CounterCurrent: Week of 5/16
While America’s culture wars touch a broad range of issues, it’s hard to argue that any single topic has been more important in shaping the last decade than race. For more and more Americans, the fundamental nature of our national character hinges on this crucial issue. Is the United States a basically good nation, one with many stains on its history? Or is it a basically evil nation, made possible by and continuing to thrive on systems of racial oppression? Your answer to these questions now puts you in one of two camps—whether you like it or not—the chasm between which seems to widen by the hour. As much as we might prefer, there is now very little room for “it depends” or “a little bit of both.” Extremism reigns supreme.
If you’re close to my age, you may have perceived this shift in the cultural narrative as coinciding with the advent of the Black Lives Matter hashtag and organization. I was in high school at the time and, in retrospect, witnessed a marked change. Suddenly, if you express an iota of support for the police, for the rule of law, or for “having all the facts,” you don’t think black lives matter! (A brilliant onomastic choice, if you ask me.) But in reality, the shift began long before BLM hit the scene, and it was born in our colleges and universities.
Thanks to the academy, America has a new racial lexicon. We all know the terms, if only because we are inundated with them in every corner of the internet and media: white privilege, systemic racism, implicit bias, white fragility, antiracism, critical race theory, and so on. These concepts, which are cornerstones of what some call neo-racism, have catalyzed much of the rot we see in higher education and the nation as a whole, so many of us instinctively assume that they are for some reason or another wrong.
Yet, we know from experience that words gradually lose their meaning when misused. So we must ask: do we really know precisely what all these terms mean? Do we use them correctly in our speech and writing, or do we just pick one out of the bag to describe “that new racism thing”? Do we know the precise effects and consequences of these concepts in the real world? These are extremely important questions, if we are indeed convinced that neo-racism is an enemy. After all, how are we supposed to fight that which we do not understand?
In this week’s featured article, National Association of Scholars President Peter W. Wood links four of the most important neo-racist critiques of America—the 1619 Project, Black Lives Matter, antiracism, and Critical Race Theory—providing definitions and refutations of each, and showing how they have all worked together to create the deep racial division that we now witness in America. And the stakes are high. As Dr. Wood writes,
Now is the time to wake up before we do even graver damage—not only to ourselves individually but to our country as a whole. It is a bitter irony of our moment that those who want to drive us into this new hysteria often call it being “woke.” There is no awakening in woke. It is the sleep of reason that produces monsters, and it poses a profound peril to our republic.
I hope this does not come across as hyperbolic fear-mongering—that is not at all our intention. We sincerely believe that neo-racism will severely damage the social fabric of America. It’s a threat that, as Dr. Wood puts it, is “not of the sort that would bring a second Civil War, but of the sort that would impoverish the soul of a civilization.” And we can thank higher education for it—if we are to change the narrative, it ought to begin here.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.
Image: Koshu Kunii, Public Domain