Human Exceptionalism Is the Solution to Racism

July 16, 2020 Updated: July 23, 2020


The cause of racial equality has advanced exponentially since I was a boy.

In those bad old days, African Americans were ubiquitously discriminated against and denied equal opportunity—sometimes by law, often by custom—based simply on the color of their skin. The harm caused to individuals and families was unquestionable and unquantifiable. As the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education stated so eloquently, “Separate but equal is inherently unequal.”

Today, Jim Crow is dead—never to be mourned. Racism, alas, remains. But contemporary approaches to promoting equality too often don’t approach racism as a cancer afflicting an otherwise healthy body to be rooted out. Instead, the false narrative increasingly emanates from our highest institutions that racism is all there is and ever has been to the American experiment. No wonder so many of us are so angry.

Alas, the Smithsonian Institution furthers this destructive and misleading narrative. Its National Museum of African American History and Culture has an online learning project called, “Talking About Race” that could have been written by the racists of my youth. Specifically, the unit on “Whiteness” shamefully asserts that virtues and cultural norms that promote a successful life are somehow an “assumption of whiteness.”

These purportedly oppressive notions include:

  • Self-reliance
  • The nuclear family as the ideal social unit
  • Emphasis on the scientific method
  • The primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition
  • Hard work as the key to success
  • Planning for the future
  • Decision-making
  • Majority rules (when whites have power)
  • Communication: “The ‘King’s English’ rules”

How bitterly ironic. In the bad old days, racists claimed slanderously that African Americans were incapable of maintaining stable families, weren’t rational thinkers, were lazy, and couldn’t speak with proper articulation. But here, the museum promotes the canard that achieving excellence is somehow “white.” What a travesty.

(After receiving much criticism and after this piece was written, the museum removed the graphic from which the above text was taken without notice, explanation, or correction.)

Making matters worse, the text argues that “if you identify as white, acknowledging your white racial identity and its privileges is a crucial step to help end racism.” The stated goal is to become an “anti-racist,” that for “White people” requires one to “see yourself as part of the White group.” (The text capitalizes the racial identifier.)

Good grief, how many years have we worked to dissuade people from embracing racial identities as the best means of ending our racial divisions?

No! Re-racializing our personal identities and wielding the cudgel of a purported collective racial guilt derails honest conversation and sows increased discord. Indeed, it is to retreat from the great advances in racial equality for which so many sacrificed so much—including their lives—in the history of the republic.

Epoch Times Photo
The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.. (C) waves to supporters on the Mall in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. (-/AFP via Getty Images)

Human Exceptionalism

So, how are we to bridge harmful racial divides and overcome remaining disparities in opportunities that undermine our attainment of a fully equal society? The answer is as simple as it is profound: In place of disputations over race, a superficial distinction, let us embrace and commit to promoting human exceptionalism and living by its precepts.

Human exceptionalism holds that we each possess unique and immeasurable value simply and merely because we are human. To put it another way, we are all endowed with equal and inalienable moral value as an objective principle. Our skin color, the texture of our hair, and the shape of our eyes are irrelevant. We are equal because we are human. Period.

From a human exceptionalism perspective, racism is evil because it treats inherent equals as if they are unequal. And in that fiction, the racist justifies discriminating against, denigrating, or objectifying the targeted victim based on the fallacy that “the other’s” life is somehow less important. Talk about hubris!

Human exceptionalism also imposes duties based solely on our humanity. Racism and discriminatory behavior violate our duty to treat each other as we would want to be treated. In this sense, bigotry is a form of withholding. It denies the mutual love and support we each owe to—and are entitled to receive from—all.

That is the standard to which we should analyze our own behavior and judge the propriety of public policies: Do they further or impede human exceptionalism? Looking at it from this angle erases false divisions, eases community guilt, cools angry recriminations, and restores social cohesion.

We have seen the persuasive power of human exceptionalism in furthering the great cause of civil rights repeatedly in our nation’s history.

When Martin Luther King Jr. argued that we should be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin, the heavens shook.

Similarly, in 1831, the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison committed himself passionately to the immediate an unequivocal emancipation of slaves and complete equality between the races, writing in the first edition of the Liberator:

“I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

When Garrison wrote his great editorial, the Abolitionist Movement barely existed. Thirty-five years later, American slavery was a smoldering ruin.

There can be no question eradicating racism from our midst remains an urgent priority. But let us pursue the great cause through inclusive rather than divisive means by embracing our human identity first and above all racial distinctions. If we do, whiteness, blackness, and every invidious “ness” will disappear as we move steadily toward attaining a more perfect union.

Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is the chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.