Why Silence Is Not Violence

Hillsdale College’s Frederick Douglass statue, crafted by sculptor Bruce Wolf. Breana Noble | Collegian Archives

by Christopher Paslay

Those of us who choose not to forward the polarizing identity politics at the heart of modern anti-racism should not be told our “silence is violence.”  On the contrary: our everyday actions speak louder than any trendy anti-racist words.

Modern anti-racism, an approach that uses polarizing identity politics to bring so-called social justice, is replete with catchy mantras that help drum home its message and accompanying agenda.  One such phrase is White Silence Is Violence, or more simply Silence Is Violence, a slogan that guilts and/or strong-arms people into espousing the ideologies of modern anti-racism.

As Ibram X. Kendi teaches in his book, How To Be An Antiracist — often viewed as the bible of modern anti-racism — you are either an anti-racist fighting for racial equality, or you are a racist perpetuating white supremacy.  There is no neutrality in the struggle.  According to Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, white silence perpetuates white supremacy, and maintains the racial hierarchy. 

But what is meant by “silence”?  When it comes to anti-racism, so-called “silence” is not only failing to speak out against racial injustice, but of also failing to become actively involved with the identity politics at the core of anti-racist ideology.  In other words, you can be a well-meaning educator who stands for equity, equality, and diversity — and set an example by modeling just and fair actions in your classroom — but if you don’t commit to actively pushing anti-racist slogans and agendas, you are still categorized as “silent.”

Recently, Hillsdale College was accused of such “silence.”  Ironically, Hillsdale was founded in 1844 by Free Will Baptists who were abolitionists and feminists, and the college immediately began admitting blacks and women.  Because of Hillsdale’s abolitionist reputation, Frederick Douglass spoke there, as did Edward Everett, who shared the stage with Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.  When the Civil War began, Hillsdale sent a higher percentage of students to the Union Army than any other college in Michigan.  Sixty students gave their lives in the fight against slavery.  A full history of Hillsdale can be found here

Still, in the beginning of June, several dozen Hillsdale students signed an open letter to Hillsdale College that went viral on social media — a letter that accused the college of participating in, or at the very least not preventing, racism.  Why?  Because Hillsdale did not publicly promote the Black Lives Matter movement and advertise the reforms its activists proposed. According to the letter, this “silence” was evidence that the college had “abandoned its founding principles” and consented to “white supremacy” and the “tyranny of our militarized police force.”

In other words, Hillsdale College has been fighting for racial equality and social justice for over 175 years by its actions, not by simply mouthing political slogans or trendy phrases.  And thankfully, Hillsdale didn’t bow to political pressure or get bullied into espousing a modern anti-racist ideology, but took a stand and held firm to its values and principles.  In an official statement titled, “On the College and Silence: A letter from Hillsdale College,” the leaders of the college explained that they didn’t need to publicly pay homage to any modern anti-racist cause, because Hillsdale’s actions were its testament to their fight for equality and justice: 

Amidst the events of recent weeks, a number of alumni and others have taken up formal and public means to insist that Hillsdale College issue statements concerning these events. The College is charged with negligence — or worse.

It is not the practice of the College to respond to petitions or other instruments meant to gain an object by pressure. The College operates by reasoned deliberation, study, and thought. The following observations, however, may be helpful and pertinent.

The College is pressed to speak. It is told that saying what it always has said is insufficient. Instead, it must decry racism and the mistreatment of Black Americans in particular. This, however, is precisely what the College has always said. . . .

The College founding is a statement — as is each reiteration and reminder of its meaning and necessity. The curriculum is a statement, especially in its faithful presentation of the College’s founding mission. Teaching is a statement, especially as it takes up — with vigor — the evils we are alleged to ignore, evils like murder, brutality, injustice, destruction of person or property, and passionate irrationality. Teaching these same things across all the land is a statement, or a thousand statements. Organizing our practical affairs so that we can maintain principles of equity and justice — though the cost is high and sympathy is short — is a statement. Dispensing unparalleled financial help to students who cannot afford even a moderate tuition, is a statement. Helping private and public schools across the country lift their primary and secondary students out of a sea of disadvantages with excellent instruction, curricula, and the civic principles of freedom and equality — without any recompense to the College — is a statement. Postgraduate programs with the express aim of advancing the ideas of human dignity, justice, equality, and the citizen as the source of the government’s power, these are all statements. And all of these statements are acts, deeds that speak, undertaken and perpetuated now, every day, all the time. Everything the College does, though its work is not that of an activist or agitator, is for the moral and intellectual uplift of all. 

(The full statement can be found here, and it’s very worth reading.)

The courage displayed by Hillsdale’s leaders is the kind we need in America as a whole, especially in our public school system.  Just as students have multiple learning styles, educators have multiple teaching styles, and fight for racial equality and justice in their own ways.  Most teachers do so through their actions — by modeling fair and just behavior and strengthening core values such as love, honesty, friendship, respect, and tolerance — and by teaching critical thinking skills. 

Those of us who choose not to forward the polarizing identity politics at the heart of modern anti-racism should not be told our “silence is violence.”  On the contrary: our everyday actions speak louder than any trendy anti-racist words. 

Anti-Racism: The New Religion of Woke Millennials

by Christopher Paslay

Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism.

Dr. John H. McWhorter is an African American Professor of English at Columbia University, and a native of Philadelphia.  A product of Friends Select School, his resume is quite impressive: he’s taught at Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley, and has written for numerous publications, including TimeThe Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others.

In 2018, during a lecture on racism, McWhorter highlighted the ways in which modern anti-racism is less like a productive approach to racial equality, and more like a religion.

“Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism,” McWhorter stated.  “Today, it’s a religion, and I don’t mean that as a rhetorical faint.  I mean that it actually is what any naive anthropologist would recognize as a faith, in people many of whom don’t think of themselves as religious.  But Galileo would recognize them quite easily.  And so for example, the idea that the responsible white person is supposed to attest to their white privilege, and realize that it can never go away — and feel eternally guilty about it — that’s original sin right there.”

McWhorter’s take on anti-racism is a growing perspective.  “We have a cult of social justice on the left,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York magazine, “a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.”  Michael Barone wrote about the cult-like behavior of millennials in his Washington Examiner piece, “The new religion of woke anti-racism.” 

Unlike classic multiculturalism, where conversation and the exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints are encouraged, modern anti-racism is about indoctrination — its ideology is to be completely accepted, no questions or alternative viewpoints allowed.  Anti-racism has a set doctrine that must be embraced, lest one risk being branded “racist” and chastised and/or silenced.  As National Book Award winner Ibram X Kendi teaches in his book, How to Be An Antiracist (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”  You either get active fighting racism as an anti-racist, or you remain passive and help perpetuate systemic racism.

Some common points within the anti-racist doctrine are:

  • America is a systemically racist country, and all racial disparities are a result of this racism.
  • Being ‘colorblind’ is racist, because it denies systemic injustice and is “problematic.”
  • Color should not, however, be acknowledged when it comes to unflattering statistics like crime or school violence.  Bringing up color here is considered “problematic” and is not allowed. 
  • All whites have a ‘privilege,’ and perpetuate systemic racism by default.
  • All people of color are racially oppressed, and suffer from systemic racism by default.
  • Whites have zero authority on racial matters, while people of color have total authority.
  • Whites have zero understanding of the experiences of people of color in America.

Whites who fail to accept anti-racist doctrine — or challenge, question, or offer any alternative viewpoint— suffer from “white fragility,” a “problematic” condition where whites supposedly become extremely fragile when they are faced with talking about race. According to Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, whites consider a challenge to their worldviews on race a challenge to their worth as a person. As she explains in her book, White Fragility (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum):

The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable — the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defense responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdraw from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.   

So if you’re white, and you are learning about anti-racism, you have one option: shake your head and say yes.  Unlike classic multiculturalism, which celebrates diversity and core values that unite the races, anti-racism goes on the offensive, provoking people by race, labeling and stereotyping them, forcing them to adopt the ideology or face backlash.  While multiculturalism is interpersonal, and offers practical solutions like inclusivity and tolerance for diversity on an individual or classroom level, anti-racism is mostly sociopolitical, and targets “systems” by disrupting or dismantling certain groups in order to end “injustice” and spread anti-racist doctrine.  Remember: white silence is violence.

During a 2018 lecture on racism (see video above), Professor McWhorter explains how modern anti-racism — a far cry from classic multiculturalism and the positivity of traditional civil rights activism — has become a religion all its own: 

The idea that, there is going to be a day, when America comes to terms with race, or that there could be.  What does that even mean?  What is the meaning of the ‘coming to terms?’  What would that consist of?  Who would come to them?  What would the terms be?  At what date would this be?  The only reason that anybody says that is because it corresponds to our conception of Judgment Day, and it’s equally abstract.

When we use the word “problematic,” especially since about 2008 or 2009, what we’re really saying is “blasphemous.”  It’s really the exact same term.  Or, the suspension of disbelief.  That is a characteristic of religious faith.  There’s an extent to which logic no longer applies.  That’s how we talk about racism.  So suppose someone asked, ‘Why are we to focus on the occasional rogue cop who kills a black man, when nine times out of ten that black man is in much more danger of being killed by another black man in his neighborhood?’

Gosh, that’s not pretty, but like many things that aren’t pretty, it’s also true.  If you ask about it — though you know you’re not supposed to — eyes roll, and you’re given an answer that doesn’t really completely make sense.  And there’s an etiquette that you’re supposed to stop there.  It’s rather like certain questions that you ask a priest, very gently, but you know that if you don’t get a real answer, then you’re just supposed to move on. . . .

But there are problems with [anti-racism], there are severe problems with it.  It does some good things — it gets some good people elected.  But there’s some bad things.  So for example, if you’re a good anti-racist, then you’re thinking about the cops that kill black men . . . but you’re not supposed to think about the fact that so much more murder happens to men like that in their own neighborhoods.  You’re supposed to think of that as maybe connected to racism in some abstract way, but you’re not supposed to think about it.  You’re not supposed to think about all of those homicides every summer in big cities across America.  Teenage black boys are killing one another in the hundreds over frankly nothing.  That’s somehow less important than what the occasional RoboCop does.  That’s modern anti-racism for you.  That’s backwards. 

And when we think about anti-racism . . . that whites need to undergo some sort of massive psychological revolution before we can have any kind of black success, beyond what we have already, why is somebody talking about their white privilege important, when we’re talking about making black schools better? . . .

Modern anti-racism turns a blind eye to most black homicide.  Anti-racism as currently configured, turns a blind eye to black young people’s upward mobility.  It turns a blind eye to doing the kinds of things that civil rights leaders of fifty years ago considered ordinary in favor of what is ultimately and inwardly a focused quest for moral absolution that has at best a diagonal relationship to helping people who’ve been left behind.  The issue here, I must repeat, is not whether or not racism exists; we know it does. . . . I had some racism of my own two weeks ago.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is whether modern anti-racism is the best way of combating the effects of that racism.  And it’s not. 

Anti-Racism: The One-Sided Conversation

by Christopher Paslay

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

In February of 2009, Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” for not talking about race.  Ten years later, through the efforts of antiracist educators like Robin DiAngelo, this conversation has finally come to fruition—although the “dialogue” on race is more of a monologue, where scholar-activists like DiAngelo lecture whites about their privilege in an inherently racist society, and where whites shake their heads and say yes. Yes, I live in a world of white supremacy. Yes, my unconscious is loaded with implicit racial biases. Yes, America was founded on the backs of slaves. Yes, yes, yes . . .

This is the only acceptable way for whites to engage in a “conversation” about race in 2020: to sincerely and enthusiastically swallow whole the teachings given them by experts on antiracism and white racial literacy. Silence and nonparticipation are not allowed. According to prominent whiteness scholar and antiracist Robin DiAngelo, “The racial status quo is not neutral; it’s racist. Therefore, anything that works to maintain the status quo rather than challenge it maintains racism.”  

In other words, white silence maintains racial comfort and equilibrium, which keeps white supremacy in place by failing to disrupt the racial hierarchy. So if you’re white and don’t want to appear close-minded, you’re obligated to join the “conversation.” 

Disagreeing, of course, is strictly forbidden. Questioning, probing, challenging, or offering any alternative perspective outside of the approved antiracist school of thought is not an option; all disagreements are invalid, born out of ignorance and misinformation. If whites are persistent in their challenge, they may be told they suffer from “white fragility,” a condition where whites become defensive or standoffish because they lack the endurance to withstand having their views on race confronted.  Developed by DiAngelo, the theory is heavy on politics and light on science. 

In reality, the “conversation” on race is nothing more than a one-sided lecture by zealous whiteness scholars, aimed at indoctrinating the white listener into the cult of antiracism.  These so-called “conversations” have three rules:     

Rule#1:  Whites have zero understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America.  In other words, whites are from Venus and people of color are from Mars, and despite the fact that we are all human and have similar life experiences and emotions — such as love, hate, joy, grief, and compassion — whites could never, even in the smallest sense, empathize with people of color.  Black lives are so drastically oppressed, and white lives are so fantastically privileged, that whites couldn’t possibly understanding the life experiences of people of color.   

Rule#2:  Because Whites live in a privileged white bubble, they are racially illiterate, and have zero authority on racial matters.  Conversely, people of color are racially fluent, and hold a monopoly on racial authority (although, curiously, this still doesn’t stop liberal whites like DiAngelo from lecturing whites on their racial transgressions 24/7). 

Rule# 3:  Whites must acknowledge their privileged status in America, and accept their role in perpetuating systemic racism.  And remember: silence and disagreement aren’t an option. 

So where’s the conversation?  Where’s the exchanging of ideas on race, racism, and better communication?  The answer: There is none. 

As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’ve dedicated my life to teaching, coaching, and mentoring children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.  I teach them to read, write, speak, and listen.  I help them to think critically about the world around them, and instill in them the values of love, respect, compassion, and tolerance for diversity.  

Still, this is not enough.  Because I believe in the unity of classic multicultural education, which is more celebratory than accusatory — and seeks to unify people by core values rather than divided them into dualistic groups based on identity — I am the so-called “problem.”  As a white person, I’m expected to blindly swallow whole the divisive ideologies at the core of anti-racist identity politics, which preaches all whites are privileged racists, and all people of color are oppressed victims.    

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

What is Anti-Racism?

by Christopher Paslay

The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically.

Addressing racism as a system of unequal power between whites and people of color, anti-racism emerged as dissatisfaction grew with multicultural education, which only superficially dealt with the issue of systemic racism. As University of South Dakota sociologist Jack Niemonen wrote in his paper after doing an exhaustive analysis of 160 peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject:

Generally, anti-racist education is understood as a set of pedagogical, curricular, and organizational strategies that hope to promote racial equality by identifying, then eliminating, white privilege. . . . One of its strengths, it is claimed, is the ability to move beyond prejudice and discrimination as a problem to be corrected in individuals in order to examine critically how institutional structures support racist practices economically, politically, and culturally.

Anti-racism’s mission to eliminate white privilege is notable, in that it operates from a zero-sum mentality, and associates Whiteness with oppression and structural racism. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, openly calls for the de-centering of whiteness in order to end white privilege and so-called white supremacy culture in America. She defines “white,” “white identity,” and “whiteness” as follows:          

White: The “top” classification of the socially constructed and hierarchally arranged racial categories. Those perceived and categorized as white are granted social, cultural, institutional, psychological and material advantages.

White Identity: To be socialized as a white person, enact whiteness by implicitly and explicitly upholding racism and white supremacy, and participate in the rewards of being perceived as white.

Whiteness: A term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions.  Whiteness grants material and psychological advantages (white privilege) that are often invisible and taken for granted by whites.

However, addressing systemic injustice starts with personal accountability and action, as anti-racists call on American educators to self-reflect and personally adopt anti-racist ideologies in their lives and classrooms. Therefore, “Whiteness” solely as a systemic, non-individual entity with its own existence is a logical fallacy (see here), and when anti-racists speak of Whiteness, they can only be referring to the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white.”

Anti-racism shouldn’t be anti-white. The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically. Bringing positive change is a two-way street between whites and people of color, and involves cooperation and synergy; approaches which divide learning communities into political identity groups, and separate teachers and students into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” are misguided and counterproductive.