America is Structurally Anti-Racist Redux
Probably the most censored article I have written as a professor is one I wrote last summer entitled: “America is structurally anti-racist.” If you Google that title, the article does not appear. You will see dozens of Google-recommended articles about how America is structurally racist. A Bing search of the same title provides my article as the first hit. The brief essay helped provide pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial indicators of how the United States is missionally opposed to racism. I told my critics that I was confident I could write a ten-volume work on the thesis without great effort. One of the foremost intellectual and academic swindles of our day is the indoctrination of young people under the age of 25 that they live in the most racist white-supremacist society ever conceived. Undoing this misunderstanding is not some prideful defense of American patriotism. It is actually vital to the larger humane project of anti-racism to which American sovereignty is the beating international heart.
One of the most important contemporaneous reasons that America is structurally anti-racist is an essential holding of argumentation theory. Noted argumentation theorist Stephen Toulmin established the important parameters about how modern argument works in his seminal work Uses of Argument. Toulmin discerned that when people argue they must rely upon commonly held beliefs to move their audiences on additional topics. Those commonly held beliefs within a society or culture are designated as “warrants” within his academically famous Toulmin Model of argumentation. ‘Racism is wrong’ is a social warrant. Making the claim that someone is a racist and backing it with some data is a powerful argument. Toulmin’s theory establishes that the reason arguments work is the subtle art of employing proper warrants. Naming someone as racist remains in the United States a persuasive argument. Calling individuals racist is arguably the most common argument in contemporary society. Because the idea of racism is viewed with negative ethical valence, the argument works. It could not work in a society that was structurally racist because the society would inherently enjoy and celebrate such a designation.
But critical race theorists do not much care for these evident rhetorical features and take a deeper psychological view that “structures” replicate racism at an unconscious level. This is the strategic blue privilege move that makes their work one of the most profitable enterprises in America as they diagnose everyone else with this psychoanalytic problem of racism. It is, therefore, necessary to examine structures as they exist within the historical political body. The Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens, in his "Cornerstone Speech" on March 21, 1861, explains the essence of American structural anti-racism in reference to the Constitution:
“Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew.”
This point by Stephens should not escape the most ardent devotee of CRT. The traitorous leaders of the Confederacy recognized that the nation’s founding governance -- the Constitution -- was predicated upon the “error” of “equality of the races.” Therefore, war was the essential necessity of the new politics they sought. It was not a “reform,” but a “revolution.” They sought the overthrow and annihilation of the Constitution and it was an inescapable reality of the Confederacy arising from the rhetorical exigence of the Constitution’s predicate of racial equality dooming the enterprise of slavery.
The subtle matter was not lost on the first state to join the 13 Colonies after the initial Constitution. Vermont was the 14th U.S. state and in 1777 they joined while banning slavery within their boundaries. This was well before the abolition of slavery in Britain and was also ardently held by New England states before powerful advocates like William Wilberforce could muster the votes to such ends in the British Parliament. The hardened rhetorical arguments of abolition were founded within the founding of America herself.
The failure to acknowledge this obvious and historically overwhelming fact is not simply a mistake. The 1619 project in setting such an absurd predicate, cast itself in league with the founders of the Confederacy. The United States was inescapably co-equal with the Confederacy according to the 1619 project. This ridiculous premise allows contemporary racial supremacists -- small in number today -- to rationalize that they are the ‘true patriots.’ Essential rhetorical cornerstones of American thinking rest reliably upon this solid foundation that America is anti-racist. The practical ramifications of this were recently illustrated by 1619 architect Hannah Jones incorrectly asserting that contemporary communist Cuba is the most equal society for blacks in the Western Hemisphere. Cuban scholar Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat corrected Jones and highlighted that blacks have not served in significant roles of political leadership since the revolution in 1959 or in comparison to Cuba prior to the communist revolution.
Abhorred as a cliche by some CRT thinkers, Martin Luther King’s speech, “I have a dream” rhetorically employs historical allusions that require audience knowledge of America’s guiding premise pointing toward the abolition of racist structures such as slavery. King engrained into both civic granite and American minds the telos of the American political trajectory with words rolling down like justice:
“In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”
Undoubtedly King believed as he had already stated that America was failing to render equality under the law by race. But the ‘structures’ of America were designed and contained the telos to deliver the “check.” Conversely, Malcolm X derided the event as the “Farce on Washington,” because he did not believe in that telos. Accepting the premises of CRT requires dismissing some of the most essential observations of American life and reifying failed doctrines like those cited by Malcolm X. Malcolm X would ultimately be murdered by his former colleagues in the Nation of Islam. Men like Thomas Hagan who pulled those violent triggers in 1965 today urge us not to reject the peaceful trajectory outlined by MLK that does in fact tear down the human tendency toward racism seen in so many human sectors.
Accepting the premise that America is structurally anti-racist is not to say that racism is not real or present. Accepting America’s idealistic premises and results is not denying cruel events like the Tulsa massacre, the killing of Emmitt Till or Medgar Evers, or instances of police brutality. Failing to confirm these realistic and empirical idealistic premises award the enemies of human goodwill a divisive inroad to increasing racism. The deconstruction of American idealism is leading to more segregation, more racial violence, and unbridled separatism. Trusting the American premises of anti-racism should come with ease because we can see many instances where it not only worked but ignited parallel positive passions in the global public sphere. We do a grave injustice to the cause of anti-racism when we pretend that America is predicated on incitements to racial annihilation.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of rhetoric and Director of Speech and Debate at Southern Methodist University within Dedman College. He is the Calvin Coolidge Debate Fellow and author of four academic books detailing the American political trajectory with regard to political debate. His latest book, Rwanda Rising (Lexington, 2021) explains how argumentation can overcome global injustice seen in actions of genocide.
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