I can’t recall the first time I heard the phrase “white male” hissed as if it were some form of particularly vile insult. I know it happened in law school, where it was used as a short-hand way of saying that I should be silent, that my views were not welcome. Over time, I learned that, to a certain set of people, there was something positively wrong with being white. “We” were the great privileged oppressors of history. And “we” were the great privileged oppressors of the present.
Since my law-school days, the problem has only gotten worse. Now the true cultural and historical demons are white–gasp!–“cisgender” males, and any white cisgender woman who doesn’t appropriately check her privilege. The ticket to white acceptability in progressive politics is a form of self-loathing: a constant attitude of repentance not just for the sins of the past but also for the benefits of the present, which are presumably enjoyed only or mainly because of the plunder and exploitation of “brown bodies.” Oddly enough, this self-loathing doesn’t diminish the power of the white progressive. The movement is still chock-full of rich white men and women. Indeed, they mainly lead the American Left. They simply purport to hate and mock “white males” with the same intensity as do their black friends.
Here’s the problem: Progressives don’t like to admit this, but identity politics work as the mirror image of white supremacy–compressing the extraordinarily rich and complex histories of nations, continents, and cultures into one characteristic: skin color. For the white supremacist, white people are natural-born victors. For the identity-politics leftist, white people are natural-born predators.
But actual history belies the stereotypes. To take just one hot-button example, the history of slavery since the colonial era is not just a history of Europeans and white Americans enslaving Africans. It’s of Africans enslaving Africans, of Africans enslaving Europeans, and of Arabs enslaving Africans (and that’s just a partial summary). Yes, brown people enslaved white people by the millions: Should Americans of North African or Turkish descent check their privilege and believe their wealth was built on plunder?
When identity politics rule, racism and polarization thrive. It is no coincidence that we are seeing a resurgence in outright white nationalism–embodied in the so-called alt-right–at the same time that America’s leftist cultural elite are decisively rejecting Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that Americans be judged by the “content of their character” and not the color of their skin. When one side decides that skin color is a virtue, then–as sure as the sun rises in the east–the other side will eagerly agree.