At Virginia Tech Thursday night during the Q&A session following his speech, Daily Wire Editor-in Chief Ben Shapiro eviscerated the argument for "institutional racism" in a memorable five-minute dialogue with a leftist student. There were no raised voices, just a back and forth in which Shapiro destroyed the left's use of the term to foist their beliefs on the rest of the American public. The discussion went like this:
Student: Hi. Thank you for your time and thank you for coming here. I disagree with a lot of what you said tonight.
Shapiro: Good! That’s what makes it fun.
Student: I don’t believe that being transgender means that you have some sort of mental illness,
Student: … and I think that the majority of the psychological, like national, associations would agree with that. I think there’s a lot of evidence that institutional racism exists and that it manifests itself in very real and negative and harmful ways.
Student: But I don’t feel any violence or animosity towards you, and I would say that most of the people that I know might wish that you …
Shapiro: Didn’t exist. (laughter from crowd.)
Student: … wouldn’t spread ideas that they find harmful and negative. But they don’t feel any direct ill will towards you in any violent way -
Shapiro: Well, that’s good. Then we’re moving in the right direction.
Student: So I guess what I’ve been feeling throughout this talk is kind of this vast mischaracterization of the left as some sort of homogenous, violent, oppressive body. And I think that the majority of the people that I know, and the majority of interactions I’ve had with communities on a larger scale have not matched that representation. So I was wondering if you could kind of talk a little bit about the non-violent –
Shapiro: Sure. So there are two aspects to the non-violence, okay? And I think one you will agree with and one you will disagree with. So the one that you will agree with is the one that you’ve already agreed with, which is that you don’t get to hurt people just because of what they’re saying. Right? This we all agree with. This is also the distinction, there’s a reason I use the word leftist and not the word liberal. I think there is a distinction between people who are liberals and people who are leftists. I think that people who are liberals may disagree with me on politics, but they don’t feel that they get to use force to shut people down; leftists don’t feel the same way. It’s a natural distinction.
Now here’s the part where we’ll disagree. I think that if you are seeking to use the government to cram down your particular vision of society on individuals in violation of their freedom, that this is an aspect of totalitarianism. Whether you want to shut me down, or whether, or whether, you want to, let’s pretend for a second, that I were a baker, and let’s say that I’m a religious baker. I’m a religious person, so let’s say that I were a baker. And let’s say that I don’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding, because I believe that that’s sinful in my own religious belief. My belief is that that’s none of your business. The belief of most people on the left is that there should be legislation that forces me to cater to that same-sex wedding. By polls, this is true.
So, now we’re getting into dicey territory because now this does implicate violence, it implicates governmentally-used violence. So I’m happy you’re a libertarian, essentially with regard to my speech. But when it comes to my behavior, you’re significantly less libertarian than I am. You can do what you want; I don’t care. But people on the left deeply care what I do in my personal life; that they have no right to my labor and they have no right to my services. So this is where the pedal hits the metal in terms of American politics; and this is where the pedal will hit the metal as the government starts getting more and more deeply involved. As far as institutional racism, all I’d ask you to consider, you can believe what you want, but I’d ask you to consider this: Shouting “institutional racism” does not actually combat racism. You have to find individual instances, you have to show me who the racists are so we can fight them together.
I hate racism. I think it’s evil. But if you’re just going to say “institutional racism” every time something bad happens, there’s no way to fight it. I need a policy that you’re proposing, or I need a person who’s actually racist so we can fight it together, or we can determine whether the policy is good. What I find really problematic is the virtue signaling that I see by so many people on the other side, which is: I don’t have to give you the racist, I don’t have to tell you who he is or what measures I’m proposing; I just say “institutional racism,” everybody cheers for me, because that’s an approved point of view, and now we move on with our lives. You haven’t helped anybody; you’ve just made yourself feel better.
Student: Institutional racism, in and of itself, first of all, I would say that the majority of people who do bring up institutional racism do also have solutions as to combat it –
Shapiro: Invariably involving encroaching on other people’s liberty, but yes?
Student (as audience laughed): Well, um, I would just say that there ... is … again, I feel like you’re painting a wide and diverse group of people with the same brush, in saying that if you can’t point to a policy or if you can’t point to a person, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time, and I think that a lot of people are trying to point to policies, and while I think that the idea of pointing to a racist person is fundamentally in contrast with the idea with the idea of institutional racism because institutional racism grapples with implicit bias, in the society as a whole – not like a ghost with a sheet, but in individuals.
Shapiro: Unless you’re connecting that to a policy, it’s a copout. Because now we’re ghost hunting again. If you just said to me, we have a problem in American society: “income inequality” is a problem in American society, if you just gave me any problem, and I said, “well, that’s the Bilderberg’s fault. That’s the fault of the Bilderbergs. It’s a conspiracy; it’s the fault of the Bilderbergs. There are all these conspiracy theories about the Bilderberg group. Let’s say it’s the Bilderberg’s fault, or it’s the protocols of the elders of Zion, whatever it is, there’s some sort of conspiracy out there.” You would say to me, “That’s not useful, what are you even talking about?”
When you say “institutional racism,” it’s too broad. You have to at least name me the institution. Which one is the racist one? Which institution is racist? Tell me. So we can fight it -- seriously, so we can fight it together. Just shouting slogans like “institutional racism” is not, it’s not effective. Shouting “white privilege” is not effective.
I want to be on your side. I do. I want to fight racists. Again, I think racist behavior is evil. I want to fight it with you. But I can’t fight it if you’re not showing me what it is. We have to decide together if the policies you’re proposing will alleviate racism or exacerbate racism. And it turns out I think that a lot of the policies proposed by the left –I think “institutional racism” is a way, is usually a lever for proposing a policy that is actually unpalatable to freedom, and then castigating people on the other side of that policy as being in league with the “institutional racism.” The policies are either good or bad, without regard to words like “institutional racism,” is what I’m saying. Honestly, I would love to sit down and talk with you for an hour about it, because it’s a worthwhile conversation, and I think we could actually get somewhere with it, but I think that slogans generally tend not to be particularly effective in getting us to solutions.
The exchange begins at 1:03:41: