I promise that I’m going to move on from the American race debate soon, but not today—in part because I’m morbidly fascinated by the debate’s relentless dysfunction. On the right it often seems that if we can effectively rebut the radicals, we act as if our rhetorical work is done. Debunk critical theory, reject various definitions of systemic racism, and then move along. Back to business as usual (with the conventional and obligatory “to be sure” paragraphs noting that a few racists still haunt American life).
As for the left? Well, one of its principal and most prominent recent projects about American history actually tried to claim that the advent of slavery into the American colonies represented the “true founding” of the United States of America. Moreover, the relentless intolerance spawned by the “Great Awokening” is driving even mainstream progressives out of (formerly) liberal institutions. Illiberalism is on the rise, and much of that illiberalism is rooted in a radical, quasi-religious anti-racist ideology.
Then the dysfunction is compounded by the fact that in the world of journalist and academic racial discourse, the definition of words themselves is up for debate. “Racism” is a contested term. “White supremacy” is a contested concept. And who the heck even knows what “systemic” is supposed to mean?
So I thought—in concluding this round of French Press commentary on race in America—I’d back up a bit, shed the buzzwords as much as possible, reject the extremes, and see if we can begin to formulate any consensus at all around a few, basic ideas.