The leading public intellectual on the Williams faculty, political science Professor Darel Paul, takes on antiracism in First Things. Let’s spend three days on the details. When will Woke Williams come for Paul?
Having fallen away from both Christianity and American civil religion, liberals in the United States are looking for something to believe in. The death of George Floyd on May 25 occasioned a religious awakening. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Americans took to the streets by the tens and hundreds of thousands to demand police reform and more. They painted “Black Lives Matter” on city streets and blanketed neighborhoods with BLM yard signs. Universities issued statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter and pledged anew to “do the work” of racial justice. The country’s leading newspapers and magazines purged dissenters and even those who tolerated the dissent of others. “Antiracism” became liberal America’s new fighting faith.
Indeed, and no less so at Williams. Or perhaps Williams is less woke than places like Amherst. Opinions? And, if so, do we attribute that more to institutional history — Williams has always been more “conservative” than peer schools — or do the great (wo)man theory of history: Maud is less woke that Biddy Martin? There is a great (and offensive!) blog post to be written on that comparison. Who will write it?
Many have compared antiracism to religion. This is not just an analogy. Antiracism has its own mythology, professions of belief, liturgies of purgation, and promises of redemption. Since it is a political religion, the redemption it promises is this-worldly and accomplished through the state. It entails strict equality of material and social outcomes across racial groups. Yet its instruments are race consciousness, racialized spaces on campus, preferential funding of public schools by race, racial hiring quotas, a Black New Deal, and the elimination of universal norms and standards. Colorblind policies, assimilation to middle-class values, and “not racist” personal beliefs are proscribed. Americans could be forgiven for confusing antiracism with racism itself.
Through its short and turbulent fame, antiracism has already caused considerable harm. Its moral imagination is stunted. Its sense of justice is racialist and divisive. Its policies are recklessly utopian. Americans need better, and deserve better, than antiracism.
Incipient antiracism tried to destroy Storytime at Williams and may be in the process of ruining the JA/entryway system.
The first precept of antiracism is that “racial groups are equals and none needs developing.” This is not a socioeconomic observation. Some racial groups are indeed wealthier, healthier, more educated—in short, more “developed”—than others. One may be tempted to read Kendi here as simply asserting a common humanity. That would be a grave misreading. The heart of antiracism is multiculturalist relativism fused with racialism. Kendi’s real meaning here is that every race is culturally equal, for “to be antiracist is to reject cultural standards and level cultural difference.” Yet if every race-culture is equal to every other race-culture, why are the races—which Kendi also calls “racialized cultural groups”—materially and socially unequal? Enter the second precept of antiracism (best stated in Kendi’s earlier volume, Stamped From the Beginning): “Racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and in the world at large.” Kendi does not even try to prove this claim. Why would he? Though expressed as a sociological observation, it is in fact a dogmatic assertion introduced to save Kendi’s racialized multiculturalism from untoward conclusions. If the Light of Truth (race equity) cannot shine in the world, some Cloud of Darkness (“racist power”) must be obscuring it. QED.
Kendi asserts that these six “races” are hierarchically organized in America, with whites on top. He freely uses terms such as “White power,” claims that “the American body is the White body,” and insists that in America “it is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White.” Yet he never offers a moment of careful sifting and weighing of racial hierarchy in America. His evidence, such as it is, consists of simple descriptive data and citations of cherry-picked studies. Kendi’s reader is never told that Asians as a whole surpass non-Hispanic whites on any number of socio-economic measures. They enjoy the highest incomes, the most educational attainment, the best health, the most stable families, the lowest arrest and incarceration rates. Nor would the reader appreciate the significant internal diversity within each “race,” precisely along lines of inequality. This is true even within Kendi’s own racial group. Today, some one in five black Americans are not the descendants of American slaves, and income inequality among blacks far exceeds that among non-Hispanic whites.
You can be certain that way more than 1/5 Black students at Williams are not the descendants of American slaves. There is an amazing Record article to be written on that topic! I bet that a majority, even the vast majority, of Black students at Williams do not have two parents descended from American slaves.