Conservatives have only ever had one good argument against race-based affirmative action, reparations, and other programs that promote racial equity. They’ve point out that black Africans also participated in the slave trade.
In fact, long before English settlers arrived in Virginia, blacks were enslaving whites, blacks were enslaving blacks, and whites were enslaving each other. (In Athens, there was roughly one slave for every citizen. In Sparta, the ratio was more like ten to one.) In other words, it’s perfectly feasible that, had African empires conquered the world instead of European, black may have, and probably would have, enslaved millions upon millions of whites.
This inspires all kinds of tricky questions. “Are all whites Americans culpable in slavery, or just the descendants of slaveowners? If the former, why? If the latter, are they indebted to all black people, or just the descendants of slaves? If the former, why? If the latter, are they indebted to the descendants of all slaves, or just the descendants of their ancestors’ slaves? If the former, why? If the latter, how do we calculate their debt? How do we put a price on a man’s life, his freedom?” And so on.
Taken together, the idea of collective white guilt seems pretty ludicrous. So, for the Left’s racial narrative to work, they had to decouple racism from slavery somewhat. They had to argue that slavery was only a manifestation of another evil: one far older, more intrinsic, and that survives intact to this day.
Arguments from history wouldn’t cut it. We needed to identify racism with some trait possessed universally by all white people by their nature. And that, of course, is whitenessitself. Somehow, we had to argue that racism is intrinsic to whiteness.
That’s the essence of what the Left calls Critical Race Theory, and what the Right calls “wokeness.” It’s not a serious attempt to understand history or modern racial dynamics: it’s a clumsy effort to reinforce partisan narratives about collective white guilt.
[Read the rest at my Substack newsletter, The Common Man.]