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From White Guilt to White Backlash
From a speech at the National Conservatism Convention
At the end of October, I was a featured speaker at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida. My speech, “Whose Fourth of July?: Black Patriotism and Racial Inequality in America,” is available right now to paid subscribers and will be made available to everyone else on Friday.
In the speech, I lay out what I call some “unspeakable truths” about race in America today. One of the most ominous is what I and many others view as a potential white backlash against BLM-style wokeness of the kind that prioritizes the purported interests of black people above those of other groups. If we insist that black people deserve privileged treatment simply because of their race, I fear it is only a matter of time before whites in large numbers start to regard themselves as a special class as well, and try to “take back” what they perceive to be theirs.
The only solution is for black people to recognize themselves as what I believe we are: Americans, first and foremost. That’s one part of my case for Black Patriotism. Stay tuned for more!
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Which brings me to yet another unspeakable truth: an ideology dominated by the terms “white guilt,” “white apologia,” and “white privilege” cannot exist except also to give birth to a “white pride” backlash, even if the latter is seldom expressed overtly—it being politically incorrect to do so.
Confronted by someone who constantly bludgeons me about the evils of colonialism, who urges me to tear down the statues of “dead white men,” who insists that I apologize for what my white forebears did to various “peoples of color” in years past, who demands that I settle my historical indebtedness via racial reparations, I well might begin to ask myself, were I one of these “white oppressors”: on exactly what foundations does human civilization in the twenty-first century stand? I might begin to enumerate the great works of philosophy, mathematics, and science that ushered in the “Age of Enlightenment” that allowed modern medicine to exist, that gave rise to the core of what we human beings know about the origin of the species, and the origin of the universe. I might begin to tick off the great artistic achievements of European culture: the books, the paintings, the symphonies. And then, were I in a particularly agitated mood, I might even ask these “people of color” who think that they can simply bully me into a state of guilt-ridden self-loathing: “Where is ‘your’ civilization?”
Now, everything I just said exemplifies “racist” and “white supremacist” rhetoric. I wish to stipulate that I would never actually say something like that myself. Neither am I attempting here to justify that position. I am simply noticing that, if I were a white person, this reasoning might tempt me. And I suspect it is tempting a great many white people. We can wag our fingers at them all we want, but they are a part of the racism-monger’s package. For how can we make “whiteness” into a site of unrelenting moral indictment without also occasioning it to become the basis of pride, of identity, and, ultimately, of self-affirmation?
The right idea here is the ethic of transracial humanism which Gandhi and Martin King, Jr. propounded: we, as citizens of this great republic, must strive to transcend racial particularism and stress the universality of our humanity and the commonality of our interests as Americans. The only way to effectively address a legacy of historical racism without running into a reactionary racial chauvinism is to march on —if only fitfully and by degrees—toward the goal of creating a world where no person’s worth is seen to be contingent upon racial inheritance, a world where racial identity fades in significance, a world where we learn how to “unlearn race,” as the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams has put it. Promoting anti-whiteness (and Black Lives Matter can often be found doing precisely that) will cause those advocates to reap what they sow in a backlash of pro-whiteness. The folks who think they can insist on spelling “Black” with a capital “B” while keeping the word “white” in the lower case are likely in for a very rude awakening.