In a recent article for The Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi argues that those of us who are calling out the increasingly blatant and barefaced anti-white bigotry of many powerful figures on the woke Left are merely echoing a long-standing white supremacist trope.
“[T]hat anti-racism is harmful to white people is one of the basic mantras of white-supremacist ideology,” Kendi argues, and then proceeds to plunge readers into a historical mishmash in which decontextualized statements by actual white supremacists are juxtaposed and conflated with similarly decontextualized statements by entirely mainstream figures across the political spectrum to manufacture white supremacist guilt by association.
Kendi, certainly no stranger to bad arguments, is one of America’s foremost racial extremists. Among other things, he has absurdly called for the establishment of a Chinese Cultural Revolution-style federal “Department of Antiracism” charged with investigating private racism and monitoring racist speech. He is part of a larger woke Left counteroffensive that aims to label as white supremacists all those who question the divisive poison injected into our collective bloodstream by critical race theory and its many knowing and unwitting adherents.
The ruse undoubtedly has succeeded in gaslighting many well-meaning Americans, who have no desire to stand on the same side of history as white nationalists, segregationists, Nazis, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen. But, beyond all its other flaws, Kendi’s broad-brush painting fails insofar as it implicitly imagines that all the practitioners of what goes by the name of “antiracism” are either on the side of the devil or else, as he thinks, of the angels. As ever, the devil is in the details—and the details reveal lots of angry little devils at work.
Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was also fighting for “antiracism” when he crusaded against segregation and genuine injustice and planted his battle-flag on the noble ground of judging each person as an individual, not a color. Most everyone today would agree that such a view embodies and expresses love, not hatred, whether of white people or of anyone else.
It is equally plain, however, that not everyone who might have been or might be identified with the cause of civil rights falls into that same hallowed category, whether in the 1960s or today. The black nationalist Nation of Islam—along with its Rev. Elijah Muhammad, so unforgettably depicted by James Baldwin in The Fire Next Time—categorized as a hate group by even the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center, is a clear example of people deploying the mantle of civil rights to perpetuate antiwhite race hatred. Kendi’s obfuscation notwithstanding, there are many similar examples hiding in plain sight among us today.
The key question is how to tell the difference. How do we differentiate between, on the one hand, genuine, progressive efforts aimed at the ultimate goal of moving towards a harmonious, post racial republic and, on the other hand, divisive racial bigotry masquerading as progressive politics? The answer, alas, is that there is no formula that cracks the code.
And yet Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” line with respect to the definition of pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio applies in this context as well. How do we recognize race hatred for what it is? Simple: just open your senses and feel the hate. There is, I am afraid, plenty to go around. When you hear someone telling you they stand for the cause of antiracism, ignore, for a moment, the outer label and even the finer elaborations and arguments and focus, instead, on the general ambience. What kinds of words are they using? Whether they are speaking or writing, what is their affect, their tone? Can you feel the hate seeping through, the seething of rage just beneath the surface?
We have heard tell of prominent examples in recent years. Take, for instance, the case of Dr. Aruna Khilanani, a psychiatrist who had been invited to speak at the Yale School of Medicine, where she delivered a talk titled “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” You can pretty much stop right at the title, without even getting to the part where she speaks of white people “mak[ing] [her] blood boil,” claims they “are out of their minds and have been for a long time” and then describes her fantasies of “unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in [her] way” whereupon she would walk away “with a bounce in [her] step.”
Or take Cassandra Aline Jones, a religious scholar affiliated with two different seminaries, who recently described white people as “demonic monsters” “pray[ing] to God with hatred for everyone who is not like them,” with their “guns, bibles [and] confederate flags.”
Then there is Rutgers’ Brittney Cooper, a long-time antiwhite bigot who called white people “villains” but took solace in the fact that they are not “eternal,” and described them as “an epochal interruption in black and indigenous world-making,” even while noting that their inevitable erasure from the world’s stage might need a bit of a push: “we got to take these motherf—ers out.”
Or how about Drexel University’s George Ciccariello-Maker (yes, lots of these people tend to be hiding out in academia), who in 2016 tweeted, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”? Yeah, that’s an easy one.
USC’s Charles H. F. Davis voiced support for that white genocide tweet, among many highlights of his own. His Twitter profile, for example, is a photo of a black woman aiming a gun at a humanoid white-skinned pig. He regularly tweets out inflammatory statements, such as, “[w]hite supremacist heterosexist patriarchy needs to get the violence it deserves.”
There is also the notorious case of former New York Times columnist Sarah Jeong, who tweeted out insights such as: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins[?]” “[W]hite people mark up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.” Naturally, none of these blurt-outs stopped the New York Times from hiring her as a technology columnist. (She left the paper after about a year.)
And speaking of the New York Times, not all unhinged racist rants are unfurled in moments when such unhinged individuals are exercising sole editorial control over their own content. Some get edited and published in the likes of . . . the New York Times.
In a recent op-ed that somehow made it over the high hurdles the erstwhile paper of record used to erect to keep raving lunatics from achieving nationwide circulation, a woman who set up a little lending library on her front lawn had a meltdown over the fact that she caught sight of a white couple browsing the books.
“Instantly,” writes Erin Aubry Kaplan, “I was flooded with emotions—astonishment, and then resentment, and then astonishment at my resentment. It all converged into a silent scream in my head of, Get off my lawn!”
Kaplan then takes special care to make clear to the world that her resentment and silent scream were not personal, but rather, purely race-based: “What I resented was not this specific couple. It was their whiteness, and my feelings of helplessness at not knowing how to maintain the integrity of a Black space that I had created.”
When we are confronted by cases like this one, we are forced to conclude not only that the woman herself is motivated by race-based rage, but so are those who greenlighted this public exposition of that pathology.
Turning to pathologies, Black Lives Matter comes readily to mind. Living in New York City during the 2020 summer race riots, I saw a few actual “peaceful protests,” where people were gathered together, singing and dancing and spreading a positive message of finding our way to what the protestors saw as a more just society. More often, what I witnessed were protests full of people with contorted visages, angrily chanting and brandishing slogans such as “No Justice, No Peace” “A.C.A.B.” and “F— the police!” More recently, BLM leader Hawk Newsome threatened incoming New York City mayor Eric Adams with “riots,” “fire,” and “bloodshed” if Adams tries to fix the crime problem fostered by outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s willful neglect. It should not surprise anyone that BLM’s virulent antiwhite and/or anti-police rhetoric often leads to breakouts of actual violence.
I would be remiss not to mention that Ibram X. Kendi himself has a personal stake in this matter. Before he matured into a more sophisticated and refined antiwhite racist, he has had a history of inflammatory statements, such as referring to Europeans as having been “socialized to be aggressive people” and insisting that white people were fending off their racial extinction through the use of “psychological brainwashing” and “the AIDS virus.”
There are many more where these colorful instances came from, but the point is simply this: once someone comes forward with statements like those, we know immediately what their real feelings are about the general topic of race relations. Everything else they say, no matter how sensible or progressive it might sound, should be understood in that light.
But these obvious examples are not the end of the matter. Just as not all white supremacists come with burning crosses in hand, not all antiwhite hatemongers are intemperate and impolitic enough to go public with their “white genocide” fantasies. Sometimes, the hate comes packaged in more subtle forms, but these more par-for-the-course exemplars can be still more revealing about the true nature of much of the current species of “antiracism.”
Consider the general notions of “white privilege,” “white fragility,” or “whiteness” itself. We hear such terms thrown around with such frequency and reckless abandon nowadays that we no longer pause to ponder just how racist they actually are. But to appreciate the racism at work does not require much of an act of imagination. Suppose that someone invented similar-sounding toxic memes with “black” in the label, referring to “black entitlement,” “black criminality,” or “blackness” (i.e., used, like “whiteness,” to convey an idea of an oppressive, dysfunctional culture that needed to be combatted). We would, I would think, readily agree that such terms would constitute racism at work. The broader idea behind that commonsense insight is that concocting a loaded term entailing a sweeping racial label with a negative valence is a racist move, pure and simple. Such terms seethe with race-hatred in precisely the manner I have described.
Despite the absence of an express “white” modifier, the derisive label “Karen” is another example, as it inevitably refers to an entitled white woman. Again, imagine a corresponding scenario in which we started to use the name “Shamika” to mock the prototypical “angry black woman.”
Or, finally, take the fact that in the wake of the George Floyd incident, many publications, including the Associated Press and New York Times, have taken to capitalizing “Black” but not “white” when using these terms to refer to racial groups. Whatever rationalizations they might offer in their disingenuous apologias in defense of such madness, we can test our intuitions by imagining the reverse of this scenario and readily know that it would occasion an amply justified uproar.
But, again, we are best off dropping the crutch of reasoning our way to what should be, in retrospect, a set of obvious conclusions. Reasoning is actually what can lead us astray and get us in trouble in such cases. We know, without having to think about it for more than a split second, that capitalizing “Black” but not “white” is just plain wrong. This goes, as well, for other kinds of racial labels. A good gauge of these issues is to recall your initial reaction upon hearing such terms uttered, before they became normalized. If you first heard some frontline woke warrior speak derisively of “whiteness” and reacted with an instinctive cringe and a Huh? Come again? then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Moreover, the glaring fact that all these basic terms in the antiracist vocabulary are themselves ugly racist tropes should have the warning lights going off in our heads: Kendi’s attempted obfuscations notwithstanding, much of what passes for “antiracism” today is actually thinly veiled anti-white hate.
When we turn down the knob on the woke propaganda and tune back into those primal human intuitions, we come to realize that this isn’t actually that hard. We don’t need the likes of pedigreed victimology experts like Ibram X. Kendi to enlighten us on the topic, even if his reassurance that “Black anti-racists just want reparations and don’t want to enslave” is . . . well . . . not exactly reassuring. Those of us who understand the loony concept of reparations is just race-based retribution taught to drop the “or your life” part of the classic hold-up line when it comes to your doorstep with a claim on your cash. Each and every one of us knows the difference between a genuine progressive impulse driven by the dictates of universal love, however interpreted, and a regressive production animated, at bottom, by hatred and rage.
Good can come out of anger, to be sure, but rarely, if ever, in the heat of the moment. Anger turns constructive only when it is overmastered, filtered through the lens of reflection, and its initial spurt of frenzied destructive energy is deflected towards a higher purpose. Martin Luther King, Jr. might have said—in remarks often taken out of context and misused by those seeking to give their support of violence his imprimatur—that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” but he in no way endorsed riots. He made his feelings crystal clear a few moments earlier in those same remarks: “Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating . . . . So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way.”
It is, indeed, not the way. In its riotous violence and violent, anti-white rhetoric, contemporary anti-racism has, more often than not, lost its way, deviating towards the dark path of bare-faced, anti-white race hatred. If we fail to recognize it for what it is or allow others to persuade us to discard our precognitive intuitions, if we fail to take action now to root it out of our schools, our universities, our publications and our public life, we will find ourselves jolted out of our complacency when it is already too late to avert disaster, when the second civil war that seems to be looming on the horizon is already at our doorstep.