“Tragedy teaches [that] you can have affliction without a villain” Howard Jacobson, Point of View, BBC Radio 4. 18/06/21
This is exactly what is happening in the declaration, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” This is sloganeering as hollowed out as “Get Brexit Done.” It is so reassuringly simple that it sounds like common sense unless you interrogate it.
Then you might ask yourself, “whose ‘solution’ is this? Who came up with it? What happens if I question it, because I think there may be a different solution?”
If somebody believes passionately in racial equality (say), and that our similarities far out-weigh our differences, and tries to live by that belief, but doesn’t share your view of the solution to the problem of racism, in what way are they part of the problem? They may be part of the reason you aren’t getting your own way, but in a society of equals, that isn’t the problem.
By attributing culpable agency to a whole section of society, as if they were a single racist individual, you can blame them. And if they object to that, well, that’s further evidence of their racism. Thus, your solution becomes unchallengeable and entirely, tyrannically, domineering. Any interrogation or discussion of it at all becomes taboo.
And taboos are enforced with extraordinary virulence. In her book, White Fragility (Penguin, 2019) Robin DiAngelo, a white woman, mentions that when she accuses other white women of being racist and makes them cry, they are sometimes defended by black male colleagues. Robin DiAngelo claims they do this because of the memory of the brutal racist murder of Emmett Till in 1955! In other words, the sight of a white woman crying taps into such a deep-rooted internalised terror of the consequences, for black men, that they fear they will be lynched if they don’t back her up!
Ms DiAngelo is perfectly happy to employ this horrifying event and idea simply as a piece of emotional blackmail to crush a tearful and unimportant opponent, and a troubled conciliator, in an insignificant training programme. It is an act of psychological intimidation worthy of a Klansman.
Such slogans and their taboos are forms of enforced conscription. If white people disagree with you, they are racist; if people of colour disagree with you they have internalised their enslavement and are betraying their own people. These are big sticks to beat people with. It takes almost impossible strength and independence to stand against them.
The final irony is that all this denial of individuality is done in the service of a creed that is supposed to value and protect universal individuality, plurality and equality.