The title of this column is a question I was asked recently by someone who had read another of my columns at this site. The column the man had read was a hard-hitting but factual denunciation of Barack Obama’s hapless handling of the terrorist threat. In a bit of a hurry at the time, I gave a brief and even cryptic response. I said, “Not anymore. During the Obama administration the term “racist” has been so overused and misused that it has lost its meaning. Besides, being called a racist these days puts me in good company. Some of the most distinguished black Americans today are often called the same thing because they hold conservative political views.”
My answer to his query was accurate, but it began to nag at me that I should have given the man a more comprehensive answer—one that explained what I meant by the words “not anymore.” To say “not anymore” was to admit that there was a time when I was afraid of being called a racist; a fear that still permeates our society today which, in turn, allows liberals and race hustlers to use the term like a club to attack anyone who refuses to toe the line of liberal orthodoxy or fall in line with their nefarious agenda. Ironically, you hear the term “racist” used most often these days not by Black Americans but by white liberals. Consequently, this column contains the more comprehensive answer to the question “Aren’t you afraid of being called a racist?” I should have taken the time to give the man who asked the question in the first place.
I grew up in the deep South during the bad old days of Jim Crow. Segregation, “colored” water fountains, and “whites only” signs were common during my younger years. Some of the worst battles between Civil Rights advocates and the hardened bigots who opposed them occurred during my formative years. Consequently, the images conjured up in my mind when I hear the term “racist” are of hate-filled men in robes and hoods burning crosses, lynching blacks, beating sit-in participants, burning the busses carrying freedom riders, turning snarling dogs and water cannons on peaceful protestors, and—worst of all—murdering four beautiful, innocent little black girls by blowing up their church. With this background, one can understand why the term “racist” has always been such a powerful pejorative in my view; something I never wanted to be called or even tangentially associated with.
But much water has run under the bridge since my childhood and the America of 2015 is much different than the America of the 1950s and 60s. So are those who are now called “racists.” Today when you hear the term “racist” applied to someone, that person is no longer likely to be a hate-filled bigot who believes in racial segregation and creeps around at night clothed in a hood and robe burning crosses in the front yards of black people. Rather, the so-called “racist” of today is more likely to be an individual who espouses a conservative worldview, questions the policies of President Obama, believes that personal initiative is the best antidotes to poverty, shuns the government’s failed fifty year-old war on poverty, and views Affirmative Action as legally sanctioned discrimination. In other words, a “racist” in contemporary America where the narrative on race is controlled by liberal elites is simply any conservative—white, black, Hispanic, or Asian—who speaks out against the manifest failures of liberalism.
With this new definition of what now constitutes a “racist” established, I can say without hesitation that I no longer fear being called that once most hateful of epithets. Ironically, those who would label me a “racist” for writing columns that question Barack Obama’s policies specifically and liberal orthodoxy generally actually do me a favor by putting me in company with some outstanding Americans who are high on my list of most-admired people. These people who I admire for their courage, scholarship, powerful commentary, and common sense include Shelby Steele, Walter Williams. Thomas Sowell, and Jason Riley to name just a few. What all of these renowned Americans have in common—other than their courage and commitment to truth—is their race; all of them are distinguished black Americans who daily endure the slings and arrows of liberals who consider them sellouts and “racists” of another sort for turning their backs on such liberal mainstays as victimhood, entitlement, and government dependence.
In his new book, SHAME: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, Shelby Steele writes: “I am used to being in situations where mention of such ‘conservative’ values (as self-help and individual responsibility) amounts to an impropriety. On today’s political landscape, there are few people more inherently provocative, more unforeseen and unsettling, than people like myself who are designated ‘black conservative’.” In a recent edition of his syndicated newspaper column, Walter Williams called multiculturalism—a mainstay of liberal orthodoxy—“a cancer on Western society.”
In his book, The Thomas Sowell Reader, Sowell uses a scholar’s grasp of the facts to excoriate liberals for attributing to racial discrimination things that have nothing to do with race. He writes, “Local demagogues who thunder against the fact that Koreans run so many stores in black ghettos merely betray their ignorance when they act as if this is something strange or unusual. For most of the merchants in an area to be of a different race or ethnicity from their customers has been common for centuries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa, the Caribbean, Fiji, the Ottoman Empire and numerous other places.” In a recent article for Imprimis, Jason Riley took young black Americans to task for construing the use of proper English as “speaking white” rather than as the language of success.
These renowned black Americans are not “racists,” nor are they sellouts. They are bright, successful professionals who know what it takes to succeed in an imperfect world and have done so. They are committed in reality to what liberals only claim to be committed to: helping black Americans improve their lives. It isn’t that they deny that blacks have been victims—each of them has been victimized because of his race. Rather it’s that they do not believe that the way to overcome being victimized is to depend on government. All of these individuals and others like them—white, black, Hispanic, and Asian—who have had to work their way out of disadvantageous circumstances by dint of personal initiative and steadfast determination know what it takes to do so, and they know that what it takes is not government assistance, victimhood, or excuse making.
The overuse and careless misapplication of the term “racist” by liberals who are themselves “racialists” has taken much of the sting out of a term that once struck fear in the hearts of white people. For the purpose of clarification, a “racialist” is not a “racist.” A “racialist” is an individual of any race who cannot imagine any cause for any problem in the black community other than racism. If crime is rampant in black ghettos, the cause must be racism. If the dropout rate among black students is inordinately high, the cause must be racism. If the majority of black children grow up in fatherless homes, the cause must be racism. To point any of these facts out—as Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, and Jason Riley have done—is to be labeled a “racist” by “racialist” liberals, both white and black.
There are still racists in America, and they come in all races. But the overwhelming majority of Americans of all races long for racial harmony, not racial discord. It is only liberals with an agenda that has nothing to do with helping improve the socio-economic conditions of black Americans who fear racial harmony. If this desirable goal is achieved in America, those who use the term “racist” as a club to prevent it from happening will eventually fade into irrelevance. And this is why I do not fear being labeled a “racist” when I criticize government policies that promise black Americans progress while, in reality, holding them back. The term “racist” no longer has anything to do with race. It is simply a political pole ax used by desperate liberals who fear losing their control of the social narrative in America and, in turn, their relevance.