John Murawski, RealClearInvestigations, September 7, 2022
In a 2021 lecture at Yale University titled “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind,” psychiatrist Aruna Khilanani described her “fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step, like I did the world a favor.”
Around the same time, a scholarly article in a peer-reviewed academic journal described “whiteness” as “a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which ‘white’ people have a particular susceptibility.” The author, Donald Moss, had also presented his paper as a continuing education course for licensed therapists who would presumably treat patients with this condition. The paper advises: “There is not yet a permanent cure.”
This is a sampling of the new racism that is gaining purchase in American society even as its advocates relentlessly punish speech they deem harmful and threatening to people of color. It parallels the acceptance of anti-male rhetoric that casts masculinity as “predatory” and “toxic,” or just casually demeans males as oafish and clueless, which allows the Washington Post to give a megaphone to Northeastern University professor Suzanna Danuta Walters to ask: “Why can’t we hate men?” (Her conclusion: We can and we should.)
The escalation of this inflammatory rhetoric is reaching the highest levels of American society, as when President Biden insinuated in a fiery campaign speech last week that Donald Trump supporters are “white supremacists” and when he maligned conservative mask skeptics last year for “Neanderthal thinking.”
What strikes a casual observer is that such language would be instantly denounced if it targeted racial minorities or other protected groups. Just as remarkable is that this new rhetoric is not coming from dropouts and loners at society’s margins; it is being advanced by successful professionals who have scaled the heights of respectability and are given a platform on social media and in prestigious cultural outlets.
And though each of those examples generated a public furor, such inflammatory rhetoric is defended or downplayed by cultural gatekeepers. The incidents have been piling up especially in the past few years, especially since the election of Donald Trump to the White House during the ascent of Black Lives Matter in the age of social media, and even include cases of people calling for the hate of privileged groups and insisting it’s not hate speech.
In its ultimate sign of success, this messaging has taken hold in public schools, corporate workplaces, medical journals, scientific research and even diversity training in federal agencies. It’s not limited to any single race but endorsed by whites, blacks, Asians and others, and disseminated in diversity materials and workplace-recommended readings that characterize white people as flawed, predatory and dangerous to society. Its sudden spread has caused a sense of culture shock and given rise to acrimonious school board meetings and employee lawsuits over hostile work environments as legions of teachers, students and workers have been educated about white privilege, white fragility, white complicity, and the moral imperative to de-center “whiteness” so as not to “normalize white domination.”
This new take on speech produces a moral paradox, particularly among academics and journalists: Those who are most militant about policing what they deem to be hate speech against minorities, women, gays and trans communities are often the most tolerant of demeaning depictions, incendiary rhetoric and violent imagery against whites and men.
To those who see a double standard, such routine disparagement of masculinity and whiteness is a case study in hypocrisy that upends longstanding norms against stereotyping entire social groups. It’s a manifestation of what Columbia University linguist and social commentator John McWhorter dubbed “woke racism” in a 2021 book of the same name that warns of the dangerous spread of “the kinds of language, policies, and actions that Orwell wrote of as fiction.”
But its advocates insist there is no double standard; they argue they are simply speaking truth to power, which should cause discomfort. In this belief system, reverse discrimination can’t exist because social justice demands tipping the scales to favor marginalized groups to correct for centuries of injustice.
They include Rutgers University historian James Livingston who, in a Facebook critique of gentrification, described a Harlem burger joint as being “overrun with little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do. Slide around the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white.”
The post concluded: “I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know, it’s about access to my dinner. Fuck you, too.”
It can seem that such putdowns and trash talk have burst out of nowhere in the last few years. But the underlying justifications have been percolating for decades, and they are seen by skeptics as a modern repackaging of ancient us-versus-them tribal reflexes. Telltale signs of role-reversal have been described by serious thinkers, such as 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote that “He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself.”
More recently, author Douglas Murray has warned of the tendency for social justice movements to “behave – in victory – as its opponents once did” – which is to say: meanly – and which ultimately results in “the normalization of vengefulness.”
The idea that stereotyping and denigrating entire groups has no place in a society that strives for equality is one of the signature achievements of the Civil Rights era. By the 1970s, openly expressing racist slurs and jokes against black people was seen as a distasteful holdover from the Jim Crow era, an Archie Bunker-ism signifying low education and low intelligence.
The prohibition against racist speech rapidly became generalized to all identity groups. Ethnic slurs against Poles, Italians, Asians, and others became verboten as did mockery of gays and the disabled. Many words once commonly used to describe women, such as “dame” and “broad” became unacceptable, while terms that were once seen as neutral or descriptive, such as “colored,” “Oriental,” and “Negro,” suddenly took on negative connotations, and became unutterable in public (creating a replacement term, “people of color”).
But at the same time that these language taboos against expressing prejudice were becoming widely accepted across the political spectrum as a matter of civility, a far-more radical effort to regulate speech was percolating on the left.
This movement sought to limit speech on the rationale that language was a form of social control and therefore the source of oppression and violence. The assumption that hurtful language leads to harmful policies ultimately produced today’s cancel culture phenomenon, where otherwise well-regarded professionals are investigated, suspended, canned, or booted from social media for simply questioning the factual claims of Black Lives Matter, for affirming biological sex differences, for satirizing ritual land acknowledgements, and even for publicly saying the Mandarin word “nei-ge” (because it supposedly resembles a racial epithet in English).
The core proposition of this mindset can be traced to philosophers like Michel Foucault, who developed theories of language as a form of societal power and domination, and Herbert Marcuse, the Marxist scholar whose now-classic 1960s essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” argues that the oppressor class and the oppressed cannot be held to the same standard. Marcuse proposed that the classical liberal doctrine of free speech is a mechanism that benefits capitalists and others who wield power, that the struggle for “a real democracy” paradoxically necessitates “the fight against an ideology of tolerance.”
Speech codes have been a staple of college campuses for decades but the stakes intensified after Donald Trump was elected president and the nation underwent a social transformation that some call the Great Awokening. Seemingly overnight the bar for permissible speech rose for the oppressor and dropped for the oppressed. And now it was overtly about politicizing and weaponizing speech to save humanity from itself.
Many Americans are still trying to figure out the boundaries of acceptable speech at a time when striving for colorblindness and equal treatment mark a person as part of the problem. However sensible it might have seemed a half-century ago as a corrective measure or to alleviate pangs of guilt, the creation of separate standards for different groups now strikes some as profoundly regressive.
“The development of two separate language codes, one for whites and one for blacks, was ominous,” the conservative writer Christopher Caldwell observed in his 2020 book, “The Age of Entitlement.”
“The rules of American public decorum now resembled medieval strictures that permitted only noblemen to carry weapons or ride horses, or laws that forbade certain classes of citizens to address others by a certain name.”