Racial slurs are being hurled at Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for Kentucky governor. That’s despicable. It doesn’t matter what race the victim is or what race his accuser. Those slurs should be called out loudly and promptly.
They would be despicable if a black candidate faced them from a white opponent, or vice versa. They are no less despicable when a black candidate, like Cameron, faces them from other blacks. The epithet in this case is “Uncle Tom” and it has been leveled against him in paid advertisements. His crime: he’s conservative.
Those ads are the work of Black Voters Matter Action PAC. They feature the loathsome slogan, “All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” Any group that uses that language for political gain should be condemned and repudiated. The pushback should begin with Democratic parties at the state and national levels. Although they are not responsible for producing the ad, they are the intended beneficiaries. They should reject both the ad and the group responsible for it. Don’t hold your breath.
There is a straightforward reason why Black Voters Matter is sending this noxious message now. Cameron faces off against a Democratic opponent in Tuesday’s balloting. Polls show the contest is a dead heat. To win, Democrats need a strong turnout by African Americans and nearly universal support among them. The slur by Black Voters Matter is designed to generate that support.
That message should be condemned both by Democrats and the group’s donors, including George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. They should demand a public apology, cut off funding and disassociate themselves from the group and its hateful message. They haven’t — and they won’t. They just care about who wins.
Defending Cameron against these slurs does not mean supporting him or his proposed policies. Those are entirely separate matters. Actually, that’s the point. His opponents should contest his views, his proposals and his qualifications, not the color of his skin or his solidarity with others of his race.
That’s not how Black Voters Matters sees it, of course. That national organization condemned Cameron for taking “incorrect” racial positions. Really? Must “skinfolk” all have the same opinions? Who died and made them Pope of Infallible Opinions? Don’t black politicians and voters have the same rights to think freely as other Americans?
No one should be smeared for differing from any group’s dominant thinking. No one should be defamed for lacking “racial solidarity,” just because their views are different. That’s exactly what slurs like “Uncle Tom” are meant to do. The ads make that point explicit, calling the GOP candidate, “Uncle Daniel Cameron.”
That’s not a substantive argument. It’s just name-calling and schoolyard bullying. The goals are to demean Cameron, deter black voters from supporting him, and dissuade other black politicians from becoming heretics like Cameron. If you step out of line, they are saying, you will face our wrath.
That message is the distilled essence of all identity politics:
- You are defined by your identity
- We will highlight what your dominant identity should be
- You must profess the same ideas as the others in that grou
- We will tell you what those “correct” group ideas are. And, finally,
- You are betraying our group if you have different ideas and, even worse, if you act on them
This ideological straitjacket applies well beyond African Americans. Democrats constantly warn about “racial dog whistles” aimed at whites. They mean messages directed at one group, which can hear it, even though outsiders cannot.
According to Democrats, Republicans use these secret calls to gain white support without making openly racist statements. Those appeals should be called out for the same reason Black Voters Matters should be.
In twenty-first century America, these calls for unity against other groups are commonplace and deeply troubling. That’s not because group identities are troubling in themselves. They can be legitimate sources of pride. The problems arise when separate group identities are placed above any common ones, when they are used to pit group against group — and when they are used to mobilize voters on that antagonistic basis. This strategy is particularly harmful when it deepens the greatest scar in American history: the mistreatment of blacks.
But bigotry is bigotry, regardless of the source or the target.
That simple idea should be obvious. Unfortunately, it is not. Many progressives sincerely believe minorities cannot be deemed racist because they have been subject to so much racism themselves. They point to a long history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and segregation.
But it doesn’t follow that this history of oppression exempts them from charges of discriminating against others today. Blacks, like anyone else, can be prejudiced. They can discriminate against others — and they can seek to benefit from it. So can other groups that have suffered historic subjugation.
You might think the twisted notion that minorities cannot possibly be guilty of discrimination would be instantly rejected because it is so threadbare. But noooooo.
Likewise, you might realize that many factors might cause one group’s outcomes in, say, education, to fall below those of other groups. Those different outcomes might be caused by discrimination — or they might not. There are countless possible causes. Asserting that the differences are caused by discrimination is “disparate impact”; it became official government policy during the Obama administration, which used it to justify their own discriminatory policies. Trump ended this approach, but Biden reinstated it.
No one ever voted in favor of these policies. Our Congress never passed laws mandating them. They were simply enacted by presidential diktat and bureaucratic regulations, mainly by the Departments of Justice, Education and Housing and Urban Development. Their views are orthodoxy among progressives.
This ideology should be called out because it is inherently biased. It is at odds with America’s highest values, on which our constitutional rights and protections are based. Those demand equal treatment of individuals, not equal outcomes. They also demand that allegations of discrimination be proven. It’s not enough simply to level charges. It’s not proof to say outcomes are different for different groups.
Six decades after the abolition of Jim Crow laws, we ought to insist on those principles. America has often fallen short of following them, sometimes grievously so. But we will only slip further and further away from those ideals if we abandon the bedrock principles on which they are based.
Dog-whistle politics are wrong for the same reasons. They call for racial solidarity and for judging people according to that criterion. They do more than appeal to whites. They call on them to act in solidarity as whites. They emphasize racial identity, demand conformity within the group and, all too often, slur others because they come from other groups. That, too, violates our country’s most profound ideals.
Racial epithets like Uncle Tom are wrong for the same reasons. The most important are their insistence on conformity and eagerness to shame anyone who departs from it. That shaming tries to deny members of any group their right to think for themselves and support the candidates, laws and policies they choose. By focusing solely on what makes each group different, they depreciate whatever they have in common, including their citizenship.
The results are predictable — and pernicious. “Racial identity politics” makes a sustained effort to divide our country into separate, immutable, and often sharply opposed groups. Those groups are then mobilized for partisan gain, almost always in opposition to other groups. “Vote for me because you are black… or white… or Hispanic and my opponent is not.”
That’s a troubling message, not because the group’s characteristics are bad, but because the message is designed to pit us against each other. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s heritage. That can be uplifting. It only turns sour when these separate identities are used to amplify antagonisms between groups and undermine our overriding identity as Americans.
The thrust of today’s identity politics goes still further. It classifies whole groups as either continuing victims of America’s “terrible history” or as undeserving beneficiaries of oppression. The “privileged” are shamed for acts committed long before they were born, for which they bear no responsibility.
This false imputation of responsibility contradicts a foundational principle of Anglo-Saxon law. We discard it at our peril. For more than a millennium, our laws have held that you are responsible for your own acts, and only for them, not for those of your brother, sister or great-grandfather. This principle of individual responsibility is a profound achievement, legally and culturally.
Not all societies share it. Some hold families or groups responsible for each other’s actions. Indeed, they hold them responsible for acts committed long ago by your ancestors or simply members of your race or religion. Our society does not.
We should resist any effort to destroy that core principle, just as we should resist efforts to sever the ties that bind us as a larger community. We should embrace our nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” One out of many. That ideal is a noble one. It is worth preserving against the gale forces of hatred and division.