White Liberals and Racism image

White Liberals and Racism

These comments from R. R. Reno, on Ta-Nehisi Coates and his book Between the World and Me, need to be read in the context of his whole review, in which he carefully distinguishes between the realities of racism and the use of those realities by liberal elites. Nevertheless, they form a powerful counterpoint to last week's post from Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (not to mention aligning closely with "Selma Envy"):

While I respect Ta-Nehisi Coates for his desire to pass on his family’s legacy to his son, I have contempt for the white elites who have heaped praise on Between the World and Me. They are what Langston Hughes called the “overearnest uplifters,” reassured by the familiar script of black rage. The machinery of “inclusion” gets into gear. The awards, grants, generous speaking fees, and other perquisites allow our white-dominated liberal establishment to coopt anyone who threatens its carefully managed monopoly on multicultural moralism.

Contrary to what many conservatives think, this behavior is not motivated today by white guilt or elite self-hatred. White liberals have an important investment in racism. They consistently position themselves as indispensable (and morally superior) promoters and protectors of “diversity.” Charges of racism buttress them in this position rather than threatening them, which is why white college and university presidents have welcomed and affirmed, rather than resisted and denied, the recent round of student protests charging their institutions with an ongoing racism. America needs a perpetual crisis of exclusion to sustain the moral mission of “inclusion.”

This is not to say that racism isn’t real in some quarters. It’s only to remind us that the rhetoric of racism has an important role in contemporary liberal culture. I doubt there’s a single elite prep school in America—nearly all of which are overwhelmingly white and dominated by liberal teachers and administrators—that wouldn’t eagerly welcome a black speaker whose primary message is that American society remains fundamentally racist. It allows for a therapeutic mea culpa, yes, but it also trains young, elite whites in their roles as “agents of inclusion” and managers of “diversity.”

There’s a further benefit as well. It allows the liberal establishment to denounce any white challengers to its moral right to rule—and conservative whites remain its only serious challengers in contemporary American cultural politics—as racists. Not a month goes by without an article diagnosing grass-roots conservative voters as motivated by racial animus or some other moral pathology.

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