Discover more from Society & Standpoint
Humans Are Racist For Our Own Reasons
And acknowledging that fact is necessary to end racism.
It’s been a busy week for me. First off, I have a new essay out in Tablet magazine, which you can read here. It basically debunks a lie from pro-affirmative action activists where they claim that it was the Black-led civil rights movement that led to the repeal of laws prohibiting Asian immigration to America. Basically, they wanted to shame Asian Americans into supporting affirmative action because Asians “owe” Black Americans a debt. Nikole Hannah-Jones popularized this myth in her opening essay of the 1619 Project, which is, of course, not the only lie the New York Times has allowed her to promote in its pages. My essay explores the true history behind the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, as well as discusses how the term “people of color” is anachronistic in this day and age.
Next up, I penned an essay in UnHerd about the rise of the term “boba liberal”, which you can read here. A boba liberal, in essence, is an Asian American (or Asian Brit, Asian Aussie, etc.) that basically assimilates into elite liberal spaces and adopts their values, often at the cost of selling out working-class Asians. The dynamic is very similar to the affluent White liberals that love reading Robin DiAngelo, love treating Black Americans like they’re all helpless creatures in need of saving, and love sneering at and being embarrassed by working-class White people that aren’t as “enlightened”.
And finally, I participated in a Fox News digital special where I discuss how the ludicrous narrative of “Multiracial White Supremacy” is demeaning to non-White populations that don’t agree with the progressive party line on everything. I point out the obvious fact that most Asian Americans are against affirmative action because it hurts us the most. Larry Elder, Jason Miyares, and Kareem Monib are also featured. You can view the video here.
As for what I’m writing here on Substack this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the idea that all racial tension stems from White supremacy is… quite White supremacist in itself, as it denies non-White individuals any agency of our own. I discuss the current “progressive” framing in my Tablet essay, where I wrote
Progressive Asian Americans, like those that staff astroturfed “Asian-interest” NGOs, understand that in order to remain in the POC coalition, Asians must constantly pass the purity test of not saying anything negative about the groups higher up on the progressive stack. That we should always address the “anti-Blackness” apparently endemic in Asian communities, while remaining silent on incidents where Black perpetrators commit hate crimes against Asian Americans. And that when the evidence becomes undeniable, we should blame the nebulous and ever-changing boogeyman of white supremacy. Asian American studies professor Jen Ho claims that “... anti-Asian racism has the same source as anti-Black racism: white supremacy. So when a Black person attacks an Asian person, the encounter is fueled perhaps by racism, but very specifically by white supremacy. White supremacy does not require a white person to perpetuate it.”
We’ve reached this state in American racial discourse where “White supremacy” has to be at fault for any race-related thing in America. I’ve been seeing the “multiracial whiteness” framework come up more and more. This theory hit its zenith (so far) back in January, where the beating death of Black skateboarder Tyre Nichols was blamed on five Black cops that were accused of perpetuating White supremacy. Never mind that those five Black cops were working under a Black police chief in a majority-Black police department in a majority-Black city. To say that those Black officers had no agency of their own and were somehow being controlled by White people… sounds like White supremacist thought to me.
Just decades ago, people were far more candid about acknowledging that people could be hateful towards other groups for their own individual reasons. Take, for example, the following essays about tensions between Black Americans and American Jews in the 1960s. These were two polemics by famed writers that caused quite a stir in the world of cultural commentary.
The first was written by novelist James Baldwin in The New York Times, titled “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White”. In his essay, Baldwin boldly discussed why he thought many Black Americans displayed antisemitic attitudes. Some highlights:
When we were growing up in Harlem our demoralizing series of landlords were Jewish, and we hated them. We hated them because they were terrible landlords, and did not take care of the building. A coat of paint, a broken window, a stopped sink, a stopped toilet, a sagging floor, a broken ceiling, a dangerous stairwell, the question of garbage disposal, the question of heat and cold, of roaches and rats--all questions of life and death for the poor, and especially for those with children--we had to cope with all of these as best we could. Our parents were lashed to futureless jobs, in order to pay the outrageous rent. We knew that the landlord treated us this way only because we were colored, and he knew that we could not move out.
Of course, it is true, and I am not so naïve as not to know it, that many Jews despise Negroes, even as their Aryan brothers do. (There are also Jews who despise Jews, even as their Aryan brothers do.) It is true that many Jews use, shamelessly, the slaughter of the 6,000,000 by the Third Reich as proof that they cannot be bigots--or in the hope of not being held responsible for their bigotry. It is galling to be told by a Jew whom you know to be exploiting you that he cannot possibly be doing what you know he is doing because he is a Jew. It is bitter to watch the Jewish storekeeper locking up his store for the night, and going home. Going, with your money in his pocket, to a clean neighborhood, miles from you, which you will not be allowed to enter. Nor can it help the relationship between most Negroes and most Jews when part of this money is donated to civil rights. In the light of what is now known as the white backlash, this money can be looked on as conscience money merely, as money given to keep the Negro happy in his place, and out of white neighborhoods.
One does not wish, in short, to be told by an American Jew that his suffering is as great as the American Negro's suffering. It isn't, and one knows that it isn't from the very tone in which he assures you that it is…In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man--for having become, in effect, a Christian. The Jew profits from his status in America, and he must expect Negroes to distrust him for it. The Jew does not realize that the credential he offers, the fact that he has been despised and slaughtered, does not increase the Negro's understanding. It increases the Negro's rage.
He is singled out by Negroes not because he acts differently from other white men, but because he doesn't. His major distinction is given him by that history of Christendom, which has so successfully victimized both Negroes and Jews. And he is playing in Harlem the role assigned him by Christians long ago: he is doing their dirty work.
In short, Baldwin believed that American Jews have reached a privileged status in America: that of being a White person, much like Irish and Italian Americans in previous generations. But Baldwin saw Jews as one tier below White Christians, meaning that Jews were, in his mind, the lapdogs of a White Christian power structure. In addition, Baldwin was angered by the fact that Jews often set up shop in Black neighborhoods and took Black money without giving anything back to the community—ignoring the fact that the whole point of a business is to make money, and that by taking money, a shopkeeper provides goods and services for a community. One can imagine how easily “Jew” could be swapped with “Asian” in a modern rewrite of Baldwin’s essay.
Political commentator Norman Podhoretz also penned a polemical take on Black-Jewish relations in the 1960s for Commentary magazine, titled “My Negro Problem—And Ours”. His essay mentions Baldwin by name, but rejects Baldwin’s ideas, instead explaining why some American Jews might hate Black Americans. He embellishes his essay with vignettes he had growing up as the son of Jewish immigrants in a multicultural working-class neighborhood. Some highlights:
And so for a long time I was puzzled to think that Jews were supposed to be rich when the only Jews I knew were poor, and that Negroes were supposed to be persecuted when it was the Negroes who were doing the only persecuting I knew about—and doing it, moreover, to me. During the early years of the war, when my older sister joined a left-wing youth organization, I remember my astonishment at hearing her passionately denounce my father for thinking that Jews were worse off than Negroes. To me, at the age of twelve, it seemed very clear that Negroes were better off than Jews—indeed, than all whites. A city boy’s world is contained within three or four square blocks, and in my world it was the whites, the Italians and Jews, who feared the Negroes, not the other way around. The Negroes were tougher than we were, more ruthless, and on the whole they were better athletes. What could it mean, then, to say that they were badly off and that we were more fortunate? Yet my sister’s opinions, like print, were sacred, and when she told me about exploitation and economic forces I believed her. I believed her, but I was still afraid of Negroes. And I still hated them with all my heart.
Why, why should it have been so different as between the Negroes and us? How was it borne in upon us so early, white and black alike, that we were enemies beyond any possibility of reconciliation? Why did we hate one another so?
I suppose if I tried, I could answer those questions more or less adequately from the perspective of what I have since learned. I could draw upon James Baldwin—what better witness is there?—to describe the sense of entrapment that poisons the soul of the Negro with hatred for the white man whom he knows to be his jailer. On the other side, if I wanted to understand how the white man comes to hate the Negro, I could call upon the psychologists who have spoken of the guilt that white Americans feel toward Negroes and that turns into hatred for lack of acknowledging itself as guilt. These are plausible answers and certainly there is truth in them. Yet when I think back upon my own experience of the Negro and his of me, I find myself troubled and puzzled, much as I was as a child when I heard that all Jews were rich and all Negroes persecuted. How could the Negroes in my neighborhood have regarded the whites across the street and around the corner as jailers? On the whole, the whites were not so poor as the Negroes, but they were quite poor enough, and the years were years of Depression. As for white hatred of the Negro, how could guilt have had anything to do with it? What share had these Italian and Jewish immigrants in the enslavement of the Negro? What share had they—downtrodden people themselves breaking their own necks to eke out a living—in the exploitation of the Negro?
Thus everywhere we look today in the North, we find the curious phenomenon of white middle-class liberals with no previous personal experience of Negroes—people to whom Negroes have always been faceless in virtue rather than faceless in vice—discovering that their abstract commitment to the cause of Negro rights will not stand the test of a direct confrontation.
Podhoretz discussed how, in his perspective, it was actually Black Americans that were the oppressors, not the ones being oppressed. In his childhood world, where everyone was working-class, it was the Black Americans that ruled the blocks; the ones that terrorized and imposed their will on everyone else. He discussed how it was Black Americans that had all the power and cultural capital, whereas he came from a family of poor immigrants. He describes how he resented how Black Americans, to him, seemed to be so carefree while Jewish and Italian immigrants dutifully obeyed laws. He then castigated White liberals that virtue-signaled their support of Black rights but lived far away from actual Black people. This line of criticism is still used today, and the sentiment Podhoretz wrote about back in the 1960s is still applicable to much of the discourse surrounding race and class today. And again, one can imagine how easily a modern-day Podhoretz could swap “Jew” with “Asian”, not that any mainstream publication would dare publish such a piece.
The takeaway from both essays is that back in the 1960s, there was a willingness to talk about why members of two minority groups might display animosity towards each other. Both are worth reading in full, as both essayists were masters of their craft, seamlessly blending in slice-of-life vignettes with their polemical screeds. Baldwin candidly discussed why some Black Americans might hate American Jews, and Podhoretz also candidly discussed why some American Jews might hate Black Americans. Whether those criticisms were legitimate or not is not the focus, but rather the fact that those criticisms were able to get published at all. And while both writers use the overarching frame of WASP supremacy, both writers acknowledge reasons why some in each group might hate the other.
Sure enough, the following decades in New York City produced some high-profile cases where the sentiments Baldwin and Podhoretz described spilled off the pages into things bigger and bloodier: the Ocean Hill–Brownsville teachers' strike of 1968, the Crown Heights riot of 1991, and the Freddy's Fashion Mart mass shooting of 1995. Still today, most attacks on visible Jews in New York City come from members of Black supremacist groups.
Now we are ruled by the progressive stack, where groups higher in victimhood status can do no wrong whatsoever, and where it’s always the fault of people lower on the stack. Hence why there is so much discussion of “anti-Blackness in the Asian community”, yet no such discussion of the opposite. Yet such a framing denies any agency to Black Americans, making them seem like they are carnivorous predators who cannot help but beat up and kill Asian Americans. This framing is, well, the real anti-Blackness. I point out Black racism against Asians because I see Black Americans as human beings with their own thoughts and views—including reasons why some may hate Asians. Both Black Americans and Asian Americans have our own thoughts, feelings, desires, needs, wants, etc., that exist independently from other races.
Human beings are innately racist. Well, perhaps racist isn’t the right word, because race is socially constructed, but the desire to favor people similar to us and disfavor people different from us is built into the human brain. Skin color is an easy and lazy way for people to stereotype whether or not someone is “like us” or “not like us”. Yet we as humans often find other ways to determine if someone is like us or not, like through religious affiliation, citizenship status, and political alignment.
One example I often use is the story of Malcolm X, a former Black nationalist who spent much of his life judging others based on their skin color. He hated White people for decades—until he made the required pilgrimage to Mecca, where he saw Muslims of all races helping and loving one another. It was then that he had an epiphany and recognized that everyone was human:
Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being--neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there's no question of integration or intermarriage. It's just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.
And that’s how I see race too. I see everyone—including people that hate Asians—as humans with their own thoughts and desires. If anyone—White, Black, Latino, Native—told me they hated me for the color of my skin, the first thing I would do is ask why. If a modern-day James Baldwin wrote a piece about why he hates Asian Americans, I would applaud him for his honesty. In order to end racism, first we must be willing to be open and honest about the reasons why such racism came to exist in the first place. And the exchange must go both ways.