On Monday, two fliers were left on the campus of the University of Michigan. One is a plaintive (and hilariously ahistorical) cry to “Euro-Americans” to stop “living in fear” and just “be white.” The other is a detail of “reasons” why white women should not date black men, including “your kids probably won't be smart” and “you should probably just avoid black men.”
These fliers were signed by an outlet of the so-called “alt right” movement. The postings are part of a strain of thought called “racial realism,” which, ironically, wholeheartedly embraces a world of racial unreality.
Racial realism is the scientific “proof” for why black people are inferior to white people, where A+B= black people are criminals, and solving for x equals white genocide. Racial realism is racism wearing a blazer, racism wearing horned-rimmed glasses, racism giving a Powerpoint presentation. Racial realism is racism unKlanified, but just as dehumanizing, if not more so. God doesn't hate black people, racial realists assert; science does. If racism is saying “I hate black people,” racial realism is saying, “No, of course I don't hate black people, but statistically...”
It is futile to combat racial realism with the weapons of facts and figures. Not because those facts and figures are wrong, but because racial realism is not a science, but a belief system. It's a means of ordering a chaotic universe. It's the skeleton, the girding necessary for some people to exist in a country in which bad things happen, and moreover, a world in which people have committed bad acts — evil acts — against people who looked different from them.
Racial realism is a panacea for white guilt. To the racial realist, slavery is not a historical taint, but simple Darwinism: We were smarter than them, so we took their stuff and bought and sold their bodies. Survival of the fittest. Racism is not only good, they say, it's sensible. If black people are inferior, or dangerous criminals, the racial realist asks, why shouldn't I avoid them, or cheat them, or discriminate against them, or keep them out of my neighborhoods?
Racial realism is, of course, mind-bendingly stupid. But mind-bending stupidity still hurts. If my parents' home is burgled, I don't much care if the people who burgled it were idiots.
My parents, by the way, are an interracial couple. My father — a black retired librarian, Northwestern graduate, and Formula One aficionado — married my mother, a white welfare caseworker, an anthropology buff, and a great cook, 37 years ago, 12 years after the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia struck down all remaining state laws against interracial marriages. They met while working together at the same nonprofit while my mom was in grad school and my dad was in library school. As my mom tells it, she knew my dad was the one when he hiked four miles in a snowstorm to come see her. They've been together through raising two kids (one a college professor, one a journalist), at least 10 dogs, sickness and health, arguments and weddings, heartbreaking pain and everlasting joy. Together, they sacrificed to put their children through Montessori and Catholic schools. They also sent one — me — to the University of Michigan.
My University of Michigan.
There is a building (and a bus stop) on the University of Michigan campus named for Clarence Cook (C.C.) Little. He was the University's president in 1925, and an outspoken “scientific” racist and eugenicist, who believed that “inferior” races should undergo involuntary sterilization. I often sat at the bus stop bearing his name while I waited to go to class. Little would have hated that.
I loved Michigan. It was mine. My place, my home, my center, my coffee shop and my library and my football stadium. It belonged to me, and to my friends, and to the hundreds of thousands of alumni who have walked through its doors. And I love it today.
Racial realists don't see that. They don't see my parents, or me. They don't see gradations of humanity, the black and the white and the brown and the in-between. They see data points. The news stories about “black on black crime.” The IQ tests engineered to tell them what they want to hear, that they are right, that they are superior, that they matter more.
And they believe it all. They believe in racial realism and scientific racism with near-religious fervor, as they plaster my college campus with signs that tell me and people like me, people like my parents, that we are “scientifically” wrong.
Let me tell them what I believe.
I believe that to cling to racism so desperately as to develop a host of “scientific” theories to buttress it is indicative of something deeply, terribly wrong with you. I believe that to find comfort in racial realism is to wallow in battery acid. I believe that racism is wrong — scientifically, yes, but also morally.
I believe in the University of Michigan. My University of Michigan, for it is far more mine than the people who put those fliers up. And I believe in people. I believe in the good and the bad and the philanthropist and the panhandler. I believe in the individual, in our capacity for good, in God-given ability. I believe in something far better than racism.
I believe in us all.