The Law of Unintended Consequences holds that efforts to solve one problem may create worse
problems. Efforts to fight racism may trivialize the concept of racism and pose threats to the civil
liberties we’re theoretically guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
Some thoughts, words, and deeds are obviously racist: The belief that one race is genetically
superior or inferior to another, for example, or the lynching of someone by those who hate his skin
But anti-racists impute racism, whether conscious or unconscious, to a far wider range of words
and deeds than might be obvious to the average American. For example, it has been deemed racist to:
Make the requirement that math students show how they solved an equation the main means
of evaluating their work—teachers should develop other communications strategies to elicit
information about the performance in math classes of students of color;
Allow white parents to adopt students of color—Supreme Court Justice Amy Comey Barret has
been charged with adopting two Haitian children to get cheap labor and this reflects the
tendency of the White races in industrialized nations to exploit the third world–the possibility
that she may have had humanitarian motives in saving children from a life in poverty being
Express concern about substandard academic performance of Black students compared to white
students—recently two law school professors for fired for precisely that reason;
Advocating the diversification of the Middle East’s oil-based economy by using free trade and
free market economic principles—this is considered the imposition of white western economic
values on third world nations;
Referring to Asian Americans as “Orientals;”
Questioning whether the Covid-19 pandemic can be traced to a leak in a Chinese lab or to an
infected bat in a Chinese “wet market” coincidentally close to said lab;
Of especial concern should be the use of one blanket term—“racism–” to describe each of these
behaviors, no matter the motives and consequences of a particular behavior. To use the same term to
condemn different acts is to imply a moral equivalence between, say, calling an Asian American an
“Oriental,” and actually beating or even killing him out of hate for his skin color. Those who charge
someone with “racism” for benign or well-intended actions want to raise the consciousness of those
they criticize. But at best they’re actually “crying wolf” and making their targets less sensitive, not more.
At worst, the anti-racists may provoke backlashes against their efforts.
Backlash seems to be a small but growing trend among parents resisting the introduction of
some version of “critical race theory” into the curricula of their children’s schools. For example, a major
lawsuit has been filed against the Lowden County, Virginia, public schools by parents critical of proposed
policies developed by educators to fight racism. Especially troubling are the “Bias Response” efforts
being developed. The lawsuit charges that students are encouraged to anonymously report any
expressions of “bias” made by other students, faculty, or staff, who must then defend themselves
against their anonymous accusers. These Bias Response programs could undermine our constitutional
rights in several ways.
The most obvious threat is to freedom of speech. Those who know that they may be subjected
to disciplinary action, or at least to a time-consuming hearing, may more carefully guard their speech
and suppress statements they would otherwise have the right to express. This is a threat not only to
members of those school systems with Bias Response programs, but to the wider community as well:
Each instance of successful suppression of freedom of speech by a government agency sets a precedent
by which further acts of suppression become more legitimate in theory and easier in practice. It is far
better to recognize freedom of speech, with the understanding that the right of one to say what he
wants includes the rights of others to support or oppose him.
But Bias Response programs may threaten other civil liberties as well. Under our national Bill of
Rights, criminal suspects in federal, state, and local courts have the right—for the time being– to legal
counsel (free if they can’t afford it), as well as the right to be informed in writing of what they’re accused
of and to confront their accusers. Bias Response programs may deny those accused of racism of similar
guarantees, and thereby set a precedent that could someday undermine the application of these rights
in the broader society.
I suspect that those most zealously committed to fighting racism and promoting social justice
would consider my ideas to be at best irrelevant and at worst racist. And they have every right to do so.
But in doing so, they risk trivializing the concept of racism and alienating others. Moreover, by
undermining civil liberties for those accused of racism they increase the risk that they’re undermining
the very rights and protections they may one day want for themselves. Anti-racists should proceed with caution.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.