The Colorblind Counterattack

We prefer the term “righteous indignation” to “hatred” because we know that it is very hard to pour hatred on sin without splashing any on the sinner. Yet hatred is the right response to evil. Righteous indignation can deliver only a pulled punch; hatred, a death blow.

That blow must be carefully aimed, but if it is, we will find in delivering it a kind of joy: the joy of “finding at last what hatred was made for.” Few good men, CS Lewis tells us, ever encounter this joy. They pull their punches, fearing that their hatred is aimed, at least in part, not at evil, but at another soul.

Two men writing two books, however, have found that rare and furious joy. In their very different assaults upon the same evil idea, Andre Archie (The Virtue of Color-Blindness) and Coleman Hughes (The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America) have found “congruity between [their] emotion and its object,” and they rain blows on it.

Their object is the racialism that has poisoned America. It goes by different names: critical race theory, antiracism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whatever it’s called, it holds that color, not character, is the locus of moral merit; that differences in material outcomes among color groups are the prime evil; that these differences come from oppression; and that to cure this oppression, society must discriminate against oppressors. In short, it holds that individuals of certain colors ought to be sacrificed to benefit groups of another color.

Hughes calls this ideology “neoracism,” and Archie, “corrosive barbarism.”

Each frames his book as a defense of color-blindness — the principle, in Hughes’s words, that “we should treat people without regard to race, both in our public policy and in our private lives.” Yet both authors are frustrated that their books are even necessary. How on earth, Archie seems to wonder, could the “noble racial tradition of color-blindness” retreat in the face of race hucksters peddling “intellectual nonsense” to “useful idiots” who go along with it to get along? How on earth, Hughes seems to wonder, could the ideas of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., find themselves labeled “white supremacist”?

Hughes and Archie have shaken off the shellshock, and now stand ready to fight back. Their books are therefore better characterized as counterattacks than as defenses.

The authors pour fire and scorn on the “sophistry,” “absurdity,” “bigotry,” “defeatism,” and “nihilism,” of the “depressing and debilitating belief” that every American is defined by his race label. Both books explore the origins of this evil idea, paying special attention to the prominent race hucksters who popularized it. After that, however, the authors’ avenues of attack diverge.

Hughes attacks on logical and empirical grounds. He argues that the defining features of the racialist worldview are arbitrariness and fact-blindness. The hucksters are wrong, he reasons , because they cannot produce the quantitative outcomes that they say they want. Worse, they will harm the very people they claim to want to help, to say nothing of everyone else.

Consider the racial categories with which we’re all so familiar. They may work in casual conversation, but try to use them as the basis of policy, and you will immediately realize that they are spectacularly arbitrary. To give slavery reparations to black people, for example, you run into a host of unfixable problems. One-in-five black Americans are recent immigrants, only one-in-four black Americans say their ancestors were enslaved in the United States, and many, like former president Barack Obama, are descendants of both slaves and slaveholders. Most vexing yet is the problem of deciding who is black. One-half? One-eighth? One drop?

And then there are the neoracists’ empirical claims about the causes and cures of racial disparities. Here, Hughes channels Thomas Sowell and launches a fusillade of data at his opponents’ myths and absurdities. If we discriminate on the basis of race, as the neoracists do, the results will be arbitrary, and arbitrary policies can’t help anyone. Instead, Hughes argues, they will “create an enormous amount of justified resentment,” and breed the “racial tribalism” that has “marred and disfigured human societies throughout history.”

The core of the problem, says Hughes, is that the race hucksters are trapped in cognitive dissonance. They say race is a social construct but enforce “the rules of race” with a zeal matched only by “old-school racists.” They decry stereotypes but use stereotypes. They demand justice but mete out injustice to punish “racial-historical bloodguilt.”

Hughes’s argument is thorough, his logic relentless, and his use of data rigorous. These strengths, however, are also weaknesses. His opponents’ arguments are neither logical nor empirical. They speak in the language of morality warped by emotion, and Hughes has responded to them in a different language.

Still, there are many people who are not in thrall to the misbegotten morality of the neoracists. They speak Hughes’s language, and his message is powerful.

This brings us to Andre Archie.

Unlike Hughes, Archie attacks the racialist worldview on ethical grounds. It is no coincidence that a professor of Greek philosophy called his book the Virtue of Color-blindness. The hucksters are wrong, he argues, because they promote ascriptive qualities over character. They assign moral worth to the body, not to the soul. In so doing, they tear at the creed and culture that sustain America and, if left to it, will “destroy completely the ordered liberty that has defined our way of life for nearly three hundred years.”

Archie’s book is aimed at conservatives. In his telling, the race hucksters successfully beat back and bottled up the color-blind principle mainly because conservatives failed to fight. Conservatives didn’t want to fight when the race hucksters falsely claimed the moral high ground. Conservatives didn’t want to be called racist.

Left unsaid by Archie, but true, is that many conservatives failed to defend color-blindness not only out of fear of being called racist, but also because they forgot how to make any arguments but utilitarian ones. And those are hard arguments to make; who has the time to read everything by Thomas Sowell?

But Archie’s point — and this is his profound contribution to a genre over-saturated with data analysis — is that data don’t matter. Even if the hucksters were right that “antiracist discrimination” would usher in a utopia of material equality, Archie would still oppose them because material ends cannot justify immoral means. There are souls within these arbitrary racial groups, and when souls are at stake, “quantitative judgments don’t apply.”

At this point, we find a potential weakness in Archie’s book: its highest authority is the ancient Greeks. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were three of the greatest minds in history. Their philosophical tradition served as a cornerstone of America. But what those great Greek minds said about human nature, character, and choice — about the soul — is not worth believing simply because those great minds said it, but because it was first written on their hearts by a higher authority that Archie only hints at, leaving his reader wondering whether the Greeks’ greatness alone is enough to rally wavering conservatives.

In Archie’s defense, however, because the truths that the Greeks found are written on our hearts, people will respond to them no matter what they believe about their source. Truth moves us. We can’t help it.

At any rate, it is very good luck, if luck it is, that these books came out at the same time. Like hammer and anvil, both are needed to smash what lies between them. Hughes’s book is needed because Americans have forgotten how to make moral arguments. We are utilitarians now, so empirical books remain essential. If, however, empirical books were enough to defeat racialism, then Semple, Sowell, Steele, Loury and countless other data wizards would have dispelled it ages ago. Unfortunately, empirical analysis is not enough: “The race problem is a moral one,” wrote Alexander Crummel in 1889, “its solution will come especially from the domain of principles.” Thus, a rebirth of moral reasoning is needed. Thank heaven for Archie.

Maybe, if we storm racialism from both sides, then color-blindness can retake the offensive and beat back and bottle up its foe. We might not kill racialism outright on this side of eternity, but we might just manage to make color-blindness our “North Star,” as Hughes said in a recent interview. If we do, we will have done ourselves and our country a lot of good.

But only, as Archie reminds us, if we are willing to stand up and fight. So up, and over your barricades. There is joy to be found in this fight.