On Friday, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought told federal agencies to stop using training materials based on Marxist critical theory, at the direction of President Donald Trump. These training materials have insisted that America is fundamentally racist and that all white people benefit from “white privilege.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson insisted that by issuing this directive and by warning against Joe Biden’s plan for the federal government to take over local zoning, Trump was “shouting his racism.”
“All of this is nothing less than undisguised white supremacy. Trump wants White voters to fear the Black Lives Matter movement. He wants them to see it not as a demand for justice and fairness but as a mortal threat to White privilege — to fear the very concept of White privilege as some kind of attack,” Robinson charged.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody, the Left has vocally embraced a movement that describes itself as “anti-racist.” Scholars like Ibram X. Kendi insist that modern America is beset by “structural racism.” In his book Stamped From the Beginning, Kendi explains the basic logic of “anti-racism”: People of all races are inherently equal, but some races have more money/prominence than others, therefore the society must be racist.
Kendi attacks two different groups of people: outright racists and “assimilationists.” He argues that most Americans still harbor racist ideas, and he claims that any explanation for racial disparities besides “structural racism” is inherently racist.
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America’s long and successful struggle to ban outright racial discrimination in the law does not matter to the “anti-racist” movement. It does not matter that black people tend to dominate sports like basketball and football due to their individual training and success. It does not matter that a wide variety of factors explains why police tend to regard young black men with more suspicion, most notably crime rates.
Black people are more likely to face stigma and they are more likely to be seen as representatives of the black community, rather than being seen as individuals. This is a double-edged sword: it means black people are unjustly regarded with suspicion but it also means that there is a bias in favor of black people in some schools, jobs, and professions.
Yet reformers have worked hard to excise racial discrimination from American law. Attorney General Bill Barr recently explained why he believes there is no such thing as “systemic racism.”
“To me the word ‘systemic’ means that it’s built into the institution and I don’t think that’s true,” the AG said. “I think our institutions have been reformed in the past 60 years, and if anything is built-in, it’s a bias to nondiscrimination and safeguards against [racism.]”
“Racism usually means that I believe that because of your race you’re a lesser human being than me. I think there are people in the United States who feel that way but I don’t think it is as common as people suggest and I think we have safeguards to ensure that it doesn’t really have an effect on someone’s future,” Barr added. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the past 60 years. To listen to the American Left nowadays, you’d think we have gotten nowhere.”
The “anti-racism” movement does not dispute the fact that progress has been made. It does, however, claim that the progress is not enough.
Only one explanation is allowed
“Anti-racism” posits the idea that black people make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, they should have 13.4 percent of the wealth, 13.4 percent of the positions on corporate boards, 13.4 percent of CEO jobs, et cetera et cetera. Since black people do not enjoy 13.4 percent of the wealth, the system must be racist — even if American law explicitly outlaws any form of racial discrimination.
As Philip Carl Salzman has pointed out, the National Football League is 70 percent black. According to the “anti-racism” logic, that means black people are grossly overrepresented in the NFL. They are also grossly overrepresented in the NBA (74.4 percent black). Similarly, Asian Americans (6 percent of America) are grossly overrepresented at the University of California-Berkeley (29 percent), and they are overrepresented among medical doctors (17.1 percent).
Are the NFL and NBA anti-white and is the American medical profession racist for Asians? Or are there other explanations behind these disparities? Perhaps America isn’t “institutionally racist” in favor of black football players any more than it is “institutionally racist” in favor of Asian doctors. Free Americans make free decisions for a variety of social, economic, and personal reasons, and some tend to do better in certain arenas than others.
The data does not suggest a blanket anti-black racism in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center, “Black immigrants from Africa are more likely than Americans overall to have a college degree or higher.” A full 59 percent of foreign-born Americans of Nigerian origin have undergraduate or graduate degrees around double the percentage of the American population.
The anti-racism” narrative deprives black Americans of their agency to make their own decisions. Attributing every disparity to “institutional racism” treats people like automata. The story is far more complicated than the “anti-racist” narrative suggests.
Marxist critical theory
As for Trump’s response to Marxist critical theory lessons about “white privilege,” the president was responding to dangerous ideas that have inspired violent riots across America. Trump also decided to crack down on schools that teach the 1619 Project, which claims that America’s true founding came not with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 but with the arrival of the first black slaves in 1619.
(While the first black slaves arrived in the land that would become South Carolina as early as 1526, the 1619 Project is more concerned with branding America as inherently and fundamentally racist than with particular dates. The project’s founder, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has admitted that her enterprise is “not about history,” but rather about “memory” and the “national narrative.”)
The 1619 Project uses the very same Marxist critical theory that the DOD taught under Obama to demonize America and inspire an unguided and destructive revolution. Portland activist Lilith Sinclair expressed a similar idea when she said, “There’s still a lot of work to undo the harm of colonized thought that has been pushed onto Black and indigenous communities.” As examples of “colonized thought,” she mentioned Christianity and the “gender binary.” She said she organizes for “the abolition of … the United States as we know it.”
Marxist critical theory encourages people to deconstruct various aspects of society — such as capitalism, science the nuclear family, the Judeo-Christian tradition, even expectations of politeness (as the Smithsonian briefly taught) — as examples of white oppression. This inspires an aimless and destructive revolution.
When vandals toppled a statue of George Washington in Portland, they spray-painted “1619” on the statue. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones, responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots and the defamation of American Founding Fathers like George Washington.
In a November 9, 1995 op-ed, the 1619 Project founder condemned Christopher Columbus as “no different” from Adolf Hitler and demonized the “white race” as the true “savages” and “bloodsuckers.” She went on to describe “white America’s dream” as “colored America’s nightmare.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) expressed a similar sentiment when she called for the “dismantling” of America’s “economy and political system,” in order to root out supposed racist oppression.
Yet the “1619 riots” have arguably oppressed black people far more than the U.S. supposedly does. The riots have destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
“Anti-racism” rhetoric fuels Marxist critical theory by insisting that “institutional racism” is rampant across America — no other explanation for racial disparities is allowed. Ibram X. Kendi has himself confessed that he harbored what he calls “racist ideas” and had to train himself to reject the idea that black people have any negative role in the struggles of the black community. This movement exiles alternative explanations from the outset. The only explanation allowed is “institutional racism” and the only solution for that is a revolution.