Adventures among the anti-racists

Jonathan Kay, National Post

One of the nice things about writing an op-ed column for this newspaper is that you get invited to speak on a lot of “media panels” at academic conferences. I flatter myself to think people are genuinely interested in what I have to say. But I suspect the main reason I get invited is that I provide “balance”: Even when a confab is wall-to-wall campus lefties and CBC types, the words National Post on my podium placard signal there’s at least one right-wing maniac in the house.

Which is to say, I’m used to being the odd man out. But I’ve never felt quite so odd as I did last week at Combating Hatred, a day-long biennial anti-racism conference hosted by the University of Toronto for the benefit of the city’s lawyers, judges, police officers, educators and government workers.

My panel (“The Media: Part of the problem or part of the solution”) didn’t start till the late morning. But I showed up a few hours early to enjoy the free breakfast and listen to the keynote speaker, a native activist and lawyer named Donald Worme.

And I’m glad I did, because a large part of Worme’s speech was dedicated to the delightful theme, Why Jonathan Kay Is a Racist?

Worme warmed up the crowd with a few jokes (“My Indian name is ‘Dances With Worms.’”) But then he got right into it, quoting at length from an article I’d written in this space last month called Off The Reservation, which argued that our system of native reserves is inhumane, and should be dismantled for the good of aboriginals themselves. To Worme’s mind, the article established me as nothing less than a bona fide hate criminal. He said I wanted natives to “cease to exist as a people,” that I was calling for the “destruction” of First Nations and – most outrageously – that I was an advocate of “a form of ‘final solution.’”

And all this while I was 100 feet away, eating a blueberry muffin and drinking a double-double.

After Worme finished comparing me to the Nazis, he then went on to excoriate Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail, who wrote a brilliant column last month about abused native children who are put at risk when politically correct government officials refuse to place them with white families. Between the two hit jobs, the overarching theme for the day had been established: Challenging the received pieties of identity politics renders you a presumptive racist.

In fact, Worme proved to be tame compared to some of the speakers that followed. One anti-Black activist, for instance, claimed (without evidence) that Canada’s leaders “validate racism,” and argued that special Afro-centric schools should be set up for Toronto’s blacks because their culture is being systematically “denigrated” in multiracial public schools. Then he made my jaw drop by quoting – not once, but twice – from the poetry of Amiri Baraka, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who believes Jews were warned to stay away from the Twin Towers on 9/11.

(I was further astonished to find out that this same activist is also a “consultant” who is employed by corporations seeking to rid their workforces of racism. I wonder how his client base would react if they knew that his literary hero is the same African-American “poet” who wrote these charming lines: “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed / Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers / To stay home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?”)

Next came a Muslim activist who upped the ante by arguing that things in Canada are even worse than in Pakistan, where political dissidents get thrown into jail and Sunni suicide bombers explode themselves in Shiite mosques. Hatred in Pakistan, she argued, at least had the advantage of being overt. Here in Canada, on the other hand, it is subtle and hidden – which apparently makes it much more invidious.

Then my panel began, and a very nice middle-aged female academic launched into a stream of jargon-laden duckspeak about “white privilege,” “racialized spaces” and “existing paradigms of public discourse in the media.” I must admit to being rendered slightly dozy by the onslaught of post-grad verbiage. But the larger point seemed to be that media hotheads like me shouldn’t be allowed to write the sort of thing that the Donald Wormes of the world find offensive.

By the time my turn was up, I’d thrown out my prepared speech in favour of a strenuous take-down of what I’d just heard. All of it, I said, was proof that radical anti-racism had become not only a cult of censorship, but a mental toxin as irrational and destructive as racism itself.

And since I was in the mood to make friends, I went further. I told the crowd that conferences like these were actually hurting minority communities by giving them a one-size-fits-all excuse to avoid confronting their problems. Talk about gang culture, AWOL fathers, teen motherhood and shocking crime statistics in black communities, and “diversity consultants” accuse you of racism. Connect the dots between Canada’s radicalized mosques and the terror threat, and you get accused of Islamophobia. Write about the economic dysfunction and social pathologies that fester on native reserves, and Donald Worme accuses you of penning a new Mein Kampf.

By this point, a few audience members were audibly sneering at the angry right-wing freak who, for reasons known only to himself, was ruining this otherwise respectable festival of white guilt. But not everyone forgot their manners. During the Q&A, the moderator – a Globe and Mail journalist, no less – was gracious enough to give me ample time for rebuttal, even when the conference organizer herself broke protocol (by her own admission) by rising from her chair to denounce my views. There were a few other predictable barbs. (One school-board official, for instance, got up to tell me that I had no right to comment on issues affecting black people because I wasn’t black.) But generally, the discourse was civil. Which is to say that no one else compared me to Hitler.

In any case, I left the conference feeling more pity than anger. For all their claim to progressive politics, there is something slightly old-fashioned about the people who run these conferences. Many of them have been fighting the evil of racism since the early days. And they have chalked up some spectacular successes during that time: the anti-discrimination provisions in the Charter of Rights, human-rights tribunals in every province, hate-speech laws, gay marriage, etc. Even more importantly, they have managed to make race hatred the ultimate taboo – a subject that can get you fired from any job or ostracized at any social gathering. But instead of taking a bow and moving on, the anti-racism industry is still chugging, seeking desperately to justify its existence by trumpeting more implausible and exotic theories of discrimination.

As I sat there, I did indeed feel quite “privileged” – though not because of my race. It was because I am an opinion journalist who can write about these issues candidly. But the jurists, NGO types, tenured academics and public servants staring back at me from the audience enjoyed no such freedom. Whether they believed the anti-racism orthodoxy or not, they inhabit politically correct professional milieus that require them to at least pretend to believe it. For these people, anti-racism has become a sort of communist political re-education camp – one you can never leave.

Most perversely of all, many of these same folks pay for their indoctrination out of their own pocket. When I flipped to the list of conference “Donors & Sponsors,” I found a list of some of Toronto’s best-known law firms and financial-services companies. As a farcical metaphor for the guilty attitude of Canada’s white elites, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect vignette: a parade of suits and ties slapping down thousands of dollars so activists can tell them how racist they are.

Nice work if you can get it.

November 21, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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1 Comment / 1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Kay makes some great points about the current state of academe and how bad it has become for people who wish to express views contrary to the proponents of self-hate and those who want to punish the general public for being intolerant of violence as a form of free expression. Protecting the rights of certain people, such as Islamic terrorists (whoops, I mean freedom fighters), is to be against the freedom of everyone to assert his/her way of life and freedom to force others to abide by and respect your way of life.

    The academics and “consultants” at that conference want society in general to pay for all the past, present and future ills of the world. In this brave new world there is no such thing as self-responsibility and accountability – someone else must be blamed and punished for your mistakes. The unwillingness of society to accommodate and adapt to the egregious ignorance of some people is branded “racism.” Some academics also want society to pay for conferences such as this one, and companies ante up for no apparent reason except for the fact that they want to avoid the “thought police” in academe. I doubt that they attend or care about what is actually on the agenda.

    The key point is that certain people are setting the norms for our society (without any objections) and their passion and compassion for people they favor does not extend to those who disagree with them. It is a Stalinist way of thinking and they want to exclude those whom do not share their views and their willingness to force garbage down the throats of others. They perpetuate their narrow and somewhat destructive views by hiring their friends and excluding colleagues and applicants who hold contrary opinions.

    It takes a strong person such as Jonathan Kay to stand up and face the onslaught of dishonesty and totalitarian psychological bully tactics that these academics use. I admire him for doing such a great job.

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