Think pieces about how white people need to answer for atrocities such as the racist terror attack in Charleston, South Carolina, have become a common reaction from the Left to these tragic events. But these responses are confusing on one point. The analogy is presumably being made to show us how absurd it is to blame a culture (be it Islam, the black community, or immigrants, etc.) for the horrendous acts of an individual. Yet the authors always proceed to take quite seriously the idea that Fox News, the GOP, and white fragility are radicalizing young, white men into the arms of gun-toting, racist militancy.
You can’t really have it both ways on this. Either we get to talk about the cultural influences on gang violence, workplace violence, sexual violence, and domestic violence, or we don’t. Either every mass murderer of any race should enjoy the mentally disturbed “quiet one” identity that the Left accuses the mainstream media of coddling white spree killers with, or nobody deserves it. It is clearly true that the media and society at large treats criminals of color with more severe, less-balanced judgements than they do white criminals. But surely the answer is to treat everyone in the fairest way possible, not to apply poor standards generally for the sake of equality. The Left’s own double standard on the issues of culture, race, and violence are doing more harm than good, and for all of our sakes should be abandoned.
One of the most blatant examples of this phenomenon was the image of dueling Salon headlines dealing with Charleston and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Set two years apart, these two headlines appear to conservatives to represent a kind of hypocrisy. That isn’t the right term. Hypocrisy requires the pretense of holding a moral belief that one does not truly hold. Liberals are presenting no pretense here. Their parables of privilege provide a moral framework in which this double standard is not only consistent, but justified. But conservatives are under no obligation to accept this strained system of belief. In fact, we must fight it. But in order to win, we must fight it on progressivism’s own terms.
Privilege Theory Propagates Double Standards
The first step is to understand the means by which these double standards are propagated and accepted. This is privilege theory 101. White people, particularly white men, sit atop the privilege pyramid, so they have complete agency over their own actions and the actions of their community. Oppressed people of color do not. For many liberals, the white community and communities of color are apples and oranges. One controls, and can therefore be held responsible for, the actions of its members. The other is controlled by systemic racism, and therefore cannot be held responsible.
There is much for conservatives to reject in this paternalistic and condescending worldview. It paints people’s relationships with such a broad, Marxist brush that we, as individuals, stand powerless in the face of evil and violence. We are either its blameless victims, as in the case of Muslim or black communities that suffer from the actions of bad apples, or the guilty white race, whose apples are simply the predictable fruit of a poisoned tree.
In rejecting this philosophy of double standards from the Left, we have a choice. Which standard should we apply? Should we ascribe the criminal actions of individuals solely to some personal defect and hold wholly innocent the environment that produced them? Or should we take into account the way culture contributes to antisocial behavior? If we want to address the foundation of our country’s problems with crime and violence, we must choose the latter. We must, all of us, accept some measure of responsibility for a world that fails to meet our expectations.
We All Need to Examine Ourselves
In accepting responsibility to and for our communities, uncomfortable questions arise. For instance, can we as white Americans continue in good faith to support the placement of the Confederate flag on government property? It is probably true that banishing the stars and bars from statehouse flag poles will have little effect on mitigating white racism. In the short-term, this might make it worse. But when an image causes our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters in this most challenging experiment in self-government, humiliation and suffering, how can we defend it? It is truly right and just to hold the pain of our brethren as more important than our links to the past.
But this standard of self-examination must apply to all. When the black community sees itself led by somewhat remorseful ex-drug dealers like Jay Z, or convicted cop killers like Mumia Abdul Jamal, it too must consider the harm such choices inflict not only on themselves but on society as a whole. When Muslim clerics and leaders engage in anti-Semitism, they must be held to account. When nationalist Zionists engage in racist arguments, they must be held to account. As conservatives we must be in steadfast agreement that nobody be let off the hook for old time’s sake.
Race relations in this country are in a state of disrepair that seemed unfathomable just 25 years ago. In 1992, even while Clinton-Gore buttons were emblazoned with the Confederate flag, we felt the future would bring us closer together, not rip us apart. We felt that treating each other with dignity and respect was the path forward. That has been lost in this brave new age of racial double standards and damnable separationist impulses.
It’s Time for Forgiveness to End Hypocrisy
In our cities, the well-off confess their privilege while perusing organic produce at the co-op while, mere blocks away, in the barren food deserts of the black community the police back off, fearful of the consequences of doing their job. In the imagination of the Left these unfair and unequal conditions will be healed when white people engage in greater reflection on their imperfections while black and brown people wait for the great white father to get his act together, since they are powerless to create change on their own. These are fantasies, meant to ease the guilt and pain of the liberal gentry in the long stretches between social media outrages.
How petty and ineffectual the faux hair-shirts of the liberal white world are. They don’t even hurt. They soothe. They soothe in the same way that the black and Muslim communities are soothed by the far-fetched fantasies that they are blameless, the mere victims of systems they are powerless to affect. None of us are powerless. All of us bear the difficult responsibility of holding ourselves and our communities to account. All of us fail—but in the words of Samuel Beckett, all of us should be trying damn hard to fail better.
In the annals of Christian history, one would be hard pressed to find a more sincere or powerful witness of faith than the Charleston victims’ families forgiving Dylan Roof. They forgave a most powerful and awful trespass, but in so doing were also importantly asking for their own forgiveness, a forgiveness that so many of us hope and pray for. But the acts of forgiving and asking forgiveness carry heavy implications. They demand an understanding and acceptance of our own responsibilities for the lives of those around us. This is a responsibility that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor can only share equally.
All of us need a standard for dealing with crime and violence. All of us need a standard for dealing with racism and hate. All of us need a standard to help us make ourselves and our communities better. And we need one standard. We need one sense of responsibility to ourselves and each other. What happened in Charleston was not a wakeup call. We have been awake for decades, maybe centuries. We need to love each other better. Creating a hierarchy of oppression doesn’t advance that cause. In fact, it sets it back. And none of us can afford setbacks now. We must all, with courage, be looking forward.