If you are a racist—or, far more likely, a Very Nice Person who just tolerates and enables racism through inaction—there is absolutely nothing you love more than an opportunity for a good old false equivalence. And today is Bret Stephens’ lucky day!
I’m sure you heard about the whole Sarah Jeong thing, which, briefly: good writer gets hired by the New York Times, right wing trolls pull out a bunch of her old tweets saying, mostly, “white people suck lol,” raise a ruckus about it. Everyone suddenly loses their ability to detect sarcasm. Drama ensues. It is the stupid, tedious, completely insincere internet drama which exists only so that it can be turned into an instrument for argument for a particular ideology. The entire thing has little to do with the facts at hand. And this allows bad NYT columnist Bret Stephens—a white Republican who has written (in major newspapers, not on Twitter) that Palestinians have a “blood fetish” and anti-Semitism is “a problem of the Arab mind” and Black Lives Matter is a “big lie” and “nonstop conspiracy”—to swoop in from the wings, grab ahold of this stupid, momentary controversy, and declare—aha!—who are the real racists, after all?
We should call many of these tweets for what they are: racist. I’ve seen some acrobatic efforts to explain why Jeong’s tweets should be treated as “quasi-satirical,” hyperbolical and a function of “social context.” But the criteria for racism is either objective or it’s meaningless: If liberals get to decide for themselves who is or isn’t a racist according to their political lights, conservatives will be within their rights to ignore them.
Please, take a moment to really consider the standard for “racist” that Bret Stephens is proposing here. He is proposing a standard that takes no notice of power; no notice of who, in reality, is a dominant group, and who is group that finds itself oppressed; no notice of the fact that racism may affect different groups of people differently. In his formulation, “racism” is a rootless, notional idea that floats above us all, waiting to be plucked by enterprising pundits for their own purposes. The last part of the paragraph above, in which Stephens puts forth his thesis, could be more honestly stated like so: “But the criteria for racism is either objective or it’s meaningless: If [PEOPLE WHO GENUINELY CARE ABOUT RACISM] get to decide for themselves who is or isn’t a racist according to their political lights, conservatives will be within their rights to [IGNORE RACISM, WHICH IS WHAT WE PREFER].”
Bret Stephens would like to use the case of a few old Sarah Jeong tweets as a point to put on the scoreboard. A point that he hopes will produce a tie, so that he can say, “hey, some people of my own ideological stripe have been decried as racists, but now—as long as I studiously ignore all context and common sense—someone of your ideological strip has been accused of ‘racism’ as well. These things cancel out. All is forgiven!” This is the ideal world, if you are a conservative. Your own racism is wiped off the karmic scorecard, and you get to look gracious as well.
Ideology is a choice. Race is not. White people are politically, culturally, and economically dominant in the United States of America. The historic legacy and persistence of racism damage certain demographic groups in ways that they do not damage other demographic groups. That’s just the way it is. To try to elide these facts is to be either dishonest or stupid.
Deal with it Bret Stephens, you white bitch!