Posted on November 15, 2019

Noel Ignatiev and the Anti-Establishment Establishment

Michael Levin, American Renaissance, October 2000

Race Traitor, Box 400603, Cambridge, MA 02140, $20.00 per year, quarterly (now defunct)

From time to time, American Renaissance has treated readers to quotations from Race Traitor, a quarterly published in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its editor and driving force is one Noel Ignatieff, listed on Harvard University’s website as an instructor (not professor) of English. Traitor is subtitled “the journal of the new abolitionism,” and its slogan is “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity;” that of its affiliate broadsheet The New Abolitionist is “Abolish the White Race — By Any Means Necessary.” One might think Traitor, a small anti-white periodical produced by a (Jewish) resident of the Ivy League liberal arts demimonde, would offer glimpses of hard-left racial thinking, serving as a Marxist counterpart to the racial consciousness of AR.

Race Traitor magazine

To some extent it does, yet Traitor fills this bill very incompletely. To begin with, it differs markedly in tone from AR. Half of a typical issue of Traitor is reports by blacks or over-age white hippies about their unhappy encounters with “The Man.” These incidents — in which, typically, cliché-spouting white cops mistreat innocent “activists” — are too pat to be believed. (Put-upon homosexuals figure prominently as victims. So do poets and artists.) The rest of Traitor is mindless, jargon-heavy “deconstructions” of race, e.g.: “whiteness is empty, an epistemic violence that, once interrogated, precludes forever the comfort of privileged gaze.” One Loren Goldner writes that 18th century racism “was a direct extrapolation, in political economy, of the linearity and ‘bad infinity’ of Newtonian physics and the Enlightenment ontology,” whereas “Marx’s concept of labor-power is the concrete realization, in social terms, of the ‘actual infinity’ of pre-Enlightenment thought.”

But style aside, Traitor is not very radical. If the centrist position in current public debates about race is thought of as that of the television network news shows or typical college psychology texts, its views are middle of the road. Once its buzzwords are deciphered, almost any passage of Traitor could appear as an editorial in the New York Times.

The clearest instance of sounding daring while playing it safe is Traitor’s editorial credo, entitled “What We Believe.” The most promising passage is no doubt, “The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race . . .” Here Mr. Ignatieff seems to leave moderation far behind. And recall the supplementary slogan, “Abolish the White Race — By Any Means Necessary.” The phrase “by any means necessary,” much admired by Malcolm X, obviously suggests killing whites as one possibility, a sentiment the average liberal would probably find too bloodthirsty. But Mr. Ignatieff backs off. The sentence that appears to endorse genocidal murder of whites continues: “that is, to abolish the privileges of the white skin.” The “that is” transforms the thought into a different and much weaker one.

Using the same dodge, another contributor writes that white oppression will end “as soon as enough whites are willing to commit racial suicide,” and then immediately adds “that is, as soon as enough whites are prepared to attack the system of privilege.” So abolition and suicide turn out to have nothing to do with anyone’s actual death, or violence of any sort. Nor with race, for that matter, for Mr. Ignatieff remarks that “white is not something people are, it is something they do, and those who resist or have no part in the system of white-skin privileges aren’t white.” He piously adds that he doesn’t hate anybody, even his “nominally ‘white’” self. Presumably, if being “white” is something one does rather than something one is, perhaps even non-whites could be “white.”

By such word-play Mr. Ignatieff can and does go on to deplore “the existence of the white race” and call for its “destruction” while meaning, or being able to say he means, something with which the mainstream media would probably agree. Perhaps AR should publicly call for the destruction of the black race, and then explain that this is just a way of criticizing affirmative action. Why not say that all blacks are criminals on grounds that black is not something people are but something they do, and that “blacks” who don’t commit crimes aren’t black? From AR such language would be hate speech; from the left, it is social conscience.

Traitor seems to specialize in bold-sounding declarations that don’t really amount to much. Its credo begins with the words:

The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in some respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it.

Note the weasely qualifier “in some respects,” which saves the passage from absurdity. At first glance, Mr. Ignatieff seems ready to declare all whites privileged over everyone else, since he writes elsewhere that white skin is “a badge of loyalty,” “a handy guide to the dispensing of favors.” Is he then saying Caucasian derelicts are better off than Michael Jordan? Hardly.

But there is also a fundamental logical problem with this view. Because the U.S. was until lately almost entirely European, a white man’s main rivals for education, jobs, and wages were other whites. One of Traitor’s contributors (from Oakland, California) writes that one “privilege” of membership in the “white club” is “enrollment in better schools.” Yet how can sheer whiteness get someone into a good college when every other applicant is also white? The idea that American whites are “privileged” because of the presence of non-whites suggests that the more non-whites there are, the greater the privilege. The absurdity of this is clear if we imagine large numbers of Africans pouring into Norway or Iceland. Would the natives suddenly be better off because they could now benefit from racial “privileges” they never enjoyed in an all-white society?

Calling whites privileged only “in some respects” deflects these questions while giving up blanket claims of white advantage. One can almost hear Mr. Ignatieff — or Peter Jennings or a Times editorialist — hedging: “I never said all blacks are worse off than all whites, or that all whites are equally well off. All I’m saying is that it’s good to be white; just don’t ask me to get too specific about how.”

Race Traitor is a liberal lamb beneath radical wolf’s clothing not just in its evasive language, but in its specific positions as well. Many are quite mainstream, and would doubtless have commanded assent from William Clinton’s Panel on Race. Among them:

1) Support for quotas. The most exasperating inconsistency of liberalism is its blather about judging a man “not by the color of his skin but the content of his character,” combined with double standards favoring blacks. One would hope that radicals hostile to racial identity would, if nothing else, oppose affirmative action. But Traitor is all for it, for reasons that would sound right at home on Sunday morning news shows: “The U.S. is a big engine guaranteeing affirmative action for whites, and affirmative action for victims of race discrimination is one way of addressing that problem.” Like garden variety liberals, Mr. Ignatieff has no trouble classifying by race when it is to the advantage of non-whites.

2) The moral superiority of blacks. The path to this is a bit circuitous, but Mr. Ignatieff does manage to get there. At one point he notes that black jazz trumpeter Miles Davis had an interest in composers like Prokofiev, and this leads him to the overall question of “universalism.” If it “makes no sense” to call Beethoven or Dante or Dürer “white” artists — apparently because they are popular everywhere — shouldn’t Mr. Davis get credit for looking beyond “black” music and therefore not be considered black? Not at all. Black race consciousness tends to undermine white prerogatives, so should be encouraged.

Mr. Ignatieff adds an afterthought: “Why do such admirable expressions of universality as Davis’ emanate with disproportionate frequency from black rather than white people?” An extraordinary question! Anyone familiar with the subject knows that the very idea of a common human nature with universal rights is a European invention, and that blacks are far more aware of ethnicity than whites. Blacks are shameless about demanding their piece of the action, whether it is automobile dealerships, mortgages, or anything else whites have more of, without any mention of the public good. It is always whites who give in in the name of “fairness” or “equality,” and blacks who take in the name of being black.

3) A results test for discrimination. Given all the airy talk of white oppression, the reader of Traitor will want to know in what, concretely, it consists. The catalogue of injuries to blacks offered by Traitor includes: difficulties in getting car and home loans; racial profiling by police; the slightly stiffer sentences given to blacks than whites for (supposedly) similar crimes; the prevalence of AIDS among blacks; the ubiquity of white supremacists. A couple of articles in Traitor — going beyond conventional wisdom — protest absurdly that the media present Nazis in a generally sympathetic light. Aside from this last example, these complaints are all staples of the nightly news. Most striking, though, is how similar Mr. Ignatieff’s special pleading is to liberal depictions of blacks as better than whites. Integration has failed despite black efforts to make it work. Black students trail whites after decades of busing, despite the fortitude of black parents in letting their children be used in a social experiment. Black ministers are always “forgiving” whites for slavery and violence. High-minded movies by blacks bomb at the box office because insensitive white studio execs market them stupidly. Just as many New York politicians did, Traitor says lynchings that occurred centuries ago excuse Colin Ferguson’s killing of five whites on the Long Island Railroad. Blacks are always the long-suffering, noble party.

Traitor’s harping on one final disparate-impact datum may prove prophetic: the 1.4 million convicted black felons — about 25% of the black male population over the age of 15 — who have consequently lost the right to vote. Traitor refers to this as “disenfranchisement,” as if it were something done to (presumably innocent) blacks. More worrisome are the sources cited for this statistic, the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. That major newspapers and “civil rights” groups are pushing this issue suggests it will eventually be the subject of legislation. When thieves and murderers were white, no modern society dreamed of letting them vote, but this policy may soon be reversed because most thieves and murderers are now black. One wonders how much longer theft and violence themselves will remain illegal, given the black propensity for these actions and the determination of liberals to eradicate any statistical “discrimination.”

4) The biological insignificance of race. Traitor ignores any possible explanation beyond white villainy for black uncreditworthiness, criminality and susceptibility to venereal disease.Traitor’s preferred mantra, like that of the left generally, is that race itself is ‘socially constructed’ — a ‘social category’ or a ‘social grouping.’ To be sure, conventional wisdom accords race a bit more reality than that. It admits that mankind comes in different colors, and would do so even if nobody noticed them. It also admits that people differ in ancestry, whatever society makes of this fact. However, conventional wisdom also denies that either skin color or ancestry are connected in any way to anything else. Knowledge that someone is Nigerian rather than Korean or Swiss is to permit no inference whatever about his probable intelligence, reliability or athleticism. To the extent that a Swiss is more apt than a Nigerian to be prosperous and married to the mother of his children (facts conventional wisdom concedes, albeit with extreme reluctance), this is blamed on social expectations about and mistreatment of Nigerians. According to conventional wisdom, in other words, race would lose all significance were people’s attitudes toward it to change. This is what rubbish about ‘social construction’ amounts to in practice.

To give credit where due, one dandelion, if not rose, sprouts from Traitor’s field of manure: an essay by Stanford historian George Frederickson on “The Comparative History and Sociology of Racism.” As befits a scholar he is objective, not judgmental, and admits at the outset that “people really do differ in physical characteristics, immediate or remote ancestry, and inherited cultural traits.” He is aware that “race arises from the pervasive fact that all human beings have a sense of family or kinship.” Sensibly enough he defines racism as “the belief, however justified or rationalized, in the critical importance of differing lines of descent and the use of that belief to establish or validate social inequality . . . the belief that defective ancestry gives some groups socially-relevant characteristics that disqualify them from full membership in a community,” and grants that complaints about quotas “would not be racist if they were based on an accurate perception of Euro-American disadvantage.” Finally, he makes the pregnant observation that changes in white-black relations within a society never result from action by blacks themselves, but from “extraneous” white-white conflict, such as the American Civil War, Brazil’s war of the same era with Paraguay, or international pressure against South Africa. This would probably cause a furor on network television, accustomed to blabbing about the fortitude shown by blacks in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, Prof. Frederickson never asks whether lines of descent do in fact differ in socially important traits, or whether the worldwide differences in achievement between blacks and whites show something about their relative natural capacities. Still, it is surprising to see his admissions, however limited, in the pages of Traitor.

That the majority of Traitor’s views are, despite the rhetoric, “moderate-liberal” does not make them less noxious. Quite the reverse; it exposes moderate liberalism for what it is. Traitor only makes liberalism explicit. Try, if you will, to dismiss white-hating as radical nonsense yet still accept liberal theology, namely: There are no genetic race differences in socially relevant traits; there are not even race differences in these traits at the level of behavior; all racial differences in outcome are therefore due to bias; these discrepancies persist despite decades of effort to annul them; and, finally, every one of those discrepancies — in education, income, health and status — favors whites. Who gains from the bias? Whites. Who set it up? Whites — there’s nobody else around. How wide is it? Across the board. And how deep? So entrenched in whites it has survived a half-century of anti-discrimination statutes, quotas, judicial actions, and moralistic nagging.

A consistent liberal must believe that the white soul is irremediably corrupt. He must conclude that the world would be a much better place if whites did not exist. Clear-headed liberals don’t need marginal academics to make them “race traitors.”