4,895 words / 31:48
Rassismus: Ein amerikanischer Alptraum
Steigra: Antaios Verlag, 2018
“That’s racist.” “No, it isn’t.” “Yes, it is, it is basically racist.” Probably most readers have heard that, or a similar exchange, in their lives. “Racist” has been a common term of abuse in Western discourse for many years, and the “racist” opprobrium can be used as a last resort as a verbal bomb to silence one’s opponent and end discussion. Public figures accuse one another of being “racist” as a nec plus ultra political slur. Such an accusation is usually followed either by a groveling apology, or alternatively by denial or counter-accusation. Everyone in public life affirms that being “racist” is one of the worst things any person can be. Calling someone “racist” without evidence is an indictable offense in England, as racism itself is also. Rare indeed are those who dare to assert: “Yes, what I said is racist because I am racist.” But what does the attribute “racist” really mean, and why is it widely believed to be so awful?
“Racism” (whatever happened to the word “racialism”?), according to its Wikipedia entry, is “the belief in the superiority of one race over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity.” The online Oxford English Dictionary defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary of 1975 gives this value free definition, noting the first use of the word in 1935 (others point to earlier uses): “The theory that distinctive human characteristics, abilities etc are determined by race.” And The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism thus: “A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” and offers a second definition which defines racism bluntly as “racial prejudice or discrimination.”
Dictionary definitions change. It would seem that the term is in the process of rapidly evolving from describing a belief in the importance of race as a determinant factor in human affairs to becoming a term referring to a belief in racial superiority. These definitions reflect a shift of power in Western society over the last forty years towards an “anti-racist” consensus. It is characteristic of human nature that anyone wishing to combat any set of values or belief will seek to endow a term used to describe that set of values or beliefs with a negative connotation. A negative connotation wins half the argument. For example, the word “Nazi” is negative in itself, while “National Socialist” by contrast inherently leans towards a positive connotation (which is presumably why Wikipedia as a matter of policy disallows the term “National Socialist,” insisting that the word “Nazi” be used instead). Words are given connotations by the manner in which they are used and come to be understood, and this is very much the case with the words “racist” and “racism.” “Racism” is a lexical newcomer for which a negative connotation has risen rapidly to preeminence. Consequently, it is hard to discuss “racism” without having a preemptive loading of the discussion in favor of those opposed to it.
The subtitle of Martin Lichtmesz’s essay, published by Antaios Verlag in 2018, is Ein amerikanischer Alptraum (An American Nightmare), and its focus is on the notion that “racism” is a term of abuse which arrived in Europe from the United States. It is certainly true that the extreme awareness and sensitivity about race is a particularly American social phenomenon, or was until recently, for it is the principle argument of Rassissmus that extreme sensitivity about “racism” is now well-established in Europe. Fear and condemnation of “racism” is characteristic of what Lichtmesz believes are the double standards typical of originally American – and now Western – society, double standards which facilitate the existence of what he calls a “hierarchy of victims” (77). It is true that, for historical reasons, American society has always been much more racially conscious than European societies. Even Hitler’s rhetoric was considerably more nationalist than it was “racist,” and whites in Europe, including Right-wingers, tended to speak less about race than their American counterparts. Lichtmesz argues that this is now changing as Europe, too, becomes obsessed by “racism,” the “American nightmare.”
Lichtmesz points out that the black victims of racially-motivated white crimes receive considerably more prominence than the white victims of racially-motivated black crimes. He gives as an example the huge publicity which followed the massacre by a white, Dylann Storm Roof, of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, compared to the little publicity given to the murder in the following year of five white policemen by a black sniper in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after which the shooter stated that he had sought to kill as many white people as possible.
Lichtmesz reminds the reader that “racism” as a term of abuse originated in the United States, and arises out of the very concept of what the American dream is all about, in that “racism” is perceived by its opponents as an existential challenge to that very dream. In the Declaration of Independence, Lichtmesz reminds us, we read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words have been the point of reference upon which American civil rights campaigners have based much of their legitimacy down to the present day.
This statement presents whites claiming to be patriots and racially conscious with a problem of definition. Americans who do not welcome the belief that “all men are created equal” have spilled a lot of ink arguing that the framers of the Constitution did not mean what they plainly said. Anyone claiming to be an American “patriot,” as an inheritor of the nation set up by the “Founding Fathers,” has no choice but to accept this clear statement of human equality, or alternatively claim that the Founding Fathers did not unequivocally mean “equal” when they wrote “equal.” This implies that when eighteenth-century slaveowners wrote that all men are equal, they could not possibly have meant all men; they must have meant all free men, meaning all white men (and women?). Such arguments have appeared several times in the pages of American Renaissance, a publication to which Martin Lichtmesz refers approvingly.
So far as this reviewer is concerned, to insist that the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, when they wrote that it is a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal,” did not exactly mean that “all men are created equal,” smacks of casuistry. But it is true that, taken literally, the assertion that all men are created equal is so patently false that a special interpretation has to be given to the words to make them sound remotely reasonable in any way whatsoever. One interpretation would be that “all men are equal before God.” Be that as it may, Lichtmesz points to the doctrine of the equality of man as a logical reference point for “anti-racists,” and it is perfectly true that many of them refer to the Declaration of Independence when they insist on what they consider to be a self-evident case for all-embracing racial equality and indifference – or even blindness – towards racial differences.
However, campaigning for racial equality has moved with the times, and it is no longer enough to claim that all races are equal to receive a “clean bill of health” as an anti-racist. A later development has been to say that “there is only one race: the human race.” This is, biologically speaking, demonstrably false. Homo sapiens is a species, not a race, as every O-level biology student ought to know. A race is a subspecies in the process of becoming an entirely separate species. Anyone with a fairly basic knowledge of zoology and the Linnaean classification system will be aware of this. A growing ignorance of species and the Latin names of even the commonest plants and animals not coincidentally goes hand-in-hand with hostility towards anyone who states the simple biological fact that a human race is a human subspecies.
The belief in a non-existent – indeed, nonsensical – “human race” has become the new doctrine of the (mis)enlightened anti-racist. “Racism” today is not only the sin of anyone who denies the equality of races, it has come to embrace those who believe that differences between subspecies of Homo sapiens are important in any way at all. Anti-racists demand that everyone adhere to a biological absurdity and close their eyes to the evidence of their senses, since human races, unlike the races of many animals, can be distinguished at a glance. The belief in the non-existence of race is a rampant absurdity outweighing even the most bizarre myths of religious dogma, in this reviewer’s opinion – which, as it happens, it closely resembles.
This demand that racial differences be ignored labors under a self-contradiction, however. It expects one race – the white race – to acknowledge a debt and guilt towards other races for racial exploitation and discrimination committed in the past, and which it is alleged is still being committed. Any such “crimes,” or any other racially-motivated actions, could only be committed by one race against another if different races existed to exploit and be exploited. The racist, it is said, perceives, for example, a black, as different, and is prejudiced against the black even though he is so ignorant that he does not know that racial differences are a myth! The only way to square this circle is to argue that race is created in the imagination of the exploiter to justify exploitation, which is indeed the argument which anti-racists necessarily must use.
The first chapter of Rassissmus is entitled “Antirassismus ist gegen Weiße” (Anti-racism is Against Whites). This chapter heading is a statement with which nearly all believers in any kind of white identity or survival will concur. It is very rare indeed that when someone talks of “racism,” he or she is not referring to the supposed racism of whites against others, and while there are many whites who criticize or denounce other whites for discriminating against other races, there are next to no cases of members of other races condemning people of their own race for discriminating against or insulting whites. So far as racism is concerned, there is only one sinner.
Lichtmesz highlights the contradiction between the Founding Fathers’ insistence on equality and America’s crusading zeal down the years to bring democracy and the Rights of Man to all the corners of the world, despite a marked inclination until the 1960s to maintain racial segregation at home. There is nothing new in this: the hypocrisy of American politics, sermons, and practice has been the common thread of anti-Americanism for at least a hundred years. As a nation, the United States is unique in that it is a nation founded on a principle, and not firstly on ethnic identity or geography. While the United States is a white creation, its principles apparently extend beyond embracing one race as potentially happy citizens of the nation. There is an echo of this confusion of identity in the notion of “English” and “England” and the concept of Britain and the United Kingdom. Since the United Kingdom and Britain are closely linked to the dominance, and therefore the history and aspirations, of England through the centuries, it is now only the other nations of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – which are deemed to have been “deprived of their heritage.” The only British nation which does not have a parliament of its own today (unless one argues, as some do, that historically speaking, Cornwall is not England) is England.
In the same way, as it was the white race which established the United States of America, drew up its Constitution, and drew its inspiration from Europe, it is considered only necessary today for other races to have some kind of racial identity “restored” to them, while the white identity is taken for granted – or was until recently – for, in the last twenty years or so, the very notion of white identity has been subjected to attack while other identities are cherished. Lichtmesz rightly notes that in America, “to actively campaign or stand up for a specifically ‘white identity’ and the right to maintain and value it, is socially wholly unacceptable” (23). Anyone who does so is a “preacher of hate.”
Lichtmesz states that “for the greater part of its history, the United States of America has been no multi-cultural, multi-racial country, no ‘melting pot,’ and no ‘universal nation’ (28). Until the Immigration Act of 1965, otherwise known as the Hart-Celler Act, the reality was that the US favored Europeans over non-European immigration. This, and the ending of racial segregation in the Southern states, were milestones in the rise of “minorities” (the euphemism for non-whites) in America and the beginning of the decline in white hegemony there. A question for those opposed to this development is – and was – “are we primarily defending the white race or the American nation?” For Lichtmesz, the Founding Fathers who established a Northern European, Protestant white hegemony in the US “regarded it as quite wrong to share freedom or equality with their black slaves or the original inhabitants, and they were effectively ‘white nationalists’ speaking the language of the Enlightenment” (30). Indeed, the first Naturalization Law of 1790 limited immigration to “free white persons of good character.”
What is the American melting pot? This image is used because, unlike other nations, America was not founded by land or by a place of origin, but by adherence to an ideal, the new nation representing ‘the land of the free’ which is duty-bound to ensure that all peoples who become American “melt” in the one pot offered to the citizens of the “New World.” As the book explains (33-35), the notion of the melting pot consists rather bizarrely of three culinary metaphors. The notion was popularized by the Jewish writer Israel Zangwill in his eponymous theater play that was first performed in 1908. The play praises the merging of all races in a “melting pot” of reconciliation in which all races come together. The melting pot is one in which everybody readily assimilates. (In reality, the first kind of melting pot was that of Europeans, out of which an identifiably American character was created – one marked by religiousness and a keen nose for money. This is the melting pot as identified by the Austrian writer, Jordis von Lohausen.)
The second concept of the melting pot, Lichtmesz tells us, is the “tomato soup” of a white society with a Protestant base, “spiced up” with the immigration of Roman Catholic and Slavic immigrants, who became fully integrated Americans through a process of cultural assimilation. The difference between the first and second form – that is to say between assimilation and integration – is that the first stresses the necessity of members of the society belonging to different races, whereas in the case of “tomato soup,” cultural assimilation is dominant. Lichtmesz does not convince me here that the differences are very substantial; in both cases, the intention is to create one nation and one kind of national character.
The third kind of melting identified by Lichtmesz is substantially different. Horace Kallen – again a Jewish writer – argued for a “salad bowl” society, what would today be called cultural pluralism. Pluralism is not a melted mixture at all, but races or cultural groups living shoulder-to-shoulder, tolerant of one another but not merging their identities. For Kallen, it is harmony which should prevail over enforced unity. Lichtmesz acknowledges that the lines of difference are blurred, but he notes that today, “one can say that the third concept prevails” (35).
Here we find the core of what the writer sees as an American malaise: for Lichtmesz, the United States is a nation without an ethnic soul. That being so, the question arises: to what exactly does an American “patriot” or “nationalist” owe his first allegiance? To an ethnically homogenous state? To an ideal of freedom? To the American nation? To the American dream? These ideals are scarcely compatible.
For the American Left, the American ideal or dream is the justification for open borders, opposition to which ideal was a major plank of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. President Trump is as obviously nationalist as he is obviously not racialist – sorry, “racist” – despite what many of his opponents say, and is obviously not the champion of an ethnic state. A disproportionately large number of those who voted for Trump were white, but the claim that Trump is a “racist” has never rung true. Insofar as Trump is a nationalist, he draws on an American isolationist tradition which turns its back on the kind of missionary zeal which underpins the vision of America based on Kallen’s multi-cultural society. That vision of a missionary American duty destined to convert the world is imperialist. Nationalism is pragmatic, whereas imperialism is often inspired by a vision liable to be romantic and religious – as well, of course, as covetous.
Lichtmesz interprets Trump’s election as the victory of the nationalist pragmatists over the multi-culturalists and imperialists. This is broadly correct, albeit the extent to which nationalism may morph into imperialism is easily overlooked. For anti-racists, being an American nationalist without being “racist” is not good enough, since implicitly, Trump’s election, despite his being no “racist,” was inherently “racist” since American nationalism draws inspiration from an identification of the United States not with a literal interpretation of the equality of man, but with a nation-state that was founded by the white man.
Lichtmesz fails, however, to depict the kind of multi-racial nation America could become that would satisfy American whites, and that omission is likewise the elephant in the room of many white identity groups in America. Other than the radical groups whose intentions are implicitly or explicitly genocidal, there is a problem in tying to establish anything resembling a genuine ethno-state in a nation founded on a principle. American Renaissance, for example, is strikingly silent on what it believes that the role of non-whites should be in an America in which whites reestablish themselves as the tone-setters of the dominant ethnic narrative of the state. What is the future for non-whites in a United States in which white rights are enshrined in a Constitutional amendment, or acknowledged in precedent law – a society in which there is no longer a bias against whites, or in which the term of abuse “racism” – to refer again to the title of this study – is no longer widely applied?
The same question can be posed to Rassissmus’ author. The reader learns what Lichtmesz finds wrong with the use of the term “racism” and America’s hypocritical narrative, but what does Lichtmesz himself propose? It may be argued that the purpose of his book is only to define the word “racism” as a weapon being used against what is perceived as white hegemony. But if it is a weapon against something, surely it behooves the writer to offer some understanding of the nature of that something which is under attack. Rassissmus is taken up with arguing the case that the notion of “racism” as a term of abuse is a kind of manipulation of language which has come to Europe from the United States, and that while the charge of “racism” is raised against them, whites are losing demographically in the United States and in all European countries, and therefore the accusation of “racism” (how often have we heard this?) is a code word for anti-white agitation. All this has been said time and time again; even the argument that the notion of racism as a sin has its roots in American missionary zeal was examined and discussed by the French New Right decades ago. What need is there to write another book spelling it out again, and presumably to a readership (Antaios is a small Right-wing publisher) which has heard it all, read it all, and agrees with it all? Lichtmesz approvingly quotes Ann Coulter to the effect that “demographics is destiny.” So what is Lichtmesz telling his readers that they should undertake to alter the course of said destiny? This book offers no answers. Like a doctor who tut-tuts and grimly shakes his head after having examined a sick patient, Lichtmesz concludes that the metastasis of fear of “racism” has spread to the vital organs of Europe, and the last chapter of the book is entitled “We’re All Living in America.” The reader is reminded – in case he needed reminding – that, in following the American model, Germany has become “a land of immigrants.”
The most successful reaction towards changing this demographic destiny might arguably be to take nationalist action. This is what happened in America with Donald Trump’s election. But although the subtext of his election was that Trump won the election thanks to the wholesale support of whites who felt left out by America’s development towards an open-borders, multi-cultural center for universalism, white survival and white identity were never part of Trump’s campaign platform. In order to become popular, and in order to win elections, white populists play down the issue of race because they fear that to the extent that they highlight white identity as something desirable, they will be accused of “racism” and successfully marginalized to the same extent. Their opponents cannot challenge their nationalism to anything like the same effect, because establishment politicians themselves still appeal to national values, often appealing to nationalist terminology to pursue a multi-racial agenda. And while Right-wing populists such as Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Matteo Salvini face a dilemma of not wanting to appear “racist,” a repression of the instinct for ethnic association leads to an emotional compensation in nationalism.
The purveyors of multi-racialism have an in-built contradiction of their own to face, which Lichtmesz notes but does not discuss. Does “race” refer to a socio-historical construct or to a biological entity? Anti-racists respond that race is “only skin deep” and practically an illusion. They have to do this. If they do not, as they know very well, they will open a Pandora’s box of race-based IQ levels and other differences which originate in nature and are not socially determined. Those who denounce “racism” are consequently obliged to make the absurd case that race is little more than skin color, which is itself a matter of geographical chance; at the same time, they denounce those who discriminate on the basis of a difference which they claim to be virtually non-existent. Racism – rejecting someone on the basis of a supposedly disproven biological identity – is by this definition (the definition that “race” being seen as a construct invented by whites) absurd, irrational, and deeply anti-social. Logically, this argument would mean that any blind or color-blind white unable to distinguish between whites and blacks on sight would be quite literally incapable of “racism.” Even to point out that racial characteristics are more than just skin color, and include the shape of the skull, the eyes, and the nose is already to move towards acknowledging biological facts, and to do so is “racist.” In order not to be “racist,” academic and sociological definitions center on cultural differences and jettison biology altogether.
What defines a black, a white, or any other race? How can one insist at one and the same time that whites are guilty of multitudes of historical oppression and exploitation when at the same time it is asserted that race is just a social construct? Taking this argument to its logical conclusion (and some do just that), race is seen as an abstraction that is nevertheless used as a tool to assert a non-existent superiority. “We have conquered you. We happen to have lighter skin than you. Therefore, people like us with lighter skins have the right to enslave you.” This, put simply but not unfairly, is what constitutes much of anti-racist understanding of how the white man came to conquer much of the world.
To understand or talk intelligently about racism, one must consider the word and the reality described by the word which is at the origin of both racism and anti-racism – and that, of course, is race. Blacks in a nation molded by another race struggle to find not only their “roots,” but their history. Lichtmesz tells the story of the black painter Kehinde Wiley, who painted President Obama and his wife. Wiley also painted a picture “showing a black woman with a bloody knife in one hand and the freshly-severed head of a white woman in the other” (64). In an interview for The New Yorker in 2012, Wiley admitted that it was “a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing.” What Lichtmesz did not mention is that Wiley is dependent on Judeo-Christian religion and European history for inspiration, and that the picture in question is a variation on the theme of Judith and Holofernes.
Wiley also painted a black Louis XIV and a black Napoleon. Blacks find it hard to escape cultural replication: with no written history of their own, they necessarily draw on that of others. Lichtmesz also draws the reader’s attention to the black writer James Baldwin, who asserted in a book with the revealing title On Being White and Other Lies that “racism was created by America.” According to Baldwin, before he came to America, the white man, so Baldwin, did not identify himself as white, but thought of himself in terms of his nationhood: as a Pole, an Irishman, an Englishman, and so on. It was in the United States that he became racially aware, in order to attain to a collective identity vis-à-vis the exploited black man. In a book with another revealing title, Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin describes that his sense of alienation and of being a victim of racism was not a matter of oppression, the history of slavery, and the like, but was owing to the fact that the culture and traditions which he inherited were not his – they belonged to the European. In the cultural heritage of the West, “there was nothing of my past . . . I was an intruder, this was not my inheritance” (66).
Thus, Lichtmestz can argue that “racism” is “an American nightmare,” because it is in America that identity is forged by race, primarily because the American nation is an ideal before it is a place: a statement of freedom before a possession of land, an ideal where the American dream is more important than American blood or American soil, to coin a phrase; at least since the historic defeat of those American whites who did acknowledge a primordial loyalty to the land and to the patria in 1865. Once one’s land is disregarded, all ethnic struggle has to focus on what is believed to constitute the “true American” and “American ideals.” The white man was identified in the early days of the Republic as the “true” American. Now he is expected to apologize for having taken not just the front seat in the bus, but first place in cultural, economic, and social life as well. And now the European Union is claiming to represent “European values” – values indistinguishable from “American values,” while firmly denouncing “racism” as “alien” and immoral.
Rassissmus ends with a warning to German and Austrian readers, but the warning is surely universal for all whites:
We must stop beating about the bush, allowing ourselves to be misled by gaslighting rules as to what is acceptable and not acceptable in the terms we use, that race is only a “social construct.” For the foreseeable future, the theme of “race” will all too soon play an oppressive, unavoidable, ever-present role in Germany, for the simple reason that the population of alien, unassimilable races and ethnic groups will continue to grow. We shall become painfully conscious of our racial identity because we shall be compelled to live cheek by jowl with alien races. We shall react with anger and hatred when the never-ending anti-white racial hatred is sharpened as we, like white Americans, move in the direction of becoming a minority in our own country. (90)
Like so many racially-aware whites, Lichtmesz offers a diagnosis, but no cure. Arguably, the first stage in a cure is to reassert a national focal point, for racial awareness is less directly apprehended than national and historical memories. If nationalist appeals are more effective than racial ones in the United States, this must be even more the case in European nations, where national and racial identities were, until recently, understood as practically one and the same thing. But to discuss all this is to go beyond the limited confines of Lichtmesz’s short essay. Lichtmesz makes his point that racism is a rhetorical weapon well enough, but it is in another sense that we must stop “beating about the bush”: it is time for white “racists” to cease echoing a diagnosis among themselves that they have heard many times already, a diagnosis which they broadly accept. It is time that they wrote about cures.
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