Keep the ‘racism treadmill’ moving
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, a group of black students recently issued a list of demands to the university system. Among those demands were “forcing certain faculty members to attend a gender, sexuality, and diversity training course, the creation of a ‘space in all community spaces for the centering of vulnerable people within their community,’ and the creation of a university-wide ‘Common Book,’ filled with the work of ‘radical Black scholars.'”
The impetus for these demands? Because a recent “Student of Color Conference” was insufficiently deferential to black students. Indeed, according to one activist, the conference—which, it bears repeating, took place at the University of California, one of the most progressive school systems in the world, and was organized by University of California students, among the more left-wing student bodies on the planet—was “thwarted by anti-blackness and color-blind discourses.”
You can bet your mortgage money—heck, go ahead and bet your beer money, too—that this is more or less 100% false. There is close to zero chance that there was any shade of “anti-blackness” at this highly progressive, extremely racially sensitive gathering of hardcore liberal activists. It defies belief and is not, in the main, a credible proposal.
But then we must ask why this claim is being made—indeed why is it made so often? Why does it seem that, the more colleges and universities attempt to grovel before, and indulge, racial activists, the more the activists claim that racism is afoot? Why is a “Student of Color Conference” accused of “anti-blackness” when we very reasonably know that this is simply not true?
Part of the answer is to be found in what Coleman Hughes calls “the racism treadmill.” Hughes, a philosophy undergrad at Columbia, wrote a brilliant essay this month explaining how this treadmill works: “[A]s long as cultural differences continue to cause disparities between racial groups, and as long as progressives imagine that systemic racism lies behind every disparity, then no amount of progress in reducing systemic racism, however large or concrete, will ever look like progress to progressives.” The Left, in other words, has become conditioned to assume racism is an unalterable feature of much if not all of modern life. It is unsurprising, then, that liberals will tend to see racism even in such things as anti-racism conferences. As Hughes writes: “It seems as if every reduction in racist behavior is met with a commensurate expansion in our definition of the concept. Thus, racism has become a conserved quantity akin to mass or energy: transformable but irreducible.”
It is hard to know how to confront such willful blindness on the part of fervent activists; you cannot readily engage with someone who both sees racism everywhere while concurrently refusing to consider that it might not be everywhere. One hopes that, eventually, the thrill of such obstinance might wear off—if not during school then surely at some point after graduation, when the make-believe world of campus politics has faded away and the real world has set in.
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