Anybody who’s not on the hard left of the political spectrum has probably been called “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “transphobic,” or something along these lines. It’s gotten to be so commonplace that conservatives have generally stopped bothering to argue about it. As the saying goes, “a ‘racist’ is someone who’s winning an argument with a leftist.” Indeed, one may have noticed a trending increase in the use of the term “white supremicist” rather than “racist.” This shows only that “racist” has lost its effect.
In war, leaders seek to dehumanize the enemy, as it makes it easier for soldiers to kill them. Most people (most non-sociopaths, anyway) generally recoil in horror at the idea of killing another human being.
Hence, in the Revolutionary War, you had Yankee Doodles and Redcoats (or “lobsterbacks”). In the civil war, you had Yanks and Rebs. In World Wars I and II, you had, variously, Krauts, Frogs, Nips, etc, etc. And so it goes.
All of these names are applied so that the guy looking down the rifle sight – the guy with a conscience – can kill the enemy without morality getting in the way.
One may, as I do, find this lamentable, but it’s the way of war, and I suspect always has been, and always will be.
With that in mind, let’s think again about some of those terms I discussed at the beginning. “Racist,” “sexist,” etc.
I grew up in the shadow of the 60s. I was born in 1966, so most of my formative years were in the 70s. At that time racism was something you saw every day. White kids would call the black kids “the n-word” on the playground. There was the Boston bussing crisis. The KKK was active. Social “scientists” were discovering the full extent of racial discrimination in hiring. When someone was called a racist or a bigot, it was usually with fairly solid justification, and it was a label very few people wanted.
The Civil Rights Movement had already won its most important victories by then, and culturally, most people – or at least most young people – had bought into the idea that people of all races should be equal. (Note that, at that time, what was meant by “being equal” was equality before the law, as well as being seen as fully human individuals with the same worth as anyone else.)
There was an emphasis on the “individual” part in those days. The idea was that you shouldn’t judge an individual based on what you think of his racial background.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the turn of the century: As real racism receded, professors of what, at the time, was known as “Black Studies” started to redefine the term.
Many of the Black/Womens/various ethnic studies departmens were created in response to student demands during the campus riots of the 60s. One can debate whether or not such departments were needed, but once created, they became an established interest group with professional leaders (at the time, college professors, later, community organizers, and the like).
The fading away of real, overt racism left them in a bind. If the problem is largely solved, why study it? And if there’s no reason to study it, then somebody is out of a job. The professional activists had to get a little creative. As the belief that one race might be superior to another died, the term “racist” got stretched. It began to morph into things like “unconscious racism,” “cultural bias,” “Institutional racism” at the like. The academy, and the network of professional activists that had grown up around it began to formulate an idea of racism that didn’t include actual racists.
But the idea of people – white people – as the driving force behind racism wouldn’t die so easily. In the absence of many actual racists, the idea of individuality was jettisoned. All black people were to be black first, and anything else second. All white people were white first, and responsible for all the impersonal, institutional and subconscious racism of all other white people. This did two things for the professional activists. 1) It gave them a “problem” which was intangable, and therefore impossible to disprove (or prove, either, but they didn’t worry so much about that), and 2) It brought them into a partnership with other disciplines where there was a Marxist bent (which was much of the humanities at the time).
And so, these “studies” departments became part of the academic Marxist machine which had been under construction since the founding of the Frankfurt School. With a broad base of support, in no small part by younger faculty who’d been influenced by these departments as students, the “studies” departments began to proliferate. “Queer Studies,” “Gender Studies,” and other studies devoted to the “oppression” of minority groups.
The approaches and perspectives may have differed, but the central message was always the same: White males have constructed a society that oppresses everyone who isn’t a white male.
Now, it’s not terribly difficult to refute a lot of this stuff, and the tenured activists know this. Thus, the critique of “whiteness” seeks to discredit such ideas as logic, evidence, and deductive reasoning and replace them with “other ways of knowing,” which basically amounts to personal experience. (Indeed, one of the more troubling developments in academia is the rise of the so-called “auto-ethnography.” This is where one does “academic work” by writing about oneself. Don’t laugh. This is treated as serious research, and is published in peer-reviewed journals and everything.)
The Obama years fed this beast lavishly. With executive orders, regulations, and tortured interpretations of Title IX, the Marxist stronghold on the university became a stranglehold that exists to this day. And on the “academic” front, a new concept has entered the hive mind: intersectionality.
Intersectionality says that all these “isms” and “phobias” – racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, etc, ad nauseam, are part of mutually reinforcing system of oppression against anyone who isn’t a white male. Indeed, in some places, some of these “Studies” departments are being linked together under the rubric of “Oppression Studies” or “Social Justice Studies”.
Regardless of the area of study, all of these departments teach that the United States is a morass of oppression. That a black person, or a gay person, or – heaven forfend – a gay black person faces a constant barrage of belittlement, rejection, and sorrow. Moreover, things we tend to think of as unambiguously good – freedom of speech, the press, religion, presumption of innocence – the various foundations of western law and civilization, are, we’re told, inventions of white people that are designed to serve and reinforce oppression.
The idea that anyone in America is oppressed is clearly risible. Women in America may pay more for clothes, but women in Syria, say, face sexual slavery, forced marriages, genital mutilation, honor killings, and are wholly under the command of their fathers or husbands. Black people may have a tough time finding a job, but slavery still exists in the middle east, and tribal violence is rampant across Africa.
This is not to say that minority groups don’t face problems here, but to compare African Americans to, say, the Yazidi in Syria, is absolutely absurd. By global standards, what counts as “oppression” in America is little more than inconvenience.
Never the less, “oppression studies” continue to thrive, and their influence is felt far beyond their departments. A student of, say, Physics may not have much interest in far-left navel-gazing, but that student will probably be required to take some sort of “social justice” class, where he will be told that as a cisgendered, white, heterosexual male, he is an oppressor. If he dissents, he may face not only the derision of the professor and classmates, but his GPA may suffer, and he may even face disciplinary action.
If someone is oppressed, then someone else has to be the oppressor. Even if the oppressor is an impersonal system, white men, we are told, are to blame for creating that system, and therefore white men are still the oppressors, even if they personally haven’t done any oppressing.
The expected response in the classroom is that the white people will recognize and acknowledge their own unconscious isms and phobias, and will make some sort of gesture of obeisance. I’ve seen more than one post on social media that begins with something like, “I realize that as a white person, I’m coming from a very privileged place on this…”
But what if one disagrees? From what I hear, most non-conforming students just keep their heads down and mouth the platitudes until the class is over. But those who speak up are labeled.
And because of the idea of intersectionality, if you’re one of these things, you’re all of these things. You are, in effect, a Nazi.
That any American who is not an actual member of a Nazi party is called a Nazi should boil the blood of every Jew in the world. The actual Nazis tried to exterminate them, and made a pretty good go of it. That anyone could convince themselves that American conservatives – nay, American non-Marxists – are of a piece with those who loaded the trains and stoked the ovens is so reprehensible that one (or at least I) can feel physical revulsion at the idea.
And yet, here we are, with Americans calling other Americans Nazis. And meaning it! We’re not talking “soup nazis” here.
According to the people doing the name calling, it’s even OK to punch “nazis”. I mean, if you’d had the chance to do violence to Hitler before he came to power, wouldn’t you have done it? Wouldn’t it have been a good thing?
It’s an interesting ethical question, but the people being targeted are not nearly Hitler. Not even remotely. In terms of moral repugnance, they don’t even approach the level of a random truck driver in the German army.
But it’s okay to punch them. It’s a good thing. It’s the right thing.
What is this if not a dehumanization tactic? The word “Nazi” conjures an image of the worst people in history (never mind that the communists in Russia and China killed more people – we didn’t fight a shooting war with them). The leftists of today are borrowing the dehumanization of the Germans from the military of WWII, and applying it to Americans whose only crime is believing that Milo Yianopolous has as much right to speak as Elizabeth Warren.
So. Racist. Homophobe. Ableist.
Fascist. Nazi. “Literally Hitler”.
All these labels are of a piece, and they serve the same purpose. The purpose is to make it morally acceptable to hate – really HATE, on a visceral level – white people (white men especially), and anyone who pushes back against the far-left party line. And with that hate, an accepting of violence towards its objects. Hence we see people assaulted for wearing MAGA hats or Trump t-shirts. We see people maced and beaten in riots over speakers. We see an attempted (and partially successful) massacre of Republican Congressmen.
If it’s not completely obvious, this is going to lead to a very bad place. The tendency of violence is to escalate. We are beginning to see a hardening of attitudes on the right lately. “If they want a fight, we’ll give ‘em one,” seems to be a growing sentiment.
If this trend remains unchecked it’ll lead to riots at the very least, and possibly even civil war. (That term has started to pop up on Twitter a good bit lately).
So what can we do about it?
I’d like to see this trend stop, but I’m not sure it’s possible. It may be that the forces of history and human nature will ensure that the USA will splinter in violent conflict. I sincerely hope that that’s not the case.
For my own part, what I’ve chosen to do is to take a page from the leftist playbook, and call out this behavior when I see it. To that end, I’ve coined a term for the name calling. I call it “hate labeling”. The reason that I’ve chosen this term is that it combines two things that leftists are supposedly against (but aren’t really, depending on the target) hate, and labels.
Much of the justification for targeting non-leftists is that we engage in “hate speech.” Hate is clearly bad, and I want to make it clear that what they are doing is hate-based. And people – young people in particular – don’t like being labeled. Call a millennial “a millennial” and see what kind of reaction you get.
My hope is that the term will catch on, and any time someone gets called a “racist” or something similar, they’ll feel free to say, “Don’t put your hate labels on me.”
Will this change anything? I don’t know. My hope is that it will make at least a few of them examine what they’re doing and why. At the very least, it might give regular people a way of turning the radicals’ hate back on them.
I don’t have too much hope that this will happen. I’m just a nobody, and have zero influence. I’m hoping that someone with a little more influence likes the term and starts using it. I don’t even care if I get credit for coining it.