Racism’s New Meaning and the Double Standard It Serves

June 24, 2021 Updated: June 25, 2021


Over at the website American Greatness, Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent column under the heading of “The Biden No-Go Zones,” which simply documents some of the ways in which American journalism has discredited itself over the last five years by holding President Donald Trump and the Republicans to a completely different standard from that which is applied to President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Most of us will be familiar with the catalogue already. Above all, there’s the eager exploitation of anything that could conceivably—or even inconceivably, as in the case of the “very fine people” of the Charlottesville demonstrations—be considered racism in Trump’s case and the complete disregard of incidents of racial insensitivity (to put it politely) in Biden’s.

Hardly a story about the former president, no matter the subject, was complete without a mention of his alleged “racism”—often rhetorically inflated to “white supremacism”—while Biden’s racial gaffes are dismissed as just “Joe being Joe.”

“Joe Biden,” writes Hanson, “(never mind his son, Hunter) has compiled the most glaring rap sheet of racist quotes of any current modern political leader.”

That may well be true, but we need to add an asterisk and a footnote to this effect: “The word ‘racism’ here is being used in its old-fashioned sense of invidious discrimination against members of one race as practiced by members of another.”

What? You didn’t know that the definition of racism had been changed while you weren’t looking? You need to browse your back numbers of The Claremont Review of Books for an article by William Voegeli in the Fall, 2018 issue titled “Racism, Revised” (the sub-head is “The way we hate now”).

There you will find that, “For social justice leftists … it is now self-evident that racism has nothing to do with a person’s attitudes about racial groups, and everything to do with where one stands on questions of redistributive justice among such groups. The words of one blogger reflect the resultant bullying certitude: ‘Your first step is to accept that ‘a hatred or intolerance of another race’ is not the definition of racism. The dictionary is wrong. Get over it.’”

Or, to put it another way, among the most advanced thinkers today, the single, unitary and universal moral standard enthroned by the Enlightenment has been deposed and the double standard inherited from our tribal past—wherein the rules only apply within some morally privileged group and not to anyone outside it—sits in its place.

This is what these revolutionary thinkers mean when they say that only white people can be guilty of racism. Or, for that matter, that only Republicans can be guilty of all the things Trump was said to be guilty of—except that they lack the frankness of Voegeli’s leftist blogger and don’t usually come right out and say that last part. They don’t have to if they never hear you (or Victor Davis Hanson) calling them hypocrites.

Not that they would care even if they did. Hypocrisy, like the universal moral standard that exposes it, simply doesn’t exist in their double standard world.

People need to bear this in mind when reading or listening to the weaselly self-justifications of our cultural and political masters today. Take, for instance, the linguistic sleight-of-hand in the article by Ricky L. Jones that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal a couple of weeks ago:

“Republicans want to criminalize teaching students about racism. Here’s why.”

Obviously, what’s being referred to here is the effort by state and local governments and school boards across the country to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory to school-children. To Ricky L. Jones and other progressives, CRT means “teaching students about racism.”

But it can only mean that if you assume, along with Ricky L., that “racism” has its new and not its old meaning. To those who oppose CRT, what is being “criminalized” is teaching not about racism (in its new definition) but actually racism, under its old definition—that is, that one race is morally superior to another and so deserves to be treated differently, and better.

You can change the definition to suit yourself, but you can’t change that damning fact to suit any but brainwashed children. The resistance to the new curriculum suggests that America’s children are not going to be brainwashed without a fight.

Another progressive tactic with respect to CRT is to adopt Joe Biden’s approach during last year’s election campaign to what might otherwise have been the thorny subject of Antifa and its leadership of that summer’s anti-police riots and deny that it exists—or that it exists as anything but a fabrication of its enemies.

Thus Benjamin Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker has lately purported to clue in the readers of that once-respectable publication as to “How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory.”

The “Conservative Activist” in question is Christopher Rufo who has put together in the pages of City Journal and elsewhere information sent to him by people compelled by their government or corporate employers to sit through “anti-racism seminars.” He has done so in order to give the ideology behind such seminars a more accurately descriptive name, as well as to stir up opposition to it.

To that end, however, he might have done better to call it “the new racism.”

Yet Wallace-Wells appears to believe that Rufo has conjured out of thin air the idea that “the anti-racism seminars did not just represent a progressive view on race but that they were expressions of a distinct ideology—critical race theory—with radical roots.”

It’s not as if the “radical roots” are not pretty obvious in the works of the CRT guru Ibram X. Kendi who, as Wallace-Wells acknowledges, has written “that anti-racism was not possible without anti-capitalism.” But I guess that doesn’t count as radicalism to readers of The New Yorker, who can be relied upon for a Pavlovian response to any accusation of “red-baiting” by “conservative activists.”

It remains to be seen if, like those readers, middle America will allow itself thus to be soothed and reassured of the harmlessness of this reversion to tribalism and the double standard. But it is not only “conservative activists” who seem to sense the giant of public opinion stirring in its sleep.

James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” Bowman is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.

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

James Bowman
James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.