Since the 1980s, conservatives have warned about the academic left’s “deconstruction” of Western culture. The fetishization of race and sex was shrinking our inheritance to a cartoonish morality play, they alleged. Academic identity politics would not stay put; its foundational conceits would migrate into the world at large.
Such warnings had no effect. Corporations, law firms, banks, tech companies, publishers, museums, orchestras and theater troupes now routinely denounce the alleged racial oppression that is said to be endemic to the United States in particular, and to the West more broadly.
Conservatives have responded in generalized terms: “The left is dividing us! It is betraying the ideal of judging people by the content of their character!” But what is going on is more specific than a generalized strategy of divide and conquer. What is going on is a war on whites. A news story need merely point out that a CEO, say, is white to taint him as a presumptive racist. A police officer identified in the press as white is a marked man.
The same method works for institutions and even ideas. Observe that a European tradition, whether political philosophy, classical music or portraiture, has been predominantly white, and you will have damned it as illegitimate. The inevitability of such a racial balance given Europe’s demographic history does not matter. Nor does the fact that African and Asian cultural traditions are just as racially monolithic. Orchestral musicians, arts boards, and museum volunteers have been sacked for their whiteness. The racial hierarchy behind Evergreen State College’s infamous 2017 edict that white professors cancel their classes and stay off campus for a day now drives all academic hiring. White males face miserable odds in the academic job market; white male scientists, no matter how talented, will be considered for a teaching position or a government STEM job only if there are no underrepresented minorities to hire. The situation is little better in the for-profit sector.
A rule of our public discourse, manifest during the 2020 presidential campaign, is: use white as an epithet, and no one will notice. It is now assumed that whites will be flagellated for their race and will accept such flagellation as normal and just. But use the term white to point out this anti-white bias and you will be accused of playing dangerous identity politics. Conservative commentators may themselves lodge that complaint.
This turn-the-other-cheek policy has not worked. The broad appeal to color-blind principles has failed to wake the public up. Conservatives must name what is going on. The only remaining hope for reclaiming the legacy of the West is to be explicit about how that legacy is being unwound and to forthrightly rebut the equation between whiteness and evil.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The Diversity Delusion. This article is one excerpt from “Fight for the right,” a symposium on the future of American conservatism. Read the full series here.