I was given a very informative assignment this weekend: specifically, reading up on the newest definition of racism that is popular in left-wing circles. You may be familiar with the previous definition of racism, which is often abbreviated as “racism = prejudice + power”. The former definition led to the often repeated claim that it was literally impossible for anyone but whites to be racists. But the latest definition, described in detail in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between The World And Me”, and Ijeoma Oluo’s book “So You Want To Talk About Race” go much further. These authors attempt to define racism as a system, where even if all the participants want prejudice to go away, the system they live in entrenches that prejudice so that it cannot be removed. The only way to end racism, therefore, is destroy the entire system that comprises it. That system is viewed as being supported by many aspects of modern society, since these were contaminated by current or historical applications of racist sentiment to various degrees. Examples include capitalism, the legal system, education, and of course the nation itself, given that it was founded with the Constitution. Remedies include anything from overthrow of the country to replace it with benevolent semantic dictatorship, presumably run by enlightened race warriors, to reparations paid by society from those who have benefited, however obliquely, from any historical acts of racism, to those who claim the mantle of the oppressed.

I could, at this point, go into considerable depth in responding to some of the many logical problems with the worldview contained in this redefinition of “racism”, e.g. the fact that it creates straw men out of current systems of government, economic activity, and jurisprudence. These have no intrinsic racism whatsoever, and while not perfect, are far better than anything else that has ever been tried. The perfect is always the enemy of the good, and any forcible destruction of major pieces of society must be considered carefully in consideration of what would replace it – and what would replace it sounds horrific indeed.

This whole exercise in redefinition, however, got me thinking about exactly how the cultural Left keeps winning in the US and in the world. What is obvious once you see it is that there is a long-term ideological struggle going on. Perhaps it has been going on since the time of Karl Marx, perhaps longer. But somewhere in the last century a major front was opened in this struggle – control of the language. George Orwell recognized the risks and pithily described them in horrific detail in “1984,” but that has not stopped the totalitarian attempts to turn language to ideologically favor one side in this ideological war. It helps that authoritarian modern institutions of higher learning are command centers of the ideologues who want to completely remake our society in their own image, and this is where these language redefinitions are, by and large, being planned and developed.

The re- and re-re-definition of the term “racism” is only one example of this technique in action. Quillette recently published an excellent article about the redefinition of the word “violence” to suit the Left’s desire to bring physical violence into the ideological struggle. Many of us have been tasked repeatedly for using the word “thug” since it has now been redefined to mean “criminal black person” – use it, and you can (and will!) be labeled a racist, even if you are describing white criminals. The tactical effort lately has been geared to allow the Left to declare any criticism of persons of color as “racist,” which is very convenient if persons of color are your ideological vanguard. By redefining “racist” pervasively in this way, the Left has very successfully managed to have all of its associated media organizations – by far the majority in the US at least – stigmatize many politicians who they disagree with on a policy basis, clearly in hopes of
damaging their re-election chances.

The problem is that the Left has been too successful in their redefinition endeavor. Most of society is reeling under the weight of language changes that no longer come generationally or even every decade, but come along every year or so. Ordinary people who naively believe that the definition of “racism” they learned in school still applies today learn very quickly that they’re now considered bigots, because thinking that a color-blind society is a laudable goal is just plain wrong by the modern definition of “racism”. Maybe they even get called “deplorable” for their adherence to goals that seemed like a terrific improvement a generation ago. This can, obviously, lead to a backlash.

Another example of backlash we’ve seen recently is the reaction of the Jewish community when immigrant detentions were relabeled “concentration camps”. Jews rightly feel that Nazi Germany furnished the definition of “concentration camp” for all time, and that defining it to be something else is very disrespectful of the horrors the Jewish community underwent during that dark time. One would hope that might make the ideologues slow down and consider, but unfortunately I see no sign of that.

Perhaps the only way to fight back these definitions is to not respect them. There is nothing in life’s contract that stipulates that people must be passive doormats when others try to label them. This requires a level of stubbornness and a thick skin. But consider the alternative: allowing others to set the terms of all debate in a manner that you cannot possibly win.

Karl Wright

About Karl Wright

I am a long-time software engineer, with wide-ranging interests including music, the sciences, politics, economics, and medicine. I've been active for a decade in the open-source community and I work for a major mapping company.


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