Paul Jacob

October 14, 2012

Could there be something to the Hegelian dialectic, after all?

You remember what Marx saw in Hegel’s philosophy of history: thesis, antithesis, synthesis; rinse; repeat.

I think a lot of voters (particularly white voters) were hoping we had got as far along as the rinse cycle, what with the election of Barack Obama and all (racist America elects a BLACK man!), but I’ve got this hunch we’re not nearly so far down the dialectical slalom.

Racism is still with us — even official racism. It’s just taken a new form.

The old form was out-and-out enmity by whites of “coloreds,” particularly (but not exclusively) blacks. That ill will led to discrimination against minority folks, both in government and in private. At its worst, this discrimination was expressed in violence, with abridgments of life and liberty: Lynchings, and slavery, and Jim Crow laws. And the state-enforced separate public facilities, like bathrooms and water fountains. It was not merely ugly, it was grossly unjust.

Getting rid of this systematic racism was one of the great triumphs of the second half of the 20th century. Legally, the process peaked with 1964’s Civil Rights Act.

Unfortunately, an aspect of that legislation has grown into a new racial ugliness: compensatory, or “reverse,” discrimination.

If you are anywhere near as old as I am, you’ve been witnessing the dissipation of the old, direct form of racism all your life. We don’t see lynchings any more — save an occasional “high-tech lynching” of a Supreme Court nominee. Most violence directed against blacks, today, is not white-on-black violence, it’s black-on-black. That is horrible and sad, but it is not about race. Not directly, anyway.

But our progress has not been a steady march onward. We, the American people, didn’t just stop being violent and starkly discriminatory in our lingering racial animus. The progress we’ve made came with a hitch. We weren’t allowed an Aristotelian negation of a vice. Instead, the old racism was fought with a new anti-racism.

Which is also racist.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.