On Monday, George Yancy, a black professor of philosophy at Emory University, wrote a lengthy piece in The New York Times detailing the awful death threats he has received from white racists. I can sympathize -- throughout 2016, I received my fair share of death threats. But Yancy sees those death threats as representative of a deeper malignancy plaguing all of white America, not a sickness within a subset of the population. Thus, he asks, "Should I Give up on White People?"
Yancy's case isn't particularly strong.
According to him, he faces a serious dilemma: "Do I give up on white people, on white America, or do I continue to fight for a better white America, despite the fact that my efforts continue to lead to forms of unspeakable white racist backlash?" But why exactly is that a serious dilemma? America isn't filled with racists -- America is one of the least racist places on Earth, and its rate of racism has been decreasing steadily for years. In order for Yates' complaint to make any sense, he has to believe that America is actually becoming more racist.
And he does. He says that he is "convinced that America suffers from a pervasively malignant and malicious systemic illness -- white racism." He offers no statistics to support this contention. And he suggests that those who disagree with his contention do so out of willingness to ignore white racism: "There is also an appalling lack of courage, weakness of will, spinelessness and indifference in our country that helps to sustain it."
So, to get this straight, you may not be racist, but if you believe that most Americans aren't racist, just like you, you're an aider and abettor of racism. You're in league with those sending the death threats. In fact, you're a monster under almost any circumstances. Yancy calls white Americans "monsters ... Land takers. Brutal dispossession. And then body snatchers and the selling and buying of black flesh." No one alive in the United States has forcibly dispossessed anyone of land; this has been true for generations. No one alive in the United States has been involved in the slave trade. Yet the legacy of white racism lives on in us, according to Yancy.
So, how are white Americans to escape this label?
Only by agreeing with Yancy. He praises one of his white students who agreed: "The system is racist. As a white woman, I am responsible to dismantle that system as well as the attitudes in me that growing up in the system created. I am responsible for speaking out when I hear racist comments."
Well, of course we're responsible for speaking out when we hear racist comments. That's not a revelation. But Yancy wants more than that. He wants a collective oath by white people to never deny generalized white racism, fact-free or not.
Which, of course, is racist. Yes, racism plays a central role in American history. Yes, there are still racists in America. But slandering white America in general for the crimes of a few bad apples is no better than slandering black America for the crimes of a few. If Yancy wants to deal with racist death threats, he could start by recognizing that we're all in this together -- and that we side with him against those who threaten him -- rather than pre-emptively characterizing us as the types of people who would write such vitriolic and evil screeds.