SHAPIRO: 8 Leftist Myths About Race & Racism In America

An American flag is displayed on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Racism is the greatest divide in American history. To deny the nasty history of racism in America would be foolish. From slavery to Jim Crow, black Americans were treated brutally, their opportunities withheld from them in immoral, evil, unconstitutional fashion. And racism isn’t restricted to black Americans, of course — Japanese Americans were interned during World War II, Chinese Americans were treated horrifically in the late 19th century, Jews were victims of discrimination.

But the Left suggests that because America has been replete with racism and bigotry historically, that means that racism pervades American society now. That’s not only untrue, it’s a cruel lie. Furthermore, we cannot acknowledge the racism that swamped America for two centuries without also acknowledging the central natural law principles that eventually led Americans to fight against that racism — that led hundreds of thousands of white Americans to die for the freedom of their black brothers in slavery, that led whites to march with blacks and legislate on behalf of blacks to end Jim Crow, that has created the most successful multiethnic democracy on the planet. Insulting our fellow Americans by calling them racists and blaming them for the problems of the past, or slurring America as a country with racism baked into our DNA, isn’t just counterproductive, it’s false.

Myth 1: All white people are inherently beneficiaries of “white privilege.”

Fact: The Left’s white privilege” narrative is false, used to divide and silence, and promotes racist assumptions.

The Left pushes a theory called “intersectionality,” which suggests that we are all members of broader groups, that our identities as members of those groups make us victims or victimizers, and that we’re capable of speaking out on a particular issue only to someone more “privileged” than we are. The “privilege” hierarchy goes something like this, as described by Damon Linker in The Week: straight white male at the top, then “straight, able-bodied white women, with straight ‘people of color’ of either gender even less privileged, followed by gay, lesbian, transgendered, and disabled variations on each identity category — with a hypothetical disabled black lesbian perhaps least privileged of all.” This hierarchy, of course, means that white males should shut up.[1]

The “system” was built to benefit white males, say members of the campus left; the Founding Fathers designed a governmental and economic system to protect their own evil interest, at the expense of minorities everywhere. This “white privilege” extends to every area of American life. It’s inescapable. You’re born into it so long as you’re born white; you’re born with a heavy burden on your back that can never truly be alleviated if you’re born non-white, non-straight, non-male.

Now, before we go further, it’s important to define our terms. It is true that black people, and other minorities, suffered historic discrimination in the United States. That’s inarguably true. It’s even true that some people are likely still suffering the effects of historic discrimination under Jim Crow. But that doesn’t mean black people are suffering institutional discrimination now. And historic discrimination is insufficient to explain current levels of inequality, or to justify discrimination against white people who had nothing to do with Jim Crow.

Individuals all over America have different histories, ranging from the wealthy to the poor. Some people are born rich, some are born poor; some have histories of discrimination, some have histories of privilege. Nobody is capable of righting wrongs done to people three generations ago by penalizing people who had no part in those wrongs without doing grave injustice. The solution to historic injustice isn’t modern injustice.

Three generations ago, my people were being slaughtered by the millions in Europe, and FDR wouldn’t let Jews into the country. That doesn’t mean there’s widespread anti-Jewish privilege throughout America that requires restitution from the government or today’s taxpayers.

In the United States virtually all such inequalities result not from historic injustices but from cultures that embrace poor values. Individual failures in the United States aren’t due to an unfair system, by and large, but to individual irresponsibility and bad decision-making. And inequality among groups exists in every society in history. We can’t fix where you start in life. That’s beyond your control and it’s beyond my control. But the notion of “white privilege” suggests that you can never overcome where you started in life because there’s a big bear called “white privilege” trying to eat you — that if you make all the right decisions, white privilege will still stand in your way.

That’s a lie.

“White privilege” is a way to divide, to silence. We can all agree that discrimination is terrible. We can all stand together when a black man is wrongfully shot by police. But to attribute that shooting to unspecified “white privilege” and then state that America itself is racist is actually racist in and of itself. You can’t assume white people don’t care about innocent black people getting shot without evidence. That’s disgusting — and by the way, it’s racist.

Myth 2: Social justice must be pursued.

Fact: Social justice is injustice.

Today, hardcore leftists call themselves social justice warriors. They do this because they believe that individual justice is racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic. Individual justice suggests that we each be held responsible for our actions. But the SJWs think that’s unfair. After all, we’re not just individuals — we’re members of groups! What if those groups are disproportionately poor? What if they’re disproportionately in jail? How can we achieve group justice if individual justice keeps getting in the way?

The most coherent advocate for social justice is the philosopher John Rawls. Rawls suggested that individual justice wasn’t justice at all, because it didn’t create actual fairness — it only created the appearance of fairness. Rawls believed that “undeserved inequalities call for redress.” As Thomas Sowell explains:

A fight in which both boxers observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules would be a fair fight, according to traditional standards of fairness, irrespective of whether the contestants were of equal skill, strength, experience or other factors likely to affect the outcome — and irrespective of whether that outcome was a hard-fought draw or a completely one-sided beating. This would not, however, be a fair fight within the framework of those seeking “social justice,” if the competing fighters came into the ring with very different prospects of success — especially if these differences were due to factors beyond their control.[2]

The Left’s supposed hatred of “privilege” springs from their quest for what they term “social justice.” Now, social justice is an oxymoron. Justice is, by necessity, individual. If a guilty man is acquitted because he’s the right race, that’s anti-justice. If an innocent man is convicted because he’s the wrong race, that’s anti-justice. White southerners in To Kill a Mockingbird would have said that Tom Robinson’s murder was “social justice.” Black racists would have said that Nicole Simpson’s murder was “social justice.” Social justice suggests that your group identity relieves you of individual responsibility.

As Sowell points out, the Left seeks a “quest for cosmic justice,” an attempt to overcome all imbalances in nature by violating individual rights and destroying individual liberties. It is unjust, as Sowell says, to force a poor student to study more — but if we don’t, the poor student falls behind. And it is just as unjust to force a good student to redistribute his income to the poor student in the future rather than driving the poor student to a higher level of success on his own. Social justice isn’t merely unfair, it’s counterproductive.[3]

Myth 3: Talking incessantly about racism decreases racial inequality.

Fact: Exaggerated focus on “institutional” racism exacerbates racial inequality.

Leftists routinely justify their insistence on spotting racism behind every rock and tree by stating that awareness must be raised — that if we’re all worried about racism, that will make racism less of a problem. In April 2016, Hillary Clinton vowed to use the bully pulpit to talk even more about “systemic racism”:

We are still facing and struggling with systemic racism … we have to talk about it more. And as a white person, I have to talk about it more. And say that we are not a post-racial society. We still struggle with racism and it is not only wrong, but it is holding us back. … We have to use the bully pulpit, which I intend to use, to speak out about systemic racism every chance I get.[4]

It’s obviously true that real instances of racism must be called out and fought. But it is certainly untrue that talk about generalized racism somehow alleviates racial inequality. It doesn’t. It merely makes people angrier and less likely to participate in the political process.

First off, constant talk about racism raises racial tensions rather than quieting it. In April 2016, Gallup found that worries about race relations had reached an all-time high.

  • In 2010, just 13 percent of Americans worried about race relations; by 2016, that number was 35 percent. That was particularly true among Democrats and blacks.
  • From 2012-2014, just 22 percent of Democrats worried about race relations; that number jumped to 37 percent in 2015-2016.
  • For blacks, the number jumped from 31 percent to a whopping 53 percent.[5]

Did generalized talk about racism make racial inequalities better? There’s no evidence that it did.

  • In 2007, the wage gap between blacks and whites was 23.9 percent.
  • In 2015, the black-white wage gap increased to 26.7 percent.[6]
  • As of 2013, the median wealth for white families was $141,099; for black families, it was $11,000.[7]

You know what has helped exacerbate racial inequality? Perception of racism. According to a study from Northwestern University, perception of racial victimhood exacerbated stress, driving down concentration, motivation, and learning. According to the study, perception of discrimination led to “lower grades, less academic motivation . . . and less persistence when encountering an academic challenge.”

Naturally, the Left says that perception only exists when there is a reality to perceive. But that’s not necessarily the case. Focus on phantom discrimination can do real damage.[8]

Myth 4: “Diversity is our strength.”

Fact: Commonality of values is our strength.

Robert Putnam, author of the book Bowling Alone, is a leftist who once believed in the mantra “diversity is our strength.” Then he started doing experiments regarding communities, and what he saw was that diversity in communities — racial, ethnic diversity, which these days comes along with diversity of fundamental values thanks to the Left — didn’t lead to better, more cohesive, more tolerant communities. He said, “The only two things that go up as the diversity of your census track goes up are protest marches and television watching.”[9]

Putnam concluded that the only way to create social capital — that stuff that allows us to leave our doors unlocked at night and trust each other to babysit our kids — comes from shared values. The only thing that could allow people of diverse backgrounds to live together and overcome their tribalism was decency.

Myth 5: Disproportionate minority poverty is a result of institutional racism.

Fact: Poverty in America is chiefly a result of decision-making, particularly about marriage and education.

To avoid permanent poverty in the United States is not particularly difficult. You must simply follow three rules, according to the left-leaning Brookings Institute:

  1. finish high school
  2. get a full-time job
  3. wait until age 21 to get married and have children

According to Brookings, “of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class.”[10] Fully 71 percent of poor families with children are unmarried. The poverty rate among non-married white families was 21.7 percent as of 2008; the poverty rate among black married couples that same year was 6.9 percent.[11]

The question of intergenerational poverty isn’t one of race, but one of decision-making. And it’s not a question of racism, either. The single motherhood rate has jumped across racial lines, and white people are not forcing black women to get pregnant out of wedlock disproportionately.

Then there’s the question of who actually earns in the United States. If color is inherently tied to privilege, why is it that according to the Census Bureau, in 2015 the racial group with the highest median income was . . . wait for it . . . Asians?[12] Was that because the American system is based on Asian privilege, or because Asians have historically been treated fantastically well (forget all the internment stuff or the exploitation of Asians on the railroads), or because the Constitution is written in Korean?

Myth 6: Government was required to end racial discrimination in private business.

Fact: Government was required to enforce racial discrimination in private business.

In the 1964 Civil Rights Act, seeking in good heart and good faith to end racial discrimination, Congress decided to restrict the association rights of anyone involved in “public accommodation” — any business serving the public, including hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs, and stores. The rationale behind such heavy-handed policy was obvious: discrimination against blacks was widespread throughout the United States.

While the current myth holds that private discrimination was ended by the Civil Rights Act, the fact remains that it was public discrimination that the Civil Rights Act was designed to counter. Jim Crow was enforced by the government. Blacks occupied the Woolworth’s lunch counter to fight segregation in February 1960, four years before the Civil Rights Act; by July, thanks to the involvement of students, civil rights organizations, and churches, Woolworth’s opened its lunch counter to everyone regardless of race.[13] That’s because capitalism is utterly color-blind — the only color that matters is green.

But official Jim Crow discrimination remained the law of the land throughout states like Alabama, where the lawmandated segregated seating areas at restaurants. The government prevented desegregation; the government came in and mandated integration. The cure, while rightly motivated, did not meet the illness.

Myth 7: Affirmative action benefits minorities.

Fact: Affirmative action is racist and causes higher dropout rates and serious problems in hiring.

The logic of affirmative action according to the Left goes something like this: black people have been the historic victims of discrimination, and therefore, black people today must be given special privileges in order to rectify the imbalances of history. They will be more successful if they are granted additional access to institutions from which they were once barred.

The logic doesn’t hold.

First off, we’re all born with histories. Some of those histories contain more victimization than others. But advocating for victimization of others as recompense accomplishes nothing except to perpetuate the cycle of discontent. The answer to historic injustice isn’t perpetuation of current injustice.

Then there’s the uncomfortable fact that affirmative action simply doesn’t work.

According to Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, writing for the left-leaning Brookings Institute, affirmative action is essentially a failure. They conclude, “not only did significant advances pre-date the affirmative action era, but the benefits of race-conscious politics are not clear. . . . In the decades since affirmative action policies were first instituted, the poverty rate has remained basically unchanged. Despite black gains by numerous other measures, close to 30 percent of black families still live below the poverty line.”[14]

There’s also the serious problem of drop-out rates among affirmative action admittees to college. Let’s say a black student performed well enough to get into Duke University but not Yale. Putting that student at Yale means that instead of flourishing in an environment in which that student has earned membership, that student will now be the low man on the totem pole. In an article published in The Atlantic in 2012, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. highlight some of the ways this “mismatch” issue negatively impacts black students:

  • “mismatched” black students (students who got in through significant affirmative action) are “twice as likely to be derailed” from pursuing a doctorate and an academic career;
  • black law school grads are four times as likely to fail the bar as their white counterparts;
  • black college freshman want to go into science or engineering more than white students, but are twice as likely to drop out;
  • “About half of black college students rank in the bottom 20 percent of their classes (and the bottom 10 percent in law school).”

Myth 8: Minorities are turned down for loans at banks because of color.

Fact: Banks turn down loans over financial factors.

Advocates for “white privilege” also argue that non-white people are victimized by institutional “redlining” — banks rejecting people because of the color of their skin.

There’s only one problem with this theory: banks reject more whites than Asians, too. And when the government attempted to cram down subprime mortgage regimes in order to rectify the supposed imbalance, the economy collapsed.[15]

This is the beauty of capitalism – it only cares about the color green. If banks were to redline entire races thanks to discrimination, there are a bevy of other financial institutions that would step in and benefit. In fact, minority groups have routinely created such institutions in times of widespread discrimination. As discrimination died out, so did such industries. Nicholas Lash of Loyola University Chicago says that the evidence for discrimination against black borrowers is inconclusive at best.[16]



[1] Damon Linker, “Liberals are drunk on a political poison called intersectionality,” TheWeek.com, January 11, 2017 http://theweek.com/articles/672265/liberals-are-drunk-political-poison-called-intersectionality

[2] Thomas Sowell, “The Quest For Cosmic Justice,” TSowell.com http://www.tsowell.com/spquestc.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Oliver Darcy, “Clinton: As a ‘White Person’ I Need to Talk About Racism More,” TheBlaze.com, April 25, 2016 http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2016/04/25/clinton-as-a-white-person-i-need-to-talk-about-racism-more/

[5] Jim Norman, “US Worries About Race Relations Reach a New High,” Gallup.com, April 11, 2016 http://www.gallup.com/poll/190574/worries-race-relations-reach-new-high.aspx

[6]  Niall McCarthy, “Income Inequality Between White And Black Americans Is Worse Today Than In 1979,” Forbes.com, September 21, 2016 http://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/09/21/income-inequality-between-white-black-americans-is-worse-today-than-in-1979-infographic/#1702a5107da5

[7] Tanzina Vega, “Why the racial wealth gap won’t go away,” CNN.com, January 25, 2016 http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/25/news/economy/racial-wealth-gap/?iid=EL

[8] Melinda D. Anderson, “How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning,” TheAtlantic.com, October 11, 2016 http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/how-the-stress-of-racism-affects-learning/503567/

[9] “Political Scientist: Does Diversity Really Work?,” NPR.org, August 15, 2007 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12802663

[10] Ron Haskins, “Three Simple Rules Poor Teens Should Follow to Join the Middle Class,” Brookings.edu, March 13, 2013 https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/three-simple-rules-poor-teens-should-follow-to-join-the-middle-class/

[11] Robert Rector, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” Heritage.org, September 2010 http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/09/marriage-america-s-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty

[12] Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica L. Semega, Melissa A. Kollar, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015,” Census.gov, September 2016 http://www.census.gov/data/tables/2016/demo/income-poverty/p60-256.html

[13] “Freedom Struggle: Sitting for Justice: Woolworth’s Lunch Counter,” Americanhistory.si.edu http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/6-legacy/freedom-struggle-2.html

[14] Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom, “Black Progress: how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go,” Brookings.edu, March 1, 1998 https://www.brookings.edu/articles/black-progress-how-far-weve-come-and-how-far-we-have-to-go/

[15] Thomas Sowell, “Bankrupt ‘Exploiters,’” NationalReview.com, July 22, 2008 <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/225093/bankrupt-exploiters-thomas-sowell>

[16] Charles Gerena, “Opening the Vault,” Ebony.com, August 2016 http://www.ebony.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/economic_history.pdf

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