I don’t remember when it was, but I have a recollection of John Derbyshire wondering when racism would become fashionable for young people. It may have been a podcast or a column, but it was long enough ago that I don’t recall much about it, other than the question itself. Everyone is required to think of racism in the same way that people used to think of devil worship or communism. It is, and always will be, the worst form of evil so it can never be normalized. Even thinking about it could be enough to get you in trouble.
I’m not much of a racist myself, but I don’t think about it very much either. Still, I remember Deb’s query because it was so provocative. We live in an age where nothing is sacred, so we are told. Being subversive and outrageous is the highest virtue. Our celebrities exist almost exclusively on their ability to outrage. Logically, if racism is the great taboo, someone will try to make bank on being racist. Young people with their desire to reject their parent’s morals, would be prime candidates for this sort of thing.
To some degree, the alt-right, at least the social media version, is the first green shoots of hip racism to sprout into public view. Edgy internet personalities like Anthony Cumia and Gavin McInnes dance close to the edge of racism in their performances. Not being a regular listener, I can’t say for sure, but I have no recollection of them saying anything I’d put down as explicitly racist. Like dirty jokes in the 1950’s, there’s lots of innuendo and wink-wink sort of stuff, but even the edgiest guys are careful to avoid being racist.
Racism does seem perfect for mockery and derision by our hipsters. I was reading something the other day about the evolution of people on different continents. An interesting area of inquiry is why people in the Indus River Valley evolved different social structures from the people of Europe or East Asia. Every other paragraph, the writer felt compelled to write something like, “people have avoided asking this question for good reason.” The obvious reason is it might come off as racist and racism is so bad, the writer could be struck by lightning by even asking the question.
It reminded me of this post last year about banning research into IQ and race because, well, the void where God used to reside could be angered by it. Or maybe it is bad juju. Who knows, but the fear of racism is so pervasive that a science magazine is ready to hold a book burning and maybe throw a few heretics onto the fire just to prove he is not racism. It’s the sort of thing we associate with an age when fanatics from the Inquisition were snooping around, looking for sinners to torment.
When a taboo becomes as ridiculous as this, it is a prime candidate for mockery. The people who tend to like mocking social norms are young people. It may not be an accident that the alt-right skews very young. It’s also probably why a guy like Gavin McInnes mocks the pc-types, who are forever worried about racism. He is aiming for a younger audience and lampooning the nonsense young people see from adults is an obvious way to attract that audience. It’s a short trip from there to what Derb had in mind.
It’s natural to think that our current taboos are immutable, but think about the things that used to be off-limits that are now common. In my youth, men used to be sent to prison for making or distributing pornographic films. Now, TV is filled with what my parents would have considered to be pornography. The big New Year story was how Mariah Carey had some sort of screw up during her performance. No one noticed that this portly, middle aged mother of two was half naked, wiggling her goodies around on stage.
There is, of course, homosexual marriage. It went from being the punchline of jokes to being official dogma in a little more than a decade. In less than a generation, we went from a taboo on suggesting it to a taboo on opposing it. It’s a good example of how quickly these things can turn. There’s little reason to think that such a thing could not happen with racism. That’s not to say we will be bringing back Jim Crow, but maybe bringing back Blazing Saddles is not too far off. Perhaps race realism is the next gay marriage.
Of course, there is the issue of elite opinion, which had a lot to do with the sudden shift on an issue like homosexual marriage. So-called conservatives were more than happy to go along with the Left’s latest fads so things like gay marriage faced no opposition. Racism is hysterically opposed by everyone in the managerial class. But, this was true of Trump and that opposition just made him more attractive to voters. Old fogies flipping out over memes on twitter, they consider racist, will only encourage young people to do more of it.
It’s hard to know how this will go, but it is not unreasonable that we are headed into the age of post-anti-racism. The hysterical anti-racism of Boomers could never survive conflict with reality. The young, who have no experience with actual racism, are starting to respond with mockery of both racism and anti-racism. It’s hard to impose moral codes on people who are laughing at you and mocking your taboos. The great moral crusade of this age may not survive conflict with guys like John Rivers and his tweet storms.