A Tsunami of Mea Culpas

The message from two weeks of protests across the United States and the world is not that George Floyd was killed by a racist Minneapolis cop. Rather, it is that Floyd was killed by a racist society.

Over the last few days, I have received numerous emails from institutions and organizations feeling compelled to issue statements on the George Floyd killing and the ongoing protests. I have an email from Strava, an app that tracks personal athletic endeavors, titled “we must do better, and we will” and stating that “we know our practices have bias because we haven’t designed them to make sure they don’t.” The Institute for Policy Integrity and NYU Law School declares: “[W]e stand with the Black community in the face of unconscionable racially motivated violence, [and] we understand that such violence is aggravated by retrograde, prejudiced policies.” The Tufts University Alumni Association says the protests “are the result of deep-seated racism and injustice that exists within our society.” Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy calls “for an end to the illegal measures taken to prevent people from gathering and protesting peacefully and to the police aggression that targets Black citizens rather than protect them.” The executive council of Lewis & Clark College, from which I am retired, declares that mere expressions of support for the protests “runs the risk of removing responsibility from the majority and requiring the work be done by communities of color.” Society, not the cop, is responsible.

I have also heard from Cape Eleuthera Island School, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, The Explorers Club, Northeastern University president Joseph E. Aoun, the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, the Oregon Historical Society, and American Bar Association president Judy Perry Martinez, all declaring that they must do better. With the exception of Martinez, none of my correspondents mention, let alone condemn, the riots and looting.

No one can seriously doubt that racism is a reality in American society and that there are racist cops. There are also racist teachers, librarians, auto mechanics, park rangers, lawyers, and even judges. Until now, most cops and most of all the others have believed themselves not to be racist. But the concept of systemic racism teaches that all of those people (at least the white ones) who think they are not racist have been deceiving themselves—racism is built into the irremediable culture of which they (I should say we) are a part. That is the message of the New York Times’ 1619 Project soon to be taught in schools across the country, notwithstanding its many historical inaccuracies. It is also the message in the widely viewed #ITakeResponsibility apologia by several Hollywood celebrities. The tsunami of mea culpas sweeping the nation from every institution, business, and organization is a collective confession of guilt: Yes, we all are racists and we intend to do whatever we can to change.

But the problem is we cannot change. That is the core message of systemic racism theory. Like Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee, we will carry this defect to our graves, as will our children and their children. We can acknowledge our nation’s racist past and tear down old monuments celebrating that past, but we cannot change who we are. We are doomed to our white privilege and to living in a society divided by race.

The achievement of diversity has become an objective founded in the racist belief that races are innately different.

If so, everything that follows is tainted by systemic racism and white privilege and will be discounted accordingly. In our brave new world, I should join those who have flooded my inbox in confessing my sins and not question the premise on which my and their alleged guilt is founded or suggest where we might be on the wrong track.

All the expressions of noble intention filling my inbox will come to nothing unless we get past our obsession with race and abandon the well-intentioned but divisive and counterproductive policies that prevent us from seeing each other as people rather than members of racial groups.

It is important to acknowledge all of our history—the good and the bad. It is important to condemn racists and racism. It is important to have conversations about race and how it manifests in the administration of justice as well as in our daily lives. But doing all of that talking, finger-pointing, and apologizing will not advance the cause of racial justice unless we also stop insisting that we are unalterably different because of our races.

There was a time when America aspired to color blind justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously looked forward to the day when his children and all children would be judged by their character rather than the color of their skin. But appeals to color-blindness are now dismissed as just another cover for systemic racism. We are told we must be color-conscious.

Beginning in primary school, our kids are reminded of their differences, not their common humanity. Our colleges and universities are effectively segregated by race, both socially and academically. There are Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander curricula and student organizations. No subject matter from physics to computer science is complete without attention to race. Everywhere, from the US census to every business and organization, we count, classify, and report on racial proportions. We are identified, and increasingly identify ourselves, not as people with a shared humanity, not as citizens of a nation or community, but as members of racial groups.

Somewhere in the mission statement of every institution and business I have heard from this week is almost certainly a commitment to inclusion and diversity. Most have policies and a staff devoted to assuring they meet that commitment. Because the absence of racial diversity is often evidence of exclusion and discrimination, instituting policies to achieve diversity can help remedy discrimination. But the achievement of racial diversity has become more than a matter of prima facie nondiscrimination. It has become an objective founded in the racist belief that different races are innately different and therefore will bring different voices and experiences to the pursuit of an organization’s mission. Black individuals will express the Black perspective; White individuals will express the White perspective. Neither are influenced by the other. This is the presumption that led Joe Biden to say that Black people who would consider voting for Donald Trump are not Black.

Integral to most forms of racism is a belief that people of a given race share characteristics, opinions, and ambitions that distinguish them from people of other races, usually leading to judgments of inferiority or superiority. Condemnations of racism, along with promises of its eradication, have filled my inbox this week. The remedies proposed call for the recognition of racial differences and the institution of policies based on those alleged differences. But racial discrimination will not be eradicated by discriminating on the basis of race. If my many communicants and the broader society are to eradicate racism we must stop insisting and teaching our children to believe that people of different races are different. We must judge each other by our character and not the color of our skin.

Reader Discussion

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on June 17, 2020 at 07:48:17 am

I am tempted to say that nothing more need be said. To the extent that Professor Huffman's words are understood and accepted by the country, we can see our way out of the current situation. To the extent that they are not, things will just continue to get worse.

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Albert Alioto
on June 17, 2020 at 11:03:14 am

"...But doing all of that talking, finger-pointing, and apologizing will not advance the cause of racial justice unless we also stop insisting that we are unalterably different because of our races...." Hmmmm.

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on June 17, 2020 at 12:13:00 pm

The Democrat Party and its followers are the exponents of race-obsession and the reason for the politicization and institutionalization of all matters of race. From very early in the antebellum period until the presidential contest of 2020, the Democrat Party and its followers have deliberately exploited, manipulated and demagogued their race-obsession in order to gain, maintain and exercise institutional and political power over American society.

A critical part of the Democrat Party's racialist strategy for institutional and political power has been a consistent, psychologically-sophisticated, media-abetted, K-16 endorsed campaign to use the color of one's skin to condemn the African American population to the permanent status of hapless victims and to condemn the White population to the permanent status of irredeemable racist oppressors. That racialist strategy has worked wonders, poisoning with the toxicity of Democrat race-obsession our laws, our educational system, our media and our politics. Indeed, the Democrat Party's race-obsession strategy has worked so well that a wholly-contrived Stockholm Syndrome of "White guilt and White privilege" has lately become a cultural virus which is now spreading faster than Covid-19 through elitist segments of White society, particularly its news and entertainment media (including sports,) K-16 educational system, global corporations and leaders of state and local governance in Blue States. Police departments, it would seem, are among the few remaining important institutions of resistance and, thus, must be brought to heel by the Democrat Party and its racist co-conspirators.

The only racism of existential consequence in the America of 2020 is that racism which is contrived, expounded and exploited by the Democrat Party and its self-seeking followers. And just as it was in Antebellum America, during the Civil War and throughout the era of Jim Crow, that racism today is solely of the Democrat Party, by the Democrat Party and for the Democrat Party to gain and maintain political power.

The greatest harm and threat of racism for African Americans today is due to the racist, race-baiting demagoguery of the Democrat Party, the racist guilt of the White elites who control that Party and that very small, self-seeking, racist, race-baiting segment of the African American population, like BLM and Al Sharpton, which profits personally from racial obsession.

Both guilt and victimhood based on the color of one's skin are insidious, politically-motivated, racist concoctions of the Democrat Party. They must be resisted and denounced wherever they are thrust upon us.

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on June 17, 2020 at 16:03:53 pm

"It is the differences, of which there are none, that makes the sameness exceptional."
- Principal Skinner, The Simpsons

What is notable about this clip is that it lampoons something very common, and quite appropriate for ridicule. The Principal does not believe, or in fact even understand what he is trying to say, but is rather trying to extricate himself from a controversy that is itself irrational. He is pandering, unaware that there is nothing he can say that will not contain contradictions and absurdities, because he is addressing demands that are contradictory and absurd.

The same principle applies to Professor Huffman's essay. It reads as though he is onto something, but can't quite put his finger on it. He seems to know that there is something absurd and destructive in the demands of the mob, and much that is ridiculous and cheap in the response to them, but ends up adopting many of the same premises and repeating many of the same contradictions. Anthony has astutely noticed this in his laconic comment above. The essay contains many such examples, but are clearly displayed in the ultimate paragraph:

we must stop insisting and teaching our children to believe that people of different races are different. We must judge each other by our character and not the color of our skin.

The persuasive power of Professor Huffman's piece is challenged by the unsupported premises of these statements. Obviously, people of different races are different. In fact, different people of the same race are different; that is why we can use the term "different people." Perhaps what Professor Huffman meant to say (although I will not undertake to speak for him) is that we must stop insisting that people of different races are different in ways that matter. This is where he might be onto something, but we see the failure to bring the point home in the next sentence.

The imperative to judge is not explained or qualified in any way. It is treated as though it simply is. That "judge" and "prejudice" share the same Latin provenance suggests the difficulty. The process of judging is the process of discriminating, and there is no shortage of grounds that may divert the process of judging to the benefit of individual interests. I would submit that what is awry (in my opinion of course) in Professor Huffman's piece is the implication that opposition to racism is a matter of adjusting the process of judging others. Opposition to racism is not the process of finding better ways to judge and discriminate, but rather understanding that judging is subordinate to how individual people treat each other without judgment. The neglected concept is not that we have not yet learned to judge people by the content of their character, but that we have yet to become accustomed to treating others with respect despite our subjective judgments of them. Grievances are perpetual when they are founded on novelties such as "privilege," and "systemic" this or that. The Simpsons clip lampooned a very real real and prevalent folly; that is that we seem to think that by saying "woke" things we can expect public approval and divert the wrath of the mob, when what is really needed is basic human decency in everyday interactions with those we meet.

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on June 17, 2020 at 17:32:10 pm

Professor Huffman is right. There can never be a 'racial' solution since the American melting pot can be parsed ad infinitum into racial categories. Each category; Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, etc., could have a claim to uniqueness and thus a claim to be treated differently. Long term, the only way out is indeed to "judge each other by our character and not the color of our skin".
Sadly, I think there are too many vested interests supporting 'racial' answers for that shift to character to happen any time soon.

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Image of jrchips
on June 17, 2020 at 18:43:40 pm

Just a short add-on to Z's comment;

Humans may properly be classified as "homo discrimens"
We are THE discriminating animal.
this is not a matter of choice but rather it is genetically hardwired and chemically encoded into our cognitive repetoires.
All creatures discriminate, discern. Humans also "reason" and reason is nothing more than the "finer" discriminations / delineations produced by the human mind. We cross or NOT cross a street; we like or dislike someone / something / some thought or theory as a result of a considered weighing of the alternatives, although it must be admitted that many such discriminations occur with lighting speed and with only minimal conscious awareness. This much is implied by Z's assertion that "that we have not yet learned to judge people by the content of their character, but that we have yet to become accustomed to treating others with respect despite our subjective judgments of them."

Races AND ethnic groups / genetic clusters DO differ, albeit it in rather small measure. some claim statistical significance for these variances. I am not quite so certain as are they BUT even those advancing such a claim (at least credible serious scholars) also assert that irrespective of one phenotype's cognitive / emotive repetoire they are not just owed but are properly entitled to demand our equal respect and treatment BEFORE the Law.

I find that far too many of the "effin" *wokerati* , while demanding equality (even if in their warped conception of smae) are themselves unable to overcome the tendency of homo discrimens to simply discriminate without reasoned adjustment. In short form this means whilst they proclaim equality throughout the land and subject millions of viewing Americans to their fetish for self-flagellation, they do so based upon some guilty notion not just of their own privilege but upon the deeper guilt which stems from their own view that certain minorities are weak, unintelligent and unable to speak for themselves. Thus, the hijacking of so many minority causes. Paternalism - ? No worse, far worse. It is itself a racist consequence of their own inability to overcome the discriminating (non-pejorative sense here, boyos) predilection of homo discrimens.

Why else the constant repetition of "their" penance, their thousand Hail Marys uttered to the tune of "Privilege, Racism, etc.
Yet, no matter how many times they recite this Confiteor they are a) unsuccessful in relieving their guilt / grief AND b) as I have said before this exercie in philosophical / theological epigenetics will NOT alter their basic neural wiring.

Better is he who reconizes that he may or may not dislike someone for faulty reasons BUT still treats the other with respect and kindness.
I will take the common man or woman, with all their shortcomings (not to mention my own) for my golf partner rather than someone whose self aggrandizing self justifying tears may drip on my golf ball as I putt.

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on June 17, 2020 at 20:03:17 pm

Five prescient and powerful comments so far. I did not anticipate Dean Huffman's essay yesterday when I commented that:
"With regard to race: most of us are not racists, whether based on upbringing, exposure to friendly persons of another race, rational analysis, or other causes. But when we are continually labeled as such by the racialist industry and its practitioners, we are justified in becoming angry at said racialists, and fighting back. That counter move is not racism, but honesty, integrity, and virtue. Maybe the best way to end racism is to just ignore race, and not acknowledge that it (could, kinda sorta) exists. The other alternative is to accept the growing evidence of statistical genetic differences/variations, fully explore what they mean, and probably find they don't really matter all that much with regard to any particular individual."

Another form of black on black crime has been the reported situation of some older blacks deriding black children for studying and "acting white". Those of us who studied hard, got a marketable education, obtained a job, then got married and had children (generally in that sequence) know that is the normal process leading to "success". Thus studying, etc., is not a white privilege but a necessary step to achieve a successful life, where pursuit of happiness has some version of really happening. Many of us probably know many other non-whites who have been successful because they followed that path, perhaps even starting from total ignorance of English. That evidence is too compelling to accept other excuses: "if they can do it; why can't you?" And if I were still a hiring manager, I might look with jaundice at a "wokerati" candidate from the Ivy Leagues compared to his/her competitor from the local or state level university. Hopefully there are still pockets of education that are not solely indoctrination centers. And employers who do not sacrifice seeking the best talent (and profits) at the alter of "wokefulness".

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.