Unchaining Demons: Critical Race Theorists, Progressive Activists Revive One of Humanity’s Worst Ideas

July 24, 2020 Updated: August 2, 2020

Commentary

Since the beginning of the “1619 Riots” following the death of George Floyd, the ideas of critical race theory, “systemic racism,” and white privilege have taken mainstream America by storm.

In university lecture halls, grade schools, sports arenas, and corporate boardrooms, progressive activists, especially those associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, now demand a wholesale reordering of American life and a nihilistic erasure of American history and culture. Those who oppose any element of this movement or express any qualms about its tactics or motives are deemed “white supremacists.”

Far from ending racism, however, BLM and its allies are fomenting racial hatred.

Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” the handbook of the racial left, espouses a new version of scientific racism, a set of ideas whose first incarnation led to the most horrific events of modern history. Not only was scientific racism used to justify slavery and apartheid, it was a mainstay of Adolf Hitler’s beliefs and helped fuel the Nazi takeover of Germany, resulting in World War II and the Holocaust.

Scientific Racism

Scientific racism grew out of the work of Charles Darwin (though never directly endorsed by Darwin himself). Scientific racism claimed that race was an essential and defining human characteristic, that races were in permanent conflict with each other, that such conflict shaped human history, and that races had permanent characteristics that made some superior and others inferior.

“Nordic” races were viewed as more civilized and more intelligent, while sub-Saharan Africans, east and south Europeans, and Asians were seen as inferior and less civilized. For example, one 1911 guidebook to “races and peoples” described Italians as “excitable, impulsive … having little adaptability to organized society.”

Scientific racism was a pseudo-science. Its research was at best contrived and often based on bizarre ideas about minor physical differences, such as the shape of people’s skulls, that were supposed to determine intelligence. Yet it wasn’t a fringe movement. It was considered “settled” science and found support among the most educated and progressive classes in the United States and Europe: politicians, jurists, government officials, professors, doctors, writers, and artists.

This was more than theory. “Race science” was designed to be applied to real human societies. Its best-known application was eugenics, which sought to “do the work” of scientific racism by creating a racially more fit and hygienic society through selective procreation.

Margaret Sanger, a founder of the American Birth Control League (later known as Planned Parenthood), stated her goal as “more children from the fit, less from the unfit.” (The original meaning of “birth control” wasn’t something to prevent pregnancy but the idea that procreation should be determined and guided by scientific experts.) The unfit and inferior were to be prevented from reproducing and thus eliminated.

Under Nazi rule in Germany, this application of racial science was taken to its logical extreme in a desire to create a utopia fit for the Master Race by eliminating Jews and other so-called inferior races, as well as people with disabilities.

The Holocaust and the defeat of Nazism discredited scientific racism as pseudoscientific biology. Racism became synonymous with evil, and Europe and the United States made significant progress in overcoming legalized forms of racism and its economic and political legacies.

Yet, as overt racism began to slowly fade away, post-modern academics became preoccupied with theories of race and racism, and by the 1990s, began to lay the groundwork for a new version of scientific racism.

A New Scientific Racism

While the original scientific racism was grounded in biology, the new version is based in the humanities and social sciences, especially fields such as sociology, education, and critical studies.

As in the 19th century, post-modern critical race theory creates a hierarchy of races, only it inverts the order of that hierarchy with “whites” at the bottom. The old racists ranked races using phony measures like “attributes of civilization.” The new racists create their ranking from each group’s level of perceived victimization. The more “historically victimized” a group, the higher on the ranking it is, and the more allegedly valuable it is.

Whites are oppressors, and their desire to oppress comes not from changeable attitudes but from their unchanging nature as white people, while people of color in varying degrees are permanent victims in need of solicitude.

Like pseudoscientists of the late 19th century, post-modern race “scholars” consider themselves on the cutting edge of scholarship and cloak their theories in opaque, mystical-sounding jargon. Yet their scholarship is no more valid than their 19th-century counterparts who debated the effect of skull shapes. Critical race scholars are either unable or unwilling to clearly define even their most basic terms, such as “white.” Whole books are written about topics such as “white fragility,” in which authors can’t coherently explain what “white” means.

Scientific racists believe that race defines the person. Character, individual identity, family background, or even culture are irrelevant. This is a special problem since most people don’t define themselves by race. If you think of yourself as a Jewish American, Italian American, or just American, you have to be reeducated. So Di Angelo and other critical race theorists spend a lot of effort to convince white people to define themselves as white.

The idea that to fight racism, we have to convince white people to adopt a white racial identity and define themselves by their race is insane and dangerous, creating the very thing it claims to oppose.

Fomenting Conflict

A century ago, race theorists believed members of each race acted together in a kind of secret conspiracy. Anti-Semites promulgated fakes like “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” and the belief that all Jews were part of a secret society dedicated to undermining or controlling society. Today’s race theorists believe the same thing.

The late historian Noel Ignatiev stated, “The white race is like a private club based on one huge assumption: that all those who look white are, whatever their complaints or reservations, fundamentally loyal to the race.” The club, he believed, grants its members special powers denied to others.

In 1916, progressive eugenicist Madison Grant, a close ally of Margaret Sanger, published his book “The Passing of the Great Race,” a virulently racist tract that posited that the history of America—and all human history—was defined by an eternal conflict between hostile races. This view was the hallmark of scientific racism, and it came to define the worldview of Adolf Hitler and many of his followers.

In 2019, The New York Times published the “1619 Project,” which claims that American history is nothing more than a perpetual conflict between whites and blacks.

Today’s progressives have now almost completely resurrected one of the most evil ideas ever created by humanity, a theory that caused untold death and suffering. Far from opposing racism, critical race theorists in academia and beyond are creating it and feeding it.

Critical race theory demeans people of all races and cultures, reducing them to a social construct of skin color. It deliberately foments conflict between racial and ethnic groups, based on real or perceived historical grievances, whether for political gain or even out of a belief that critical race theory will bring about a utopia of cultural harmony. Yet no such utopia can even exist, and those who seek political gain in racial strife ignore countless examples of the extreme danger of racial politics across the last century, from Armenia to Rwanda.

For all its faults and imperfections, and through centuries of conflict and its hard lessons, America is one of the few examples of a society where people of different cultures, faiths, and races have had the possibility to live together in peace and safety.

Yet the return of scientific racism and its promotion by much of our political, social, and cultural elite, places Americans of all races in the gravest danger.

John Radzilowski, Ph.D., is a professor of history at the University of Alaska Southeast.

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