At the height of the protesting, rioting and looting that followed the death of George Floyd, an unsettling video surfaced online. It showed a group of white Americans, perhaps 50 or so, kneeling with heads bowed before a group of black Americans. The white man leading the procession asks God for forgiveness from his black countrymen for his people’s role in upholding systemic racism.
Another video posted days later showed hundreds of white people with their hands up and eyes closed repeating after the black speaker, ‘I will do everything in my power to educate my community… I will love my black neighbours the same as my white ones.’ Across the Atlantic in a similar genre, a British mother posted a photo of her white daughter on bended knee holding a sign saying ‘privileged’, followed by ‘#BlackLivesMatter’.
White privilege, trigger warnings and calls to defund the police have been oddities of the modern university campus for some years now, but the death of George Floyd seems to have delivered them into the political mainstream. What started in West Coast social science departments has now spread across the English- speaking world. This vocabulary, and its accompanying rituals, now saturate social media, have come to be embraced by perfectly normal people and have even been adopted by high-profile American congresswomen.
There are several reasons why this behaviour appears attractive to some. It is in one sense a simple survival tactic—follow the mob to avoid the mob. Contemporary media amplifies the social stakes and failure to conform may cost you your job, your friends or your reputation. Motioning your racial shortcomings is also a highway to virtue, which is craved by many young people today in their quest to justify their existence.
Though it is still unclear what one is supposed to do after making these self-abasing concessions. If white people have benefitted from a system deliberately designed to favour their kin, as is claimed by the Black Lives Matter movement, then when, if ever, is an accusation of white privilege unjust?
The answer is presumably never because white privilege is a biological feature — the new original sin. Underneath this idea lies the assumption that all white people are by nature corrupt and, lest they follow the diktats of minorities, they can never expect to be good enough. CNN commentator Van Jones made this clear in his assertion that it’s not actually the overt white racist that black people should be worried about but rather the ‘white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter’ because ‘the most well-intentioned white person has a virus in his or her brain that can be activated at an instant.’
The truth is that no amount of apology will ever satisfy the mob. The hierarchical structure of intersectionality—which conceptualises society as a conglomeration of marginalised identity groups in cooperation against the demographic hegemon—by definition places white people in eternal guilt by determining their congenital oppression of minorities. To correct this injustice, intersectionalists merely flip the hierarchy on its head—white straight men at the bottom, minorities at the top. At what point the sin of the white man is absolved, however, is kept deliberately ambiguous to keep him in a perpetual state of repentance and subordination.
This new brand of communal culpability—the guilt of white people in the here and now for sins committed by those of the same skin colour centuries ago—not only generates a sense of white consciousness—which has in recent history had little currency in most Western societies—but also sparks an impulse to restore racial pride. Any group—white, black or green—will intuitively reject being shunned and shamed unduly. It’s an evolutionary reaction which springs from our instinct to resist domination. Though channelled through the prism of race it has the potential to create particularly damaging effects. If ever there was a lesson to be learnt from the last century, it should be to avoid weaponising white identity.
But that’s exactly what many protesters want because conflict inspires renewal. They demand the breakdown of society as we know it—its history, institutions, values and culture. This is the root objective of the 1619 Project—suggest America is built on slavery, is inherently corrupt, and therefore requires revolution. Several statues have been pulled down and defaced in Britain and America in recent weeks, including Winston Churchill at Whitechapel and Christopher Columbus in Virginia. The Hollywood classic Gone With the Wind has even been removed from several streaming platforms.
To achieve their revolutionary ends, opportunistic ideologues have skilfully smuggled in their agenda under the cover of black grievance. This strategy is extremely effective at the present moment because they can pacify average people with the anti-racism taboo while enjoying protection from the high cost of dissent in a time of reasonable outrage. The economic calamity and civil frustration generated by Covid-19 has only fuelled indignation.
It’s unclear, however, whether sliding in a revolutionary agenda will either achieve a revolution or advance the condition of black citizens across the West. It may, in fact, do the opposite, by making societies at large suspicious of the motives of protesters and hesitant to accept change.
Another topical issue of recent years suddenly seems particularly relevant, too. Why would Western citizens want to make their polities more ethnically diverse when it is likely to lead to increased racial tension and further traditional cultural retreat?
The riots, protester demands and reaction by pundits and politicians have, if anything, telegraphed the significant challenges associated with greater ethnic heterogeneity. In the wash- up we may, ironically, see a strengthened call for restrictionist immigration policies.
Western societies are projected to become more ethnically diverse in coming decades. If civil society is merely a collection of competing racial groups, where the most aggrieved actors team up to topple the designated hegemon, our wish to maintain one nation under one flag is significantly compromised. In accepting the vocabulary and rituals of intersectionality, we do little more than sow the seeds of racial division.
While many play the intersectional game with positive intent, a good heart won’t save anyone—let alone minorities—from the circular firing squad. Perhaps, soon, we will come to realise this entirely predictable outcome.
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