On the Absence of Systemic Racism

by James Lindsay

According to Critical Race Theory, “racism is ordinary, not aberrational—‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country” (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001, p. 7). Its advocates call this belief “systemic racism,” and Critical Race Theory is the “study” of this so-called systemic racism, if by “study” we mean “treasure hunt to find racism in everything.”
Consequently, according to Critical Race Theorists, virtually everything anyone can imagine is racist. The names of some birds and fish are racist, according to Critical Race Theory. Math is racist, especially if we care about getting the right answers, according to Critical Race Theory. A rock on University of Wisconsin, Madison, campus property is racist, according to Critical Race Theory. Schools, government institutions, businesses, classical music, Beethoven specifically, art, hiking, going outside, the pandemic, rock climbing, jogging, conservatism and all conservatives, the curriculum in any school and its books, black people who don’t agree with Critical Race Theory, logic, loyalty, punctuality, hard work, merit—these are all part of the “system” of racism that this neo-Marxian Theory “interrogates” for its hidden racism. Even being “less racist” or “not racist” and desegregating schools via Brown v. Board of Education is racist, according to Critical Race Theory. In fact, it was in those two phenomena that Critical Race Theory started.
In that it’s a neo-Marxist Theory that demands to be understood only in its own predefined terms, however, perhaps it is best to consider what Critical Race Theory is really all about by taking the advice of some of its philosophical forebears. In One-Dimensional Man (1964), the neo-Marxist Herbert Marcuse explains, presaging the poststructuralist Jackie Derrida, that the motivating energy for a movement rooted in (Hegelian) “negative thinking” comes from what isn’t there more than what is. The absence haunts the movement and, ultimately, gives it its motivating energy and will. He, of course, meant the (absence of the) liberated Utopia—Communism, when it finally works—that “specter of Marx” that also animated Derrida, though less manically, in the 1990s. Thus, perhaps we can learn more about what “systemic racism” is about by taking some examples of what isn’t systemically racist, even though it plainly is (by their definition).
A glaring example of systemic racism-that-isn’t arises in the willful discrimination against meritorious Asian-Americans in American colleges and universities and other schools. This blatant exception to the rule of systemic racism not only exists but was defended against termination by nearly every Senate Democrat in a party-line vote in April when Ted Cruz attempted to add a provision in the “Stop Asian Hate” bill that would finally prohibit it. But, of course, Asian-Americans are a paradoxical minority. They’re white-adjacent, which is systemically racist.
There’s also the obvious case of the disproportionate impact (this being the proof that systemic racism is occurring) the riots, looting, arson, chaos, and subsequent “defund the police” initiatives had on black and Latino neighborhoods in our cities, costing many hundreds of black and other lives and billions in property damage and theft. “Whiteness is property,” we were told in apparent justification of all this mayhem, and the police are systemically racist. Somehow, though, encouraging these disastrous behaviors and policies doesn’t qualify as “systemic racism” despite the definition because they were protests for “justice,” which is supposed to be “uncomfortable.”
Another less obvious example of systemic racism-that-isn’t follows the eviction moratorium, which was just reinstated unconstitutionally by administrative decree. Brown and black landlords, who tend to run smaller operations and own fewer rental properties, are disproportionately affected and far more likely to lose their livelihoods and property as foreclosures loom. This policy, which benefits interests like BlackRock (with its deep ties to the administration and major international NGOs who also claim to care about “systemic racism” in everything else), is not “systemically racist,” however.
Perhaps the most interesting example of a haunting absence from the “systemic racism” appellation, though, is in yet another no-brainer that anyone can see as plainly as day: vaccine passports. The irony here is almost delicious, in fact. After sowing rampant distrust by naming the pandemic itself racist, racism as a public health threat, and our own government and healthcare system as racist for years on end, blacks and Latinos are disproportionately less vaccinated than members of most other races. Vaccine passports are then proposed as the newest false solution to the pandemic. Their implementation would, of course, create a (systemically racist) mechanism by which the disproportionately black and Latino unvaccinated population (against COVID-19, specifically, to be clear) will be excluded from full participation in the basic functions of society: public transportation, restaurants, shopping establishments, and, in many cases, employment opportunities. These groups will disproportionately bear the brunt of this discriminatory policy unless their members let the allegedly systemically racist government inject them with undertested vaccines and sign them up for a program that clearly hands over even more control over their lives to said systemically racist government. This is precisely the kind of policy that Critical Race Theorists would normally go berserk about—and for once for good reason. Unlike the boulder in Madison, the vax pass meets Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant definition of racism almost perfectly: “A collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.”
Not only do we have silence about the fact of this blatant problem in the vaccine passport program being ignored by those who should be raising a clamor about it, however. At least one social media giant, all of which have shown themselves to do whatever misfeasance they can within their power—mostly censorious—to support the radical Leftist agenda of the day, actively suppresses this fact (for mere narrative it is not). Mememakers of the world rapidly seized upon the opportunity to point out that vaccine passports are systemically racist according to the Critical Race Theory definition employed by our federal government in its “equity” programs, making a series of scathing satirical memes depicting black individuals in dismay with verbiage talking about how they were discriminated against by the implementation of vaccine passports. Twitter responded by locking and suspending accounts that shared the memes and forcing the tweets to be deleted (my own was locked four times in a week). The justification: the memes were said to spread misleading information about COVID-19, which they did not. Those who challenged the bans were told by Twitter that they had “made a mistake,” but the fact remains: Twitter used its ill-gotten power to censor “misleading information about COVID-19” to censor political opinions and satire that are inconvenient to the radical Leftist agenda in which they are taking part. (Note well: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave Kendi $10 million in July of 2020 to support his “anti-racism” program at Boston University, so one would presume Twitter cares deeply about and could spot systemic racism where it is actually occurring.)
There is, of course, a pattern to these exceptions to the everything-is-racist rule of Critical Race Theory: they’re all power-seizing Leftist agendas. This is the rub in Kendi’s brilliant definition—ideas they declare to be anti-racist, not racist, substantiate their own policies and power grabs, and that suddenly justifies intent over impact for them. It is now glaringly obvious that critics of the Left and Critical Race Theory have been right all along: Critical Race Theory and the broader Leftist agenda making use of it are not serious endeavors; they’re tools for seizing power, cynically applied. It is perfectly obvious at this point that these radical Leftist ideologies care little or not at all about “black lives” or anything to do with the racial groups Critical Race Theory brands “marginalized” and “minoritized.” They only care about their own power and how they might get more of it by using the disproportionalities of society as a wedge and a lever. This means they’re also using the people they attach to those disproportionate outcomes and count as “systemic racism” when it’s convenient to them and ignore when it isn’t.
A response is necessary, and the shape of that response is obvious. Figures like Ibram X. Kendi, Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who vigorously championed the eviction moratorium extension), Jen Psaki speaking for Biden as White House Press Secretary, and pro-CRT media talking heads like Joy-Ann Reid, Don Lemon, and Marc Lamont Hill should all be asked to comment on why systemic racism is acceptable for agendas they support and intolerable even in the mundane (rocks are literally of the Earth). Why is systemic racism not only tolerable but necessary for articles of the corrupt radical Leftist agenda? Do they believe vaccine passports are systemically racist? If so, how can they justify them against the rest of their beliefs? If not, what does the term “systemically racist” even mean?
The point isn’t to catch these people out. They will have answers, of course, however unsatisfactory. The point is to show the public that, like so much else in their repressive order, the label “systemic racism” is just another arbitrary tool, another potent bit of calculated rhetorical malice, by which they might effect their intended ends. Thereby, the absence of genuine meaning in the concept might tell us everything we need to know about it, and the bigger the audience who sees it, the better.