“Anti-racists” vs. “Racists”
The non-racist class state and its mutually hostile moral critics
I. No racism on the part of the state — What is there instead?
Racism no longer exists in a modern bourgeois polity in the form of a state’s legal decree or permission to discriminate against sections of the population to the point of eliminating them. There is no colonial privilege that legitimizes ruling over ‘uncivilized’ peoples, no Nuremberg Laws that make citizenship dependent on belonging to an Aryan master race entitled to dominate the world, and no right to own people that lays down slavery as an integral part of the political economy. On the contrary, a modern democracy prohibits racial discrimination, because it doesn’t fit with its reason of state.
- It has a political economy that uses other people’s labor to produce ever more wealth in the form of productively applied private property, and it organizes this by means of its civil code — on the premise of its citizens being equal before the law — as a socially harmonious exchange relationship between employers and a workforce paid for its services.
- It, or its corporations, access the world’s resources, utilizing foreign countries with their living and dead inventory, by way of trade based on a multilateral, quasi-supranational, business system promising equal rights and fairness. This world trade almost automatically enriches “world export champion” Germany and other major capitalist powers.
- It defines its people as its exclusive possession by giving them the license — which nobody can really refuse — to make themselves useful as free competitors for money and opportunities. In the case of Germany, this means being useful for the wealth and wealth-based power of the state so that it can be the leading nation of the EU and confront “rivals” USA, PR China, and Russia at least “on an equal footing” in the struggle to displace each other and impose one’s will on the rest of the world. The state’s citizens make up its people first and foremost in their function as (current, future, or former) contributors to the needs of its nation as a location for capital, a function to which only natives are readily admitted while migrants and foreigners are restricted by special legal provisions. It is a real privilege that its own have over all foreigners. Fighting unwanted immigration from the poverty- and war-stricken areas of the world actually amounts to mass manslaughter by omission, or by active border security; but this too does without any racist justifications.
Everything a bourgeois constitutional state sets up and does, it places under the banner — proudly distancing itself from other forms of rule, including racially justified ones — of organizing a good, prosperous life for its citizens on its own exclusive territory as a sovereign power, doing so according to universally valid principles of justice, humanity, and human dignity. These principles include the democratic one that its citizenry is free to elect its rulers, who are there to act in its interest and only do whatever they do on its behalf. These principles involve a certain ambiguity. The nation’s supreme power guards the rights and welfare of its territory’s inhabitants, this special “kind of people,” being specifically and exclusively committed to act on their behalf. But while doing so it is also acting in its capacity as a constitutional state committed to human rights, following maxims that hold in the most general way and have a scope that excludes nothing and nobody. A continuation of this double meaning is that the state, precisely as a power its own people draw on to see to their concerns, represents a universally valid paragon of political rule. In its first capacity it has the sacred duty to successfully assert the self-interest of the nation and accordingly not just draw a line between its citizens and all the rest but set and enforce priorities for them. At the same time, its noble dedication to human rights that its constitution prescribes and its good people expect of it impose the other duty: to champion equal treatment of everyone everywhere, exercising its sovereign authority to this end at home, at its borders and beyond, and also pressuring other state powers to act accordingly, in their own interest of course.
Not that the modern constitutional state can make out any contradiction whatsoever here. As it sees it, serving universal human rights is in principle, if not always in practice, quite the same thing as serving the specific welfare of its people (the only people it has from the start, which is what makes them exclusively unique). At least this is how it wants to be judged. All the economically useful wage dependency, dysfunctional poverty, and other hardships of everyday competition that it brings about and takes care of with the unlimited power of its laws; all the works it carries out in the world with the power of its money, its weapons, and its good relations; the way it deals at its borders and within them with people who have not much else to offer but the pitiful status of merely being “human”: everything it does is supposed to be at least an attempt to realize its lofty constitutional principles. This is the only criterion its doings are supposed to be measured by: the ideals in whose name it declares itself the fine home of a good people.
And this basic lie is pretty much echoed in the civic thinking of democratically mature peoples like the Germans. Citizens are of course familiar with the demands of capitalist competition; they comply with them after all. They of course know that the state sets the conditions for this competition with its laws, enforcing them with nationwide police power; they (more or less) obey after all, while definitely having an eye on whether their competitors are following the rules and deserve what they are allowed to have. They also know — if they feel like noticing — how brutal their government is in dealing with people at the borders of their homeland and abroad, letting some die rather than allow them in, and engaging in military conflicts that jeopardize the lives of its own people as well, by making their lives depend on whether they are more efficient at killing. But the realism they have in adapting to all this, going along with it, basically doing what they’re told every day, is at the same time the firm basis for an indestructible idealism: for the habit that citizens have of judging everything the state does with people and everything they themselves do as citizens from the higher standpoint of a big community committed (and committing everyone) to the common good, just as the state purports. The elementary form of this idealism is the “we” that unique individuals always speak in the name of whenever they have something halfway political to say. It is a national collectivism that goes before any judgment a citizen makes. The citizen, who has damn little say about his circumstances and about the purposes he effectively complies with, who has no real control over any of this, typically adopts the stance of being responsible for the whole system he is incorporated into, whose agenda he fits in with perfectly. He is integrated so perfectly that he can function without knowing anything more about what’s really determining his social existence than what practical necessities he has to meet, on the one hand, and that it is all happening in his name and keeping to the rules, on the other. When it comes to how he thinks and passes critical judgments, he identifies with this civic “we.” Its scope is determined objectively by his passport. Subjectively, there is some free variability in deciding the moral matter of taste as to who can definitely not be granted the privilege of being included in the first person of the national plural, i.e., granted the identity the bourgeois individual imagines himself the responsible boss of, and which limits or conditions should be imposed on the members of certain communities or parallel societies in one’s own country.
So far, so bad: the basic lie of the modern class state, that it is a friendly home to the human reservoir at its disposal, is believed by its occupants. But that’s not all. A democratic society harbors politically worked up minorities fighting for this basic lie to be taken much more seriously and put into action; by the public power, but above all by the good people themselves.
II. Anti-racists and racists: devout supporters of the democratic state’s basic lies
The first group, the anti-racists, are demonized by their opponents as militant “antifa,” and denigrated by many a respectable critic as “starry-eyed idealists.” They crop up in public whenever racist attacks, especially killings by police or by right-wing extremist “repeat offenders,” make it into the news. Outrage drives into the streets many who are disgusted by foreigners or “foreign” looking nationals being bashed, a commonplace attitude among halfway decent people. One would think; but human decency is not that simple. The disgust triggered by an incident is typically short-lived. It definitely doesn’t satisfy those championing outrage. They see the misdeeds they are denouncing as a general policy of xenophobia, and the briefness or absence of protests as a general problem.
As far as the latter is concerned, the activists — in Germany — agree with their president, even though they might consider him a hypocrite: “It is not enough not to be a racist. We must be anti-racists! Anti-racism must be learned, practiced, and, above all, lived” (Steinmeier, for example on June 16, 2020). This is definitely just what they think. The fleeting kind of anti-racism their fellow Germans show — for these are the ones not just the president means by his “we” — is seen by the outraged as a grossly wrong mentality, a lack of humanity, specifically of openness to foreigners, a failure to steadfastly defend the basic values the German people have committed to with their anti-fascist democracy. The complement to this is the way they politically classify militant xenophobia whenever it is demonstrated or put into action: it’s a matter of “Nazis” who have to “get out.” What “Nazis” stands for here is not really any political line that anyone has been found to be advocating, much less the “Third Reich” agenda of the chosen Aryan race conquering the world and eliminating “the Jewish world conspiracy” for the purpose. The term “Nazi” is a polemical abbreviation for someone who is morally depraved enough to reject what Germany’s anti-racists and their kindred spirits elsewhere are standing up for. For they are not just saying no to radical right-wing meanness and racially motivated crimes; this reaction on the part of people who are only temporarily outraged is exactly what they are so dissatisfied with. The thing they think has to be “learned, practiced, and lived” is not just a dash of “anti” but a positive commitment to a national “we” that follows the slogan, “We are many colors, no Brownshirts — and not only white any more either!” They want the nation to be a big community that does not exclude people, particularly because they might look foreign or live according to their own customs, and that does not favor people, particularly because they might conform to an image of a native citizen. The national community they are after actually consists only of diverse minorities, which should also be noted by those who consider themselves a “white” majority. For these people have to be aware of the diversity of subgroups with equal rights to be able to co-exist in the beneficial way befitting a friendly civil society.
This political standpoint means different things in different nations, and has separate consequences in each case. In the USA, emphasizing that “white” is ultimately only one color among many, and that any other skin color is just as good a qualification to be a member of society with equal rights, is aimed at a discrimination whose anti-racist opponents have no problem taking skin color and race as given facts. They are not out to do away with the special ethnically determined communities within the nation either. What they want to get rid of is any persisting legal discrimination involving them that might continue to exist, and above all any difference in individual opportunities in life, whatever they are, that is or might be due to ethnicity. In other countries, the main goal is for groups of immigrants to be assimilated without distinction into the people as a whole, which in turn is no longer defined as a monolith with a single binding moral code, this being obsolete anyway in view of what modern people like to perceive as lifestyle diversity. In line with such a fine pluralism, any parallel societies that are still excluded, or might be reacting by segregating themselves, are supposed to meet all the others, including the native born, at the infinity of the whole integrated nation.
All this is undoubtedly well-intentioned. At the same time it testifies to the source of such an attitude. For not only are the champions of a nondiscriminatory national community that must be “lived” by “us” ignoring the political and politico-economic reality in which their “many-colored” unity in diversity is supposed to happen. Not only are they seeing the hardship and nastiness of constantly having to compete for money and a career, which they are just as aware of as everyone else, as not so important as the wrong thinking that being a white native is a privilege. They are subscribing to the pretense that the state upholds. The same state that sells its citizens their service to the nation as a privilege of the native population claims at the same time that it is ultimately doing nothing but pursuing the ideals of equality and of reconciling all social antagonisms under its regime. This is the yardstick it declares to be ultimately crucial for judging its goodness and generosity. These critics are buying into the double-dealing image that bourgeois rule has of itself, that everything it does inside the country, on its borders, and worldwide can be criticized solely from the point of view that perfection is hard to come by on this earth when it comes to realizing the True, the Good and the Beautiful, as is definitely its job, so the reality it insists on being responsible for looks ugly now and then. The way the anti-racists — using the same words as their head of state — admonish the politicians and the great “we,” they are invoking the basic lie of the bourgeois state that they want to add “color” to — and that is why they are fundamentally wrong.
The second group, the fans of a homeland that excludes foreigners and all things foreign, have a poor reputation in nations that can put foreigners to good use and even exploit migration politically. The opponents of this group accuse them of racism; that works as an insult because the state in charge prohibits racist discrimination in the name of the loftiest values. Openly racist fan clubs do quite a bit to make sure the insult is aimed at the right people, and the image of the “ugly German / American / white...” does not die out when national characters are being compared critically and self-critically. What all this tends to push to the background in public opinion is the firm civic conviction that this second group voices explicitly as racism only sometimes, implicitly as racism occasionally, and without any racism often enough.
First and foremost, right-wing activists are hardcore nationalists. When they ask fellow citizens showing a lack of xenophobia their provocative ‘question,’ “Are you German or what!” they are not simply saying no to the presence of foreigners in the country, analogously to their opponents demanding that “anti-racism” be “lived.” They are demanding a positive, full-blown commitment to one’s own people and their outstanding character as documented in language, customs, history, a “dominant culture” and its monuments. For them, this character is not a social attribute in the sense that practical necessities and the prevailing purposes they are based on determine everything people do, induce them to think accordingly, and become ‘second nature’ by habit. Politico-economic conditions of life and survival that a class state imposes on its people in accordance with its competitive success in the world play no part in the right-wing idea of members of a nation being character masks. When they see people being limited to the status of products of the circumstances they are born into — circumstances of life in a very comprehensive sense, including landscape and kinship — they see this as the intellectual and psychological identity that determines a bourgeois individual. To them, it is the prime bourgeois virtue to adapt by habit to what not only they like to call one’s “roots.” This makes them proven radical supporters of the pretense the class state insists on when using the force of its laws to fit its human basis into the patterns of capitalist competition for money and careers: it is supposedly just doing what its people have always wanted, and guarding a dominant national culture that is part of their nature. In keeping with this ideal, particularly consistent patriots cultivate a world view centered around the historical greatness of the people; they draw on pointed stories and fictitious imagery to reinforce the pretense of homeland that the state power drapes itself with. Their belief in this pretense is all the more fervent when they have to accuse those currently managing the nation of failing to fulfill their real mission, and the good people of lacking patriotic spirit.
Interpreting people’s immersion in the prevailing living conditions as their true identity as bourgeois individuals is a good starting point for racist thinking. Accordingly, this identity is not just something with quasi-natural roots, but literally a piece of nature; as if the legal category of native citizen were only the external side of a congenital, zoologically objective affiliation with a people. Homeland, nation, and morals are considered to be natural features that give life its meaning and are the basis of its value. Nationality is a quality that one can be ill-willed enough to renounce, but then one is betraying one’s people and oneself as its product and representative. It is with this figment that hardcore patriots justify their strict rejection of everything foreign. Different national collectives can and should exist and carry on side by side, but they must not mix. Foreigners in one’s own country are not just alien, their presence is per se an attack on one’s identity. Tolerance of such a thing is self-abandonment. Complementary to racist hatred of foreigners is highest esteem for the family. It is the seedbed for one’s own magnificent breed to multiply, provided the right partner is chosen. And so on.
Right-wing nationalists of course also know that everyday life at the national location for capital revolves around completely different things than cultivating one’s own natural and cultural assets and fending off foreign ones. However, like all patriots of every stripe, they will not admit that they themselves and their compatriots are essentially nothing more than their own state power’s human material tied down to competing for the sake of capital growth. As national-community moralists, they judge everything the state has its citizens do to augment its power and wealth against the idea of its promise to secure its people an immersion in all the conditions of life called homeland as their exclusive right. This is how right-wingers interpret the ideological importance that the democratic state attaches to its native citizens’ privilege of getting to serve as the nation’s human material from the start.
On the one hand, racists and the moral entitlement they claim when it comes to combating foreigners are quite at home in the modern class state. The latter has its own solid reasons for keeping the world’s downtrodden away from its borders, which a nationalist need not take any note of. But both sides can agree that a successful border regime against unwanted immigration can’t do without walls and will always involve “isolated casualties,” and that a liberal democracy has to make life hell for those who manage to slip through to spread the word around the world that migration to that country is not worth it. On the other hand, the mere presence of non-natives in the country induces racists to accuse the government of neglecting its duty toward its own people, and, consequently, to suspect that it is pursuing a “replacement” plan. This drives some right-wing radicals to commit those deeds that confirm Hegel’s insight that morality is always “on the verge of flipping into evil”[*] and that keep reinforcing the crew’s bad name.
III. Freedom for the people or equality for human beings: Efforts to propagate the proper attitude
Those who hold these two opposing readings of ordinary state and civic idealism do not try to persuade the other side. Each faction considers this to be pointless from the outset; probably rightly so. What they are out to do is undermine the opposite side by winning the people over to their own brand of patriotic morality; by direct agitation and via the organized public sphere.
Racists appeal to the citizens’ sense of home, in the simplest way. They use rhetoric, pictures, and even music to whitewash familiar living conditions, with foreign elements being cut in as brutal disturbances, where fitting. Such things can actually influence mature voters, exploiting the way they think. After all, the bourgeois state prescribes to its people an affirmative position towards their class society as the obvious way to look at what the state does and the social life it oversees. And this affirmative position becomes a habitual, ultimately usual, standpoint, one that does not follow from arguments but instead lays down in advance what counts as an argument. The civic “we” expresses a partisanship for the “national cause” — no matter how vaguely and subjectively this is seen — that plants itself in the perception of world events, charging it with moral sentiments. This kind of homeland attachment is what right-wing extremist agitation builds on when supplying affirmative minds with expressive imagery. But this, of course, is not enough to turn ordinary partisans of the polity into pumped-up right-wingers who subsume everything they experience under their — frequently disappointed — belief in an organic national community. At least it is not enough for the radical activists. To get people active, they need some convincing point that goes beyond the infinite loop of indignant accusations and fine examples of loving one’s homeland.
This seems difficult; it looks like a contradiction to find arguments for a partisanship that is based on the immediacy of a practical feeling. But it can be had quite easily, you just have to shift the matter to a higher methodological level, that of the — supposedly or really — disputed right to adopt and express one’s own standpoint. Right-wing extremist agitators make use of the fact that radicalism in general and racism in particular are outlawed in the modern democratic state with its “civil society,” especially in Germany with its tradition of anti-fascism from above and anti-communism among the people. When their propaganda is rejected they demand freedom, which self-appointed overseers are taking away not only from them, but from every staunch right-wing compatriot. Their demand for free speech comes in all sorts of forms, from citing the constitutional right, to muttering “There’s no law against saying...!” This is a way of agitating for the right cause without having to give an argument to support it, but without any misunderstanding being possible either. To be understood properly, it in any case suffices to refer to a “political correctness” that nothing need be said about but that it is forbidding people to do something. It is in any case forbidding them to say what they think, namely “the truth,” which doesn’t suit the authorities and their anti-national activities or else they wouldn’t have to gag honest people. Such an appeal to the citizen’s thirst for freedom wins over particularly those who think anyone asking them to give reasons for their views is an elitist know-it-all harassing them, and anyone giving an argument is trying to make up their minds for them.
This substitution — shifting what one wants to say politically to the level of whether one is allowed to say it — shows its strength by putting all opponents on the defensive, even the most accommodating advocates of fairness in political discussions. After all, degrading every argument to something one is entitled to say is one of the basic principles of democratic discourse. Being allowed to circulate every bit of nonsense as one’s personal opinion — and every bit of knowledge as only one’s personal opinion — is so highly treasured among the democratic panoply of values that right-wingers and liberals are even willing to overlook the communism of the person who wrote, “Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently.” That’s how much they like the sentence as an inspirational saying, remote from any context.[†] And how sacred is it in a democracy that the people’s vote must not be questioned as to reasons, which amounts to the freedom to be politically blinkered. It is along these lines, at any rate, that the slogan “We are the people!” has become the agitational property of right-wingers.
When, offended by proxy, right-wingers speak out against ordinary people being continuously told what to think when they are doing nothing but loving their homeland, and invoke a right to have this homeland purged of everything and everyone foreign, they are not the only ones who are sure they are saying exactly what their targets think. This is affirmed by all those who advocate a cosmopolitan civil society, worrying that the nation’s mood might tip over to the right if the government keeps imposing migrants on the citizens and insisting on anti-racism as the moral norm along with the corresponding language regime.
Those who advocate an integrative civil society humane to migrants and non-citizens are faced with a state whose border policy does not exactly prioritize human life and that treats the lives and opportunities of members of various population groups — differing in origin, skin color, politico-economic status — quite differently in many cases within its borders too. Although such unequal treatment is not lawful — any more — it can definitely be seen in the practice of quite a few state institutions. On the one hand, activists have an easy time of it with their criticism and their call for outrage about this. They have the law on their side when it comes to discrimination within the country, especially its brutal manifestations. In the case of the border regime, they do not, of course, but some courts at least do not want to see it enforced in a murderous way. On the other hand, racist practices are not going away. And this reveals a certain contradiction in their struggle on this front. They direct their demand for improvement to the political power that — sometimes de facto and tacitly, sometimes by law explicitly — is acting the way they object to. Most activists see no contradiction here, betraying their mistaken belief that state power actually has a different, much better mission. In their trust revolving around this big “actually,” they disregard the brutal reality and, rather than looking for the political logic behind the consequences they are outraged about, accuse the state of departing from what it has supposedly promised. They are guided by the idea of a human right that state powers really and promptly have to obey, and will not be shaken by the way the great powers make use of this highest value when making their moral preparations to shoot down an enemy, or how easily they dismiss such attacks on their policies as moralistic and irrelevant.
In order to push the government in the right direction, democratic anti-racists bet on the general public — thereby getting down to their main task of fighting discrimination and xenophobia in society at large. In so doing they get into some trouble with the radical minority who accuse the state of betraying its people and the people of not loving their homeland enough, and who are known to use violence themselves to ethnically cleanse the nation and point citizens toward the right way of thinking. When it comes to a direct confrontation, these right-wing radicals are of course the enemy, but all in all they are not the real problem. The real problem is the vast majority of society who are against discrimination, which is banned both in public and in private, and altogether recognize the principle that all people should be treated equally. This saves anti-racists from having to offer any great reasons for their principles. Only it doesn’t help: the majority won’t be properly mobilized, they won’t be induced to really oppose the political and social mistreatment of foreigners and domestic so-called problem groups.
This is where anti-racist propaganda is confronted by the moral economy of a competitive society, which basically welcomes appeals to the conscience that society is supposed to have but that protests first have to awaken. Such appeals are registered as reminders of the fine way the polity wants to be viewed so as to promote the right understanding of what it is demanding of its occupants, who indeed accept this fine view, without for a minute forgetting to be realistic and conform to the demands. So on the one hand, it is absolutely clear that discrimination is wrong. But on the other hand, in the competition for money and careers, it is one of the professional tools of those whose job it is to decide if others, the dependent ones, succeed or fail, and it is a weapon for everyone in a life struggle where success can only be had at the expense of others. This is accompanied by, and is also the basis for, upholding the ideals of fairness and equal opportunity; these are the ideals of competition. And an especially important ideal when it comes to moving up and down in the hierarchy of incomes and burdens of working life is the principle of fair treatment based on performance, which rules out any discrimination according to extraneous aspects — it should, that is; harsh reality of course doesn’t work that way. But above all, what is ‘extraneous’ anyway? What is really essential in the performance-oriented competition practiced by the modern, capitalist class-society? Those who espouse the idea of a somehow objective match between one’s performance (an open question: which performance and for whom?) and pay (how much for what?) must now be very brave and face the ugly reality: the essential criterion for success and failure in the bourgeois life struggle is nothing but the actual result. When someone’s success or failure is put down to his individual virtues, like diligence or — a bit closer to reality — assertiveness, this is merely a justification that reasons falsely from the result back to the person who achieved it.
But what do outraged anti-racists care about that? They insist that ‘external’ characteristics such as skin color or more internal ones such as religion or group-specific customs must not play any part in free competition. And conditions around the world leave a lot to be desired in that respect. Just about everywhere, opportunities — no matter what kind! — are significantly slimmer for colored or other minorities than for their colleagues and competitors who are white or national majority members. So modern society appears to the anti-racist eye to be a hierarchy of positions, incomes, power, and competition to get ahead or stay ahead. And they are not saying that is a good thing, nor are they necessarily denying there is something capitalistic about it. They are just taking the liberty of identifying — alongside hierarchy and competition and the free-enterprise rationale behind them — the scandal of a discrimination that violates equal opportunity to get ahead, make money, and acquire power at each ‘level’ of success and failure the system involves. Their critical yardstick is equality in inequality. This is the inequality that arises from capital’s domination of society’s work and wealth, that establishes dependencies and power, and comprises poverty and the need to make oneself useful to the interests of others. Critics of racism are not out to praise the struggle to succeed at the expense of others that rages on each of these social hierarchy ‘levels’ defined by their capitalist functions. They are out to criticize features like skin color being among the many criteria those in charge use for deciding if those dependent on them will succeed or fail, and among the various means those being decided on have when applying for jobs or competing to keep them. Their criticism is based on the ideal of an abstraction that society’s elite ought to take to heart while wielding their decision-making power, and that those dependent on them ought to take to heart by adapting while competing for success.  These are in any case useful additions to the cosmos of higher values that a bourgeois society likes to see its reflection in. They are constructive contributions to the realm of “how things should actually be” that this society wants to be perceived, even quite critically, as the imperfect realization of.
Some activists of anti-racist protest have their doubts about this promise, others despair of it. Some are disappointed but not discouraged; they keep trying to improve society by appealing to its conscience from one case to the next, from one scandal to the next. Others are so frustrated by their repeated failure to make a dent in the cultural technique of competitor’s idealism that is so universally applied in the bourgeois polity that they decide society is hopelessly trapped in moral inconsistency or in its hypocrisy and can’t be saved as things stand, so they reject it. Leaders of the movement process disappointment and bitterness into the socio-critical diagnosis that racism is evidently seated and anchored much too deeply to be reached by moral appeals. Where that is can be gathered from the everyday experiences of those who belong to the relevant “problem groups”: people who are constantly treated as not belonging, or at least feel they are being treated that way when all they want is to be fully integrated citizens and accepted with no ifs and buts as part of the national community. It is their perception of exclusion and discrimination that reveals the racism lurking everywhere and what it actually consists in.
And there is no denying that people of color, immigrants, even nth generation ones, and members of other ‘parallel societies’ are confronted with pretty stereotypical reservations that make life extra difficult for them as such in a world where capitalist competition already produces a discrimination that is based on the political economy and is accordingly massive and omnipresent. What they have their specifically bad experiences with is the prevailing civic patriotism in its elementary form: the national “we,” which always includes a sense of right and wrong favoring the native citizen to the exclusion of others, and becomes set in an emotional way of judging the world. Another matter is the point of view from which people are upset by the discrimination they experience, or criticize the discrimination they perceive in their surroundings. They automatically draw on the lofty values of the bourgeois state and free competition. What is being attacked is the ideal of equal treatment, an ideal the bourgeois state bestows on its citizens when organizing their use by the business world. What is being violated is the idea of fair treatment based on performance, an idea the system of competition uses to give itself the best testimonial. And what about the national state’s promise to make every inhabitant feel completely at home as a simple human being? A person who is personally offended when these values are disregarded has a sense of right and wrong that has become his standpoint for taking a practical interest in the world and perceiving and judging it, in just the same way a majority patriot has adopted the bigoted idealism that his homeland is exclusive. And the person upset about discrimination is himself living proof that “structural” racism exists.
It lies in the nature of this diagnosis that as much of this racism is revealed as the sensitivity of an actually or vicariously affected person turns out. Which gives conscientious anti-racists plenty to do. A popular battleground is the wide field of names and symbols, traditions and monuments, that represent the nation’s stupid pride in figures and deeds from the colonialist, openly racist past history of modern states. Such things are therefore held in honor by offended patriots of the “There’s no law against saying...” variety, who defend them, if need be by force, from any attempted toppling with its intended powerful symbolism. The morally valuable need to catch and wipe out racism — beyond people’s actual thoughts or intentions — will not be stopped once it gets going. In some circles, mainly academic ones, this has led to a veritable rivalry of sensitivities. This business could safely be left to those in charge of bird and place names and dictionary editors if the incriminated finds weren’t being charged with such fundamental significance that one could think people were actually on to a proper critique of nationalism.
Where has this ended up? In any case, the contemporary class state is off the hook. It doesn’t need any avowed racism to discriminate against people in a useful way and, when necessary, show contempt for human life.
[*] The Philosophy of Right, Alan White, translator
[†] Rosa Luxemburg’s context was that political freedom was needed for the Bolsheviks to train the masses, their political training being essential to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not exactly a call for tolerance.
 This ideal of equality in the differentness of rungs that make up the hierarchy of a competitive capitalist society feeds the theory of white privilege. Here is an illustrative quote from Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I am no longer talking to white people about race, 2017): “How can I define white privilege? It’s so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is the absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost, an absence of ‘less likely to succeed because of my race.’ It is the absence of funny looks … the absence of a lifetime of subtle marginalization and othering — exclusion from the narrative of being human. Describing and defining this absence means to some extent upsetting the centring of whiteness and to reminding white people that their experience is not the norm for the rest of us” (p. 86). Some anti-racists maintain the ideal so consistently that they reject the sweeping abstraction from racial differences — the concept of “colorblindness.” For every somehow powerful function in class society, ultimately for every job or profession — the job of translating poetry is no exception — they demand measures for evening out real or imagined privileges and disadvantages, maybe even overcoming still existing or impending ones, and that therefore link up explicitly with the specific particularity of a group. Those who speak for this dialectical idealism of equality will of course not be crudely accused of reverse racism: they are just insisting on individuals being completely subsumed under their particular, particularly colored community, as should apply equally to all “races.”
 It is hard to say whether the protest slogan “Black lives matter!” in the USA stands more for the first variant or for the second.
© GegenStandpunkt 2023