All posts filed under: Politics

The Faith of Systemic Racism

We hear constantly about the systemic racism coursing through America. Everything, we’re told, is shot through with hate. It does not matter if no white person ever has actually thought a hateful thought. The structure, or system, these innocents inhabit and profit from was designed by those who hated with abandon; the hate is baked into the edifice and walls and rooftops. It constitutes an architecture of oppression, and the persistence of that architecture amounts to an indictment of its beneficiaries. They’re fools or, more likely, willing participants who go to inordinate lengths to camouflage their complicity—Dean Armitage of Get Out declaring he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time while living on a latter-day plantation.  Of course, if a system is nefarious, it must be blown up, and the bricks and rubble must be redistributed to the politically favored, and anyone who opposes that—anyone who does not loudly and enthusiastically embrace the new dogma—must be a tool of white subjugation. This is the not so hermetic logic of most every blue-chip multinational, …

Silicon Valley’s Cynical Treatment of Asian Engineers

Silicon Valley runs on Asians. This is a well-known aspect of the tech world in general, but it’s especially apparent in elite sub-sectors. Even by 2010, Asian Americans already had become a majority (50.1 percent) of all tech workers in the Bay Area: software engineers, data engineers, programmers, systems analysts, admins, and developers. Census Bureau statistics from the same year put white tech workers at 40.1 percent. Other races made up, in total, slightly less than 10 percent. I interviewed a Facebook product manager fresh out of university. He interacts daily with teams of software engineers at Facebook, coordinating and leading projects, and getting them in line. Among the four teams of five or so software engineers he works with on a daily basis, he told me, 15 out of the 20 are Chinese. “I don’t mean Chinese-American,” he clarified. “I mean Chinese-Chinese, like from China.” These Chinese engineers largely speak Mandarin during work, making the company billions as they write code with machine-gun efficiency. Or, as he puts it: “We’re at an American social …

Interview with Slavenka Drakulić—the East-West Doyenne of the 1990s

For anyone interested in Eastern Europe in the 1990s—that surreal time when the Berlin Wall had just fallen but the gulf between East and West remained palpable—the Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić was required reading. Her books opened up to us that world from inside, written by a woman—one of the pioneering feminists in her country—who’d lived 40 years under the old system and knew it in her bones. Each book illuminated some different aspect of life in that part of the continent hitherto so difficult to approach. How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed (1991) told us about everyday survival under communism, its textures and minutiae as felt by normal people. Balkan Express (1993) described the horrors following the system’s collapse, as Yugoslavia disintegrated and a bitter civil war broke out. Café Europa (1996), meanwhile, spoke of the region’s longing for normality, to leave the communist past behind and become part of the New Europe. Her collections of essays were short and hard-hitting—about 200 pages—packed with anecdote, detail, vivid description, and with each you felt …

Should Critical Race Theory Be Banned in Public Schools?—a Conversation with Christopher F. Rufo

The creators and defenders of Critical Race Theory, or CRT is it’s often known, describe it as a legal and academic movement aimed at critically examining the many ways in which racism manifests, with a view toward pushing beyond traditionally liberal color-blind laws and solutions. It has been around since the 1970s, but in the wake of Black Lives Matter, CRT has suddenly become a lot more prominent in progressive activism and academia. And while many conservatives have pushed back on CRT throughout the years, basically accusing its champions of using postmodern language to justify reverse racism, no one has pushed back quite as hard as Christopher Rufo. As a speaker, media personality, web pundit, and now filmmaker, he has railed hard against CRT and called for efforts to ban its inclusion in public school curricula. Last year, when then President Donald Trump took action to block CRT-based training materials from being used in federal government agencies, it was because he’d seen Rufo appear on Fox News. Rufo has been so successful in getting his …

The Accomplishments of Black Conservative Thought

The line between moral and empirical claims is a tricky one for debaters. In his thoughtful Quillette essay, “The Limitations of Black Conservative Thought,” Aaron Hanna—like me, a professor of Political Science—critiques some of the more sweeping theoretical claims of America’s intellectual tradition of black conservatism. However, he does not rebut (or necessarily attempt to rebut) many more empirical points made recently by scholars like Thomas Sowell, Glenn Loury, and indeed myself. To a large extent, Hanna’s essay is a critical analysis of imperfect visions. He notes that the US black conservative tradition is often defined by two primary paradigms: Shelby Steele’s idea that an attraction to the idea of “victimhood” is thwarting black progress and Sowell’s idea that there are problems in “black culture” that limit competitiveness. Both men advocate personal responsibility and choice as the most reliable path to black advancement. In contrast to these visions, Hanna accurately notes, the dominant paradigm on the progressive Left is that oppression, or “systemic racism,” limits African American performance. Hanna’s essay identifies several flaws in all …

A Toast to Randolph Bourne

The pandemic has taken from us a bold and gifted writer, just 32 years old—only not this pandemic but the one that swept the world in 1918. The story of Randolph Bourne confirms that history perpetually forgets what it perpetually remembers. Every decade rediscovers Bourne and every decade loses him again. Once Bourne loomed large as a brash American essayist who championed a new generation of iconoclastic intellectuals. Lewis Mumford, the urban critic, recalled the thrill of reading Bourne on the eve of World War I. I still remember, he wrote, “when I paced back and forth pondering Bourne’s prophetic words” about the war. Ten years later, he queried a student about him. “I belong to the class of 1926,” she replied, “and the truth is, I never heard of Randolph Bourne.” So it would continue. In the 1960s, my teacher Christopher Lasch heralded Bourne—to little effect. In the 1980s, a book on Bourne entitled Forgotten Prophet appeared—and was forgotten. Why summon Bourne again today? For several reasons. He spoke in a voice as clear …

Historical Racism Is Not the Singular Cause of Racial Disparity

Even before the crescendo of Black Lives Matter last summer, the operative view among progressives was that historical racism is the overriding cause of racial disparities between black and white Americans today. The progressive ethos on race is neatly conveyed by the novelist William Faulkner’s remark: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If the wide socio-economic gaps between whites and blacks in terms of income, wealth, health, incarceration, and education outcomes speak to the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation, large-scale efforts to improve the conditions of the country without regard for race seem insufficient to many. First, Americans must come to terms with the moral and political implications of living in a country that oppressed an entire class of citizens for hundreds of years on the arbitrary basis of ancestry, while flaunting democratic ideals of freedom and equality it was failing to uphold. Those who respond by pointing to the decline of anti-black racism since the civil rights movement or the subsequent success of other minority groups in the country are …

Why Violence and Looting Have Exploded Across South Africa

The explosion of looting and destruction which has overtaken South Africa has left the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa shaken and dazed, its credibility and legitimacy undermined. Ramaphosa’s broadcasts to the nation, appealing for calm, full of cliches and generalities, have met with derision. Nobody doubts that South Africa has reached another Rubicon, one which the ANC (African National Congress) government may be unable to cross. The explosion of violence followed the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma on a charge of contempt for refusing to appear before the Commission of enquiry into the wholesale looting of the state which took place under his presidency. Nobody seriously doubts that Zuma stole millions, probably billions of Rands and he still faces a long list of charges for racketeering, money-laundering and sundry other crimes. But Zuma still has a large following among his Zulu followers and effectively threatened to make the country ungovernable if the government dared to jail him. Undoubtedly the rioting began as his followers sought to make good on this threat. Zandile Gumede, the …

Surplus to Society

Workers are scarce and wages are rising. “The relationship between American businesses and their employees,” reports the New York Times, “is undergoing a profound shift: for the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.” In the Guardian, John Harris writes that, “As consumer demand surges, hospitality businesses don’t have the staff to keep pace, and shortages are also mounting in construction, road haulage, food processing and fruit and vegetable picking.” Both papers wonder if we are entering “a new economic era.” We should be so lucky, but it’s possible—though more than rising wages will be needed to confirm it. The good part of this is that employers will be dealing with workers who have more power than before, many fortified by the reflection that, during lockdowns, they kept—and still keep—the medical systems working, the care homes and schools open, the public transport networks moving, the home deliveries arriving, and the social services serving. Britain’s labour shortages are exacerbated by the post-Brexit loss of labour from the European Union, but even that will spur …

The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization

A week before the massive protests erupted in Cuba, I was celebrating Fourth of July at a friend’s house in Oakland, California, and listening to her tell me stories about her adventures there. She is a Jewish red diaper baby and today seems to identify as some sort of “libertarian socialist.” I found myself squirming as she enthused about the Left radicals she knows, and lamented the persecution of communists in the US. During the years of McCarthyite paranoia, American communists did indeed have their reputations, careers, and occasionally their lives ruined. A few were sent to prison, and in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for Stalin and executed. I wanted to point out that the persecution of communists by communists during the Cold War was far worse, and that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty, unlike the millions of people murdered or worked to death in Gulags by Stalin for allegedly operating as Trotskyist or Western agents or spies. Still, I was a guest in my friend’s home, so I …