didn’t enslave blacks, because American slaveholders bought blacks who’d already been enslaved back in Africa by other blacks.

Racist to say that Africans also held over a million white European slaves between the years 1500 and 1800. 

Racist to say that slavery, long vanished in America, still exists in Africa. 

Racist to say that while America has a history of slavery and a legacy of racial prejudice, we’ve overcome it in our institutions. 

Racist to say that black Americans today enjoy an unprecedented degree of prosperity and freedom. 

Racist to point out that we elected a black president—twice. 

Corporate Cowardice

Yes, some whites still dislike blacks. Some blacks dislike whites. But not many. When people like Al Sharpton and the leaders of Black Lives Matter insist that racism remains a major aspect of American life and blame current problems on past injustices, they’re selling lies. 

Do we see spokespeople for other races doing this? Do we even see other races, by and large, having spokespeople? 

When I was growing up in New York, I had a lot of Jewish friends, and they’d all lost relatives in the Holocaust. They mourned their losses. They said, “Never again.” But they didn’t try to leverage their tragedy to win societal brownie points or to accuse “all gentiles” of anti-Semitism. 

After the Vietnam War, “boat people” came to America. Some of them had fought Communism alongside U.S. troops; all had suffered reversals owing to the war. When they came to America, many couldn’t speak English. But they didn’t hold protests. They didn’t riot. They found jobs or started small businesses. They worked hard and encouraged their kids to study. And next thing you knew, those kids were winning national spelling bees. 

And their fellow Americans cheered them. Far more than the citizens of many other countries, including the Nordic lands that are celebrated by the Left as moral lodestars, Americans are ready to embrace as fellow Americans any foreigners who enter their country legally, learn the language, work hard, keep their noses clean, and salute the flag. 

In other countries, bonds of national identity are rooted in ethnicity. Not in America. Here, over the course of recent decades, whites and blacks increasingly have worked together and lived as neighbors with little or nothing in the way of racial friction. 

This is what makes America exceptional. As polls have shown consistently, ours is among the least racist of all nations. 

And yet the poisonous Black Lives Matter movement, which has been empowered to a devastating extent in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, has intimidated major corporations into repeating its ridiculous lies. 

The other day, doing some online banking, I was greeted at Chase’s website by a message from Chase’s CEO, who claimed to feel “intense pain, anger, sadness and frustration” about America’s “centuries of structural racism.” A double lie: the assertion of structural racism is a lie, as is the claim that these bankers are suddenly overcome with pain about it. 

How widespread is this cowardly readiness to parrot preposterous untruths? Curious, I checked some other corporate websites. 

At Walmart’s site, CEO Doug McMillon also echoed the canard about “structural racism”—thereby lending credence to the despicable claim of ubiquitous white-on-black and blue-on-black violence: 

The murder of George Floyd is tragic, painful, and unacceptable. His death is not an isolated event. We remember Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many other Black Americans who have been killed. It’s important that we all understand that our problems, as a nation, run much deeper than one horrible event. Our nation has failed to fully acknowledge and resolve the root issues. Slavery, lynching, the concept of separate but equal and the other realities from our past have morphed into a set of systems today that are all too often, unjust . . . . 

Lies, lies, lies. Nothing about black-on-black murder. Or black-on-white murder. Both of which are large-scale problems. 

At other corporate sites—Boeing, Northrop Grumman, etc.—I found more of the same. All of it accompanied by promises of special treatment in education, the job market, and so on for a group that already benefits hugely from affirmative action in all its forms—often at the expense of far more qualified Asians. 

But don’t mention that. It would be racist. 

Discord at the NBCC

I was interested to learn that in the case of at least one major institution, an internal campaign to issue such a preposterous statement about American racism has met with opposition. After members of the board of the National Book Critics Circle wrote a text expressing solidarity with George Floyd, one of their number, Hope Wabuke, according to an inside source, “extended” the text “into an excoriation of the publishing industry as racist.” 

The result was a draft statement complaining that only 30 percent of the 2019 NBCC winners and finalists were nonwhite and blaming this supposedly scandalous statistic on the “white supremacy and institutional racism” that purportedly permeate the book business, which, Wabuke asserted, has actively sought “to stifle black voices at every level of our industry.” 

As is so often the case in important cultural battles, the resistance to Wabuke’s indictment likely would have come to nothing if not for a single gutsy individual, Carlin Romano, who in a private email called Wabuke’s statement “absolute nonsense.” 

Accusing her of misrepresenting “multiple generations of white publishers and editors” who’d helped further the careers of nonwhite authors, Romano wrote that he “resent[ed] the idea that whites in the book publishing and literary world are an oppositional force that needs to be assigned to reeducation camps.”   

Reportedly “outraged” by Romano’s comments, which she described as representative of deep-rooted racism at the NBCC, Wabuke demanded that he be censured by the board. When this didn’t happen, she violated Romano’s privacy by posting his comments on Twitter and quitting the board. 

In the ensuing days, more board members quit, some of them (including board chairman Laurie Hertzel) in protest against Wabuke’s action, and others as part of an effort, according to my source (who is not Romano), “to burn the thing down around [Romano] and somehow start again.” 

In his defense, Romano told the online magazine Vulture, “I’m not racist and I’m not anti-black. Quite the contrary. I just don’t check my mind at the door when people used to operating in echo chambers make false claims.” He added that some board members had of late “sought to turn the Board . . . into a ‘No Free Thought’ zone, an ideologically biased tool for their own politics. In my opinion, they oppose true critical discussion. Good riddance to any of them who resign—the NBCC will be healthier without them.”

As it happens, I know a little about these matters. First of all, I’ve had books published by several of the major houses and have plenty of New York-based writer and editor friends, so I’m familiar with what goes on in the corridors of publishing power. And I know that publishers love nothing more than finding a good nonwhite author. Being a minority writer has been a plus for decades, and this has never been truer than it is now. It’s especially true for those minority writers, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose books are largely about how oppressed they are. 

I’ve also sat on the NBCC board. Although I haven’t had anything to do with the NBCC for quite a while, I can testify that even when I was on the board, some three decades ago, many of its members were desperate to find worthy nonwhite writers to whom they could give prizes. The rest of us didn’t care about the race of a book’s author—we just wanted to honor good books. Knowing how these sorts of things have gone elsewhere over the years, I’m sure that the zeal to acclaim black writers is far more intense now than it was then. 

As for the principals in this affair, I don’t know Wabuke, but I see online that her parents came to America as refugees from Idi Amin’s genocide. On the basis of a ton of lame, politically tinged free verse and of articles with titles like “My Father Could Have Been Killed by Police,” “But You’re So Smart, You Can’t Be Black,” and “99 Ways to Respect Black Women,” and with no Ph.D., she’s secured a faculty position at the University of Nebraska. Also, she’s “received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Book Critics Circle, The New York Times Foundation,” and several other institutions. 

American structural racism, you see, takes a number of forms, some of them quite subtle. So, apparently, does gratitude. As I write this, Wabuke’s most recent tweet reads: “It is 2020 in America and Black people are still being lynched from trees.” She’ll go far. 

As for Romano, he was a fellow NBCC board member back in my day. I respect him greatly. He’s scary smart. And he’s a rock-solid literary critic of the old school—which is to say, his judgments are informed not by ideological or identity-group loyalties, or by the remotest trace of racial prejudice, but by a deep erudition and a high level of aesthetic and intellectual discernment. 

Which makes him, in 2020, a dinosaur. And, of course, a racist. 

Romano has taught at a bunch of places. I see that he’s currently associated with both the University of Pennsylvania and with Ursinus College and that he writes regularly for the Chronicle of Higher Education. I can only hope that he’ll still have these gigs when the NBCC dust settles. Because the cadres will definitely be coming to get him. What else can they do, after he’s called them on their lies?