Americans, especially traditionally middle-class Americans, are by and large likeable people who like to be liked. Our friendliness, along with our self-confidence, loudness, and sneakers-and-ballcaps attire (and, sadly, our girth), set us apart worldwide. As a corollary, we hate to be called nasty, untrue things, especially racist.
This common trait of the American personality has been targeted by the proud radical socialists pushing this summer’s protests and riots. (Radical socialist or worse, really: the founders and leaders of Black Lives Matter (BLM) are declared Marxists; the astonishingly misnamed “Antifa” organization – a designation accepted at face value only by the very young, the immensely ill-informed, or the actively duplicitous – was established, and continues, as a tool of explicitly communist, socialist, and other radical leftwing interests.) Highly paid modern-day race baiters such as Robin DiAngelo are brought into schools, federal offices, and corporations to accuse all white people of being irremediably racist from birth, while absolving all other races of personal responsibility. The threat of cancellation hangs in the air for anyone who disagrees.
Most Americans recognize that this is nonsense, but have been flummoxed in figuring out how to object without getting tarred as racist monsters, browbeaten into weary acquiescence and ultimately cancelled.
Here’s a suggestion.
First, recognize that you’ll be called a racist monster regardless. The riotous radicals and their academic munitioneers have declared everyone who disagrees with them a racist, and white people (an amorphous category that is mutable for their purposes but immutable for ours) racists even if they agree with the radicals. But before you pay any mind to the epithet or its authors try to subject the claim, related claims by speaker, and the speaker him-, her- or xerxelf to the test of reciprocity.
The test is both simple and time tested. You’ve likely heard of it before: it’s a rule both ancient and yet untarnished. (Some clever fellow might even call it golden.)
In any discussion make sure that any premises underlying the conversation apply reciprocally. If they don’t, then refuse to participate. Similarly, study the presumptions of any parties making “demands” that strike you as wrong-headed. If those demands are built on non-reciprocal assumptions or understandings, absolutely reject and refuse to countenance those positions until they are revised (and likely substantially reformed) to bring them into line with the rule.
Here are some examples. The very claim that racism can only run in one direction – that all behavior by whites is hopelessly infected by racism, while the actions of POCs (“People of Color,” whatever that means in any given deployment), never can be – itself fails the rule. Discussions or positions based on it should be rejected out of hand. But if, in an excess of American likeability and conciliation, one wished to dig deeper before dismissing the claim, here are some questions to ask:
“I understand that racism as you define it requires having power in a situation. How is it determined who has the power? If one party, A, is demanding that another party, B, not say certain things, or not object to certain claims, or accept irremediable burdens of guilt because of B’s race, then does not A have the power, and so aren’t A’s demands racist?” If the answer is yes, then the whole fetid excrescence of the White Supremacy/Privilege/ Fragility hustle dissolves, because it is explicitly designed to allow its proponents to be racist while justifying their racism by calling other people racist. But if, in an increasingly irrational attempt to preserve the con, the answer is no, then it becomes clear that the whole “power determines racism” argument is just a ruse, an excuse.
This illustrates the point: assertions that aren’t reciprocal are not good-faith arguments; they are academically tarted-up ransom demands.
Some other examples:
“Ok, you’ve named several things that we should stop doing because they trigger you or make you feel unsafe. When do I get to offer my list?” If the answer is “you don’t,” then walk away, and reject the whole artifice of declaring anything off limits because of triggering or safety effects. These aren’t fair-minded measures to increase comfort and thoughtful expression. They’re straight up attempts to control, by using American likeability against the likeable.
“Hold on, you say we must follow your policy prescriptions exactly or the world will tip into a vicious and deadly climate cycle. Could you produce all of the science that backs up not just the general idea of some level of man-made global warming, but the whole of your specific policy prescription?” If you’re told that that’s not possible, or is unnecessary, then counter with your own policy “demand,” declare it scientifically (or logically) required, and then refuse to provide the proof. When this response knocks the whole conversation into a cocked hat, you will have demonstrated that your compeer’s premises and presumptions cannot be applied reciprocally. They are not fair and reasonable shortcuts to greater understanding, but attempts to silence critique and to hijack the policy debate.
“You want to fire or refuse to hire people with whom you disagree about politics. When do we do this to the people who disagree with me?”
This last one is probably most important right now. Many people reading this column will likely think, “Sure. This all sounds great. But if I try this at my next mandatory work struggle session against ‘implicit and systemic racism,’ I’ll be out on my can.” Fair enough. But if you can’t apply this rule (“one simple trick!” as the internet bottom feeders invariably put it) out loud, use it quietly, as a test. And as soon as possible, get yourself somewhere that not only allows the rule, but insists on it. Things will be nicer there – all around, and for everyone of goodwill, regardless of their surface characteristics. The way we Americans – quite rightly – like it.