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How Much of Racism is Actually Racism?

John McWhorter writes in Time Magazine that ‘Microagresion’ Is the New Racism on Campus.

McWhorter says:

There’s a new word on the street that the old-style social racism is still with us, 24/7 — you’re about to start hearing it everywhere.

Think everyday, interpersonal racism is a thing of the past? In progressive politics, most of the action has moved on from the Civil Rights struggles of the past to a focus on societal or “structural” racism. But, wait, not so fast — there’s a new word on the street that the old-style social racism is still with us, 24/7. That word is: microaggression. And you’re about to start hearing it everywhere.

A student at McGill University recently had to apologize publicly for the “microaggression” of “emailing a doctored video of President Obama kicking open a door” as part of a joke about midterms. Campus newspapers have begun denouncing the evils of such small, apparent slights.

Here’s what they are: The concept of microaggression has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation, especially in the wake of widely consulted work by professors Derald Wing Sue and Madonna Constantine over the last seven or so years. Microaggressions, as these academics describe them, are quiet, often unintended slights — racist or sexist — that make a person feel underestimated on the basis of their color or gender.

The idea is that whites should now watch out for being micro-aggressors, in the same way that they learned long ago not to be racist in more overt ways. Importantly, the microaggressor is quite often a “goodly” person, of the kind we assume is too enlightened to pop off with racist or sexist insults.

The black journalist Toure has recounted, for example, being in a writer’s program and being asked by a prominent literary critic “So why areyou here?” The critic didn’t ask in a hostile way, but the question itself carried an implication that there was some reason that his presence was unusual, and it was obvious what the factor was. The critic likely had no idea how that came off, and of course Toure went on to have a fine life. But this was, nevertheless, a microaggression.

As was when a middle school teacher praised a feminist friend of mine for having made the highest math score of any girl in the class. Or when I once asked a linguist a question about their presentation, only for him to repeatedly give me an answer I wasn’t seeking. The problem was that he spontaneously assumed I wasn’t familiar with the basic grammatical topic he was covering, when I, as familiar with it as any linguist of 25 years’ standing, was interested in a more specific matter. This man was not a “racist” by any stretch of the imagination, but he was spontaneously assuming that a black linguist must only be interested in societal issues rather than the wonky mechanics of grammar.

As I read this article and others on the same topic I can’t help but think, “Welcome to daily life as a conservative in American popular culture.”  Mainstream American news, prime time television, theater, music, and newspapers contain a steady stream of microaggressions against conservatives, and have for decades.  The Media Research Center documents this sort of thing, along with liberal bias in general, on a daily basis.  

And liberals say the same thing about conservative talk radio and Fox News.

All of which begs a question:

How much of what people (e.g., Black Lives Matter, Social Justice Warriors, current coddled campus activist bullies) perceive as racism is actually racism, and how much of it is just normal human rejection of out-groups like we see on a daily basis in mainstream media against conservatives and liberals see against themselves in talk radio?

As Haidt says in his blog post Centerville Students Debate Coddle U.,

[those] “who claim that they are being attacked might be over-interpreting their own discomfort at having their views challenged; they could be engaging in “emotional reasoning” as well.””

How much of what is perceived as discrimination actually is discrimination, and how much of it is over-interpretation?

How much of it is real, and how much if it is the flash of affect, the visceral reaction one feels in response to having one’s own in-group or sacred values or grand narrative or world view (aka Sowell’s “Visions”) challenged, threatened, criticized,  or demeaned?

I think the answer is, it’s a lot more perception and a lot less reality than is generally assumed.   It has more to do with simple groupishness, basic human nature, than it does with race per se than people assume.

The human species evolved to form into groups which then compete with other groups for scarce recourses and political power.  The make up of the group is less important to the conflict than the simple fact that it’s a group.   

It is well known that people too often jump to the incorrect conclusion that any simple numerical disparity among groups of people is self-evident proof of discrimination.

I think the same sort of logical fallacy is often the case when perceptions of microaggressions or other forms of mistreatment are assumed to be self-evident proof of racism, homophobia, mysogeny, etc.    It’s a “comforting delusion” that serves to reinforce the narrative, but in actuality it has a lot less to do with racism than people assume, and a lot more to do with simple groupishness.  It’s not so much racism, per se, that causes inter-group conflict, it’s simple human groupish competitiveness.     



2 thoughts on “How Much of Racism is Actually Racism?

  1. For years, I have been thinking about this topic of debate and quarrel called “racism” and have come to the conclusion that there can be no real racism without biological essentialistic racism:

    “a belief that race [i.e. ‘a division of mankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinct human type’ – and which traits all members of that type and only members of that type have by virtue of its very essence, and which traits are fixed and unchanging and unchangeable] is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”.

    This is the true litmus test of racism. See also: https://therationalists.org/2016/09/20/the-social-justice-definition-of-racism/. Many leftists calling themselves “liberals” or “progressives” question the dictionary definition of racism. But we must RESIST their attempts to reject the definitions that the classical dictionary has already given. As it turns out, if you want to change society, you must first change its language. And I don’t mean changing its language into a foreign language. I mean changing the definition of certain strategically, politically, morally, and ethically important key words of that language. We must RESIST all attempts on the part of the leftists to change the definition or racism by which they think they can trick or lure us into playing directly into their hands.

    So why do these leftists REJECT the classical dictionary definition of racism?


    “Mikaela Sifuentes, Hispanic American, Neuroscience PhD student

    Answered Apr 19, 2016

    Because words have power. “Racism” is already a charged word as it is, but in this context it’s a weapon that can categorically be used against a certain group of people (white) and cannot be used against another group of people (ethnic minorities). By claiming that racism only exists as a one-way relationship within a context of power, these people create a world in which they cannot be guilty of a social sin.”


    Posted by Juan Jeanniton | January 10, 2018, 11:00 pm

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