We are living in a racially charged climate. Problems associated with the relations between the races seem endemic to all areas of our sad and beleaguered culture. Discussions of law enforcement are dominated by the alleged racism of police officers and whether “black lives matter.” The ongoing debate on immigration seems centered on the alleged racism of those who consider the porous nature of the border to be a problem. Discussions of the dangers of radical Islam are overshadowed by the suggestion that criticism of Islamic militancy is a new form of racism known as “Islamophobia.” Movements in higher education are calling for the Great Books of Western civilization to be burned, or at least removed from the curriculum, on the grounds that anything written by dead white men must be racist (and sexist). In such a climate, it is imperative that we understand what racism is and isn’t, and who is guilty of it.
On one level, admittedly a subjective one, I am more qualified than most to discuss these issues. As a young man, I was one of the leaders of a white-supremacist party in my native England. Joining the National Front at the age of only 15, I rose through the ranks to become the youngest member ever of the NF’s Executive Council and chairman of its youth movement, the Young National Front. As editor of the magazine Bulldog, I was sentenced to imprisonment twice for “publishing material likely to incite racial hatred,” a “hate crime” under Britain’s Race Relations Act. Serving a six-month prison sentence in 1982 and a 12-month prison sentence in 1985 and 1986, I spent my 21st and 25th birthdays behind bars.
As I discuss in my book, Race With the Devil: My Journey From Racial Hatred to Rational Love, I was thoroughly steeped and conversant in white-supremacist ideology. One of the most popular books at the time amongst the NF’s intelligentsia was The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. My colleagues and I employed Dawkins’s ideas to justify racism, racial selection, and racial segregation, all of which, thanks to interpretations of Dawkins’s arguments, were considered beneficial to the evolution of the species. Racism was in our genes and was, therefore, not only natural but an inexorable and positive force in the process of Darwinian evolution, whereas racial miscegenation was biologically regressive and an affront to the inherent progressivism of man’s evolutionary ascent, a biological “sin” against omnipotent natural selection. We believed that such sociobiological arguments laid waste all the outmoded Christian moral objections to racism.
Alongside the arguments of Dawkins, I tried to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, finding the experience anticlimactic. It was not that I disagreed with anything that Hitler had written; it was simply that it was not very riveting reading. I read Mussolini’s autobiography and was repelled by Il Duce’s irrepressibly vulgar vanity. I read some of the speeches of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, and found him much more appealing than the Führer. There was something utterly ruthless and uncompromising about him which was very attractive to the young racist zealot that I had become. I read the notorious Protocols of the Meeting of the Learned Elders of Zion but was troubled by the fact that it was a literary forgery and not the genuine minutes of a meeting of Jewish conspirators plotting world domination. One of the Nazi Party’s greatest commentators on the Protocols was Alfred Rosenberg, whose antisemitic, racist, and anti-Christian ideas I imbibed with largely unreserved approval, though I found the shrill and pathological antisemitic rantings of Julius Streicher somewhat unsettling.
In Race With the Devil I recount how being introduced to the writings of G.K. Chesterton, in particular, led me away from the racism of my youth and toward an eventual embrace of Christianity. It is, therefore, as a Christian that I now critique racism.
As a Christian, my political philosophy is governed by a belief in the inalienable dignity of the human person, rooted in the knowledge that he is made in God’s image. Such a belief renders null and illicit any judgment of another person on the basis of anything which is beyond his control and for which he is, therefore, not culpable. If one is not capable of being something else, one is not culpable for being what one is. Thus, the justification of the extermination of children because they are in the womb, or because they are physically deformed (90 percent of children with Down syndrome are exterminated before birth) is an abomination. The killing or culling of the sick, the disabled, and the elderly, which is on the horizon, will similarly be an abomination. And so is the hatred toward someone because he has a different skin color. To hate someone for being something which he cannot help being is never justified.
Reframing this understanding of the dignity of the human person in philosophical terms, we can say that what unites all people essentially and what gives all people their inalienable dignity, and the rights that follow therefrom, is their essential humanity—i.e., what it is simply to be human (esse being “to be” in Latin). In this sense, unborn humans, or disabled humans, or elderly humans, or black, white, or brown humans are essentially human and only accidentally unborn, disabled, elderly, black, white, or brown. Needless to say, I am using the word accident here in its strictly philosophical sense as that which is irrelevant to the definition of a thing. I am a man, whether I am in the womb or whether I have emerged from it, whether I am old or young, whether I am fighting fit or physically disabled, whether I am black or white. My humanity is not defined or affected by any of these accidental qualities, none of which make me more or less human merely because I possess them as attributes. Thus, for Socrates, it is essential that he is of the species man and genus animal, but an accident that he is white, or that he walks, or smiles, or laughs. This philosophical distinction was also made by Plato and Aristotle, and by Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic philosophers who expressed most clearly the understanding of reality known as Christian realism. To deviate from this bedrock understanding of the difference between that which is essential and that which is accidental is to break from the authentic and orthodox philosophy of Christendom. In short, and to put the matter as plainly and bluntly as possible, one cannot be a living member of that civilized continuum known as Christendom if one is a racist.
With the foregoing in mind, we should not be surprised to discover that white-supremacist ideology is thoroughly modern, sharing common roots with Marxist ideology and laissez-faire capitalist ideology in the cesspool of philosophical decay that called itself the Enlightenment. And yet, also with the foregoing in mind, it is necessary to separate racism from the things with which it is all too often associated. Take, for instance, the issue of law enforcement. With regard to the alleged racism of law-enforcement officers in their treatment of black suspects, we should insist that such racism be tackled and such officers punished if they are found to have been genuinely guilty of racism. In similar fashion, however, attacks by black gangs on whites need to be treated as seriously as attacks by whites on blacks. Racism is not more permissible or less heinous if it’s carried out by a minority group against the majority. Blacks who self-identify as being black first and human persons second are as guilty of racism as are whites who self-identify as being white first and human persons second. Racism is as evil regardless of the skin color of the racists. Turning a blind eye to the racism of minorities is condoning racism.
Moving to the thorny and volatile matter of immigration, we must insist that it is not a racial issue, in spite of the efforts of many to brand it as such. The issue of curtailing illegal immigration is, first and foremost, a legitimate effort by a sovereign nation to protect itself from those who are breaking its laws. The color of the skin of the illegal immigrants is as irrelevant as is the color of the skin of the law-enforcement officers who are endeavoring to enforce the law.
As for the problem of radical Islam and the barbaric terrorism to which it has given birth, it must be insisted that opposition to such radicalism has nothing to do with race or racism. Islam is a religion, not a race, and, what is more, it is thoroughly multiracial, with all races represented in its ranks. To oppose ISIS and seek appropriate measures to prevent the spread of its influence and power is no more racist or “Islamophobic” than opposition to the terrorism of the IRA in the 1970’s was racist or “Celtophobic.” Opposition to barbarism and the terrorism barbarians practice is a mark of civilization, not racism.
And as for the war on the Great Books of Western civilization on the grounds that they are “racist,” one must insist that the racism is not to be found in the books but in those seeking to ban them. The very idea that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare are not to be read because they are dead white males is itself a manifestation of the grossest racism, with ageism and sexism added for good measure. Remembering that the worst thing about racism is its hatred of, or prejudice against, someone for something that they cannot help being and for which they are therefore not culpable, it can be seen that removing the greatest writers the world has ever known on the grounds of the color of their skin, or the fact that they are old or male, is the grossest irrational knee-jerk prejudice against the innocent. Shakespeare can’t help being white, or dead, or male. Refusing to read him for these reasons is quite frankly as indefensibly reprehensible as it is indubitably irrational.
Since those who hate the Great Books, and the Great Conversation of which they are a part, are not only racist but almost always on the so-called left, we ought to question the conventional assumption that racism is exclusively or at least primarily a problem of the so-called right. (Personally, as with Chesterton, I am much more concerned with right and wrong, which are realities, than with right and left, which are largely meaningless Enlightenment constructs.) Having made it abundantly clear that racism smells as bad in all its colors, whether it is the racism of blacks or the racism of whites, we must also insist that it’s as bad in every shade of political opinion, from the hard left to the hard right and all stops in between.
Much of the racism on the so-called left is the result of a queer and quirky sort of racial hatred, which we might call ethnomasochism. This is the hatred of one’s own particular skin color and the extension of this pathological self-loathing to a loathing of one’s own roots and culture. It is to take to oneself the guilt of one’s ancestors and to apply that guilt to all others who happen to born with the same “guilty” skin color. This is, of course, an absurd abandonment of a rational understanding of one’s place in the scheme of things. I am not guilty for anything bad that my ancestors did any more than I am to be praised for anything good that they did. Quite simply, I was not born and had nothing to do with it. To blame myself, for instance, for the fact that some people of European descent once owned black slaves is ridiculous. Indeed, it would be ridiculous even if I could trace my ancestry to one particular slaveowner; as it is, my plebeian roots preserve me from such an actuality. None of my ancestors owned slaves, but I wouldn’t blame myself if they did. My own ancestors were the wage slaves of the Industrial Revolution. For all I know, one of my ancestors, as a child, was forced up chimneys or to work 14 hours a day in a cotton mill, but I wouldn’t blame the person whose ancestor owned the factory in which my ancestor worked. I wouldn’t blame him for the perfectly rational reason that he would not be to blame.
The whole idea that white men today are to blame for what white men did in the past is perhaps the largest reason for the widespread racism that plagues our nation. First, to blame all white men in the past for what some white men did is racist. It is to blame the majority for the color of their skin, not for their own actions. Second, to blame all white men today, beginning with ourselves, for what some white men did in the past is equally racist and even more absurd. Furthermore, it differs very little from the racism of the neo-Nazis. White supremacists feel pride for what white people achieved in the past, even though they personally had nothing to do with those accomplishments. The only difference between the neo-Nazi and the ethnomasochist is that the former feels an irrational pride in something he did not do, while the latter feels an irrational guilt for something he did not do. The collective guilt of the one and the collective pride of the other are rooted in the same racist collectivism in which history is judged in terms of an abstract understanding of “race” and not a real understanding of the dignity of the human person, regardless of any accident of birth.
We need to tackle racism in all its guises, whether it’s the racism of blacks or whites, or the racism of those on the left or those on the right. We need to get beyond the pot calling the kettle black (or white), and begin to open our eyes to good old-fashioned reason. We need to get the racists, including and especially those who think that they are antiracists, to remove the planks from their own racially obsessed eyes rather than obsessing over the motes in the eyes of their brothers and sisters.
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