What is Racism?C. B. Robertson
One of the essays I have returned to most frequently in the last several years has been George Orwell’s “Politics of the English Language.” Much of the much-maligned polarization in our civic culture comes down to unstated disagreements on the meanings of terms, and as Orwell said, our language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” In his time, “fascism” was the confusion of choice. Today, however, no word in the Western World is as divisive and confounding as “racism.”
A recent demonstration: on January 14, The New York Times—seemingly in contradiction to its apologetic promise to return to objective journalism—returned once again to the idea that President Trump is, indeed, a racist.
This strategy proved to be disastrous during the campaign, as the expansion of the meaning necessary to include Trump meant that the tarring label smeared millions (perhaps billions) of people who are demonstrably and discernibly not evil in the manner that most people associate with “racism.” This expansion had such a diluting effect on the seriousness of the word that people who otherwise held themselves to egalitarian, color-blind moral standards cheerfully took on the label of “evil racist” ironically. They did this because they knew that the expansion was ridiculous, and forcing the media to swallow its own uncut definition and chew on it for a while was both amusing and just.
All of the political and rhetorical posturing, however, does not resolve the question of what “racism” actually is. Even Wikipedia, which has tended towards left-wing ideological convergence in recent years, admits that “[t]oday, the use of the term “racism” does not easily fall under a single definition.” What does “racism” mean?
The aptly-named Charles Blow of The New York Times defines racism in the following manner:
Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior. These beliefs are racial prejudices.
Two errors immediately leap from the page. The first is the labeling of these beliefs as prejudicial. Most definitions of prejudice describe it as a belief that is not based on facts or experience, and is, in other words, irrational. But noticing patterns of distinctions between things clearly can be based on experience and facts. Even if a belief cannot be guaranteed by certainty, it is important for humans to be able to make inferences based on the information we do have, since no amount of information can guarantee truth. In this sense, an attack on prejudice can sometimes expand into an attack on learning itself.
Related to prejudice, attacking a claim for appearing to be based on prejudice in this context also makes assumptions about the motivations and reasoning of others, which by definition cannot be known with certainty.
The second error is the assertion that differences between nature renders superiority and inferiority. Admittedly, this error is contingent upon the objectivity of the claim to superiority. No one would doubt, for instance, that wood and stone are different materials. A bunker or a castle made of stone will be stronger than a similar structure made of wood, and therefore, superior for its purpose. A wooden telephone pole, by contrast, is cheaper, lighter, and faster to erect than a stone pole built for a similar purpose. Thus the wooden pole is superior to the stone equivalent for its purpose.
Which is superior, stone or wood? The question itself is a category error, because asking about the relative superiority or inferiority of an object necessarily presumes a single point of reference by which comparisons can be made. Making generalized comparisons between two objects that share a plethora of differences, and which fundamentally arose in different environments around different strategies for survival, is simply a pointless thing to do. What is a better animal, a lungfish or an army ant?
There are plenty of ways that Blow could have ended his sentence about the superiority and inferiority of groups and individuals based on race. If for instance, he has said “…at running (on average),” or “…at math (on average),” or “…at shooting (on average),” most people would immediately think of East Africans, of East Asians, and of Russians. These generalized differences do not tell us anything about any given individual, but they nonetheless represent observable patterns that most people acknowledge, and even joke about. Many people who believe in equality before the law and the sanctity of every human life have no trouble noticing these differences, because contextual superiority does not equate to moral or legal superiority for most people. If this were the case, we would have to open up entire legal departments to deal with such inarguable differences as height and weight.
The point is not to portray these observations—and the different conclusions people derive from them—as right or wrong. The point is to notice how sloppy the term “racism” is. We are supposed to believe that racism is both accidentally complimenting someone in a way that tips our hat to a benign stereotype, and also slaughtering people by the hundreds of thousands.
If racism is simply the belief that people are different, then the vast majority of people in the world are racist. If it is the belief that because people are different, my people are objectively superior and have the right to dominate and destroy every other kind of people on the planet, then virtually no one is a racist. Nevertheless, much of today’s conversation on the subject fluidly conflates definitions of “racism” as radically different as these. This pattern of conflation makes leftists look ridiculous, for the reasons described above. However, it also hurts the right, whose advocacy of a realistic perspective on differences between groups can now be misinterpreted as a call for genocide by well-intentioned people who have been given a sloppy word to categorize virtually anything that has to do with noticing racial differences.
To borrow some prescient verbiage from Orwell:
It will be seen that, as used, the word [racism] is almost entirely meaningless […] To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define [racism] satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the [racists] themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.
However, I think we can help Mr. Blow stop “fighting against the water until you drown,” because I agree that there is almost nothing more useless than debating the existence of “racism,” for the reasons above. In this spirit, I propose a short alternative list of words which will cover the spectrum previously held up by “racism” alone.
- Racialism: the belief that there are biological differences between groups. This may or may not impact the racialist’s political or social views.
- Nativism/Tribalism: the preference for one’s own group or nation over others. This may or may not imply a hatred of others, but does imply some difference in how the nativist thinks of others or behaves towards them.
- Supremacism: the belief that one’s own group is objectively superior to others.
A few points should be made. First, there is no word necessary for what social justice advocates have come to call “aversive racism,” because by their own admission, everything is racist (and sexist). In other words, we can just call aversive racism “normal” and move on.
The reasoning behind the idea of normalcy is that intent is best determined by real-world outcomes. Therefore, since everyone is essentially the same in their potential, any discrepancy in outcomes is evidence of bias and racism. Since differences in outcome are, and always have been, universal, there are two possible solutions: either the world is fundamentally and irrevocably unjust, or the premise that everyone is essentially the same is not true.
Secondly, it should be noted that an individual could in principle be any combination of these three (or four, if we include “normal”) traits. Someone could believe that he and his family are superior to everyone else (supremacist), but that it derives from a spiritual or historical distinction (non-racialist) and that nothing follows from that (non-nativist). Another person could believe that her country comes first (nativist), but that this is only based upon a universal human imperative, and not on any important racial distinction (non-racialist) or on the superiority of her own nation (non-supremacist). Yet a third person may view xir race as distinct (racialist), but that no specialness (non-supremacist)—indeed, no borders at all (non-nativist)—follows from xir belief about xir race.
Perhaps xe is a libertarian.
In any case, I think if we can agree to discuss behavior and beliefs in terms of “racialism,” “tribalism,” and “supremacism,” rather than the broad and ambiguous term “racism,” much confusion and impotent drown-fighting can be avoided. Needless to say, all three of these terms are themselves up for debate. But old words get overladen with baggage, and no one can drag them up from the depths to figure out exactly what they mean. New words breathe new life into the discussion, and Mr. Blow—along with much of America—is no doubt dying for a breath of fresh air.
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Blow begins his definition: “Racism is simply…”. Methinks he doth protest too much… WAY too much. But he’s black, so he gets the permanent “hall pass”.
I had been in favor of clarity of thought and in what St. Thomas called “distinctions, distinctions”. But it’s hopeless, if the Mt. Olympus of SJWery, the New York Times, is letting “Racism is simply” get by its fact-checkers and editors. So now I think it is time to consider, as a military strategy, allowing SJWs to just go ahead and hitch their entire wagon to yelling “racism”. And yes, potentially condemn billions of people to the term. Why insist on clarification anymore?
Speaking of Orwell. I can think of no other term than Orwellian for the fact that a person can serve time for murder and still get a job in our society when they come out. But get publicly besmirched with “racism” (or, better, “anti-Semitism”) and one is expected to starve to death. For having views. It’s like the curious line in the New Testament that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the only non-forgiveable sin. Now it’s racism.
And to think that as little as a century ago, if you said to someone, white, black, or yellow, “Pssst! We’ve got a big racism problem”, no one would have any idea what you were even talking about. To this day, I still don’t know which of the Ten Commandments the sin of racism fits under (or even the three definitions proposed above).
As soon as the reader is forced to think about the three or four potential meanings of racism technically, the idea of moralizing against racism becomes very difficult to justify. Even “supremacism” is not identical to genocide (which arguably could be fit under the injunction against murder… exempting Amalekites, of course).
Paul Kersey often quotes that Jeffrey dahmer wanted to clarify to the world that he was not racist. Serial killer, cannibal, sexual deviant, but please don’t throw him in that racist briar patch.
This is a logical and reasonable essay, but I think something is missing. First, human beings are not primarily beings of logic and reason. The writer is at times (sometimes I am too), as are the readers of counter-currents at times, but this is a very small and atypical population. The great majority of humans are primarily beings of emotion, feelings and impulse. The meaning of the word “Racist” is not some a logical, reasoned definition of syllables in a dictionary. The true meaning of the word “Racist” is in the emotions, feelings and impulses they provoke in humans.
And the true meaning is, “YOU ARE EVIL!”, “BLASPHEMER!” “YOU PROBABLY DESERVE DEATH!”, “YOU ARE AN EXTREME SOCIAL VIOLATOR!” The word provokes images of vile European slavemasters whipping innocent brownskinned babies, death camps of starved corpses being devoured by rats, screaming maniacal skinheads that endanger all that is good, and stand for all that is evil and should be hated. This is a word that is heavy and dripping with death, violence, war, genocide. The word evokes powerful impulses of fear, shock and horror within the deep recesses of the human brain.
When you try to define this hurricane of meaning and emotion with a few unemotional sentences, you fail to capture the true sense of those syllables and how that word really speaks to them.
The word is weaponized, tied to associations of the worst imaginable evil. People use it not for truth-seeking but to gain political/material advantage. Charles Blow uses this word not because he is a philosopher pursuing knowledge, but to transfer political power and resources from Europeans to Africans. The same with the word’s inventor. If you admit to being sick and evil (being a racist), its unhelpful.
The essay is intelligent and well-argued, the author is smart and well-educated. The problems though, as I see them are:
1) The unspoken assumption that the mammals known as human beings are mostly ruled by the tiny layer of gray matter coating parts of their brains, rather than their much greater amount of emotional hardware.
2) The assumption that word meanings are as indicated in a dictionary, as opposed to how they affect the emotional hardware of a human through association.
3) Conceptualizing the discussion regarding the word as a rational argument, when this word is a weapon. People use this word in the same way that weapons are used in war, to destroy the enemy and achieve victory. If you are European, you are the enemy, and arguing with the person launching the missile at you, who has the intent to harm your group and benefit his group misses the real dynamics of the interaction.
@Nancy, that is an extremely kind and insightful criticism.
My only defense would be that there are, essentially, two kinds of dialogues we can have: dialectical ones, which revolve around the ascertainment and articulation of truth, and rhetorical ones, which are designed to persuade using emotion.
I am primarily interested in the dialectical conversations, because I think that on the whole, rhetoric tends to follow from dialectic, rather than vice-versa (we can leave Nietzsche out for the sake of simplicity). However, there happens to be a rhetorical use to having superior dialectic when it comes to dealing with authoritarian leftists. The argument runs more or less as follows:
Left-wing people are high in “openness,” a personality trait that tends to correlate with intelligence, but more broadly characterizes an interest in new experiences and the natural inclination to see things from different perspectives. Such people tend to place very high value in intelligence. The desire to police language, however, is more strongly correlated with low verbal intelligence than poor grades are. In other words, left-wing authoritarians tend to strongly value intelligence, but tend not to be intelligent.
If you can frame the debate in a manner that defines emotional outbursts and refusal to empathize as anti-intellectual, it puts many leftists in an emotional bind that all but psychologically forces them to listen and take your points seriously. I myself have used this technique on Antifa members at a number of rallies here in Washington, usually by very genuinely asking why they believe what they believe, finding some point of common ground, and then working back upward. If you are sincere, and if they grant your sincerity, they’ll become the anti-intellectual if they revert back to the emotional language and slogans. And they’ll know it. They can’t stomach that.
Granted, I haven’t tried this technique with the word “racism,” so the point in application here is only speculative. Nevertheless, I think it’s a true argument, and the truth can never hurt us in the long run, even if some truths have more utility than others.
It’s shocking how fast words can become de-weaponized. I actually managed to get an Antifa-member chastising one of his buddies over their use of the word “Nazi,” because I’d asked him if PewDiePie was a Nazi, and we’d had a lengthy discussion about it. After that discussion, his friend railing against us “Nazis” made his side look like the weak, over-simplifying, anti-intellectual side, and that made him uncomfortable.
Conceptualizing the discussion regarding the word as a rational argument, when this word is a weapon.
“Racism” as a word is a psychological warfare weapon. It is intended to defang the (White) opposition by accusing White people of something so heinous that it can not even be defined rationally.
Let’s look at this objectively. Whether or not White people are “superior” to, say, blacks is besides the point. It just may be that the usual genetic characteristics ascribed to blacks by race realists (low median IQ, lack of future time orientation, whatever) have some long term evolutionary survival value. But as James Burnham points out in Suicide of the West, unless Westerners (whom he noted were mostly White) believe their civilization is superior to all competitors, there is no political reason to fight in its defense. If we are all “equal,” what difference does it make who wins?
We can see how this has played out in South Africa. As long as Whites maintained their system of racial supremacy (apartheid), they could defend their civilization and their security. The moment they conceded to the principle of racial equality, they lost the ideological foundation for national resistance. The result? Well, we can see how White people are being ethnically cleansed from the new rainbow nation of South Africa.
The dilemma is two-fold:
First, racial egalitarianism assumes that everybody is going to play it by the same rules. To wit, that non-Whites are going to respect Whites when the latter are in the minority. Of course, this does not happen, whether we are talking Stanleyville, Johannesburg, Detroit, London or Malmo. Where Whites cede power, non-Whites (rightly) see it as weakness and move in for the kill.
More fundamentally, for egalitarianism to work, the races would actually have to be equal in terms of intelligence and civilization building capacity. But events since 1945 have demonstrated this not to be the case. Where White people have turned over power to, say, blacks the result has been cities devastated by crime, infrastructure collapse, corruption and general incivility.
All this demonstrates the reality of race, by the way.
It is a fundamental principle of psychological warfare (or “information operations” as we say these days) that you have to be on the offensive to win. Getting defensive over “racism” is a losing strategy. It would make sense to find some term with which to attack the enemies of White people and then keep hitting them with it. Whites have to seize the initiative.
Which gets back to understanding the weaponization of discourse. Time to throw the enemies of the White race on the defensive. Then White lands can be reclaimed.
Well said, really cutting through the Schumer. Most high brow White Nationalists tacitly assume some kind of equality in all of their propositions. Thus we defuse our selves and merely hope for a reciprocation that will never come. Until we can attain the state of “We matter, they don’t”, things will continue to unravel for us.
“Methinks he doth protest too much…”
I have the contrary impression – that it is white nationalists who protest too much.
The author of this piece is surely correct that ‘racism’ is today so overused that, in many instances, it’s largely meaningless. But it’s not completely meaningless. What most people think of as ‘racism’ is a combination of all three distinctions made by the author (racialism/tribalism/supremacism), and these have a tendency to travel together.
So while of course one could, as the author explains, be a racialist but not a tribalist, or a tribalist but not a supremacist, has the author really not noticed the tendency of racialists to also be tribalists? Of tribalists also to be supremacists? For a political movement that makes so much of ‘pattern recognition,’ I cannot help but think it telling that it so hotly disputes the meaningfulness of the term ‘racism.’
“Racist”, as well as “extremist” and “supremacist”, are bogus words on two accounts. First, the word(s) is/are not used true to the root words “whatever” & “ist”. They should be used in a like way as pianist, violinist, physicist and chemist; someone who is profficient and knowledgeable about the “-ist”. We all know from decades (over a half century, now) of experience that those who toss around the word “raysis” at others do not use the word is such a way.
Second, again, we all know from personal experience that the users of such words do not apply the same definition to themselves (or their pets, usually the negroes, who commit ungodly amounts of interracial violent crime against Whites).
Further, it is not Whites who want supremacy over others such as negroes. We Whites have proven this several times. First after the Civil War when negroes were segregated (I suppose there wasn’t enough support to mass deport to africa) and then after unconstitutional court ordered desegregation White flight to suburbs. Whites have done nothing but avoid negroes like the plague. Other races, as well. It is negroes and other races who look to dominate the White, by invading White countries through mass floods of migration.
“White privilege” seems to be the replacement for “raysis” since “raysis” is losing its potency.
Trump is a civic nationalist, not a racist. What sort of racist would let his daughter marry a Jew and take that Jew as his most trusted advisor? (Jews are not White and don’t want to be White. Race is more than skin color; many Japanese are fairer than us but none are White.)
Racism in all the ways you define it is normal, natural, and essential to long-term survival. If you see your genes as no better than those of 7.6 billion other bipedal apes on this grossly overpopulated planet, why bother propagating them? Much easier to import a few million young adult Africans who, being just like us, will repay our kindness by gratefully providing us with a comfortable, dignified old age.
Racism is simply the belief that race is an inherent and determining factor in a person’s or a people’s character and capabilities, rendering some inferior and others superior.
Let’s say John Q Liberal wakes up in the middle of the night and – just for one minute – the thought comes into his head, “White people are superior to black people.”He then falls back asleep, never again to think such dastardly thoughts. Guess what? John Q is now a “racist.”
There is something really dangerous going on here. “Racism” is being defined not as an action: e.g., discriminating on the basis of skin color. Nor is it a social condition: e.g., the academic critical race theory of “power plus prejudice.” It’s not even a developed ideology: e.g., the kind of racial science you had in much of the Western world up until the mid-20th century.
Rather, “racism” is something in which people believe. Effectively, what Mr Blow is calling for is policing of thought, pace Orwell’s thinkpol.
Of course, in a free society, people have the right to think whatever thoughts they want. That includes thinking one race is superior to another. They also have the right to speak those thoughts under the general principles of Free Speech. Well, we are seeing Free Speech increasingly sanctioned, by hatespeak laws abroad and job terminations and de-platforming in America. Effectively, the ungoodthinker becomes an unperson.
There’s an opportunity here. The Alt Right can get contrary on this front and take up the agitprop line of Free Speech. Consider how far the New Left got with this line back in the 1960s. Imagine the effects of a million people worldwide e-mailing the NY Times: “Last night for one minute I believed that White people are superior.”
The system would meltdown.
Anti-racism = Anti-Freedom.
The problem with White people is that they have swallowed the Marxist/SJW line that it is wrong to be “racist”.
Xir? Xe? Are you being ironic? Or do you think this kind of thing is a valuable addition to our language?
We need to state the obvious:
Its not about ‘racism’. Its about race. Race is real, and so is its importance to individuals and groups.
It is the fact that ‘anti-racists’, can’t control others or how they wish to live, that is the issue.
C. B. Robertson’s article is useful in stimulating clear thinking on the meaning of ‘racism’ as the concept is currently employed by liberals and radical leftists alike.
For a comprehensive understanding, however, one must take into account the ideology that informs those who nowadays seem to have ‘racism’—and related words—always upon their lips.
Racism, as presently employed by P.C. ideologues, corresponds primarily to the definition labeled ‘nativism/tribalism’ above. That is, it is a racially-based, in-group preference or ‘bias’. As formulated by P.C. ideology, however, racism only affects Whites. In other words, racism is simply the preference that Whites have for others of their own kind, that is, for other Whites.
Now this ‘bias’ is most insidious, according to P.C. ideologues. For it is an unconscious bias, before anything else. Whites *unconsciously* prefer other Whites.
But all human beings are subject to in-group biases, especially those of a racial character. Why, then, are Whites singled out in this way? Why are we told that ‘only Whites can be racist’?
Because, say the ideologues, Whites are ‘in power’. Whites are in power by virtue of their numerical superiority in the population at large and in the ranks of the ruling class. They are also in power because Western society is White society. It is the product of many centuries of White civilization. Its history is White.
Because Whites are ‘in power’ in this way, the preference of Whites for other Whites becomes ‘privileged’. ‘Whiteness’ becomes the ‘norm’.
Now, because Whites are in power and Whiteness is the norm, Non-Whites are not only directly ‘oppressed’ by Whites— insofar as they are seen as ‘others’ by Whites and treated inferiorly as a result—they are also indirectly oppressed, in that they come to view themselves as inferior—as deviations from the ‘white norm’—and come to view Whites and Whiteness as superior.
According to this ideology, then, every White is a White supremacist, if only unconsciously—just as every Non-White tends to be a White supremacist despite himself.
Recognition of this new emphasis on racism as primarily unconscious helps make comprehensible the P.C. view that overt forms of White racism, such as militant supremacism, could suddenly infect all Whites like an epidemic. For the ‘White supremacist’ germ is already present; it needs only conscious acceptance to result in such evils as fascism, Nazism, genocide and the like.
It also helps explain why ‘racism’ today is conflated to mean— in the author’s terms—racialism, navitism/tribalism, and supremacism all at once. For, according to the P.C. ideologue, those three definitions are only degrees of the same underlying ‘bias’—which, again, infects all people, but is only socially problematic in the case of Whites, the dominant group.
If you follow this ideology’s logic, it becomes clear that the only way to end racism is to end the white majority, both in society generally and in the ruling class. Hence ‘multiculturalism’, ‘diversity’ quotas, mass immigration and the promotion of miscegenation.
But even that, we are now told, is not enough. For even if the White race were to completely disappear through intermixture, ‘Whiteness’ may still survive as a norm, and may still be ‘privileged’ and considered superior.
One P.C. ideologue writes that, in Latin America, the existence of a pretty thoroughly mixed society ‘has not undermined the continuing racial hierarchy, in which the darker you are, the worse you are thought of … White supremacy is alive and well in Latin America.’
The final solution, then, becomes clear. To end racism, we must end race. The only way to rid white people of racially-based, in-group bias and get all people to forever forsake oppressive ‘white norms’, is to mix the races so thoroughly that racial classification, unconscious or otherwise, is no longer possible. The very memory of distinct races will probably have to be purged from the collective mind as well.
I see no other possible solution to the problem of ‘racism’ as it is presented by P.C. ideologues.
An inference may be made based on this conclusion. Evidently, the plans for World Government include a program to abolish all distinct human races. If so, we are still in the beginning phases of a very long, and very revolutionary program aimed at creating the racially homogeneous population of the future world state. In the future, we may surmise, there will be no mistaking the present-day slogan that “there is only one human race.”
Or perhaps not. For it must not be assumed that the rulers of this new world order will necessarily join in the racial communion they impose on their subjects. No doubt these elite will be careful to preserve intact their own racial ‘purity’, whatever that may be. When the day comes for them to rule openly, the people of Earth may discover that there are, in fact, *two* human races—the rulers and the ruled.
And then it will appear that all ruled are of mixed race but the (((rulers))) will be not…
“The result? Well, we can see how White people are being ethnically cleansed from the new rainbow nation of South Africa”
It has become a “shithole” very quickly. In many ways besides the murders of white farmers.
Very impressive essay and comments
In biological terms, race (or breed, or sub-species) is the next level of classification for living organisms below species.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, Sub-species (or race).
It’s interesting to note the number of biologists and conservationists who will argue passionately for the preservation of endangered sub-species of animal (eg tigers, which are all of the species Panthera tigris) but in the next breath say that race – applied to humans – is a figment of human imagination.
There are at least two and up to nine sub-species of tiger, depending on whose classification system you follow, but no serious biologist suggests that sub-species are a ‘social construct’.
Not sure we should be trying so hard to get rid of the “supremicism” label. True, we don’t really want to be lording it over other races and we mainly want to be left alone with our own land, if we can somehow negotiate that. We just want clear separation. But the browns and blacks will just follow us everywhere unless a clear line is drawn. “Supreme” naybe not such a bad word
Nancy’s comment on Jan 19 hit the nail on the head, elegantly.
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