Friday, May 15, 2015

The racism of bad faith

Almost universally, the modern American right understands left antiracism as a cynical political ploy. It is also, of course, an expression of leftist vanity, which is why Ann Coulter writes that “Liberals luxuriate in calling other people ‘racists’ out of pure moral preening” -- but she then goes on to add that “What really made the Democrats sit up and take notice was that blacks began voting.” That, we are told, is what ultimately drives the left’s rhetoric against racism: it’s a useful smear, and it consolidates support among misguided racial minorities.

This is of course is almost entirely garbage, the defensive, self-serving bad faith of people who don’t actually care about racism – points that become entirely clear when we consider how their argument proceeds.

After all, if we take the problem of racism seriously, we have to take accusations of racism seriously. They have to be given a hearing, addressed on their merits, and either accepted or rejected. There’s an obvious and inescapable conflict of interest if the accused can simply dismiss the charge without argument by declaring it “dishonest” or “offensive”; and the stakes are just too high to place the debate over racism at the mercy of such judgments. Of course it’s unfair and inconvenient when people make spurious charges of racism, and when others credulously accept them. Does that warrant abandoning the debate over racism altogether? Is your personal reputation, or your political agenda, more important than maintaining subtantive debates about race? Probably not!

But that is precisely the conclusion the right arrives at. Ben Shapiro, in How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them, makes this point quite explicitly. “There will be no conversation in which you call me a racist, and I explain why I’m not a racist,” he writes. “That’s a conversation for idiots.” This logic, of course, directly and pre-emptively disqualifies every possible accusation of racism – even those that are potentially legitimate. To accept Shapiro’s view is to insist that victims of racism no longer have standing to make their case.

This is not an argument that we should care about racism -- it's an argument that we should not care about racism, not even enough to ever take it seriously. That's what makes the line of defense so odious. In order to deflect any charge of racism, the right is willing to delegitimize every charge of racism, dismissing the entire problem as a political contrivance that should be pointedly ignored.