Stephens: The New Racism Won’t Solve the Old Racism

When the pendulum swings to far:

Last month, Lori Lightfoot announced that, for her second anniversary as Chicago’s first openly gay, Black female mayor, she would give one-on-one interviews only to “POC reporters,” referring to “people of color,” on the grounds that she wanted to push for equity in the composition of the overwhelmingly white City Hall press corps.

It took Gregory Pratt, a Latino reporter for The Chicago Tribune, to call her out for the misuse of power. Politicians, he wrote in a tweet, “don’t get to choose who covers them.” Pratt had been granted his interview request with Lightfoot but canceled on principle.

This month, two Jewish clinicians at Stanford filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that one of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs pressured them to attend a “racially segregated ‘whiteness accountability’ affinity group, which was created for ‘staff who hold privilege via white identity.’”

“No affinity group was created for persons of Jewish ancestral identity. As a result, there is no ‘space’ in the D.E.I. program for Jewish staff members to safely express their lived Jewish experience,” read an overview of the complaint filed by the Brandeis Center.

Also this month, a federal judge, Marcia Morales Howard, temporarily blocked a $4 billion Biden administration program to provide debt relief to “socially disadvantaged farmers” — provided the farmers were from racial minorities — even as she acknowledged the Department of Agriculture’s ugly history of racially discriminatory practices.

“Socially disadvantaged farmers,” the judge noted, could get 120 percent debt relief under the program, even if they were “not remotely in danger of foreclosure.” Meanwhile, “a small white farmer who is on the brink of foreclosure can do nothing to qualify for debt relief. Race or ethnicity is the sole, inflexible factor that determines the availability of relief.”

The three cases raise distinct legal and ethical questions. But they’re all variations of the same basic debate between newfangled equity and old-fashioned equality — between those, like the writer Ibram X. Kendi, who want new forms of what he calls “antiracist discrimination” to remedy past forms of racial discrimination, and those who, to paraphrase Chief Justice John Roberts, think we can stop discrimination on the basis of race without discriminating on the basis of race.

It shouldn’t be hard to guess who is going to win that debate.

This isn’t just because conservatives hold the commanding heights in the courts, where at least some of the core legal questions will be settled. Courts can do only so much to change culture, though it’s hard to imagine President Biden’s farm relief program surviving in current form.

The deeper reason is that advocates of equity do two things that offend ordinary sensibilities — one of them sly, the other blunt.

Sly is the redefinition of the word “equity,” which in common English means the quality of being fair and impartial, to mean something closer to the opposite: the quality of being anything but impartial to achieve a desired, supposedly fairer result.

And blunt is the racial preference, the explicit segregation, the insulting assumption-making and the overall intellectual sophistry that is antiracist ideology in action.

To have something called a “whiteness accountability” group is insulting to everyone who still believes we should be judged by the content of our character. To expect Jewish staff members to be assigned to that group is obscene, particularly when the Holocaust is still a living memory. To suggest that the federal government should be in the business of lending discrimination when lending discrimination is otherwise a crime makes a mockery of the law the government is supposed to enforce. To disfavor reporters purely on the basis of their race is definitionally racist, whatever the higher justification.

All this would have been too obvious for words until just a few years ago. The new dispensation in which racism is justified in the name of antiracism, discrimination in the service of equality, and favoritism for the sake of an even playing field, is exactly as Orwellian as it sounds. It may find purchase in the usual institutional and political progressive circles, but it’s not a good way to win converts when most of us believe that the promise of America lies in escaping the narrow prisms of race and identity, not being permanently trapped by them.

Thoughtful liberals who think this is much ado about nothing should spend some time pondering how perfectly people like Lightfoot are now playing into right-wing stereotypes. They should also spend time wondering whether the ideal for which they have long fought — a society that, if not colorblind, can at least see past color — is being jeopardized by progressives who apparently can see only color.

Whichever way, it shouldn’t be hard to see that trying to solve the old racism with the new racism will produce only more racism. Justice is never achieved by turning tables.


Stephens: California’s Ethnic Studies Follies: A proposed curriculum magnifies differences, encourages tribal loyalties and advances ideological group think.

Some exaggeration regarding divisiveness but valid points regarding over-reach and the risks in not using ethnic studies to look at both the commonalities and differences:

The first time California’s Department of Education published a draft of an ethnic studies “model curriculum” for high school students, in 2019, it managed the neat trick of omitting anti-Semitism while committing it.

More than a million Jews live in California. They are also among the state’s leading victims of hate crimes.

Yet in a lengthy draft otherwise rich with references to various forms of bigotry, there was no mention of bigotry toward Jews. There was, however, an endorsement of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which essentially calls for the elimination of the Jewish state. There was also an approving mention of a Palestinian singer rapping that Israelis “use the press so they can manufacture” — the old refrain that lying Jews control the media.

The draft outraged many Jews. And they were joined by Armenian, Assyrian, Hellenic, Hindu and Korean civic groups in a statementurging the California Department of Education to “completely redraft the curriculum.” In its original form, they said, the document was “replete with mischaracterizations and omissions of major California ethnoreligious groups.”

Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would mandate ethnic studies as a graduation requirement in California’s high schools, pending further review of the model curriculum. While some maintained that a critical ethnic studies curriculum was a mistake, and not just for Jews, others took the view that, when it came to those revisions, it was better to be at the table than on it. Progressive Jews helped redraft a curriculum that included two sample lessons on the Jewish-American experience, along with testimonials about Jewishness from the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dianne Feinstein.

A victory? One can still quarrel with the curriculum’s tendentiously racialized view of the American-Jewish experience. But at least the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist dog whistles have been taken out and the history of anti-Semitism has been put in.

Yet as the Board of Education is set to vote on the new curriculum this month, it is likelier than before to enthrone ethnic studies, an older relative to critical race theory, into the largest public school system in the United States. This is a big deal in America’s ongoing culture wars. And it’s a bad deal for California’s students, at least for those whose school districts decide to make the curriculum their own.

What is “ethnic studies”? Contrary to first impressions, it is not multiculturalism. It is not a way of exploring, much less celebrating, America’s pluralistic society. It is an assault on it. “A multiculturalist framework that views our people through a colonialist lens is what literally led to the need for ethnic studies,” Sharif Zakout of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told a state Education Department panel last year.

Ethnic studies is less an academic discipline than it is the recruiting arm of a radical ideological movement masquerading as mainstream pedagogy. From the opening pages of the model curriculum, students are expected not just to “challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs,” but to “critique empire-building in history” and “connect ourselves to past and contemporary social movements that struggle for social justice.”

That would be fine if it appeared in the pages of, say, The Nation. It would be fine, too, if students were exposed to critical race theory the way they might be exposed to Marxist philosophy or some other ideology — as a subject to be examined, not a lens through which to do the examining. The former is education. The latter is indoctrination. The ethnic studies curriculum conceals the difference.

It also does so in a uniquely lopsided way. “Ethnic studies is for all students,” the curriculum announces. Actually, not so much. Irish-Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in the U.S. and are famously proud of their heritage. But the word “Irish” hardly appears anywhere in the model curriculum, and nowhere in its sample lessons. Russians, Italians, Poles and others rate only the briefest mentions.

Perhaps this is because all of them, like most Jews, have a new identity, known in the jargon of ethnic studies as “conditional whiteness,” which simultaneously erases their past and racializes their present. Leave aside the ignorance this fosters regarding the long history of differences, struggles and achievements by various European ethnic groups in America. It’s also the mirror image of longstanding prejudices regarding “Asians” or “Hispanics” as ethnically undifferentiated masses of mainly identical people.

When the main thing left-wing progressives see about America is its allegedly oppressive systems of ethnicity or color, they aren’t seeing America at all. Nor should they be surprised when right-wing reactionaries adopt a perverse version of their views. To treat “whiteness” — conditional or otherwise — not as an accident of pigmentation but as an ethnicity unto itself is what the David Dukes of the world have always wanted.

It shouldn’t be like this. Public education is supposed to create a sense of common citizenship while cultivating the habits of independent thinking. This is a curriculum that magnifies differences, encourages tribal loyalties and advances ideological groupthink.


A Modest Immigration Proposal: Ban Jews: Stephens – The New York Times

Good column and reminder:

Until his dying day, my dad’s Uncle Bern was a communist sympathizer. I remember him as an affable old man with a gracious wife who made a modest living selling antique lace. He probably wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Yet he found much to admire in the most murderous ideology of the 20th century, responsible for tens of millions of deaths from the killing fields of Cambodia to the gulags of Murmansk.

If you’re Jewish in America, chances are there’s at least one Uncle Bern somewhere in your family tree. As the scholar Ruth Wisse noted last year in Tablet magazine, Jewish intellectual life in the 1930s and 40s was largely defined by one’s stance toward one thing: The Party. Historians reckon that Jews accounted for nearly half the Communist Party’s total membership in those years, while many other Jews were close fellow travelers.

Most of these people, like my great-uncle, were deeply misguided idealists who otherwise led quiet and decent lives. A tiny handful of others — including atomic spies Julius Rosenberg, David Greenglass, Harry Gold and Morton Sobell — betrayed America’s most important military secrets to Stalinist Russia and did incalculable damage to the country and the world.

Here’s a thought experiment: Would the United States have been better off if it had banned Jewish immigration sometime in the late 19th century, so that the immigrant parents of Rosenberg and Sobell had never set foot here? The question is worth asking, because so many of the same arguments made against African, Latin-American and Muslim immigrants today might have easily been applied to Jews just over a century ago.

Consider some of the parallels.

Crime? In 1908, the New York City police commissioner, Theodore Bingham, caused a public uproar (for which he later apologized) when he claimed that half the city’s criminals were Jews. The truth was closer to the opposite: Jewish crime rates, at about 16 percent, were considerably lower than their roughly 25 percent share of New York’s overall population. The same goes today, when, contrary to much Trumpian propaganda, incarceration rates for immigrants are nearly half what they are for native-born Americans.

Racial desirability? Just as Donald Trump wants more Norwegian immigrants and none from “s-hole countries,” the early 20th-century eugenicist, conservationist and immigration restrictionist Madison Grant was obsessed with protecting the “Nordic” races against those he termed “social discards” — including “the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the Jew.”

Assimilation? This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked, in an interview with Fox News, “What good does it do to bring in somebody who’s illiterate in their own country, has no skills and is going to struggle in our country and not be successful?” That seems to be the general way of thinking in this administration.

Now compare that to a 1907 article in McClure’s magazine, titled “The Great Jewish Invasion,” which observed of Russian Jews, “no people have had a more inadequate preparation, educational and economic, for American citizenship.” Henry Adams, the great American patrician, wrote of “furtive Yacoob or Ysaac still reeking of the ghetto, snarling a weird Yiddish.” In 1914, Edward Alsworth Ross, the famous progressive sociologist from the University of Wisconsin, called Jews “moral cripples” whose “tribal spirit intensified by social isolation prompts them to rush to the rescue of the caught rascal of their own race.”

Subversion? During the campaign, Donald Trump said at a New Hampshire rally that Syrian refugees “could make the Trojan horse look like peanuts.” His campaign then infamously called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Similar charges have long been leveled at Jews. Henry Ford accused Jews of causing the First World War. A generation later, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh charged Jews with trying to inveigle the United States into war. Lindbergh was the leading champion in his day of “America First.” Still later, Jewish “neocons” somehow became the shadowy instigators of America’s wars in the Middle East.

O.K., you get the idea. And it’s worth acknowledging there are often kernels of anecdotal or statistical truth for nearly every ethnic stereotype. Jews were indeed overrepresented in radical political circles. Jewish gangsters — a.k.a. the “Kosher Nostra” — were nearly as notorious as their Irish and Italian peers in the early 20th century. There were Jewish students who rallied against the draft during the First World War, just as many more would rally against it over Vietnam.

Yet imagine if the United States had followed the advice of the immigration restrictionists in the late 19th century and banned Jewish immigrants, at least from Central Europe and Russia, on what they perceived to be some genetic inferiority. What, in terms of enterprise, genius, imagination, and philanthropy would have been lost to America as a country? And what, in terms of human tragedy, would have ultimately weighed on our conscience?

Today, American Jews are widely considered the model minority, so thoroughly assimilated that organizational Jewish energies are now largely devoted to protecting our religious and cultural distinctiveness. Someone might ask Jeff Sessions and other eternal bigots what makes an El Salvadoran, Iranian or Haitian any different.

via A Modest Immigration Proposal: Ban Jews – The New York Times