How Radicals Undermine the Fight Against Racism

Marley K., one of the top writers on racism on Medium wrote this article on Medium recently on how “All White People are Racist”.

These story is not really about Marley K. but about what she represents. She is part of what may best be described as navel gazing leftist anti-racism. People with a lot of fire and passion fighting for a just cause, but which are really spending all their energy attacking white liberals and others which are their natural allies.

It reminds me of the AKP-ml movement in my native Norway. They where politically very active in the 70s. Their anger and vitriol tended to be directed towards social democrats rather than conservatives, liberals or other ideologies more strongly associated with capitalist inspired ideology.

Focus on Your Enemy not Your Potential Allies

Why is that? The problem with these people is that they have no clue about how to argue with and fight their actual enemies. I have seen that with many feminists as well. They attack men who are actually most sympathetic to their cause, because they have long learned that their rants don’t go down well with people who actually strongly oppose feminism.

Why should we care? Unlike a lot of other white males often at the receiving end of these rants, I don’t care personally about the accusations of racism. Let us get real. Whites getting accused of being racist is a much smaller problem than racism itself.

No, the reason why this matters, is because such articles derail the whole discussion about racism. Rather than discussing how to tackle the problem of racism, we get dragged into a rather pointless discussion about whether all, most or some white people are racist.

The Dangers of the “Race Realists”

Today we face the problem that a large number of people believe e.g. that blacks have lower IQ than whites for genetic reasons. These people work hard to end things like affirmative action in America. Their beliefs are that the great inequality that exists between whites and blacks, especially in the US but also in other western nations is simply due to lower IQ related to a genetic predisposition for low IQ. In their view helping minorities is just a waste because there is a genetic determinism that they are going to be worse off.

In their view affirmative action is racism against whites. These views are far more prevalent than I think a lot of people are aware of, and they help explain why the US has struggled with implementing anything similar to western European style welfare state systems. If one believes in a sort of genetic determinism, then that gives people a way to excuse gross inequalities that exist in society.

Be Solution Focused

This matters when a politician is trying to propose solutions to reduce inequality. How damaging this is, is perhaps most clear when looking at the Bernie Sanders campaign compared to the Joe Biden. Racism is at the heart of why America has rejected the kind of policies Bernie Sanders has been pushing for decades. There are a lot of whites who think a more extensive welfare state will lead to “lazy and stupid blacks” getting money from “hard working honest whites.”

Don’t think that is the case? Well, just look at Ronald Reagan’s whole campaign. It was all built upon racist dog whistles. Many people have vocally objected to the idea that Ronald Reagan was racist. But we have good evidence that he was. Here is what he said talking to Nixon about African leaders:

Of course Ronald Reagan knew you could not say such things out loud in public to run for office. So instead he talked about welfare queens, driving Cadillac. Black women are often talked about as queens, and so the “welfare queen” was a way for Ronald Reagan to talk about black single mothers living on welfare. His constituents knew what he was talking about.

When talking about black men, he talked about “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at the grocery store while hard working Americans got simpler food. “Strapping young buck,” being a word used about a young strong black man being auctioned during slavery.

People like Ronald Reagan used such rhetoric to get even poor working class Americans to get behind dismantling the limited welfare state that the US had. This hit black disproportionally since they tended to be in lower paid jobs and poorer.

That is important to understand about Bernie Sander’s policies. Universal health care, and more generous minimum wage will disproportionately help black people since they are the ones suffering most of the poverty.

Bernie Sanders was smart to speak primarily about the working poor. He understood the importance of getting poor white onboard to get the votes needed.

SJWs and Bikeshedding

Yet people like in the mold of Marley K. torpedoed his campaign and threw support behind candidates more akin to Joe Biden, because Bernie Sanders did not indulge in white self flagellation about racism. Yet why should he? He had walked with Martin Luther King and been part of the civil rights movement. He knew what this was about. His family was killed in the Holocaust by a racist regime.

I am not bringing this up because of bitterness about Bernie Sanders. I am a Norwegian and take no part in American elections. It is merely an observation about how people who fight to make a difference to minorities get side tracked all to often to engage in what I would call bike-shedding activity.

This is from the observation of a discussion of building a Nuclear Power plant where the issues was so complex that people instead ended up spending all their time discussing the design of the bikeshed used by Nuclear Power plant employees biking to work.

This is what all the talk about white privilege and “all whites are racist” rhetoric essentially boils down to. It is bike-shedding. It is a profound distraction from the important issues.

Getting People Onboard

Some may object. Who is this white man (me) to object to a black women speaking? I should shut up and listen to her experience and views. If it was a story about her experience or racism, then yes I should shut up and listen. It is not for me to lecture her about how racism is experienced by black people. However when it comes to strategies for how to get white people on board to vote for policies benefitting blacks, then white people should very much be part of that discussion.

Who knows better what white people will listen to, that other white people? If blacks and other minorities are to achieve more equality and better outcomes in the west, then they need white allies, because whites are not only the majority but also those typically with wealth, power and influence.

Lessons from Feminism

Rhetoric such as “All whites are racist,” is just counter-productive “feel-good” rhetoric, which angry people can tell each other to feel better. It doesn’t contribute to change. The same goes for feminism. Some of the most angry feminist rants against men are completely counter productive.

I don’t know how many times I have had discussions with conservative white men, trying to advocate gender-equality only to get the worst lines of angry-feminists thrown at me as proof that feminism is all anti-men.

As someone who lives in a corner of the world which has probably come furthest in promoting gender equality I try to sell men on the benefits. As far as I am concerned feminism is a benefit to men. With more women getting good jobs, the family gets a better income. With companies having to assume women are working as well, it becomes socially acceptable that men go home early from work to look after their children.

I got to spend a lot more time with my children in their early years, teaching them the first words, to walk, change diapers etc than your average American dad working 24/7 got a chance to do.

Ending Racism is not a Zero-Sum Game

You can sell, ending racism the same way. It is of course of profound importance to end racism to the people who are subject to it. But let us not pretend this is a zero-sum game where whites have to be losers if blacks advance.

No society benefits from having a poor underclass. Poverty a we know regardless of skin color drives crime and social problems. Yes paying the poor more may mean your McDonalds burger costs more. However on the flip side it means you will feel safer walking out late at night. Does that not have a value?

This goes for anything. A more humane and less racist police for is also a benefit for the police. When minorities trust the police it will benefit them. It will make minorities more likely to call the police and give the police information they need to solve crime.

How Humane Prisons Benefitted Prison Guards

The same goes for the prison guards. I remember listening to the accounts of prison guards in both the US and Norway. The US follows a tough on crime, heavy on punishment approach. This certainly sucks for the inmates. But what is seldom talked about is how much it also sucks for the prison guards themselves. I believe I once saw a study that said over 40% of US prison guards suffer PTSD. When interviewed they talked about how the just wished to get home in one piece. Many get violent with their own family because violence is all they do at work.

The Norwegian prison guards in contrast actually enjoyed their job. It was not always like that. Violence was a much bigger problem in Norwegian prisons in the 90s. But then Norway switched to a more humane approach and turned prison guards into social workers. It was not just better work inmates but it also made prison guards enjoy their work. They took an active part in creating programs for inmates to become good citizens again. They spent considerable time talking to inmates about their problems. Norwegian prison guards could go home thinking they made a difference in the world. They where making somebody a better person.

This is what I see as the challenge in fighting racism as well. We need to get allies. We need to pull people towards us and get people on our team. Pushing away people, lecturing and scolding them may feel good but it is ultimately counter productive.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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