As I write, news is breaking of the horrific killing by a white supremacist of nine people at an African-American church in my own home state of South Carolina. This sickening murder highlights the pernicious nature of racism in its ugliest and most violent manifestation. The person who committed this crime is a throwback to the sort of racism that is a blight upon history, the sort of racism that led to slavery or apartheid, or the sort of racism that led to the Nazi “master race” fetish. Yet racism comes in all shapes and sizes–and in all colours. It is not exclusively a right-wing phenomenon, nor is it exclusively the affliction of one race to the exclusion of others.
I would argue, in fact, that the time has come to nail racism in all its forms and in all its various hues, from the paleo-racism of neo-Nazis–or better, “neo-nutzis”–locked in a racially-warped time-warp, to the neo-racism of those “progressives” who see all of reality in racially-obsessed terms. A fine example of the latter would be the high school teacher who argued recently in the Washington Post that Shakespeare should be dropped from the curriculum because he was “dead” and, which was worse, because he was white. This teacher, let’s call her Miss Clueless, called for her colleagues to stop teaching “a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago.”
“Shakespeare lived in a pretty small world,” writes Miss Clueless, adding that we should not “continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago.” In the 25 years that Miss Clueless has been a secondary teacher, she claimed to “have heard countless times, from respected teachers (mostly white), that they will ALWAYS teach Shakespeare, because our students need Shakespeare and his teachings on the human condition.”
Although this neo-racism is tolerated by those who edit the Washington Post, it is nonetheless as racist as paleo-racism. It judges someone or something not for its inherent quality but for the colour of its skin. I’m sorry, Miss Clueless, but Shakespeare is not read because he is white but because he is brilliant. To ignore his brilliance because of the colour of his skin is to commit the heinous crime of pride and prejudice. It is to discriminate on grounds of skin-colour and not on the grounds of literary quality.
As a point of fact, Shakespeare, as a Catholic in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, was a member of a persecuted minority who was denied basic human rights, including the right to a university education or the right to practice his faith, which far exceeds anything suffered by ethnic minorities, of whatever colour, in today’s America. Several of Shakespeare’s friends and acquaintances were tortured in ways that were far more barbaric and gruesome than anything practiced in Guantanamo Bay (which is not to excuse the latter), and some of them suffered slow and tortuous deaths at the hands of the state executioner. For those who know Shakespeare’s plays, which Miss Clueless clearly doesn’t, it is evident that he writes from the perspective of a member of a persecuted minority and not as a member of any particular race. This being so, dismissing his works on the grounds of the colour of his skin is to add racist insult to the injury he suffered as the member of a persecuted minority.
Let’s move on from the specific case of Miss Clueless’s racial abuse of Shakespeare to the more general problem of racial abuse that neo-racism represents. According to its race-obsessed agenda, anyone born with a white skin should feel a sense of collective guilt for the crimes carried out by his ancestors and should be prepared to make amends for these ancestral crimes.
Why I should be held responsible for crimes committed before I was born is a mystery to me but, in any event, I fail to see why my ancestors committed any crimes for which even they should feel guilty. My father was evacuated from the Blitz-torn London of his childhood on two separate occasions, ripped apart from his family as a nine-year-old and forced to live with strangers. He was a palpable victim of the racist creed of the Nazis. Both of my grandfathers fought in the trenches of the First World War, one of whom carrying pieces of shrapnel in his chest for the rest of his life as an unwelcome “souvenir” of the wounds he received. My grandparents were, therefore, the victims of the sins of imperialism, both Prussian and British, and cannot be considered perpetrators of the injustice of which they were the victims, which in any case had nothing to do with being white. I don’t know much about my more distant ancestors but they would have suffered the ignominy of being poor in Victorian England, perhaps working as child chimneysweeps and, when older, as wage-slaves in the dehumanizing conditions of which Dickens wrote (and which, presumably, we should not read because of the colour of Dickens’ skin). And yet, though my ancestors might have been black with the soot of industrialism, they were nonetheless white and therefore guilty of having the wrong colour skin.
No, I’m not guilty of having the wrong colour skin, and nor are my ancestors; nor is Shakespeare or Dickens. We cannot be guilty of a crime that we didn’t commit and none of us had any choice about the colour of the skin in which we find ourselves. The guilt is not with those who suffer from racial abuse but with those who perpetrate it. We rightly condemn the racial abuse of the neo-nutzis and other paleo-racists. Isn’t it about time that we also condemned the racial abuse of the neo-racists and their efforts to discriminate against great writers on the basis of the colour of their skin?
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.