Culture Wars/Current Controversies

On the Peculiar Character of American ‘Racism’

As a social scientist myself, I lean toward the view that the evidence indicates that racism in the United States today is neither the pervasive, all-encompassing racism that existed in past times, nor is racism non-existent or entirely marginal or peripheral. Instead, I think the evidence supports the view that while racism is not “systemic” if the sense of being universal, all-encompassing, or inherently endemic to the entire social fabric, the degree to which racism can be found in US society is dependent on a wide range of cultural, subcultural, institutional, geographical, socioeconomic, individual personality, and demographic factors. I’d argue that racism is somewhat comparable to crime, in the sense of being generally illegal and socially unacceptable, even if lots of people do it away, and with subcultures existing where it is socially unacceptable.  Racism is also similar to crime in the sense that it can exist at every level in society, but the form it takes will often be different. A rich criminal might be into stock fraud, while a poor criminal might burglarize cars. Snobby rich whites with an exclusionary country club are different from trailer park types yelling the “n-word” at a black person on the street.  Another aspect of this analogy might be recognition that in some geographical locations, crime is very minimal, and in others crime is pervasive. The same is true of different kinds of institutions (e.g. some businesses may maintain high standards of ethics and/or legal compliance, while others don’t). Racism can be commonplace in some locations, institutions, subcultures, socioeconomic sectors, etc. but not in others. Of course, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of racism generally.

For the defense.

By David Azerrad, Real Clear Public Affairs

In a thoughtful, cogent, and provocative essay, political scientist David Azerrad challenges the claim that “systemic racism” is the essence of the American proposition and the American political order. A common view today holds that all disparities are evidence of discrimination, and that oppression, even genocide, is the inevitable fate of blacks in the United States. A grievance industry ignores palpable progress in American attitudes and policies regarding race and deems an admirably free and self-critical country incapable of reforming or redeeming itself. Such racialism has a vested interest in maintaining that America was, is, and will always be “racist.” Little or nothing in recent experience supports such a heavy-handed and mendacious ideological judgment.

This essay is part of RealClearPublicAffairs’s 1776 Series, which explains the major themes that define the American mind.


That America is a racist country is the great self-evident truth of the Left and of the ruling class whose moral opinions are shaped by it. This truth is self-evident in the sense of being readily apparent to them, as evidenced by the countless disparities in life outcomes between blacks and whites. No explanation for these disparities is ever required. Their mere existence is proof of racism.

The disparities between Asians and whites, between Indians and whites, and between Nigerian immigrants and whites all go studiously ignored, since these groups generally outperform whites in income and educational attainment. Also ignored is the role that the pathologies of inner-city black culture—fatherlessness, crime, nihilistic alienation, and the exaltation of thuggery—play in producing and sustaining disparities.

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