People are making this so complicated.
A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times editorial board hired a technology writer, Sarah Jeong. When it was revealed that she had tweeted barbs against white people, conservatives formed a Twitter mob to demand her dismissal. While a few on the right said — or claimed — that they were offended by the substance of her tweets, the overriding passion derived from an understandable outrage about liberal double standards.
The argument took a familiar form: “If a white or conservative person said something like this about any other group, her career would be over!”
Many liberals responded that conservatives just don’t get it. There is no such thing as anti-white racism because racism is all about power. Whites — or white men — have it, other groups don’t.
Perhaps because this theory defies lived experience, progressives offered a new defense: “We don’t really mean it when we attack the pale patriarchy.”
Vox’s Ezra Klein recalled that he didn’t enjoy the Twitter hashtag #KillAllMen, which apparently became popular in his progressive circle a while back. “I didn’t like it. It made me feel defensive. It still makes me feel defensive.”
“But,” Klein added, “I also knew that wasn’t what they were saying. They didn’t want me put to death. They didn’t want any men put to death.” They just wanted things to be better for women.
Klein has a point, but he also misses one. I have no doubt that many of his female — or male! — compatriots aren’t much interested in wholesale androcide. Nor do I think Jeong is interested in “canceling” white people. These are shibboleths of the Woke Establishment.
But what Klein and others miss is that they can’t play Humpty Dumpty when it comes to the language they use. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty famously said, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
The notion that racism is solely about institutionalized white power simply doesn’t compute for most Americans. In common parlance, racism means prejudice or bigotry on account of race or skin color. Period. The pathetic racists who marched on Washington this weekend don’t have much cultural power. Surely that explains their racism more than it mitigates or absolves it.
If a neo-Nazi paints a swastika on a Jew’s front door, no decent person withholds judgment pending an audit of the victim’s social or institutional power. We just call it anti-Semitism. Would you wait for a clever explanation if someone launched the hash tag #KillAllJews or #CancelBlackPeople? It makes no sense to claim that Louis Farrakhan is not a racist when he says, “White people are potential humans — they haven’t evolved yet,” but David Duke is a racist when he says something similar about blacks.
Even if we were to collectively accept that “racism” means structural oppression by whites, we’d still need a word for hating or degrading people solely on account of their race. Why reinvent the wheel? And why muddle the principle that this is bad?
Think of it this way: Would you want your kids to go to a school where the white kids were taught that the slightest racial insensitivity was a profound sin but all the non-white kids were free to say whatever they wanted about the white kids?
It is right and proper to teach kids that bigotry against blacks or other particular groups is especially evil for historical reasons. But it is morally daft to celebrate or condescendingly explain away bigotry against whites as some sort of historical comeuppance for the sins — real or alleged — of their ancestors. (It’s also counterproductive: There’s ample evidence that calling non-racist people racist actually makes them more racist.)
Double standards breed resentment and rage, regardless of ideological orientation. There’s a reason white supremacists co-opt the language of the left, demanding identity politics for white people. “I consider myself a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic,” Jordan Kessler, the racist “Unite the Right” rally organizer, told NPR.
The double standard that says the left can say whatever it damn well pleases, but the right must constantly check its privilege, fuels hateful buffoons like Kessler.
Jonah Goldberg’s new book, “Suicide of the West,” is now available wherever books are sold. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.