Racism is about many things but it isn’t about race. To understand the uses of race in American liberalism requires understanding its place in the political culture. When American liberals speak of race they aren’t speaking in the genetic sense. What they are doing is clumsily piggybacking class onto race and adding one dubious construct to another.
The placement of racial politics at the center of liberal advocacy coincided with a growing national prosperity that seemed to be on the way to making class warfare of the old kind irrelevant. Previous liberal civil rights activity had been a subset of class, but class now became a subset of race. And both were a means of liberal self-definition as the people concerned with the plight of the downtrodden.
Class warfare was not really about the poor. It was about using a permanent social problem as a means of recreating the social order and gaining permanent political power. Race is just class dressed up in the same old class warfare clothes so that there is nearly no distinction between the two. Reformers gain power by attacking the failures of the system and positioning a social problem as an open sore that must be healed. But it isn’t healing that they have in mind.
When your power is a product of social problems, then the failure to locate social problems that are an open sore on society, a cry of conscience and a grievous crime that must be faced, leaves you powerless and irrelevant. Once you start running out of legitimate social problems to tackle, then you have no choice but to start creating them or exaggerating them. Whether the problems you are dealing with are real or unreal, your challenge is to find ways to make them worse in order to retain your power and the social relevance of your movement.
Race has very little to do with racial politics, which rely on the older methodologies of radicalizing slums and using subsidies to elevate community leaders who will support the reformers, all tactics that date back centuries and long predate the politicization of race.
When the Democratic Party had its change of heart on race all it did was take the same methods it used on German, Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants and shift them to urban African-Americans who had come north and were living in the same neighborhoods formerly occupied by the immigrants. And so the party that during the Civil War orchestrated urban anti-draft riots by white immigrants targeting African-Americans was using the same methods to orchestrate African-American riots aimed at the second and third generation of working class immigrants that it had once fostered. What most people thought of as racial politics was just the Democratic Party doing what it had been doing all along.
Race hasn’t simply been politicized. The practical meaning of the word has been so thoroughly transformed that it does not refer to what most people think that it does. In the liberal lexicon race, like class, is an outcast term. It is a catchall term meaning those who are oppressed by the powerful majority. It is why the left will use accusations of racism in completely inappropriate ways that make no sense in relation to the dictionary definition.
Muslims are not a race, but they have been classified as an oppressed group. Socialism is not a race, but they are the official representatives of all oppressed peoples. To insult either one is to be “racist” because racism refers to majority oppression and nothing else. To be a racist is to oppose or denigrate the moral worldview of the reformers without reference to the skin color of any of the parties. Therefore African-American opponents of President Clinton were racists because the terminology of race had nothing to do with the preexisting racial construct. The idea of race as it had existed in the United States no longer applied. Words like racism were part of the Newspeak grammar which insisted on appropriating the moral force of the old meanings, but without actually employing those meanings.
This liberal lexicon is the Newspeak that is all around us. It relies on the moral power of words while first subtly and then grossly changing their definitions until they no longer have anything to do with the old meaning. The process begins with politicized terminology and ends when the core terminology of a free country like “rights,” “freedom” and “democracy” no longer have anything in common with their formal definitions. Their new definitions are those that serve the purposes of the ideology that commands them.
Regardless of what they are supposed to mean, progressivism, racial tolerance and social justice all mean the same thing. And so in the inverse, racism, conservatism and small government also add up to variations of the same idea in the liberal lexicon. Which might not be so much of a problem if it were not also the lexicon being used by the media, academics, politicians, judges and the entertainment industry to name a few groups who are invested in the altered meanings because they are also invested in the ideology that those meanings support.
Ideologies define a worldview where for compelling moral reasons the ideologues are the only ones who can be safely allowed to rule. Imposing this worldview on the people as often as possible and through every possible venue from news reporting to novels and from music to the educational system allows for the perpetual power of the ideologues. So long as the cause is just then no possible overreach of power or abuse can ever justify removing the ideologues from their petty thrones.
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