Is Racial Disparity Evidence of Racism?

Regis Nicoll

By Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.

Ibram X. Kendi
Photo Credit: Ibram X. Kendi by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

If you’ve scratched your head over the latest of the ever-growing number of things (like algebra and Beethoven) that has “become” racist, you can blame your confusion on radical leftist Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky once said, “He who controls the language controls the masses.” Today, the masses are being played by some novel concepts derived neither from Webster nor Scripture but straight from the lexicon of Critical Theory. 

One gaining currency among Christians and non-Christians alike is “racism” which, we’re being told, is not “prejudice based on race,” but “racial prejudice plus power.” The not-so subtle point is that minorities cannot be racist, only those in the majority can be racist—that is, whites, in fact, all whites. Thus, in pulpits across the country, pastors are imploring their white congregations to reflect on and repent of their intrinsic racism.

Another notion, fashioned by Critical Theory luminary Ibram X. Kendi, is that there is no such thing as a “non-racist”—rather, people are prima facie “racist” unless they are actively engaging in anti-racism. 

If Kendi applied that dichotomy to other, innumerable injustices (Christian genocide in Nigeria, honor killing in the Mideast, female genitalia mutilation in Asia, child labor in Taiwan, sex trafficking everywhere) that he and most decent people oppose ethically and morally but lack the time and resources to materially combat, he would have to conclude that he is an unwitting accomplice in an awful lot of the world’s wrongs. Somehow, I doubt he has. 

But even if his binary view of racism is accepted, who can be anti-racist enough? Turns out, no one.

Consider Amy Coney Barrett, the mother of seven children, two of whom she and her husband adopted from Haiti. After her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kendi compared her to early white colonizers who used adopted black children “as props in their lifelong pictures of denial.” 

Little wonder, we have masses of the newly woke denouncing their “white privilege” and confessing “our corporate sin,” while emboldened radicals prowl about for the guilty and exact penance by toppling statues, burning churches, and assassinating cops. Alinsky would be proud.

Then there’s “institutional racism,” defined by Black sociologist George Yancey as “mechanisms that lead to racial inequality regardless of whether there was an intent to have racial inequality” (emphasis added). In other words, institutional racism exists wherever there is a disparity in outcomes, full stop. 

Embracing that definition, Critical Theory thinkers and their disciples have denounced everything from the transcendent (math, logic, biblical exegesis) to the sublime (classical music, poetry, the National Parks) as “racist” for the disproportionately limited participation and performance among blacks. National Parks? Who knew?

More common are the charges of racism for inequalities in wealth and education among blacks. And while racism may be partly to blame, it doesn’t explain why black immigrants have half the poverty rate of African-Americans or why the earnings and educational achievements of Asian-Americans exceed those of whites. Come to think of it, nobody is calling out professional sports, in general, or the NBA, in particular, because they are not racially balanced. 

Then there’s the criminal justice system, a favorite target for anti-racist opprobrium. Of particular grievance is the disparity in incarcerations and sentencing of blacks attributable, in part, to drug laws that make punishments for crack cocaine (favored by black offenders) harsher than its powder form.

However, if those laws are unjust, they are so not because one group favors one form over another, but because the medical and scientific basis does not support a public hazard commensurate with the legal penalties which apply to all users, regardless of race. 

The same goes for laws against violent crime. The fact that 50% of violent crimes are committed by a group comprising less than 7% of the population (black males), does not make those laws—again, which apply to all offenders, regardless of race—or the criminal justice system “racist.” 

That said, if a black offender with a similar criminal history as a white offender receives a stiffer penalty for the same offense, it would be evidence of racial injustice—not institutionally, in the law or criminal justice system, but individually, in the heart and mind of the adjudicator. As I have written previously, fifty years after the Civil Rights movement racism is not institutional, it’s cardiological.

If any institutional factor is to blame, it is the social programs of the Great Society that subsidized behaviors and choices that made the prevalence of fatherless homes and out-of wedlock births (conditions strongly correlated to poverty, crime, and other negative outcomes) in the black community disproportionally higher than in the white community.  

And there’s another.

During the course of the past year, we’ve seen stores looted, businesses destroyed, cops assassinated, and cities torched over the dozen or so unarmed blacks killed in the last few years by police. But where’s the outrage, condemnation, protests, and demonstrations over the dozen or so blacks killed every weekend in cities across the country by members of their own community? Or over the hundreds of black babies killed every day in abortion clinics strategically placed in black communities? [Crickets]

What are we being lectured? “Silence is complicity!” It appears that in the Black Lives Matter movement only some black lives matter: those cut short in blue-on-black altercations. 

Yet, contrary to the prevailing narrative of the Left, the most dangerous place for a black person is not at a police traffic stop but inside his mother’s womb. Black babies account for nearly 40% of the 1.2 million annual abortions. Over the last 45 years, that’s 25 million black artists, poets, scientists, educators, statesmen, entrepreneurs, and others whose lives were cut short before they could take their first breath.

If, as the Left argues, racism is the cause for disparities in the black community, then pro-choice policies and those who champion them are Alpha-racists. 

Recently, some of the newly woke awakened to the racism of Margaret Sanger who founded Planned Parenthood as a part of her “Negro Project” to advance “the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extinction, of defective stocks.” If they continue down that path, they will come to a moment of reckoning about the organization and its enablers: pro-choice Christians, pro-life Democrats, and the Party of Choice.

In the meantime, it is important to recognize racial disparities for what they are—differences in outcome that can be good, bad, or indifferent—and to reserve the charge of “racism” for disparities that are truly unjust by design and intent.