All right—I need to go on a racist rant. Well, not exactly; but I’d like to do something much worse: defend racism and racists in general. Let’s start with this. What specifically is wrong with racism? Generally speaking, racism is a problem because it presupposes that a particular group of people is worth less than another group of people. It is discrimination based on a nebulous notion of ethnicity that has historically been the basis of persecution and subjugation. It’s a problem because qualified candidates are declined employment. It’s a problem because there is a demonstrable bias toward certain ethnicities in courtrooms. Inasmuch as racism is the most pernicious form of discrimination, then we should call it out as such and condemn it forcefully.
But I’d like to argue that racism is among the least pernicious form of discrimination there is. In practice, it is socially acceptable to value the worth of American lives more than those in other countries, to assume that people living today are worthier of our concern than are people who will live in the future, and to assign a worth of approximately zero to the lives non-human, non-pet animals. When it comes to caring about these kinds of lives, we aren’t particularly moved. And realistically, why should we be? They don’t affect anyone like us. We protest shipping jobs overseas, we ignore global famines, we take vacations by plane, we clear rainforests, and we kill a trillion pounds of meat and fish each year.
I would say that it’s normal to casually devalue lives that are far different from ours and to be angered by discrimination directed at those whose lives are similar to our own. Now, who gets the most worked up about racism? It seems to be people who live in big, racially diverse coastal cities, who went to elite colleges whose student bodies look like the General Assembly of the United Nations, who may be of color themselves—that is, people like me. These people, if I may speak on our behalf, feel that those who reside in homogeneous communities in Middle America don’t really care about racial minorities. We feel that these people are racist. And maybe they are; I won’t speak on their behalf.
But compare the average 24-year-old white male living in Manhattan to the average 24-year-old black male living in Manhattan. Let’s be real—their lives are quite similar. They both take the subway to work. They both have roommates. They both have a nagging feeling that they should pick up the guitar again. They go drinking together. Therefore, when big-city white guy hears about a big-city black guy being singled out by the police, the white guy takes it as a personal affront or at least feels an obligation to express his outrage, lest people think he doesn’t care about people like his friends.
Now, think about some town in North Dakota—population 3,840; 3,838 of whom are white and Christian. There are tons of these towns across America. There, the average black guy doesn’t exist because none live there. So, when a small-town white guy hears about a black guy being harassed by the NYPD, he isn’t particularly moved. And realistically, why should he be? That doesn’t affect anyone like him.
In big cities and small towns alike, our friend circles don’t contain dirt-poor Somali kids, people living in the year 2422, farm-raised lambs, or nearly extinct Sumatran Rhinoceri. We can intuit that we are doing them an injustice by carrying on as we are with our institutionalized discrimination toward them. Yet, their lives are so different from ours, so invisible to us, that we give those factions precisely no accord at all. We simply don’t care about their supposed plight. We do what the human mind does with criminal ease: dismiss the value of lives that are nothing like our own.
That’s why I think it’s hypocritical for us big-city liberals to get so worked up about racism. Because buried in our condemnation of racism is the supposition that we, ourselves, recoil in disgust at any hint of bias against those who differ from ourselves. And that just isn’t true. That is not what can be deduced from our actions, from our political stances, from our freely stated personal beliefs. We do treat other beings as fundamentally inferior to us so long as they are sufficiently different or distant from us in time, space, or appearance.
When we liberals say that we shouldn’t ship jobs overseas, we acknowledge that we value the Vietnamese worker’s life less than that of the American worker’s. When we permit factory farms to flourish, we acknowledge that raising animals to be tortured and slaughtered is justified by our taste for meat. When we don’t prioritize climate change and environmental preservation, we say plainly that the avoidable dramatic mass extinction we are causing isn’t worth inconveniencing ourselves to try to