Racism and Institutional Change11-27-2022
John McWhorter, very much like Corey Robin, also argues that the left needs to change its focus from questions of recognition to questions of power. For McWhorter, evidence of the mistake made by contemporary leftist politics is the language of “systematic racism.” Of course inequalities exist and of course there is prejudice and racism in the world, he writes. But McWhorter argues that blaming systematic power imbalances on racism creates a passivity around actually solving problems of institutional injustice. Instead of working to change power imbalances, the left today insists that we fixate on and fix racism, something that seems impervious to fixing. McWhorter writes:
I argued that terms such as “systemic racism” seem to imply that systems (or structures or institutions) can harbor bigotry or hold a position in the same way that a human being can.
Bigotry clearly often played a profound role in the inequities between Black and other people in the past. But the idea of “systemic racism” as a present-tense phenomenon has for decades now been cited frequently, especially among left-of-center groups. However, I argued that, as indisputable today’s inequities may be, to refer to them as “racism” is a rather athletic way of using that word, and it fosters an idea that solving today’s problems will require battling a new version of the same bigotry that reigned in the old days, just “systemic” rather than existing in individual hearts and minds….
The way I see it, if three things happened, Black America would be a new world.
First, the War on Drugs should end. It encourages a Black market in drugs that understandably tempts underserved people of color away from legal work, and it fosters encounters between Black people and the cops that, short of this utterly failed “war,” would have no reason to occur.
Second, especially in schools for less-advantaged kids, reading should be taught via phonics-based instruction, because it has consistently proven to be the best method for kids not from book-lined homes, of all races.
Third, market-targeted vocational education must be available at little or no cost to all who want it, and our post-World War II American sense that getting a college degree is the normal life trajectory of all respectable people must end.
I believe that if all three of these things happened, after a single generation of Black Americans grew up under the new regime, our crabbed, contradiction-laden conversation on race and racism would gradually recede into a blissfully antique curiosity that future scholars would have to work to understand.