The Race Rhetoric That Causes More Harm Than Harmony

George Floyd’s cruel murder is sparking much-needed conversations about justice and racial harmony in America and beyond. The ripple effect has already reached us Down Under, with protests taking place in Australian capital cities this past weekend.

Last week I spoke with a friend who has ministered among Indigenous Australians for decades. He told me that in some regional jails he has visited, Aboriginal men made up over 70% of the prison population. Whatever landed them there, this is a deeply troubling picture.

In a recent survey, 10% of Australians said they would tell jokes about Indigenous Aussies. 10% said they wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person. 20% said they would move away if a First Nations person sat next to them.

“Racism does still exist here in Australia.”

Pre-judging someone—making negative judgments about them based on the shade of their skin—is textbook racism. Racism does still exist here in Australia, and it is a problem we need to address.

But there is an emerging rhetoric around racism that is causing more harm than harmony. It is most easily identified by its blanket claims about white people and Western nations. Countless American celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop singer Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

“Countless celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.”

On Instagram, Mandy Moore wrote, “White friends… we have the burden of dismantling white supremacy.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

All of us should yearn for justice, for George Floyd and for anyone wrongly treated—especially at the hands of those paid to protect us. Voices are always needed to ‘speak truth to power,’ since even the best societies produce inequality.

But so much of what we are seeing from our culture creators, the news media, and on social channels is actually stoking racial grievances rather than healing them.

“Even the best societies produce inequality.”

This rhetoric claims that countries like America and Australia are racist from root to branch. It demands that we hate our own nations as a kind of ideological purity test.

It implicates all white people — even the most open-hearted and caring — as the problem. It convinces people of colour that the white majority should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in. It is a brand-new worldview that actually mirrors the prejudices it seeks to replace.

By claiming that minorities today are still affected by centuries-old oppressive policies is to overlook great nation-shaping events of which we should all be proud. Slavery and Jim Crow are no more in the U.S. because of civil war and the civil rights movement a century later. Indigenous Australians are equal citizens because of reforms in 1948 and 1967, and let’s not forget the apology of 2008.

“There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism.”

Our nations still have problems to address. But resurrecting pain from centuries past does dishonour to the progress we have all made, and it reopens wounds that had already begun to heal.

There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism. In America, for example, only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. Adjusting for crime rates, white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

And while police treatment of black people is a serious problem in the US, the national news there mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. Regardless of intent, the media’s unwarranted slant on this issue only stokes racial grievances.

Here in Australia, Aboriginal deaths in custody are a terrible reality, and First Nations people are tragically over-represented in our justice system.

“The media’s unwarranted slant on this issue stokes racial grievances.”

But we are not allowed to point out that Indigenous Aussies are actually less likely to die in custody than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Or that the majority of such deaths are due to health issues and self-harm — not police brutality.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if we close one eye to the facts, or fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come towards justice.

Racism still exists in the West. And some of our saddest injustices are complex and difficult to resolve. But what’s remarkable about nations like America and Australia isn’t that we’re racist. Racism is still found in every country. Rather, we are remarkable because we have relented from—and survived—former cruelties like massacre, segregation, and slavery.

As a result, we now live together in stable multi-ethnic societies that provide hope, opportunity, and even a leg up for those who seek it. Our laws protect human rights and dignity for all people—even compensating for disadvantage—unlike so many places still today, and from time immemorial.

“Racism is still found in every country.”

Let’s be straight: if the West really is so evil, why would we advocate for asylum seekers to find refuge and a better life here? And if America is so racist, how did a country with a 13% black population elect a black president—twice?

You used to be called a racist if you treated people from another race unfairly. Now, it seems, you’re a racist if you don’t see white supremacy and systemic racism everywhere, and think the West can only be redeemed by violent revolution.

So if I am labelled a racist, let it be because I want the best for people of every colour, and for the nations that have walked the longest road towards equality.

Let it be because I believe the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who with faith declared to all Americans, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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Three Secrets to the Culture Wars

It’s been many decades since the term culture wars was dubbed, and the label is now more relevant than ever. What began as a reasoned debate on issues like abortion, multiculturalism and homosexuality has turned into a hearts-and-minds battle for the soul of our civilization.

The rapid growth of the culture wars vocab is evidence enough of this.

We’re all familiar with terms like ‘identity politics,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘virtue signalling.’ But have you heard of deplatforming, cancel culture, red-pilled, safe spaces, cisnormativity, or Trump derangement syndrome? Most importantly, do you know what it means to be woke?

It’s not easy keeping up with the jargon. Actually, it would be far safer to let others fight the culture wars. This is especially true now that people make a sport of branding others with so many exotic new phobias.

“There is a much deeper war of ideas taking place.”

But to disengage from the culture wars is to surrender entirely. As George Orwell was apt to point out, if you control the language, you win the debate. Words and ideas matter, because they are precisely where the battle rages.

It has become ever clearer to me that underneath most verbal brawls there is a much deeper war of ideas taking place. When we learn to recognise the hidden debates, it becomes much easier to engage and stay on the front foot.

So what are these unspoken battles? I am convinced that if we understand the secrets to the culture wars, the questions behind the questions, we can avoid unneeded hostility—and instead seek out some common ground and some common sense.

Secret 1: Is the Endgame Equality or Power?

‘Equality’ has been the motto for causes of every kind in recent decades. So much so that it’s hard to find anyone today who rejects the idea of equality. Most westerners agree that all people should be raised to a place of equal worth regardless of gender, race or creed.

But in recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed along with the definition of words like racism and sexism. Ironically, these -isms no longer apply equally. Among the woke, they are only allowed to be used in reference to oppressed groups—those who have faced historical injustice.

For example, if I, a ‘white male,’ complain that I have been the victim of racism or sexism, my complaint will be shrugged off—even scoffed at. I will be told to suck it up, since all Caucasians and all males have been living the good life for eons, apparently. According to this logic, it is now my turn to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“In recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed.”

Those who hold this line genuinely believe in the virtue of defending only those groups who have a history of ill-treatment. But at this point, they no longer believe in equality. What they are fighting for is unequal power. They want one form of privilege to give way to another.

I’ll admit that being both male and of European descent may have brought brought with it certain privileges not enjoyed by other people in the West. But for as long as I can remember, I have sought to regard all people as my equals and not expect better treatment for myself. Most people I interact with seem to live out the same convictions.

“When you see people trying to wield raw power, call them out on it.”

So while Western societies today may not be perfect, they are the most equal and just that history has ever seen: simply ask your grandparents. To whatever degree we are still overcoming the inequalities of the past, we will never be helped by replacing old injustices with new ones.

Ironically, brazen power grabs are exactly what we were supposed to be avoiding. So when you see people trying to wield raw power like this, call them out on it—and bring the conversation back to genuine equality.

And if you’re a Christian, explain the absolute that grounds this value: we have all been made in the image of God, and that is why are compelled to treat people as equally valuable and precious.

Secret 2: Are People Defending a Race or an Idea?

In some quarters, racism and xenophobia are labels thrown about far too casually. Only recently it dawned on me that, more often than not, these accusations have little to do with race or nationality. Many who brandish these terms are actually seeking to protect an idea.

The light came on for me in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember when President Trump—and many others—were accused of racism for calling it the ‘Wuhan coronavirus’?

You may not know this, but in the early stages of the outbreak, the same media who later painted Trump as a xenophobe had previously called it the Wuhan coronavirus themselves—dozens and dozens of times.

And why not? As comedian Bill Maher points out, we’ve always named diseases after their place of origin, from the West Nile Virus to Ebola, Guinea Worms, MERS and the Spanish Flu.

“Many who brandish terms like ‘racist’ are actually seeking to protect an idea.”

The renaming of COVID-19 isn’t a hill I wish to die on. But it was a convenient shift for the Chinese Communist Party who covered up the early spread of the virus and (it seems likely) pressured the World Health Organisation to delay warning the world of a pandemic.

All of this to say, naming the virus after its origin in Wuhan has little to do with Chinese people, and much to do with the villainy of an authoritarian government. This remains true even if Trump did it to take the focus off his own early failures. What Trump and others took issue with, in other words, was the communism—not the Chinese-ness—of the CCP.

Sticking to the theme American politics, this year I have followed the ‘Blexit’ movement with great interest. Founded by African-American commentator Candace Owens, Blexit is shorthand for a black exit from the Democratic party.

“Race isn’t the point—ideas are.”

The idea that black Americans might find refuge with Republicans is a shock to many. What has shocked me, however, is how many ‘Blexiteers’ report racist treatment from liberals for their decision to walk away from the Democrats—or “leave the plantation” as some even call it. Frequently they are accused of being ‘race traitors’ and Uncle Toms.

Ironically, the idea that black Americans should only vote Democrat is itself a racist assumption since it lumps all people of one ethnic group into a single category.

Put simply, race isn’t the point—ideas are. This has to be true if people of any ethnicity are able to think for themselves and vote for any political party or cause they are most drawn to.

Next time someone alleges racism or xenophobia, ask yourself this simple question: are they trying to protect a race or an idea? No one should be discriminated against for his or her ethnicity. But all bad ideas can and should be challenged.

Secret 3: Is Western Civilization Good or Evil?

This might just be the question behind the question behind the question. I have seen this and now I can’t unsee it: where the culture wars rage the fiercest, the debate is always about Western Civilization itself.

Simply put, is Western Civilization basically good and worth defending—or is it fundamentally evil and in need of overhauling entirely?

For many today, the West is an oppressive patriarchy that perpetuates, from one generation to the next, the values, beliefs and institutions that oppress minorities and divide society.

In this telling of the story, Western Civilization is one long project of colonisation—the rape-and-pillage of indigenous communities and the environment that continues unabated to this day.

“Is Western Civilization good and worth defending?”

While only the ignorant could deny the West’s many mistakes, such a simplistic version of events has too many glaring omissions. Western Civilization was also the wellspring of countless blessings that have transformed the world—science, liberal democracy, medicine, universal education, and the idea of equality itself, to name just a few.

Violence, slavery, and colonisation are not unique to the West—they have characterised almost every civilization through time. What makes the West unique and truly good is its leading role in subduing these evils, and exporting prosperity and freedom beyond our shores so that others might benefit too.

Even those who say they disagree with me on this point seem confused at best.

“We instinctively know that the West is a blessing.”

The same people who decry nations like Australia, the UK and America as evil, also insist that we open our borders so that people from other nations can flood in at will. If the West is so despicable, why would we want to torture others by welcoming them here? No seriously—why?

In truth, we all want the West to be a blessing to others because we instinctively know that the West is a blessing. We can see that our civilization is not ours to hoard, but ours to share.

And that’s why I’m willing to fight a culture war to defend it.

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Six Reasons Socialism is Sexy Again—But Shouldn’t Be

Wherever you look, socialism is sexy again. In the UK this week, Jeremy Corbyn is seeking election as the nation’s Prime Minister on a proudly socialist platform.

In the USA, socialist Bernie Sanders is making a second run for President, and he has the endorsement of “the Squad”—a group of socialist Congresswomen which includes the famous firebrand freshman AOC.

You may not have noticed yet, but the climate strikes taking place the world over also have strong socialist undercurrents.

If the word socialism is new to you, it’s basically the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone. (Be sure to do your own research to fill out this definition).

“Socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream.”

Socialism arose in the 19th century as a reaction to capitalism—our western economic system that is built on the idea of free trade, private ownership and entrepreneurship.

Both capitalism and socialism have their pros and cons. No system can generate wealth like capitalism can. But unrestrained, capitalism can lead to inequality and injustice.

Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to address these problems of inequality and injustice. But in order to achieve this effectively, socialist states require more and more power.

“Socialism is the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone.”

History has shown that socialism always moves towards totalitarianism, corruption, and poverty. The Soviet Union is the most notorious example of this—and Venezuela the most recent.

For all of these reasons, modern western nations have wisely decided to remain capitalist, albeit with a range of moderate socialist tweaks.

My country of Australia, for example, has a capitalist economy. But we have a universal healthcare system called Medicare, for which I’m very grateful. I have also benefitted from an interest-free student loan provided by our government, and a modest student income during the years I was at university.

“Socialism is seductive.”

In simple terms, the last hundred years of western politics has been a game of tug-of-war between those who want less of these “socialist tweaks” (conservatives, on the right) and those who want more (progressives, on the left). This is, and always will be, an important debate to have.

But something has started to shift in the last few years. Until recently, political parties that were openly socialist—and cheering for the overthrow of capitalism—remained on the fringe.

But socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream. In a recent poll for example, 53% of millennials said they view socialism favourably. Given socialism’s diabolical track record, this should concern all of us.

Socialism is seductive. It has gained in popularity, but for all the wrong reasons. Here are six of them.

1. Socialism strokes our ego

As humans, we’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves. There is a certain compliment that socialism pays us, which helps explain why it is so attractive—especially to young people.

The compliment is this: we humans are inherently good. The idea that we are basically good and ultimately perfectible is a fixed assumption underlying the socialist worldview.

Socialism assumes that the reason people don’t work is because they can’t—because of some impossible setback or systemic injustice.

While these are genuine reasons that some people don’t work, there is also the reality of human laziness and entitlement. Socialism fails to account for these vices. It is blind to the inherent selfishness of humanity. And this is a dangerous mistake to make.

“We’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves.”

The reality is that if our collective wealth is redistributed—if the fruit of my labour is given to people who haven’t worked for it—then a big motivation for me to hold down a job or climb the career ladder is taken away.

Capitalism has worked for hundreds of years precisely because it accounts for this. Under the capitalist system, I am motivated to work because I will receive the reward that I deserve for my labour.

This system isn’t perfect, and as we’ve discovered, it needs checks and balances, like collective bargaining. But the capitalist systems we live under function so well because they are realistic: they account for both human vice and human virtue.

Socialism assumes only that humans are good. This is a nice compliment, and there is an attraction to this optimism. But it’s a deeply unstable belief on which to to build a society.

2. Socialism asks little and promises much

Socialism is often promoted by the well-educated and powerful. But it seeks its broad supporter base among those who feel disenfranchised.

I am a millennial. My generation came of age during the Great Recession, the global financial crisis that made us fear for our futures. We are the generation that, through no real fault of our own, are largely locked out of the real estate market. For better or worse, much later into life than previous generations, we have remained financially dependent on our parents.

Of course these are generalisations, but all of these factors make millennials far more attracted to socialism.

“Socialism is the politics of envy.”

Like our parents’ pocketbook, socialism seems to guarantee us ongoing prosperity while hiding the cost from us. It appeals to our fears and our financial dependence—our sense that we may never make it on our own. Socialism is a system that asks little of us and promises much.

In blunter terms, socialism is the politics of envy. It secretly appeals to our laziness and our sense of entitlement.

But history shows that while socialism is good at redistributing wealth, it has never been good at producing wealth. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

3. Socialism spreads when history is forgotten

Today, we have the world’s knowledge quite literally at our fingertips. Through our smartphones alone, we can access all the breaking news from around the planet, and the wisdom of every civilisation.

We are the most educated people in history. It’s ironic then that we are so ignorant of history.

I went to school for thirteen years, but during all that time I learnt nothing of the 20 million people killed under Russia’s socialist republic. Or the 60 million lives that socialism claimed in China. Or the millions more who fell victim to socialist projects in lands as diverse as Vietnam, Romania, and Cuba.

In fact, estimates of the 20th century’s Socialist/Communist body count range from 100150 million.

“There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia.”

It is chilling to consider that socialism thrived in these places precisely because history was erased by their governments, or forgotten by their people.

If we are serious about preserving our liberty for generations to come, we would do well to heed the words of Edmund Burke, who said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia. This is a personal responsibility for each of us. But it also highlights the need for reformation in our institutions.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”—Edmund Burke

Identity politics has overrun too many of our schools, universities and media outlets. It stokes the rage of rival disenfranchised groups, while ignoring the historic dangers in doing so.

Today’s downtrodden need a voice, to be sure. But their voice must be balanced with the cries of those from history who were crushed under the iron first of socialist empires.

Until then, socialism will retain its seductive allure.

4. Socialism appeals to the soft-hearted

Research shows that those who lean right tend to place more value on personal responsibility, while those who lean left are more prone to empathy.

Indeed, because of socialism’s emphasis on justice and practical aid for the poor and marginalised, a growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism. I have often heard Christians make the case for socialism based on Acts 2:44-45.

“All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

“A growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism.”

I don’t doubt for a second the sincerity of believers who see parallels between socialism and Christian concern for “the least of these”.

But in this parallel is a glaring omission. The early church wasn’t forming a government—at most, they were arranging a “commune”. In other words, it was a contract that the faithful entered into voluntarily.

Socialism, by contrast, is a political system that people are born into and cannot escape unless they emigrate. (And it is noteworthy that while people often try to flee socialist governments, the most desirable destinations for refugees seem to be capitalist countries).

“Socialism is a pale substitute for compassion.”

No matter who you are—giver or recipient, religious or otherwise—compassion and generosity are always good for societies.

But compassion and generosity are, by their very definition, voluntary. The moment that large-scale “kindness” is enforced by government redistribution programs, it is at best high taxes. At worst, it’s extortion.

Socialism seems compassionate, but in truth it is a pale substitute for compassion. Far better is a robust democracy where the typically progressive value of empathy is driven (and balanced) by the typically conservative value of personal responsibility.

5. Socialism is seen as above critique

To summarise so far, socialism tells us what we want to hear about ourselves; it requires little from us while promising the world; and it is uniquely depicted as the politics of compassion.

For all of these reasons, in the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism. The more of it we have, the better.

Obviously, not all progressives believe this. But it’s certainly the dominant narrative in the mainstream media. Whether it’s expanded healthcare programs or open borders or a bigger welfare net or free university education, it’s almost as though the sky’s the limit.

“In the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism.”

Let’s have a conversation about each of these. But let’s balance it with the reality that the money has to come from somewhere. Inevitably, it won’t just be the rich who foot the ever-growing bill, but the middle class too.

Let’s also keep in view the fact that government services can breed generational dependence that ends up hurting the very communities they are seeking to help. Self-reliance—whatever that looks like—is important not just for material needs, but for people’s sense of dignity and purpose.

6. Socialism provides meaning in a post-Christian world

We all need something to live for. Though not all westerners through history were Christians, Christianity provided us with a collective sense of ultimate meaning and purpose.

In the West, as we become increasingly post-Christian, we are experiencing a vacuum of meaning. Many ideologies have rushed into the void, and undoubtedly one of those is socialism: the dogma that the government can solve all of our problems.

In the name of a thousand different causes, people now give their energies to this dogma with religious fanaticism.

“We all need something to live for.”

And as misdirected as this is, it makes sense. In our subconscious, we know that something should rule over us. The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.

It is no coincidence that socialism and atheism have historically had a strong connection. The bigger a government gets, the more it tends to act like God.

Socialist states end up replacing God by seeking to provide everything, protect us from everything, and police everything. But as Thomas Jefferson warned, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

“The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.”

The founding fathers of western nations like America understood this in ways we have forgotten. Jefferson also warned that, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

Today, people are quick to put Christians in their place and tell them to keep their religion out of politics. But this would have been news to our forebears. Religion is what helped them keep a healthy perspective on politics.

William Penn wrote that, “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” Patrick Henry’s warning was even more chilling: “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”

“Religion is what helped our forebears keep a healthy perspective on politics.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take God over totalitarianism any day of the week.

Let’s keep talking about the role government should play in our lives; about the tweaks needed under capitalism to root out injustice. But please, can we steer clear of socialism?

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