The vision of racialists, whether on the left or right, is pessimistic: the first is driven by a spirit of vengeance, the second by a sense of inferiority. They are two sides of the same coin. Despite real tensions and disparities, Americans are, on the whole, a tolerant, cooperative people who aspire to a colorblind standard, derived from the natural rights tradition, that remains the best guidepost for the country’s future.
In recent years, I have devoted considerable time to exposing the radical Left’s politics of “whiteness,” which posits that white identity, culture, and power are irredeemably oppressive and must be “abolished” in favor of alternative modes of being. “Whiteness” represents the metaphysical essence of left-wing race politics: an irreducible force of evil, a master synonym for racism, oppression, inequality, and suffocating bourgeois norms; anything saturated with its properties can be automatically categorized and condemned. In practice, the politics of whiteness has translated into the demonization of European-Americans in primary school curricula, the performance of elaborate “white privilege” rituals in the workplace, and outright segregation in many public institutions. All of it is done to solve “the problem of whiteness.”
Some pushback has resulted. In the years following the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots, conservatives have exposed the poisonous politics of left-wing racialism, shutting down some of the bureaucracies that push it and proposing a reaffirmation of the ideal of colorblind equality. Unfortunately, some on the right would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, preferring instead to adopt the basic framework of identity politics and simply reverse its polarity. Dismayingly, a sentiment is rising in some corners of conservative politics that the answer to left-wing identity politics is right-wing identity politics.
The main argument for this position is that colorblind equality is unattainable. Left-wing racialism has been embedded in our institutions, laws, and policies to such an extent that it cannot be rolled back using conventional means. All politics is friend-enemy politics, this faction argues, and given the demographic decline of European Americans, whites will eventually need to activate “white racial consciousness” to secure their basic interests. European Americans once had robust ethnic identities, but after generations of assimilation and intermarriage, those distinctions have lost their salience and consolidated into a homogenous, generalized “white identity.” If there is to be a racial spoils system, then each group must get its share—including whites.
How should we evaluate this argument? First, as an empirical matter, some basic facts should be acknowledged. Yes, left-wing racialism is indeed now deeply embedded in America’s institutions, and the demographic balance of the country has shifted in recent decades. And yes, the basic racial classification system in the United States broadly delineates continental origin—Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia—in a way that is not arbitrary or meaningless. Terms such as “white,” “black,” “Latino,” and “Asian,” while often obscuring important variations within such groupings, have become the lingua franca and are useful shorthand descriptors for many purposes.