The following is an excerpt from The Victim Cult: How The Grievance Culture Hurts Everyone And Wrecks Civilizations by Mark Milke. In this excerpt, Milke details how the “new” definition of racism from Ibram X. Kendi and others hollow out hard facts and reasoned analyses when a monocausal explanation – racism – is offered up for all observed disparities between cohorts.
One prominent example of a newer but anti-empirical approach to racism comes from Ibram X. Kendi, a professor and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. In 2016, Kendi wrote Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America which he followed up three years later with How to be an Antiracist. Both books offer detailed, useful historical accounts of slavery and prejudice. They are also clear examples of what drives today’s arguments in the minds of those who see America as drenched in racism, especially of the claimed systemic variety.
For Kendi, any disparities between black Americans and others when measured as cohorts have one cause only: racism. In Stamped, this claim is presented as a challenge to wider and deeper analyses and as a stark either-or choice: “Either racist policies or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier and more powerful than Black people today.” He thus skips over the entire panoply of other factors that can affect outcomes, from culture to education to parents who read to their children (or not), or poorly- performing schools.
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This approach is peppered throughout his work. Consider Kendi’s revision and redefinition of segregation and assimilation. Segregationists are normally defined and understood as 1960s-era (and earlier) whites and others who opposed the right of blacks to sit at lunch counters with whites or to choose any seat on any bus; they opposed integrated schools and neighbourhoods and may have been members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Kendi has his own definition of segregationists: those who have “blamed Black people themselves for the [observed] racial disparities.”
This is a wide net. It traps multiple leaders, observers and analysts: a black preacher who calls on the young in his flock to abstain from sex until older lest they end up as teenage single parents and likely to find themselves caught in lifetime poverty; a black entrepreneur who encourages young black Americans to finish high school and college and to think with a practical business head and not as an activist; a black scientist who asserts that the scientific method is objective and colour-blind; and sociologists, political scientists and statisticians who spot trends in data about cohorts – groups, be they black, white, or any race or ethnicity.
Similarly, assimilationists for Kendi are not defined as most people might think – those who force others to hew to one’s religion, language or culture upon threat of civil sanctions or forced, state-mandated exclusion. Instead, for Kendi, assimilationists are those who assert that common standards and tests can be objectively designed and are useful, who posit that certain economic practices are superior (entrepreneurialism over socialism), and for whom cause-and-effect realities exist apart from assumed racism (family breakdown has societal consequences). His revisionist approach to objective reality is why he labels even those black Americans who founded historically black colleges and universities (“HBCUs”) as assimilationist and racist: Because such founders assumed that educational success and economic concepts such as consumer preferences, supply and demand, and price signals, i.e., capitalism, are realities that exist independent of colour.
For Kendi, assimilationists are even found at the NAACP. Kendi criticizes its 1969 president, Roy Williams, for taking a classic liberal, Martin Luther King position, which posits that racism is racism insofar as individuals feel the sting of paying for their skin colour, and that includes all Americans, be they black, white, or any colour or ancestry. Kendi does not stop with the former head of the NAACP. Other black “assimilationists” include Bill Cosby and his 1980s-era colleagues for The Cosby Show and its popular portrayal of a successful, upper-income, two-income black family headed by physicians. Onetime activist Jesse Jackson is also criticized for his opposition to making Ebonics-slang standard for black students. (Jackson argued that Ebonics was “teaching down to our children.”)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama is also labelled as assimilationist for not being monocausal in attributing all black vs. other American statistical differences to racism, but for noting that other factors also explain statistical gaps between different groups. For Obama’s reasonableness in analysis, Kendi argues that the former president implicitly communicated a claim that black people were an inferior racial group. Except the president did no such thing. He simply offered up the assessment that outcomes for black Americans, as with everyone else, result from multiple causes.
The reliance on Marxist assumptions
This explanation – racism is all or mostly all causal – is now ubiquitous in claims from activists, academics, writers, more than a few politicians and some businesses, the media and in entertainment. The Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group that includes Black Lives Matter, is clear that the norm for black Americans is “constant exploitation and perpetual oppression.” Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo writes that while “almost nothing is completely about race … race was designed to be interwoven into our social, political, and economic systems.”
Similarly, New York academic Alyson Cole worries that an emphasis on responsibility, which she labels “anti-victimism” is just another way to “categorically [deny] systemic inequalities.” Politicians, too, have offered up cause-and-effect links with racism as responsible in part or wholly for observed differences. The Congressional Black Caucus argues that “racially discriminatory practices” have frozen black Americans out of capital, housing and educational markets and is thus responsible for an increasing “racial wealth gap.”
Another attack: blame the (capitalist) system
Even though some authors, activists and politicians claim that systemic racism is the sole or main cause for disparities when cohorts – black, white, Asian- American and so forth – are measured in groups, some of the same voices seem to yet realize that such an all-encompassing monocausal claim might be less than persuasive.
Thus, in addition to racism, another factor is increasingly recycled as a parallel problem: capitalism. Ibram Kendi praises socialists and communists for attacking capitalism but chastises them nonetheless for not grasping that “racism emerged out of capitalism, and therefore the problem of capitalism came before the problem of racism.” Others also see the American Dream, based in free enterprise, as a parallel or “embedded” problem, with capitalism plus racism to blame for disparities. Following Kendi’s lead, Ijeoma Oluo also claims that racism emerged from capitalism: “Race was not only created to justify a racially exploitative economic system, it was invented to lock people of colour into the bottom of it.” In an attempt to explain how this works in practice, Oluo displays a fixed-pie conception of economies and wealth when she addresses white Americans directly, writing that “you [white Americans] will get more because they [black Americans] exist to get less.”
The drive for statistically equal outcomes is anchored in assumptions from critical theory and its antecedent, Marxism, which has always been anti-reality and anti-empirical about human nature, markets and incentives. For the critical theorists and Marxists, reality is not objectively independent but only a function of power. That assumes both the ability of the state to organize its citizens from the top down and also to bend reality to the wishes of those who rule.
Thus in 20th-century Marxist regimes, a government could presumably order businesses to produce goods and services absent price signals about supply and demand and absent incentives (profit), yet produce a cornucopia of useful, high-quality goods. Except they did not. Human beings are cooperative and they have to eat, so some production occurred even in communist dictatorships. However, absent profit incentives to produce more, and price signals about what consumers really desired, the result was shortages and shoddy products from Budapest to Beijing before communism collapsed in on itself in the late 20th century. Similarly, anti-reality temptations are in play when the actual realities of education, families, the objective nature of math and the scientific method, and how businesses work are ignored in favour of an explanation that posits racism as the only or mostly causal factor in outcomes, be it for individuals, or for individuals multiplied and observed in groups.
Black Lives Matter and fixed-pie conceptions of wealth
The influence of Black Lives Matters in all this is clear, as is its Marxist tilt. On a now-archived “organize” and campaigns page, the group founded in 2013 proclaims that it is “not enough to replace white capitalism with Black capitalism” but wants “cooperative economics.” As to what that means in practice, in a 2015 interview, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors remarked that her (and her co-founder’s) ideological framework was that of “trained Marxists.” In 2016, another co-founder, Alicia Garza, noted that she wanted “alternatives to capitalism … [including] abolishing an economic system that thrives on exploitation, poverty and misery.” In a 2018 TIME magazine interview, Cullors pointed to Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse-tung as intellectual influences. Cullors told the interviewer that reading their works “provided a new understanding around what our economies could look like.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 2016 the Black Lives Global Network published a column mourning the death of Fidel Castro. Titled Lessons from Fidel, the unnamed authors argued they need to push back against “the right” and “come to the defense of El Comandante.” They praised his radicalism and vision of the world where “peace only comes with justice.” They also praised Castro for providing sanctuary to Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers Party.
Similarly, the umbrella group, The Movement for Black Lives, also offers similarly stark condemnations of capitalism and offers its remedy: collectivism. “We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access,” says the group in one section of its website entitled Economic Justice. Politicians also advance this anti-capitalist narrative. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claims that racism and capitalism are twins. In a 2019 interview, Ocasio-Cortez observed that “communities of colour are usually much further to the left than white liberals, because racism, colonialism are … [our] lived experience in a way that many don’t understand – that these are issues that are part of a capital, a hyper-capitalist framework, you know?”
Next: Fake victims vs. actual victims
Mark Milke, Ph.D., is a public policy analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist with six books and dozens of studies published across Canada and internationally in the last two decades. Visit www.victimcult.com for more information.
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