Cities around the country braced themselves for the possibility of riots last week after police bodycam footage was released in connection with the death of a black suspect, Tyre Nichols, who was pulled over for driving erratically. The footage appears to show Nichols receiving a severe beating at the hands of Memphis police after resisting arrest.
As with so many of these instances, it is wise not to rush to judgment, but the available video seems rather damning for the officers involved. The injuries from the beating would later prove fatal, and the shocking footage of violence created the perfect powder keg. Another instance of police brutality against a black suspect, just like the ones that triggered riots in the summer of 2020. The narrative of callous white authorities victimizing black suspects due to racism seemed ready to explode into the streets once again. There was only one problem: All the police officers involved in the beating were themselves black.
The narrative around policing from the left has been very clear. Police brutality toward black suspects is common and exists due to the individual racism of the officers involved and the institutional racism baked into the practice of American policing in general. Any time footage like this surfaces, the media prepares its talking points about white supremacy and systemic racism and drones on about both topics endlessly.
The police chief in Memphis is a black woman. So were two police chiefs before her. The officers caught on film delivering the fatal beating to Nichols were all black. One would think that this jarring shock to the narrative might cause a moment of reflection, or at least some hesitation before plunging directly into charges of racism. Instead, the media immediately tripled down while engaging in a stunning display of mental gymnastics.
Progressive columnists and CNN panelists wasted no time launching into tirades explaining that white supremacy and racism had killed Nichols. A Democratic congressman, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, took to Twitter and announced, "Doesn’t matter what color those police officers are. The murder of Tyre Nichols is anti-Black and the result of white supremacy." The representative from Florida later deleted the post. Cable news was suddenly full of regime apparatchiks trying to explain that despite the relevant officers and chief of police being black, “whiteness” itself was somehow to blame.
There has been a persistent effort in the last few years by the left to move from its standard slander of racism to the term white supremacy. Many saw this as a simple escalation of rhetoric – the term racism was overused and lost its power — but in fact, the shift was far more sinister.
Racism was a term most people understood very plainly. It was prejudicial harm done to another person based on skin color. The term was most often used as a weapon of the left to slander or intimidate white Americans, but it had a theoretically neutral meaning. Anyone could be racist. That definition has been successfully transformed by progressives over the years.
First the left reconstituted the meaning of racism as power plus privilege. A person of lower socioeconomic standing could not be racist because he did not have power. It did not matter if a black or Hispanic person exhibited prejudiced behavior, because they did not have the power necessary to be racist. People of European descent, however, were always in possession of white privilege. They were always in possession of the “power” component of “power plus privilege” and could therefore always be accused of racism.
Demographics who are reliable Democrat voters were incapable of racism; those who were more likely to be GOP voters were always capable of racism. This is an incredibly powerful narrative construction in a society where the charge of racism is considered one of the most scandalous sins imaginable, an accusation that regularly destroys the lives of those it is leveled against.
Shifting the definition of racism was a powerful move by progressives, but it was not enough. Americans had been sold a system of affirmative action on the basis that racial representation would alleviate residual inequality and solve many of these issues. The average citizen was told that America was institutionally racist because racial minorities had been denied positions of power and that once they were equally represented in these institutions, the issue would be solved. But after many decades of these racial quotas being in place, both in formal law and in de facto hiring and admissions practices, not only did the problems not disappear, in many cases they got worse.
This can be seen very clearly in the case of Nichols, where the presence of five black officers did not change the level of violence used to subdue a black suspect. Representation had not solved the problems as promised, but the system of racial favoritism had become a core aspect of the progressive patronage network, so the left could not admit its failure. Instead, progressives needed a way to continue to blame racism, even if no white people, the only group now capable of racism by definition, were present. This meant that “whiteness” needed to become a disembodied menace capable of plaguing any institution, even if most or all of those involved in that institution were non-white.
There is now a mountain of academic jargon around the concepts of “whiteness” or “white supremacy” as disembodied systems of oppression. If you try pointing out that the phenomenon of black officers beating a black suspect to death is probably not explainable through “white supremacy,” you will receive a lecture about how you do not really understand race or the construct of “whiteness." The rhetorical frame of the left is always to signal low social status through ignorance. If only you had imbibed enough state indoctrination, you would understand the sacred mysteries and be able to engage in the discourse.
One can waste time debunking all the academic mystification from the left, but in many ways, this is simply validating the left's frame by treating it with far more respect than it deserves. It is much easier to simply tell the truth: Blaming an attack on a black suspect, by black police officers who are taking direction from a black police chief, on white supremacy is a blood libel against white Americans.
Turning whiteness into a disembodied concept that can be blamed for any and all problems in our society, even those in which white citizens could not possibly play a role, allows progressives to turn one racial group into the scapegoat for all of their failures. It does not matter how often leftist policies fail; there is always one nefarious group who was secretly working to undermine the glorious revolution.
If this language sounds ominous, it should. It is the language of dehumanization used to justify targeting groups for persecution and, inevitably, violence. It is the sound of Rwandan radio encouraging hatred toward the enemy, and the intention is all too clear.
While white Americans are the primary target of disparagement, black Americans should also be insulted by this language as well. The narrative of “white supremacy” being responsible for every negative action a black American takes is simply a woke reconstruction of “the white man’s burden.” For the left, “whiteness” is an irresistible and malevolent force, and black Americans lack the agency to escape its sinister pull. White Americans are the ones responsible for unleashing this original sin upon their unsuspecting victims, and only they have the power to stop it.
Not only does this rhetoric incite racial hatred, but it also serves to block any real investigation into the issues impacting these communities and prevents any pursuit of meaningful solutions.Progressivism is a revolutionary ideology, and it always requires a higher power for its coalition to dismantle. Even as the left solidifies control over government, corporations, media, academia, and every other major institution in American life, it needs to play the underdog to a more powerful evil. The left is capturing every power center and using its might to implement the policies it promised, but life for most Americans is getting much worse, and the conflicts for which progressives promised resolution seem to stubbornly persist. Failing regimes often seek a scapegoat for their failure, something to direct animus toward when the ruling elite are out of answers. And when the target is a specific racial group, the results are always grim.