Countering the Racial Revolutionaries

Heather Mac Donald documents the absurdities imposed on America by those who put racial equity above all else.

When Race Trumps Merit

by Heather Mac Donald

DW Books

320 pp., $28.99

The American antiracist cultural revolution is now advancing with a rapidity that astounds even those of us who study it closely. The peerless and hyper-industrious Heather Mac Donald has given us another invaluable report on the revolution’s progress. It makes for sobering reading. 

When Race Trumps Merit documents the ways in which the pursuit of the quixotic new secular god “equity” is annihilating our systems and institutions in science and medicine, the arts, and law and order.

It is in the realm of science that the danger of the antiracist ideology will produce the most long-term negative consequences. Many will come to this book having seen how media poison the national conversation about race and criminal justice. But the ongoing demolition of competence and rigor in science is taking place largely outside the general public’s view. The antiracist revolution calls for misdirecting to frivolous social justice projects funds that ought to be spent combating disease and advancing our scientific knowledge. The result will be a substantial human cost in health and lives.

Many who have watched the development of the antiracist phenomenon feel confident that, no matter its successes elsewhere, it would have difficulty making inroads into the fields of science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics. After all, these fields focus on objectively verifiable forms of knowledge. Those Pollyannas are wrong. The language of “structural racism” as a causal force has spread like wildfire even into the scientific field of medicine, from the level of everyday clinical practice to research and recruitment. 

But, as Mac Donald asks, how does chanting constantly about structural racism address the demonstrable difficulty in getting the black underclass to eat a healthy diet, to avoid cigarettes and alcohol, and to schedule and keep regular check-ups with their doctors? There is no evidence that more black physicians will change behaviors that have a deleterious effect on health disparities across racial groups. Nevertheless the National Institutes of Health now acknowledges “the impact of structural racism” in the medical field and is providing millions of dollars in grant funding to study it.

Mac Donald has been writing on the criminal justice system long enough to see the story get steadily more depressing. Authorities now believe that all evidence of differential impact in any aspect of law enforcement requires the retreat of police. The guaranteed results of police withdrawal are more crime and human loss. Blacks are pulled over for traffic infractions more frequently, so the directive comes to stop enforcing traffic laws in heavily black neighborhoods. Later, when driving predictably becomes more anarchic and traffic
fatalities increase, we blame some new and previously hidden aspect of white supremacy.

The media provide meticulous, seamless cover for all this. Every police shooting of a black male is immediately assigned to the category of “antiblackness” and reported endlessly. The fact that black suspects murder police at disproportionate rates is never mentioned. The media ignore all cases of police deaths at the hands of black males or bury the stories on the back pages.

Blacks constitute the overwhelming majority of victims of black-perpetrated street crime, which the media cover fleetingly and which the authorities are increasingly uninterested in stopping or prosecuting. And it’s not just any blacks who suffer, but frequently the most vulnerable black subpopulations: the poor, children, and the elderly. Why do elites hate poor blacks, elderly blacks, and black children so much that they will not commit to social programs that will protect them? Why do they insist instead on aligning with the young black male criminals who menace those populations? If answers to these questions were demanded more often of the woke cultists, it might at least force them to own their monstrous stance.

The chapters on antiracism in the artistic spheres make up 10 of the book’s 18 chapters. Mac Donald is an elegant writer on every topic she covers. But her deep knowledge is especially evident in the arts. She presents a vivid canvas of politicized efforts to destroy art by linking it to the antiracist leviathan. The Western music tradition is now denounced in toto as an exercise in white supremacy by representatives of the world’s most prestigious symphony orchestras. The imposed solution is the banning of some classic works and ideological distortion of others. 

A crude, unartful sloganeering rant about “positive vibes” and “more empathy” replaces Friedrich Schiller’s glorious text to Beethoven’s Ninth. All depictions of the non-Western world and peoples must be purged from the works of white artists. Cultural authorities must give preference to “minoritized” composers, painters, dancers, and singers in museums and concert halls. Laughable and utterly inconsistent “theories” of aesthetic relativism that simultaneously advance arguments about the objective superiority of just about all forms of art outside the Western traditions are presented as unquestionable truths.

I had a notable experience of the phenomenon Mac Donald describes in the world of art during a recent visit to Paris. On a trip to the Musée d’Orsay, which is dedicated to fin-de-siècle French painting and sculpture, I was shocked to come across a huge, kitschy, mediocre work by a contemporary American. The artist, Kehinde Wiley, is responsible for the bizarre painting of Barack Obama in a suit sitting on a chair in the middle of a forest of vegetation, and also for the equally ludicrous sculpture “After la Négresse, 1872.”

Wiley dedicates much of his labor toward “antiracist reinterpretations” of established works the moral thought-police have determined to be racist, such as Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s beautiful 1872 marble sculpture of a defiant slave woman, “La Négresse.” Wiley’s commentary on Carpeaux in “After la Négresse” takes the form of a marble bust of a black professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Wiley’s painting at the Orsay is titled “Woman bitten by a serpent.” It is a warped reinterpretation of the breathtaking mid-19th-century marble sculpture by Auguste Clésinger, which bears the same title and sits not far from the wall where Wiley’s gaudy effort hung. The Clésinger depicts in stunningly realistic detail a voluptuous young woman writhing in the nude after the snake’s bite (the model was Apollonie Sabatier, muse to many 19th-century French artists including the painter Gustave Courbet and the poet Charles Baudelaire). Wiley’s painted version shows a contemporary urban black youth, dressed in sagging jeans and a garish yellow top with a visible Yves Saint Laurent logo. It gives off the same velvet-Elvis-meets-street-graffiti aesthetic of Wiley’s many other paintings. The aesthetic difference between the two works could not be more extreme. The one evidently belongs in a museum of high culture; the other would look better on the side of a subway car or an abandoned warehouse. 

Whilst playing with the stereotypes of Western painting and sculpture, Kehinde Wiley carries an up-to-date message concerning the violence of contemporary society,” according to the fawning description of Wiley’s eyesore by the president of the Musée d’Orsay, Christophe Leribault. That mediocrities like Wiley are receiving the attention of those at the heights of the art world proves Mac Donald’s thesis.

Recently, as he received the New Criterion’s Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel made a comment about his 1995 book The Diversity Myth that is also relevant here. Thiel’s book documented at great length examples of the depredations of wokeism on higher education. He related that one of his friends responded to the book by saying: “Maybe it’s all true, but … [the book] doesn’t really change anything.” Thiel’s curt response: “There’s something to that.”

Mac Donald is perhaps our most astute documenter of the insanities the antiracist revolutionaries are inflicting upon American culture. When Race Trumps Merit is full of examples that make even the seasoned veteran of this cultural meltdown gasp at their extremity. Even so, one is left with the same concern Thiel’s friend voiced: What can be done about it? Simply documenting the problem does not seem to spur mass opposition to the toxic irrationalities described. That’s clear by now. Mac Donald has done an even more thorough and lucid job of documenting the maladies than Thiel did. Yet she knows from experience that this desperate infection of our elite culture will continue to proliferate even if millions read her book. One can easily fall into hopelessness on this topic.

Yet, there may be cause for hope, as the Supreme Court in June overturned the precedents upholding affirmative action in two monumental cases. Justice Roberts’ majority decision rejects the race-over-merit logic by which higher education has been operating for almost a half century. The Court’s firm stance on the side of sanity and reason gives one much-needed grounds for optimism. The war between merit and “social justice” is not yet decided. Let us fight on! 

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