Breaking Down the Illusion of Systemic Racism: Wilfred Reilly

October 7, 2020 Updated: October 13, 2020

“Every system you could possibly think of produces some kind of racial or sexual or class discrepancy. And this allows the radicals to be radicals eternally, and to claim that everything is racist,” says Wilfred Reilly.

Headlines tell us that blacks get shot by police officers more often, get paid less than whites, and tend to do worse on standardized tests.

Many point to systemic racism as the cause of these apparent discrepancies, but in most cases, this argument ignores basic facts, says Wilfred Reilly, Associate Professor of Political Science at Kentucky State University. He’s the author of “Hate Crime Hoax” and “Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About.”

This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.

Jan Jekielek: Wilfred Reilly, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Wilfred Reilly: It’s a real pleasure to be here. I’ve watched a couple of the episodes. Glad to be on the show.

Jan Jekielek: It’s really great to have you. There’s something that’s been on my mind, and you are one of the best people, I think, to talk about this with me. I’m thinking back to the recent debate, the Trump-Biden debate.

One of the things that I think was conflated—there are two points here—was something called racial sensitivity training. Another point that was mentioned was critical race theory. I believe these things were conflated. They’re not necessarily the same thing. Can you speak to that?

Mr. Reilly: Yes, absolutely. I think there are a lot of things you could say about that debate. From some of the things Trump said about Hunter Biden to the sitting president being told to shut up, that wasn’t one of the best displays of mutual gentlemanliness I’ve ever seen.

In terms of the specific targeted question, I think Mr. Biden did this a couple of times—he conflated equity and equality. He conflated specifically critical race theory, and if I have this correct, all sensitivity training and then diversity or managing diversity training, certainly a CRT [critical race theory] and sensitivity training. These words don’t mean the same thing.

As a young executive years ago, I’ve gone through managing diversity training, which is simply a basic process of explaining how to get along with individuals from different cultural backgrounds: Don’t display bias toward the look or odor of different cuisines; here’s how business is done in different locations, for example. That’s not what critical race theory is.

Critical race theory is, in my opinion—and I openly have a center-right bias—a translation of Marxist class theory into the sector of race relations. The communist or the Marxist will argue that everything that looks like fair, facially neutral law in fact reflects class privilege. So laws mandating that your property is yours are in fact a way for the wealthy who own the most property to essentially steal from and oppress the rest of us.

Critical race theory, in my opinion—if you read through [Robin] DiAngelo, if you read through Ibram Kendi, if you go back to the classics, like Bell Hooks and Peggy McIntosh—essentially says this, but race is substituted for class.

So [according to this theory,] facially neutral systems like the SAT are a way to implement white privilege or to implement white supremacy because there’s no way minorities can do as well as more-privileged white kids. We’ll get back to that later. Best-scoring groups, as I understand right now, are actually Asians and Nigerians.

On down the line, [according to the theory,] the goal of the criminal justice system isn’t to actually lock up rapists and perverts, abusers of women, and so on; it’s to oppress minorities by instituting laws that minorities are going to be more likely to violate than wealthier whites. That’s what critical race theory very, very often is.

A phrase for laymen to take from this is the idea that disparities equal discrimination. Dr. Kendi very openly says this. He says that when you look at something—like I’m using the SAT as a proxy—you’re going to see gaps. Whites perform better in most years than African-Americans, in all recent years in fact. African-Americans beat, not all Hispanics, but certainly first-generation immigrants. Native Americans often bring up the bottom of the race there.

So [they conclude that] the test is racist, and that we know this because these performance gaps exist. Kendi argues very openly that there are only two explanations for gaps like this. One would be that there’s something wrong, deeply, permanently—he means genetically—with the group that’s currently underperforming, or two, that however subtle it might be, however mysterious it might be, there’s something racist about the implement or the instrument that’s being used to measure people.

I think after reading Tom Sowell, Heather Mac Donald, John McWhorter, Amy Chua, and a hundred quantitative social scientists, that that’s almost a nonsensical idea. There’s a third explanation, which is that there’s some changeable cultural or sociological variable that is different among groups. Whether all people study to the same extent for the test is one variable that obviously comes to mind.

In fact, just invoking that totally demolishes the SAT example. The highest scorers in the country are Asian kids and often West African kids, Jewish-American kids—they’re not privileged Anglo whites at all—South Asian kids.

I could go on with this for quite a while. There are 10 or 12 large groups that beat the white, sort of legacy population pretty easily. At any rate, that’s critical race theory—that we need to unpack the hidden prejudice that exists within systems.

You hear a lot about systemic prejudice, institutional prejudice. There are probably some systems like traffic stops in some southern cities during the day that have a component of racial bias to them if we’re being honest. But when you unpack the actual data and you compare like to like—people of the same age and background in the same state—there don’t seem to be very many. Critical race theory is the idea that this is everywhere.

Essential, basic managing diversity training—for example, are you familiar with some of the habits and foods and behaviors of people in different groups? No one objects to that that I can think of in the business world or in the academy. But there’s a game that’s being played conflating the two.

I’m a long-talker here, so I’ll cut this up. This is actually fairly common. There’s been an attempt on the left side of the academy in recent years to redefine a ton of words. So racism has traditionally meant discrimination against other human individuals just because of their membership in a certain racial group. That usually has a genetic element, and that’s disgusting. Saying that genetically an entire group of racially different countrymen are bad because of who their fathers and mothers happened to be, that verges on being an evil. That’s something that we’ve fought against since the 1950s.

But that is not, in general, what a “CRT” scholar means by racism. Very many people have taken the writings of DiAngelo and Kendi and Hooks and Derrick Bell, the pioneers in this field, and are now using the term to mean racism, or using the term “racism” to mean any system that produces disparate outputs. The problem is that that’s every system.

[For example,] I’m doing pretty well. I pay more taxes than I used to. The tax system’s biased against whatever group happens to be doing the best in the USA. Again, that’s probably South Asians or Jewish-Americans.

The SAT, we’ve already mentioned—it’s deplorably biased in this sense against blacks and Latinos. Any system you could imagine—the NBA Draft, every year it’s all males. Every system you could possibly think of produces some kind of racial or sexual or class discrepancy, and this allows the radicals to be radicals eternally and to claim that everything is racist.

That’s another word that’s been redefined—”racism”—and there are quite a few of these—”privilege” [is another]. But certainly critical race theory is a very different thing from the boring but useful diversity seminar your boss might put you through your first day on the sales floor.

[By] conflating these familiar ideas, aren’t you an anti-racist? … Hiding meanings behind them is something that’s pretty frequent. No one objects to diversity training, but you should check what it is first if it’s being offered to your school or your business.

Mr. Jekielek: The president defending his executive order banning critical race theory was, I believe, described by Vice President Biden as racist itself.

Mr. Reilly: This gets into some of the word-gaming here. First of all, I’d have to look ethically at how I feel about entirely banning training programs. What modules are we looking at? Are we talking about CRT, which is my understanding? Are we talking about all managing diversity?

But assuming that Donald Trump is simply banning critical race theory, in the sense that we’ve just gone over for five minutes, from being mandated to federal government employees, no, that’s not a racist move in any normal sense of that word. But again, you’re getting into the multiple definitions of terms that exist and how useful that is for a debater.

If Donald Trump means by “racist” the old definition—open dislike genetically of members of another race—he’s absolutely being sincere when he says, No, banning most of these trainings is not racist.

However, if Joe Biden is almost sneakily, or at least openly using the newer definition of racism—teaching that any system that produces disparate impacts is racially biased—he could be sincere in his own way, but more to the point, he’s speaking to an entire cadre of people who understand that this new definition exists.

Very often in society—you yourself may have noticed this in debates, cocktail-party conversations—people seem to be speaking on parallel tracks. I’ve started using the old clarifier that I used to use in formal debates more in regular conversations, like, “Can I ask you to define your terms? What do you mean?”

Very often I find that someone is using very common everyday phrases—racism, privilege, bluntly even something like rape or sexual assault—to mean something very, very different from what I took that term to mean. It’s unfortunate that we now have to do that kind of clarification in society. It often is worth doing, but I don’t think Biden and Trump are even using the same language academically when they’re talking about racism.

Mr. Jekielek: This is quite fascinating, and it speaks to this idea that I think both of us have heard a number of times—of people watching the same movie but on a different screen very often—this idea?

Mr. Reilly: Yes. This has been referred to as the Rashomon perspective. … In that movie, they’re talking about differences between males and females, between different cultures, so on down the line, classes—but here, the basic background training that you’ve had, whether that’s from a CRT perspective in an elite college, or whether that’s what I would think of as the traditional American perspective, in most of society, is going to greatly affect what you think core things are (we’re discussing racism right now) and how you react to them.

If you’ve been taught that racism is a genetic dislike of other people, you can quite sincerely say—and in my opinion, you would be correct—that you’re not a bigot of any kind if you don’t feel that way.

But what Robin DiAngelo would say is that you might be a nonracist in that situation, but you’re not yet an anti-racist. In fact, it’s fairly meaningless to be just a nonracist [according to this view]. If you just don’t dislike black people, or whites, speaking as a minority individual, or Asians, or whatever the case might be, that doesn’t mean that you’re doing your part to fight against these institutional systems of prejudice that we can recognize from the fact that different people perform differently.

I think two things here: One, it’s absolutely important to know what intelligent people on the other side of the debate think, so we don’t get caught in these sort of logical leg-hold traps. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly valid to disagree with the proposition that any system that produces disparate outcomes is racist.

This is something I’ve discussed pretty extensively. To me, to demonstrate racism, you have to show that otherwise identical people are being treated differently because of the sole characteristic of race. So simply pointing to a difference in performance between two racial groups demonstrates almost nothing.

I discussed this once with, I believe, the television host Mark Levin in terms of income. The standard perspective on much of the Left—and this is used directly as an example in some of the books I’ve cited—is that the average black man makes, I believe, 83.9 percent of what the average white man does, and this can be nothing but hidden, pernicious racism.

However, a lot of social scientists—this goes back to the OG [Old Guard] Tom Sowell, decades ago. Dinesh D’Souza has looked at this … at the time, when he was a bit more of a social science researcher. Now he’s more of a political commentator. But June O’Neill, a left-leaning government economist, has examined this. The difference essentially vanishes if you adjust for nonracial differences between black people and white people.

To give an obvious example that almost always shocks people, the most common age for a black man—it’d be totally honest to refer to that as the modal average—is 27. The most common age for a white man is 58. Just adjusting for that gap, comparing people of the same age, 30-year-old white and black individuals, knocks a huge chunk out of that gap. You’re going to make far more money, unless you’ve had some real problems in your life, at the age of 58 than you are at the age of 27.

When I was 27, I was still in college—when you think about how long grad school runs these days. So that’s an obvious difference that accounts for a great deal of this.

Black people are more likely to live in the South. I’d have to pull up the data, but I don’t think there’s a great difference at all in terms of black earnings v. white earnings in southern Mississippi. There are just more African-Americans proportionally in southern Mississippi, in the Black Belt, in the Delta than there are Caucasians.

It’s silly to compare a white guy on Manhattan Island with a black guy in the Mississippi Delta and say that the white guy makes 30 percent more. What’s the cost of living? What’s the available educational system there? So on down the line. There were a couple other things that all these people have pointed out: What are the test scores for members of the different groups? How likely are members of the different groups to complete high school?

We’re not talking here about quality of schooling, which can tie into class and thus into race. We’re just talking about trust in the system, getting the shape scan. That’s something I know O’Neill looked at. The point is, when you adjust for these basic things—age, Southern residency, any “IQ” test score, and just completing school—the gap between blacks and whites closes from 17 percent to, as I recall, 2 or 3 percent. This is extremely common.

If you look at the criminal justice system, and you declare that to be an example of racial discrimination, a pernicious snake pit of racism, the general basis for that claim is that there are proportionately more blacks than you’d expect in jail and prison. Of course, the majority of inmates are still Caucasian across almost all states, but you have to adjust for crime rate.

The BJS, Bureau of Justice Statistics, produces an annual crime report. The black violent crime rate—not corporate, but the offenses that are reported to police—is about twice the white rate, and adjusting for this eliminates the discrepancy in incarceration or at least 80 plus percent thereof. I would assume that variables like whether the defendant had a lawyer would knock out most of the rest.

It is very problematic just to look at raw numbers across two very, very different groups and say: “Well, this proves some kind of prejudice. We can’t identify the prejudice, but the numbers are the proof, so we need to get rid of the SAT or the prison system.” Very, very sweeping “demands” are made on the basis of this claim, which I find a fragile read.

Should we defund the police? They arrest more blacks; they arrest more men. What’s the difference in the crime rate between—even leaving race aside—men and women? Are you really arguing that police arrests of a greater number of males reflect sexism? Or could it be that guys commit 90 percent of the crimes?

I think most people privately have a strong suspicion, as a lot of this [has] just become more difficult to say in public. But I will. I think many others will in actual social science. Adjusting for the ways in which people differ eliminates a great many of the gaps attributed glibly to race. So this new idea of racism that rests on the gaps themselves is thus flawed. We can talk about it. It may be useful, situationally. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s often just not true.

Mr. Jekielek: What you’re describing, of course, might sound shocking to a lot of people. Let’s use a recent example. You know that a woman named Breonna Taylor was shot by police in a very specific situation. When the police weren’t charged with her murder, there were, let’s say, riots and a lot of social disturbance, and frankly, more violence—the assumption being that of course this had to be racially motivated, [that] of course the police had done something terrible.

It seems to be the assumption in most cases, right? But you’re describing a situation that’s very different from this.

Mr. Reilly: Yes. I think one of my points would be rather than just taking a pro-police or pro-black man or something like that position on this case—certainly, [rather than taking] these cases as a block—what I would encourage people to do is investigate and look for facts in every one of these situations.

I will say empirically, the facts in the large majority of them are very, very, very different from what the average citizen has been told by the center-left mainstream press, certainly by social media, from the beginning of most of these situations.

In the Breonna Taylor case—now, I will say I live in downtown Frankfort, which is maybe 40 minutes of my driving pace from downtown Louisville. I feel a lot of sympathy in this case. A bright young person, EMT, popular in her neighborhood, was killed.

I have some issues with the background that allowed this to happen. No-knock warrants in general are a bad idea. They might be justified if you’re raiding the Gangster Disciples or the Hells Angels. But if you think a young nurse might have an ounce of blow, I think you can grab her in the morning.

Kicking down doors with a squad of 10 at 2:00 in the morning—I think if someone came in through my door without announcing “Police”—although we’ll get into that—at that time of day, I’m a gun owner, I’d probably defend my castle, my home.

No-knocks are a problem. I would question, to swing left a little bit, whether the war on drugs itself is necessary. There are a great many countries—Portugal, and so on—that have decriminalized most drugs of pleasure, and they don’t seem to have needle-marked corpses in the streets

A cynic might say, at least not anymore, but in fact, they’ve managed to do this fairly successfully. You don’t buy cocaine at Kwik Mart. There are stores that sell these products, [just] as they offer liquor in the United States. So those are two critiques leading in.

But now, from my perspective—which as I said, is a center-right one, and given that background of legal training and so on—the initial media story about the Breonna Taylor case was complete nonsense. Many of the “street reports” about this case were out-and-out obvious lies. This is a good example of how a false narrative can cause violence and can cause real racial conflict.

As a young urban man—oh, middle-aged, I guess now—but as an urban man who still goes to the gym, plays some hoops in the local area, the story I heard first was that a young nurse—that part was true—had been killed in her bed by a hail of gunfire by racist police. Cops had gone to the wrong address and they had just wanted to shoot a black person. That is complete total friggin nonsense. The police went to the right address.

I have a “speak not ill of the dead” policy in some of these cases, whether you’re talking about an African-American victim or police victim, so we won’t go into everything behind the warrant, but there was substantial evidence that Breonna Taylor had been involved in, to some extent, in her boyfriend’s business, which was trafficking in narcotics.

He was a fairly large-scale drug dealer in the Louisville area. His nickname was El Chapo if you read the transcripts of the case, which are pretty widely available. Louisville Courier Journal published them. Tatum Report, a right-leaning blog, published them. The police were at the correct address. According to either one or two employed African-American witnesses, they knocked. They had a no-knock warrant; however, they didn’t necessarily exercise that. They definitely knocked. They may have said, “Police.”

At this point, after he’d been woken up, Breonna Taylor’s current boyfriend, who apparently thought it might be her ex-boyfriend’s men at the door—again, this guy wasn’t a nice guy; he wasn’t in a nice business (the first boyfriend)—takes out his own legal firearm and shoots at the police. This is often forgotten, but he shot an officer in the leg. There was apparently at least some risk of a “crippling or disabling injury” there.

And at that point, the police returned fire. That’s the actual Breonna Taylor story. Police went to the correct address. They knocked. They very likely said, “Police.” And a young man at this address, the male resident of the property, opened fire. It’s a terrible tragedy, but there’s no jury in the world, certainly not in the American South, whatever ethnicities the people on the jury might be, that’s going to convict a law enforcement officer for shooting back after they were shot at.

This was often omitted from the earlier “street reports.” In fact, just everything is more complex than it’s originally described as being. The attorney general of the state is black, although he’s also a Republican. This case has all the complexity of life.

The black attorney general who met with the family of the deceased woman cried with them. He actually pressed charges against the one cop who shot wildly, and although what are called “low grade,” those are felony charges. This guy might do two or three years inside. That, again, is often forgotten.

But those charges came because one of the officers discharged his firearm in almost a random fashion. He shot a wall; he shot into the next apartment. The other officers shot back when someone shot their friend, and so they face no charges in this situation. So the question isn’t, did the cops behave perfectly? It’s not, did Mr. Walker behave perfectly? As I understand, the guy who was “defending his castle” is also not facing serious criminal charges.

The question is, What actually happened here, and to what extent does that reflect this kind of simplistic narrative that was put out originally? The answer is, it reflects that simplistic narrative zero percent. This is very, very often the case. We see these fictional mass media narratives, by the way, and these fictional social media narratives continue for years—after they’ve been debunked—in American subculture and cause real violence between blacks and whites, by the way.

People still say at major protest marches, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” That’s the invocation of Michael Brown, obviously. This was a case where this young man in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot by an officer.

The initial street-report story there was [like this]: Michael Brown was walking down the street; he was doing nothing; he got into a conflict with an officer; words were exchanged. The officer thought Michael Brown was “lipping off” or something like that—I’ve heard that version—so he shot him.

Michael Brown had his hands up; he was attempting to surrender [the story goes]. That again is complete nonsense. President Obama’s Justice Department under Eric Holder—again, left-leaning but a solid African-American law man—looked at this case, and they found that Michael Brown’s DNA was on the slide and trigger guard of officer Darren Wilson’s gun. If you’re familiar with firearms, this means that these two men were having a struggle to the death over the gun.

I don’t know who spoke first, swung first, but the plain fact is that Michael Brown was attempting to take the duty weapon from an active-duty, in-uniform police officer. That’s what happened during the tragic fight between the two men where Brown was shot.

So spinning this as Brown was walking away; he was 10 to 12 feet away; he was shot in the back—none of that is real. The stories in these cases often are complete gibberish. And I guess my point here—to the extent that there is one other than mankind is fallible—is that allowing this sort of content in major media outlets really causes tension. It really creates a false, fictional narrative around things that aren’t true.

You can go through virtually every one of the modern high-profile cases, with the possible exception of the George Floyd situation, and even there, there’s going to be an overdose claim by the defense counsel. That’s very obvious. You could go through Kyle Rittenhouse, Jacob Blake, Rayshard Brooks—every one of these situations is probably going to lead to an acquittal in court.

It’s important that people know why, rather than the media presenting this as this unspoken, subsurface result of some kind of hidden racism. No, that’s not why Rittenhouse, for example, might very well go free.

Mr. Jekielek: I have two questions here. This is incredibly fascinating how you’re talking about this. The first question is—I’m going back to critical race theory here for a moment—how many people in America do you think use those categories in their thinking about race? Or do you have any data on this, the critical race theory version?

Mr. Reilly: I would say probably the majority of the American middle and upper class [think this way]. One of the most astonishing things about the USA is that for the last probably 60 years, the allegedly marginalized hard Left—at first, the white Left, now the very diverse Left—has been running major institutions: secondary education, higher education, the NGO sector, discursive media, print media. That’s not something you see in genuine totalitarian dictatorships, by the way, I’ve got to say.

The U.S. high school curriculum in most urban areas has been either based around the writings of authors like Howard Zinn or has been at least influenced by doctrines like Afro-centrism since probably the early 1970s. I’m sure that not every teacher believes in this material.

Thinking about what I was taught in Chicago, in Aurora, that’s very definitely been the case. Slavery was a focus as it should be, but we went well beyond this. There are multiple school districts assigning “A People’s History of the United States” [by Howard Zinn], and this now appears likely to continue.

The 1619 Project from the New York Times actually has a full-scale educational curriculum that’s presented as “suitable for all grades K–up,” which you can find just by Googling “1619 project curriculum.” I looked at it, and there are parts of it that are intelligent and witty, but there’s also a great amount of content that I personally find a bit disturbing.

[Take as an example,] the question, what do you think of the country if you reimagine our founding as being 1619 and the most critical element of it is being slavery? I might be paraphrasing a little bit, but that leads rather easily into the conclusion that the country is an evil one.

The thing that distinguished the USA was not mass legal immigration of the best from everywhere in the world or going to the moon or breaking the Nazis. It was instead wickedness 400 years ago. That’s something that’s on a very large scale being taught to kids.

I don’t necessarily know if I am—because I’m not, for example, an [education] psychologist—I don’t know if I’m qualified to distinguish critical race theory from 1619 curricular content from Howard Zinn’s curricular content. But it’s very, very obvious that in probably a typical American school, certainly a typical urban American school, you’re not just learning about the glories of the pilgrims and the Union men anymore. I’d say this is extremely pervasive.

It’s extraordinarily common in a conversation on, say, a date, if you’re talking about some deeper issues besides the food, or even a conversation in gymnasiums, and so on, for someone to say something as a baseline assumption, like, of course … minorities can’t be racist. Probably 60 or 70 of my black friends have said that half-jokingly this year.

Of course racism requires power. That might be another thing that would be said almost offhandedly by perhaps someone in a blue-collar job explaining why this is not something they can engage in. This comes to me directly out of the educational curriculum.

Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is an assigned textbook in thousands of schools. There is a 1619 curriculum. You can think of this as good or bad, but the idea that these concepts—and I think it’s bad in the large majority of cases, bluntly—but the idea that these concepts are reaching millions of people isn’t some “right-wing fantasy.”

If you really look at the history of activist movements on the Left and Right, by the way, this is something that’s been discussed quite openly as a goal. The socialist writer Antonio Gramsci once bluntly said that the goal of what he called “reds” should be marching through institutions, one, but two, controlling discourse. There’s an element of cynical logic to that.

When you think about the fields that typically generate power—the military, entrepreneurial business, … agriculture, religion, sport—those are not necessarily going to be very welcoming to communists who want to take over aspects of society. But if you control the organs of society, you control whom from the field of business, agriculture, athletics, and so on, we get to listen to. To a very significant extent, that has happened.

Mr. Jekielek: The reason that I asked you this is, as you were describing to me this most recent Breonna Taylor, this police-shooting case, I was thinking, every one of these situations—whatever the reality was—where a police officer shoots a black person, will be framed this way in the media, and this strikes me as being critical race theory in action. That’s the question in my mind.

Mr. Reilly: To a certain extent, you could almost look at media treatment of the situations of police violence as being an aspect of crit theory, or critical race theory in operation. The argument behind a great deal of critical race theory is the counter to one of the great economist Tom Sowell’s book titles. He wrote a book called “Discrimination and Disparities” where he makes the point that disparities are not generally due to discrimination.

If the average age of a Japanese-American—not to keep harping on this—is 56 and of, say, a Salvadoran is 25, you’re going to see more people from Central or Latin America in Major League Baseball than you’ll see Japanese or Japanese-Americans. In fact—and by the way, the Japanese are a very athletic culture, play a lot of baseball—there are a lot of solid Japanese players in the Majors in AAA. But there are, given the population of Japan, far, far fewer than you would expect, and there are far fewer than there are individuals from Latin America.

You look at two roughly equal-size societies—that entire region of Latin America versus Japan—they both play baseball. Why more Latin Americans? One obvious factor would be the age gap that causes that disparity, not prejudice against Hispanic pitchers and catchers.

Critical race theory rejects this sort of analysis. CRT theorists would probably dismiss it in most cases as racist, given my encounters at conferences and so on. And they say—and we’ve talked about this at length—that the disparity alone is prima facie indication of bias. So in a sentence, if more black people, more brothers, are shot by police, that must indicate bias [according to this theory].

So each case—once you’ve established that black people are overrepresented by 80 percent or whatever that might be in a typical year—each case over that bar is evidence of prejudice because what else could it be? I really think that this is something many people feel.

I keep hearing young African-American professionals—and to some extent, my heart moves for them—say things like: Another one? Every week this happens. They’re killing us.

The idea is that the only possible explanation, if there are disproportionately more blacks than whites—obviously, the large majority of actual victims are white, by the way, which we’ll get back to—but the only reason for that can be prejudice. The reality, again, is that different factors affect performance. Prejudice can be one, but culture, situation, interests, and just so on down the line, all play a major role.

If you look at each one of these police-shooting cases, virtually none of them—I’ll say this—virtually none of them fit the pattern that was initially propounded by Black Lives Matter advocates like Shaun King or Cherno Biko, which if I could break this down, would be an ordinary, non-criminal black man going about normal life, not committing certainly a felony crime and not fighting the police, murdered in cold blood by, I guess, a point for a racist white police officer.

Almost every major case falls apart on some point of that spectrum: ordinary, non-criminal individual, not engaging in crime or fighting the police, murdered—the cop has no justification he could use in court—by a racist white. The fall-apart point could be that the police officers were minorities—as in the legitimately terrible Philando Castile case—or it could come far earlier on that spectrum.

Whereas in the case of Rayshard Brooks, we see a man who unfortunately did die, but who died after beating up a cop; stealing his Taser, a police-strength weapon; pointing it at the guy; shooting and missing his eyes by half a foot. The video of this is fully available online.

In none of those situations do you see the stereotypical African-American guy on his way to church or hoops practice or the library, just gunned down. Those cases where that did happen, like the terrible Tamir Rice case, the Walter Scott case, you generally saw significant, broadly approved prosecution of the officers. Tamir Rice—there are some technical issues with a conviction—but the Walter Scott-shooter, as I understand, is in prison for first degree murder.

So the large majority of these cases don’t fit this paradigm. But if you come from a critical [race theory] perspective, you automatically assume that they have to. I think that would be a fair way to put this. This is why you see riots and disturbances in the most unlikely cases.

In Washington, D.C., an individual was shot because he ran toward the police pointing a gun. He did, at one point, drop the gun, but that was the reason for the shooting. It’s hard to conceive of that as being at any level unjustified. But there were mass disturbances; there were buildings nearly burned because the idea simply is, this is another one, and this is over the average, so this must be prejudiced.

I think of this as a pernicious idea. This ties into something that—when we’re talking about the debate, [between] Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump—one of the things that Joe Biden did at least four times was conflate equality and equity. Those two things are not the same. Equality is possession at the beginning of a competition of the same number of rights as everyone else. Equity—and this is actually a term from the financial sector—is getting a proportional percentage of the results at the end.

In practice, the idea that there would have to be as many first-generation Hispanic immigrants among the top 10 percent of SAT test-takers as there are upper-class Indian-Americans, or the idea that there have to be the same number of men arrested as there are women, would completely destroy functional systems.

Yes, I think that there is a critical [race theory] perspective on a lot of police shootings. But I think that’s potentially extremely damaging because a lot of these people got shot because they were physically fighting the cops.

It makes more sense to tackle real issues, whether that’s stopping that culture of resisting arrest, or whether that’s from the other end—fighting some of the immunity culture in police unions. It makes more sense to take that on than it does to chase ghosts. You’re not going to find the murder of an innocent when you look at Hakim Littleton, or the huge majority of these cases.

Mr. Jekielek: We keep hearing about America being systemically racist. This is actually also in the debates, from what I recall. The question was asked, is America incurably, systemically racist?

Mr. Reilly: First of all, incurably systemically racist, no! We’ve been fighting racism. One thing that I tell my students, it’s important to remember, we’ve spent an enormous amount of treasure and indeed blood over the past 60, 70 years fighting racism in this country.

Segregation, at least de jure segregation, was ended in 1954 at the Brown v. Board of Education case. In 1964, there was still Southern resistance to this decision; there were still some problems. The Civil Rights Act made it actually formally illegal, civilly, and in many cases criminally, to be racist in practice, to engage in discrimination.

Since 1967, which is 53 years ago, if I have this correct, we have practiced pro-minority affirmative action. That was the dawn of the Philadelphia plan. Certainly since a decade after that point, in most blue-collar fields—police, fire—applying for most Fortune 500 jobs, and certainly applying to any reasonably ranked university in the educational sector, I’ll put it mildly and say you have not been at a disadvantage being a person of color.

Are we incurably bigoted? No. If a fourth law needs to be passed to go along with those, certainly that can be done and quite likely will be done. But a better, deeper question is, are we systemically racist at all? And again, I’ve mentioned some things [like] during-the-day traffic stops in some notorious cities.

There are some systems that may include an element of racism. But in general, this entire argument comes back to what we’ve been discussing before, which is the idea that disparities equal discrimination. The core argument for systemic racism is the argument that incomes differ so dramatically among groups.

If you ever Google “highest incomes in the USA” or “incomes by ethnicity,” one of the things I was surprised to find years ago and now take for granted is that the richest group in the country is again, Indian-Americans. I believe number two is Korean-Americans, Nigerian-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-Americans. Whites, I don’t think were in the top 15. I don’t want to say “you guys,” but Caucasians finished 17th. African-Americans didn’t do all that amazing either; we’re at 19th or 20th.

All of these groups that had just come to the USA, at least in terms of a large chunk of that population, were kicking everybody’s ass—white, black, native. It’s very hard to square that with the claim that our system is so prejudiced, that as a native-born, middle-class, black guy, or Appalachian white guy, Hispanic guy, or something like that, you just can’t succeed. That doesn’t make sense.

There are empirical reasons like Southern residency, and probably like study time, why people in group Y might make less than people in group X. Just a short add-on here, this is so much the case that we’re now seeing minorities suing minorities to stop affirmative-action programs. This is something that is so taboo to chuckle at that it’s rarely mentioned.

The recent suits against Harvard, Yale, and so on, weren’t brought by white kids who finished in the middle of the pack there. They were brought by Asian-Americans. I believe there were some Persian and Indian plaintiffs as well. Asia is a big place. Technically, I suppose you could argue those nations fall there as well.

The people who were at the top, who were getting squeezed out by the people at “the bottom,” weren’t rich white guys. They were people of darker skin tone who had come here from other countries to find their fortune. They simply couldn’t understand the system that we had in place that told them to stop competing because they were racist.

Many Asian-American comedians and pundits have made the point that the Constitution wasn’t written by Koreans. If people in that group are here and are beating both white and black competitors, maybe they’re just doing well in school.

Mr. Jekielek: In our discussion here, I think you’re turning a lot of so-called conventional wisdom on its head. It’s the thing that I find perplexing. Of course, you mentioned the media being a major player in this is how these ideas are sustained, right? A lot of the things that you’re describing are definitely not common knowledge.

Mr. Reilly: Yes, so first of all, I think your initial comment there was interesting. I’ve had in conversations—again, anywhere, cocktail party, the gym, a scholars conference—I’ve had people tell me, the only explanation for what you’re saying is that you’re lying. And I’ve mentioned: You’re a serious scholar as well. I’d be glad to give you a copy of my book “Taboo.” You can check this out. You can check out my sources.

Months later, I’ve had dozens of people contact me and apologize and say: Oh, I didn’t know that. Why didn’t I know it? Why was I never exposed to Thomas Sowell or John McWhorter or Glenn Loury or Walter Williams, or any of these quite mainstream center and center-right black academics as opposed to say, Bell Hooks?

That’s a fascinating question. The things that I’m saying aren’t in general in dispute. Being quite frank, I’m a professor, associate professor, tenure-track, in a quite solid, historically black college. I might get some occasional tweets about the things I write, but if I were making up lies, I wouldn’t be there. Prejudiced lying would not be allowed by any of the circles that I work in. …

Something like the number of individuals who are shot by police on an annual basis is available from The Washington Post. If you Google “Washington Post police shootings database,” you’ll find that as kind of a mitzvah they have. You don’t need to sign up for the paper to look at that database. It’s open to the public.

Much of this is not in dispute. It’s just never ever, ever discussed. The question is, why not? I think that there are two elements. One, most people are—I don’t want to say dumb and shallow—but most people are not especially focused on things that don’t bear on their own way of getting bread. They are not exploring the esoteric social sciences. That’s point one.

Point two—and this includes many reporters—there is a cadre of people who have a narrative to promote, either for money or because of reasons of personal passionate belief, and who have access to the corridors of power. So many people simply take their narrative as the given truth.

I don’t think it’s much of a secret in the United States that there exists a massive institutionalized “grievance industry” for want of a better word. This includes the old black civil rights groups like Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH, I believe, now incorporated under that name, [which] combined two pretty sizable groups in and of themselves. Al Sharpton—Reverend Al’s the National Action Network.

You have the newer groups, and I think some of these do a fair amount of good in addition to a lot of things I disapprove of, but the larger, multiple-purpose players, the ADL, for example, the SPLC. … Southern Poverty Law Center, by the way, has a well-invested endowment of $470 million, which is more than my state university.

You’ve got these mega players; you have what you could call the large fringe groups. Not comparing them to the SPLC, but these are national players: the Nation of Islam, the Aztlán movement. And now you have the young lions in the field. You have hundreds of local Black Lives Matter chapters.

For anyone who doesn’t think Antifa is real, just go on Twitter or Facebook and search “Antifa” and you’ll find regionally, I believe, incorporated groups like Rose City Antifa. You have this massive network of individuals, many quite witty, quite persuasive, as we’ve seen from the arrested rioters, mostly upper-middle to lower-upper class by background. These people are promoting this narrative that makes them money, but also that they surely believe, which is that the USA is an extremely racist country.

There’s footage that goes along with it—another black man killed. And there’s history that goes along with it—whites and blacks nearly coming to national-scale blows in the 1960s. So it’s very easy to believe. You have a large pipeline of people saying something that we’ve been taught historically is a problem for our country, and they’re producing videos to back it up.

How could it not be true? And the answer very simply is that there are 350 million Americans. There’s a video of virtually everything. There’s an entire cottage industry on the Right devoted to videos of young black kids walking behind white pensioners and knocking them out with bricks. Is that a national problem—the “knockout game”? No, not really, although it’s terribly tragic in each one of these cases.

There is no pipeline from the alt-lite right-wing sites that do that to the national media. There very, very certainly is a pipeline from the National Action Network to the national media, and there has been for 20 or 30 years. I think that that’s why people are exposed to more of this sort of thing than they are to, for example, Dr. Sowell’s perspective.

Mr. Jekielek: You have a whole book that’s dedicated to race hoaxes. I encourage people to read that book. It’s a fascinating breakdown, much in the dispassionate way that you’ve been describing these things, but the real-life effect of these things, especially when they’re amplified, is massive.

Mr. Reilly: Yes, thanks for mentioning that. I wrote the book “Hate Crime Hoax,” and I will emphasize, it’s not just sort of POC race hoaxes. I looked at this entire—”cottage industry” is a phrase that comes to mind—of, particularly on the campuses, invented stories of extreme discrimination.

These included, for example, feminist student activists claiming that they’d been sexually violated or cut with pins. This included minority individuals claiming that white hate groups had attacked them or kidnapped their children. This included a substantial number of “alt writers,” by the way, claiming that the Negroes were going mad and they had been attacked by a group of individuals and beaten.

One of the things that I found while writing this, and one of the things that inspired me to write this, is that it’s literally the case that the majority, I would say, of very high-profile, recent race- and sex-violence incidents, except perhaps for mass shootings, have turned out to be false, whether intentional hoaxes or not. You’d have to look at Jussie Smollett, Bubba Wallace, Covington Catholic.

Remember the claim that this group of [Covington Catholic] high school athletes had surrounded a Native American Indian elder and chanted “build the wall” and threatened to take his sacred drum away. “Build the wall,” by the way, [would be] a damned ironic thing to say to an Indian. It turned out this had never in fact happened.

Yasmin Seweid, the hijab attack on the New York 6 train, the burning of Hopewell Baptist Church, the Air Force Academy where a general came and spoke out against racism, the Rolling Stone rape hoax where the claims that the fraternities were running these sort of … old-style rape and abuse rings upstairs… Go on back to the start of this trend: the Duke lacrosse [team], Drake University, Goucher College, blah, blah, blah.

But the point was, why is this happening? I think what I got back down to was this question of providing a value or a power to victimization. All of this ties together to some extent. In the USA, we are not at war along racial or class lines to a rather remarkable degree. If you actually look at violent crime between blacks and whites—what’s traditionally been defined as interracial crime—that’s about 5 percent of crime.

Empirically, if you go to the BJS report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual report, you’ll find there about 12 million crimes on an annual basis, [and it] varies up to 20 million. About 600,000 of those crimes are incidents involving either a white perp and a black victim or a black perp and a white victim. What’s more—and this is truly taboo, by the way—”we” African-Americans commit 70 to 90 percent of that in a typical year.

So not only is there no epidemic here at all—I suppose any mugging is horrific for the person that loses a purse—the minority side, that allegedly is being victimized, commits more than 70 percent of this violence, which isn’t even surprising. There are more whites, and they have more money. But there certainly is no genocide going on against black people. That’s level one.

But level two of analysis here is that there does exist this entire complex that we just outlined together of individuals and entities that have existed very often since the ’60s when there was large-scale potentially war or battle-level racial conflict and that present the same narrative today.

Level three is that because they very often seize on stories of, for example, an abusive hate incident, people know to some extent that if they make one of these claims, they won’t be laughed at or mocked or even in a college- campus case necessarily asked to prove their bona fides. They will be rewarded; they may become famous.

There was a case in Madison, Wisconsin, recently where a young woman—this has never been exposed as a hoax; I’m not going to name her—claimed that she was attacked by a group of white men who pulled over next to her car, got her to roll down her window, sprayed her with a squeeze bottle of lighter fluid, and then threw a lighter into the car, which somehow remained on during the entire incident and caused burns to her face.

A lot of skeptical commentators online noted that this almost certainly did not happen, that that same night in Madison, there’d been some rioting. A multiracial group of students had sprayed a squeeze bottle full of lighter fluid onto a campus building. Fluid sparks had blown back on them. That’s quite likely what happened here. But there was a national response to this case.

I believe Meghan Markle, who’s now a Duchess in the U.K., said that something had to be done about this abusive tragedy. All of this ties together. Because there are people who want examples of the old wars to endure to this day, to some extent, [we have] created a system where if you claim a victim status, there is an element of power that goes along with that.

I don’t think that’s a right-wing narrative. I think to some extent, it’s simply a reality. To some extent, the best evidence of this would be that very notable figures on the Left, Rachel Dolezal, the most obvious, but three or four cases in academia just this past couple of weeks—professor Krug—have actually been exposed for pretending to be people of color. You could argue that this happened to Elizabeth Warren.

There’s this odd contrast between the constant claims of white privilege and the actual revelation that—let’s say 6 to 10—noted leaders in lefty politics were pretending to be POC. I’d be curious about what that real number is, by the way.

Obviously, when you apply for an affirmative action scholarship, there’s no one checking. We don’t do DNA tests in higher education, even at a fairly high level. So if you are Italian-American, and you say that you’re Hispanic and receive a 200-point admissions boost, does anyone ever find out whether or not you are? I don’t know.

All of this ties together into this big complex picture that’s very, very different from the one-sentence narrative of evil racism that we’re so often fed.

Mr. Jekielek: We’re going to finish up in a moment. There’s one thing I did want to ask you: One of our crew—I think I mentioned this to you offline—is a big fan of yours, has read a number of your books,

Mr. Reilly: Good call.

Mr. Jekielek: The “Taboo” book, which is the more recent one—he wanted to ask you to say some inspiring words for the black community in inner cities where you grew up. Other people, from what he said, simply don’t feel like they have the capability to rise up out of the inner city into a role as a professor at a university, a tenured professor in a university, or a tenure-track professor at a university.

Mr. Reilly: Sure, I’m more than glad to do that. I commend that guy on his choice of potential role models, by the way. I try to live up to that. In all reality, I’ll give two messages—one for African-Americans, perhaps especially African-American men, the other for everybody.

The first message for black people, more than anyone else, is get out and look at the actual facts. One of the craziest things in the national dialogue is that there’s no longer an extraordinary amount of racism, certainly anywhere near higher ed or the Fortune 500. In fact, we’re sometimes at an advantage.

But we’ve been convinced, insanely, that there are people out there trying to kill us, and this convincing has often come from white liberals. It really is one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen, man.

If you look at the actual numbers on police shootings—we didn’t really get into that one, but this is a good example of something black men are often fed—that there’s a genocide. There’s a book actually, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People,” written by the prominent attorney Ben Crump, that makes this claim. This is a nonsensical claim.

The total number of unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers last year, 2019—busy year for law enforcement—was 14. That number’s up from 9, by the way. The Washington Post is looking at the data, and apparently added some biracial cases or some cases where the victim had originally been classified as “race unknown.”

So let’s say between 10 and 15 brothers in the entire country, over a 365-day year, were actually killed by police. The idea that there are these clan-like forces out there, systemically trying to hold us back is absolute nonsense. In 99.9 percent of the situations, that is a middle-class guy working on a TV show. …

In fact, because of the laws set up to advantage minorities to compensate for the past, if you’ve gotten to that point, you will find yourself to be significantly advantaged in most situations where you’re competing. When I applied to law school—I actually went to a school, the University of Illinois where my LSAT was about on par because I was familiar with affirmative action.

My mom was an educator—but when I applied to law school, one of the schools that waitlisted me and strongly considered admitting me, as a guy from Southern Illinois University with good average grades, was Yale.

It is very, very definitely not going to be a problem being a black guy looking for a grad school admission slot, law school admission slot, med school admission slot, a job in broadcasting. Without going through all the advantage—in this state it’s 174 points and so on—this is true to a remarkable extent, and it’s not known by a lot of African-Americans.

So go out and compete. You’ll sometimes experience racism, you’ll sometimes benefit from affirmative action, but your life will be pretty much like everybody else’s life. In reality, the 9 black guys or the 60 white guys who were killed by cops do not reflect the black community or the white community.

Now a broader positive message for everyone: The greatest underreported story of the past 200 years is that life is getting better. If you look at any metric that we look at in social science—life expectancy, IQ, rights for all groups, by the way, blacks, whites—we might quarrel with each other about that, but it’s called the Flynn effect: substantial upward rise, rights for women who couldn’t vote in this country and much of Europe until the 1920s. These things are getting substantially, remarkably better. …

The two great threats to a society are barbarism and decadence, and we’ve beaten the first. We, to some extent, are doing things—sitting in front of games where you get to sleep with and kill strangers, but that aren’t real, watching television 10 hours a day, social media—we are doing things that are entirely our own choice that expose us to a negative, arguably decadent, certainly dumb and violent version of the world.

But in the new, improved modern world in which we live, you can flick off the controller at any point, go grab a football or a basketball and just walk outside, or [grab] a book. So I would strongly encourage more people to do that, to limit unreal activities to an hour or so a day and to take your fiancée to dinner, to have a fiancée as opposed to a series of random hookups—if we’re still talking to the young men—to learn skills from cooking to sport.

In the modern world, you determine about 95 percent of where you’re going to go in life. Once you get to some basic plateaus—I’m not saying this is the case if you’re a young poor kid—but if you get out of high school, you get out of the military, you get out of college, you can pretty much decide what you want to do in a better world than has ever previously existed, so do it.

Don’t descend into an entirely self-created vacuum of ennui because you have the choice not to. We have free will and should use it.

Mr. Jekielek: Wilfred Reilly, such a pleasure to have you on.

Mr. Reilly: Such a pleasure to be here. I really enjoyed the conversation. Like I said, I enjoy the program. I look forward to watching it, perhaps to coming back. Have a great day.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

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