Many thought that the election of Barack Obama would improve race relations in America, even to the point of voting for him primarily for that reason.
But if anything it made matters worse, not because a Black president brought out latent white racism (he was, after all, reelected comfortably four years later with comparable levels of white support), but because of the increasing tendency during his time in office for his supporters (and sometimes Obama himself) to blame any political opposition on such racism.
It was during the administration of our first Black president, coinciding, somewhat ironically, with the emergence of "critical race" and "intersectionality" theory on our college campuses, that conservatism as an ideological orientation became equivalent to racism for many progressives. Republicans didn't oppose Obama's policies because they were conservative and he was a liberal Democratic president, but because he was a Black president and they were racists.
In the years since, this process of redefining conservative as racism has expanded to embrace anyone who objects to such claims and even to those who refuse to endorse them with insufficient fervor. Defense of free speech, once the bedrock principle of liberalism, is now denounced as enabling "hate speech."
The ideology of "anti-racism" now demands that everyone not just reject the political right but also unhesitatingly embrace the broader ideological agenda of the political left--you are, by definition, a racist if you vote Republican, but also if you fail to support the Green New Deal, defunding the police, abortion on demand, etc.
Since all of American history is a story of racism, having pride in the American founding, its principles, and Constitution, or simply standing for the playing of the national anthem makes you guilty of it. If the American experiment was defined by racism all along, then there is no alternative but to bring that experiment to an end, wipe the slate clean, and begin a new one based on anti-racism.
What was once merely an unsavory tactic--"playing the race card"--has now become a comprehensive assault on American history and life.
Where Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder once called for a national conversation on race (however disingenuously) what is now demanded is not a conversation but a confession under threat of indictment in which we must all accept that "whiteness" is evil, America was founded on slavery, and white police officers routinely shoot Black males for sport.
Anti-racism has thus become the new official ideology of the left in much the same manner as Marxism-Leninism once was, and to prove that you aren't something--a racist--now requires that you become something, which is a fully woke member of the left.
The intriguing aspect of all this comes in realizing that anti-racism as an ideology isn't intended to actually combat racism per se; rather, it is first and foremost a means of acquiring political power by eliminating the possibility of legitimate resistance, to, in effect, make it increasingly difficult, eventually impossible to write columns like this one.
Anti-racism by its very logic requires, like its Marxist-Leninist predecessor and its "dictatorship of the proletariat" (i.e., party), the establishment of a one-party regime in America. If the right is redefined as racist, the only option available if you seek to prove you aren't racist is to join the left and make sure everyone sees you doing so.
Since agreeing with the radical left on all matters is a requirement for being absolved of racism, or maybe just a first step toward improvement in your racism score, the eradication of racism under such circumstances also means the effective eradication of political disagreement, of opposition political parties and politics itself.
Anti-racism is consequently a vastly more powerful (if less rational and coherent) political vehicle than Marxism-Leninism because it comes with a built-in defense against criticism by virtue of its position that such criticism constitutes evidence of the thing.
If you disagree with any plank of the leftist agenda, then you too are racist, and racist is the worst thing a person can be, and therefore the worst thing to be accused of being.
Anti-racism therefore triumphs not because of noble intentions or through the kinds of steady persuasion that have traditionally been used to win support for political movements, and certainly not by adopting the admirable ideals of the original civil rights movement, but purely out of intimidation and fear; its power grows in direct proportion to the number of people who silence themselves out of fear of being called racist.
Claims of systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy can thus be confidently and aggressively flung with no need for precise definition or evidence because those doing the flinging know that any requests for definition and evidence can be dismissed as evidence of racism.
A closed logical loop thus allows the establishment of a new orthodoxy impervious to facts, data and reason and which gives power to those who accuse others of crimes for which there can be no defense (because the effort to mount one is taken as further evidence of guilt).
The idea that the color of our skin defines who we are is the central assumption of racism. It is now also the central assumption of anti-racism.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.