Yes, I am a race denier

Both the alt-right and the woke left want you to think racially. Don’t do it.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics Science & Tech UK

I got it in the neck from both racist-right wingers and supposedly anti-racist leftists last week. Hard-right racial agitators slammed me over my spiked column on Andrew Sabisky, in which I argued that the new right’s flirtation with the ‘science’ of IQ differences, and particularly with the idea that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites, is dangerous and worrying. Woke leftists, meanwhile, took me to task over my rather more throwaway piece on the rapper Dave and his performance at the BRITs, and my belief that the cultural elite’s racialisation of everything, its belief that racism is endemic in modern Britain, is wrong and divisive. The racists criticised me for ignoring the reality of race; the wokeists criticised me for ignoring the reality of racial experience in 21st-century Britain.

These two groups might look like polar opposites. The racist underbelly of the internet – which worryingly burst forth into Downing Street via the employment of Sabisky – tends to be a bit tragic. It consists primarily of atomised young men who think they are cleverer than they are and who are consumed by a virulent strain of white victimhood. They are widely mocked by contemporary culture. The woke web, in contrast, is dynamic, energetic, very middle class, and widely celebrated by the political and cultural elites. From Twitter to TV discussion panels, from the academy to newspapers’ opinion pages, this new clique’s political views are increasingly mainstream. Witness the way in which trans extremism, ideas about ‘white privilege’ and the racial myopia of the identitarian worldview have moved into mainstream discussion and even popular culture in recent years.

And yet for all their different styles and success rates, these two groups share something incredibly important in common: they are obsessed with race. Genuinely, sometimes even hysterically obsessed with it. Indeed, my battering by both sides last week gave me a stark and enlightening realsation: both of these camps think of me, and presumably everyone else, as little more than a racial category. In my case, as a ‘white man’. The speed and firmness with which both sides reduced me to a white man was striking. The racists, including in a weird YouTube video one of them made about me, informed me that I am a white man who is insufficiently proud of my white heritage or of my genetic superiority to blacks. The wokeists denounced me as a white man who, by dint of my cultural heritage, can have no understanding of the racial complexities of modern Britain. (Even worse, I am a ‘mediocre white man’, in the words of the people at Novara Media. Perhaps I need to make a greater effort to strive for Aryan non-mediocrity.)

To both groups, I am a disappointing white man. I am a disappointment to my race. The racist abusers of science who propagate the foul idea of white genetic superiority see me as a self-hating white man who refuses to acknowledge my genetic supremacy to people of colour. The wokeist promoters of identitarian difference see me as a self-denying white man who refuses to acknowledge my inherited privileges, the way in which history has bestowed on me the category of ‘privileged’ while bestowing on black people the category of ‘victim’.

Neither side allows reality to leak in. That I am less intelligent than many black people makes not a blind bit of difference to the racist right who think I should wallow in my ‘superiority’. That I come from an Irish working-class background and am a first-generation Briton makes no difference to the wokeist left who think I should self-flagellate for my ‘privilege’. All truth and nuance is erased by both the science and the culture of racial myopia; by both the scientific racists of the new right and the cultural racialists of the woke left.

What is becoming clear is that, tragically, the idea of race, the idea of insurmountable differences between people, is returning to public life. In fact, it never really went away. In recent decades, racial thinking has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to change its nature, to reassert itself in new, apparently more acceptable ways. The reason there was a perfectly understandable angry reaction to the employment of Sabisky in Downing Street is because older, more ‘scientific’ forms of racism, such as have been expressed by Sabisky in the past, have been incredibly out of favour in recent decades. In the aftermath of the Second World War, and of the horrors of the Holocaust in particular, the racist, eugenicist view of humanity as racial entities – some good, some degenerate – became unsustainable. That is, not only where these ideas scientifically wrong – as they had always been – but now their barbarism and backwardness had been fully exposed.

However, racial thinking did not disappear. Rather, it shifted from science to culture. The idea of racial difference was no longer scientifically argued. Instead it was claimed that culture and history were the determining factors in the division of identity groups and the moral divide between black and white people in particular. In the 1960s and 70s, sections of the right tended to push the idea of a deep, culturally divined split between the races. But more recently, it is the left that has embraced cultural racial determinism. First through the race-relations industry, then through the ideology of multiculturalism, and more recently through the entrenched, historically determined categories of white privilege and black victimhood, the new left has promoted a new and worryingly popular species of racial thinking.

That this new racial thinking can be as deterministic and divisive as the old racial thinking it replaced can be glimpsed in today’s casual disdain for white people and contempt for any person of colour who deviates from the politics of victimhood. The modern left has introduced a racialism as fixed as the racialism of old, to such an extent that they will berate anyone from any ‘racial’ category who fails to perform their racial role. A white person who questions the idea that he enjoys privilege or who agitates against the pressure to think racially will be instantly denounced as a naturally racist white person requiring moral correction. A black person who pushes back against the politics of victimhood and refuses to think of him or herself as the damaged goods of bloody history will be written off as a self-hating person of colour, as someone who has internalised racism. That is, they lack the agency and autonomy to think for themselves and instead have been corrupted by their white masters. And so does the new racialism directly echo the old racism.

The new cultural racialism may not share the extreme authoritarianism and deranged destructiveness of the old scientific racism. But it has carried into the late 20th century and early 21st century many of the anti-humanist trends of racial thinking. It has its determinism, only now racial groups are said to be determined by history (Empire, slavery, colonialism) rather than biology. It has its racial dehumanisation, so that every nuance of class, experience and belief is erased in the rush to refer to people simply as ‘white man’ or ‘person of colour’. It has at least a strain of its authoritarianism: witness the rush to censure those who question the new racialism and the way in which the boss class has introduced codes of conduct in the workplace that govern speech and relations between black and white workers. And it has its divisiveness. Black people are different to white people: that is the depressing, society-harming message of the new woke left as much as it was of the old racist right.

That we live in a new era of racial thinking, in which so much of educational, political and public life is organised around these new-sounding and dangerous racial ideas, is clear from the fact that it has become incredibly difficult to question and push back against woke racialisation. Indeed, there is now open ridicule of anyone who says: ‘I prefer the Martin Luther King approach of judging people by their character rather than skin colour.’ Woke activists mercilessly mock people who say this. In the US, some campuses describe such a worldview as a ‘racial microaggression’. So to argue against racial thinking is racist. This is mad, Orwellian nonsense.

We cannot let them demean and destroy the MLK belief that character is more important than colour, because this belief is the very essence of a progressive, humanist politics. Both the alt-right and the woke left want you to think racially. Refuse. Rebel. Do the right thing: view all people as individuals with agency, autonomy, aspirations and character, regardless of their skin colour, their ethnicity or their heritage. Fight for the King approach to humanity over the deeply destructive racialism of the flagging racist right and the ascendant woke left.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics Science & Tech UK


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