A video circulated the internet earlier this year depicting a black, female University of Virginia student announcing that there were “too many white people” using the multicultural student center. This quickly drew criticism, with many denouncing it as patently racist. The incident recalls a similar controversy from The Evergreen State College, when white students and faculty were expected to leave campus for a day. And just recently, a story came out about the Claremont Colleges planning a blacks-only LGBT social event.
The criticism of such news usually paints the responsible actors as left-wing segregationists who somehow miss the irony of their intolerance. This is a fair critique, but as people eager to rebuff the ideology, we can’t merely lob unsavory characterizations and call it a day. These Social Justice segregationists aren’t stupid, evil, irrational, or ignorant. They’re people with a remarkably coherent belief system, and we should do well to understand the fundamental beliefs and moral considerations that underpin the ideology.
As individualists, we think that when two people interact, the exchange is occurring between only two people. But instead of this interpersonal perceptive, Social Justice types see such interaction as inter-collective. In other words, I’m not engaging with you. Rather, it’s the essence of my group imbued within a body that engages with the essence of your group imbued within a body. We’re not individuals, but representatives of ethnic collectives, constrained to intergroup diplomacy. This is why people so often preface what they’re about to say with declarations of group membership: “As a white man,” “As a woman of color.” There is no I, only we. And there is no you—only y’all.
Some group identities are relevant to the ideology (black, white, gay, female) and some are not (Italian, German, Ohioan). And not all groups are equal, as they’re subject to the doctrine of ethnohistorical determinism, in that the history of an ethnicity determines its moral value and character. It doesn’t matter if a white person has never owned a slave. His character, determined by the history of his ethnic group, is permanently stained with the atrocity of slavery.
To an individualist, the UVA student is engaged in a racist call for segregation. But to the student, creating a non-white space is not about intolerance or antipathy—it’s about promoting peace. In her worldview, blacks and whites (specifically, non-whites and whites) are inherently incompatible—one fundamentally oppressed, and the other inherently oppressive. Thus, the only way to mitigate oppression and achieve a peaceful society is to segregate. This is a common rationale of separatist ideologies, be Frantz Fanon’s Algerian Nationalism, Richard Spencer’s white separatism, or radical separatist feminism. For the sake of the cats, they must be kept apart from the dogs.
“Segregationism,” of course, is not the term used by the Social Justice types. Instead, they call it “centering” in that people must “center” the space (or conversation) on the groups that are otherwise oppressed. It’s a remarkably effective euphemism, as centered water fountains and centered bus seats no doubt have a much softer ring to them.
As with any belief system, this Social Justice ideology has a clear conceptualization of good and evil. But instead of the line between them split within the heart of every man, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would have it, or a more Christian conceptualization of people being born closer to evil and compelled to work towards to good of salvation, this worldview pushes the Good/Evil paradigm externally onto specific ethnic groups. To them, evil is heritable, born in history and transmitted across generations like male-pattern baldness or freckles. Racism is a genetic disposition, and though you can’t help it, it’s best to keep you separate from those you would otherwise inevitably harm.
This ideology provides a sense of meaning (in a Marxian Good versus Evil sense), purpose (in that fighting oppression is the calling) and virtue (in that protesting the oppressed from their oppressors is good). To its adherents, this is a righteous belief system. It’s insufficient, then, to simply call-out the apparent hypocrisy of the surface-level manifestations of the philosophy. The correct response, after understanding the fundamentals of their beliefs, is to make the clear case for the philosophy of individualism.
If people wish to voluntarily associate with their ethnic group, more power to them. Ethnic ties are often a great basis for fostering community—whether it’s food, culture or religion, people get along with people who like similar things. But these associations must be voluntarily built by individuals under their own volition. There is a world of difference between individuals voluntarily associating with whomever they like, and the doctrine of binding people to fundamentally juxtaposed ethnic groups. The latter—ethno-collectivism—enslaves man to the mob of his likeness, crushing the spirit of the unitary person under the tyrannical ethos that there is no you.
Individualism, on the other hand, recognizes the unique essence of all persons and allows for relationships to be built across lines that would otherwise be reinforced. It is the course by which we transcend racial tension. We are not mortal enemies by circumstances of our birth. And while the ethno-collectivists prop themselves up by riding the coattails of great men that came before and damning the progeny of the wicked, the truth is that you do not have to answer for the ill deeds of any others—you are entirely responsible for your own virtue. Ethnicity is no substitute for a soul. And that soul—the I—is the being that acts, thinks, and lives independent of any superficial or historical characteristics. Peace flourishes when men recognize this, that those unlike himself are individuals on an alternate path, equals in the freedom to pursue their own ends. Instead of engaging in the righteous tribalism of Social Justice, we must recognize the infinite diversity of mankind, a plurality, as Ayn Rand says, of the smallest minority on Earth—the individual.