I hope all my readers will join me in my exciting new quest to become less white. Previously, I had thought this would require an expensive membership at my local tanning salon. Now, thanks to a scandal surrounding the Coca-Cola Company (to which I refer at all times for guidance in ethics and personal formation) I have learned that being less white does not in fact require altering the pigmentation of my skin.
“To be less white,” according to the “Confronting Racism” online training course, “is to be less oppressive. To be less arrogant. To be less certain. To be less defensive.” Presumably it is also to be kinder, smarter, gentler, and better at baking pies.
I am moreover assured via corporate statement that “Confronting Racism” is not part of Coca-Cola’s mandatory curriculum but merely an adjunct to their “learning plan to help build an inclusive workplace.” This plan includes — but does not mandate, thank goodness! — “access to LinkedIn Learning on a variety of topics, including on diversity, equity and inclusion.”
What a relief! For a moment I had thought that a major American corporation was inviting its employees to believe that their ethnic heritage — or, even more crudely, their phenotype — was a major determiner of their personal character and potential for such virtues as empathy. That would be racism, and racism is very wrong.
Now instead I learn — not because I have to but because I am enabled to — that “whiteness” is not a genetic category but merely a catch-all term for “everything bad.” In those terms, who wouldn’t want to be less white?!
It makes no difference whether Coca-Cola itself mandates this training or only lets its employees into the LinkedIn page where they can find it. In itself, the course represents a widespread philosophy as insipid as it is evil. This philosophy has found extremely popular spokespeople in Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, and Ibram X. Kendi, prophet of “anti-racism.” DiAngelo was featured in “Confronting Racism,” for which she undoubtedly received one of her staggering speakers’ fees.
Kendi, in his book Stamped from the Beginning, has made his own fortune (to the tune of a $10 million donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for starters) by teaching that “racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and in the world at large.” No other factor than the inherent racism of whiteness, in other words, can explain anything less than complete racial equity in all areas of American life.
But Kendi and DiAngelo are neither of them bright enough to have had so much as an original thought, let alone to have invented an entire system of racial grievance in America. Their rise to fame, and the monstrous ascendancy of the Critical Race Theory which they teach in American schools and businesses, has been and continues to be ably detailed and opposed by City Journal’s Christopher Rufo. For my own part, I don’t propose to deal further with Kendi or DiAngelo except as sock puppets — little gajillionaire mouthpieces for satanic forces which have been at work in American culture since the Cold War, and in the human heart since the fall of man.
First, the Commies. As I imagine Michael Knowles will discuss in detail when his new book comes out, Marxism failed as an economic proposition in America because, as an economic proposition, it sucks. We have — or had; it is dwindling — a middle class in this country. This made it difficult to foment discontent with America’s free market, because even our proletariat was having a pretty good time economically.
So, inspired by sophisticates like the Italian Antonio Gramsci and agitators like the American Rudi Dutschke, Marxists pivoted. They began what Dutschke famously called the “long march through the institutions” — an effort to insinuate Communism into America’s schools and artistic venues, to teach every “lisping babe,” in Abraham Lincoln’s memorable phrasing, that the world could be boiled down to class grievance.
This is by now a well-known story; the success of cultural Marxism was in evidence last summer when a generation of miseducated American radicals poured violently onto the streets of our cities to express hatred for all white, male, cis-hetero oppressors from the Founding Fathers on down to the present day.
What fewer conservatives realize is that not just the fury of summer 2020, but the whole BLM philosophy which motivated it — the terminology, the ideology, the millenarian narrative of struggle and apocalyptic triumph — is Marxist in origin and design. BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors was justified in describing herself and her colleagues as “trained Marxists”: the very notion of “white privilege” was itself cribbed from a 1960s Communist playbook.
It was Communist party members Noel Ignatiev and Ted Allen who came up with the idea of pitting Americans against one another with the accusation of “white-skin privilege.” If there is no economic grounds for discontent among the working poor, then certainly there is racial grounds: teach that the stain of racism persists in every white soul, and Americans will see one another not as friends and fellow citizens but as victims or villains.
Better yet, the same framework can be applied in every area of American society. “Once radicals adopt such an approach to radicalizing the white masses,” Allen wrote, “the implications for particular areas of activity will not be hard to find.” Many Communists are shockingly bad writers. But Allen was trying to say that animating grievance based on past injustices is an idea with legs. Women, gays, blacks, trans people — anyone with any claim to victimhood could be enlisted in the revolution against America.
The key, said Allen, was “the function of the white radicals.” A significant number of sympathetic whites, in other words, must accept and teach that they and their like are foundationally evil by virtue of their race. That is the function that useful idiots like DiAngelo and her corporate backers serve today.
Why It Worked
Somewhere under all of this intellectual history, though, there’s a deeper question. Why did this work? Why was any American — let alone masses of us — persuaded that he was inherently, inescapably broken from the moment of his birth? Race is an agonizingly sore subject with Americans in particular, of course — not because we are the worst society ever to exist in terms of racism, but because we are the first society to posit radical equality before the law as a matter of national creed.
Our philosophical commitment to not being racist was so extreme that our failure to make good on that commitment — morally appalling in itself but not remarkable in the scope of human history — became intolerable. We tore the country bloodily apart over it. The memory of that trauma is still fresh and the wounds it left are still tender after all these years.
All of that stipulated, though, there is something yet more primal going on here. Every country has damnable injustices in its past. Why is it that we can’t lay ours to rest? It seems we are psychologically unable to situate our own failures in the context of human failure more generally.
That is a religious problem. It is not ultimately economic, or political, or sociological, except in the very deepest sense of all those words. Questions about where a person or a nation stands in the cosmic sweep of history are ultimately theological questions. All the major faiths — whatever their other flaws, virtues, or differences — have some way of processing how much violence there is in the world, how pitiless and tragic are the paths man charts through the valley of death.
In the second Surah (chapter) of the Qur’an, when Allah announces his intention to create humankind, the angels are appalled. “You will make creatures who will do mischief and shed blood?” they gasp. Allah’s response to them is pure, inscrutable enigma: “I know what you do not.”
That is an example of a religion coming to healthy terms with our broken world: Why was the existence of man worth the atrocities he would commit? It is a mystery. There are things even the angels do not understand.
Christian theology agrees with this approach, up to a point. But Christians go further: when God sacrificed himself on the cross, we peered into the infinite depths of that awful mystery. “He himself bore our sins, in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness.” The world is still a vale of anguish and grief. But Christians are consoled and guided by the thought that though the source of grief is us, the remedy for it is God and his mercy, which we are to emulate.
In his Second Inaugural Address, years into the torment of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln told a weary nation that these hard Christian truths would sustain and guide them in what was to come. The bloodletting of the war might be “the woe due to those by whom the offence” of chattel slavery came. But when that judgment had passed, the score was to be settled and all resentments buried. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
The Nation’s Wounds
Critical Race Theory and Cultural Marxism have won the victories they have won because they came to America at a time of spiritual desolation. Those rich and noble certainties which gave shape to Lincoln’s speech, the theological framework within which all men must grapple with the angst of being broken, have drained out of our cultural life in the wake of the World Wars.
In place of that broad Judeo-Christian consensus, woke racism presents a dark travesty of religion which pretends to scratch the itch for worship in every human heart, the way all satanic perversions do. The woke profess their faith in a new creed with another sacrifice at its core — not Christ’s freely chosen self-abasement, but the old and primitive ritual of the scapegoat.
As a matter of religious heritage, scapegoating practices are first codified in Leviticus 16, where the Jewish people are instructed to pile the sins of all the people onto one goat and send it running, never to return. But this symbolic practice is no mere artifice: it is a stopgap measure given by God to his people, a way of transferring the rage and pain of our fallenness onto a relatively safe object.
The Jews blamed one goat a year for the sins of the world so they wouldn’t do it to a person or race, which is what we are naturally inclined to do. It turns out inability to face up to the horrors of our brokenness is not unique to Americans: it is the norm, and it has motivated people throughout history to invent accusations against one another rather than face the fact of their own shortcomings. This is, in a cruel irony, exactly how Jews have been treated throughout history: from the blood libel to the Holocaust, God’s chosen people have been blamed for any number of sociological dysfunctions and made, wrongly, to suffer punishment for them.
In the empty void left by Christian worship, we have reverted to this most juvenile and ugliest way of dealing with our sins. “Identity politics begins from an understanding of the brokenness of white, heterosexual men,” writes Joshua Mitchell in American Awakening. “Then, without the assistance of God, [identity politics] seeks to save the planet from the transgressors who have endangered it.”
It is not my intention here to scold anyone into a faith he cannot accept. But I do believe we cannot be realists about saving America without identifying the nature of our problem. Identity politics is a religion; Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi are clerics; they triumph not because they are strong but because we are spiritually weak.
If there is to be a solution to this it is religious revival, and it starts at home. Perhaps you are a Christian, perhaps you are not — your task is the same. Cast out false gods wherever you find them, and do not be satisfied with cheap solutions to profound questions. If you cannot believe in Christian dogma, ask yourself what you can believe in, and why.
Somewhere, among your fellows and in your own heart, there is a better answer to the sins of the world than the hideous, churning, atavistic nightmare that has cast its shadow over us again in the form of identity politics. Seek that answer, and enlist others in the search. If we are to survive, the solution has to start somewhere. Let it start there.
Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.