The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

In the orgy of self-indulgent masochism that so many leaders of our cultural and educational institutions are enjoying while America’s cities burn, a few truly stand out as remarkable. Certainly, CNN’s gleeful reportage that “NASA drops racially charged nicknames of celestial bodies” was unique—and almost as silly as Aunt Jemima’s and Uncle Ben’s summary dismissal from service.

Even more so was the official attack by the Sierra Club upon their founder, John Muir. Turning to their website, one is greeted with a cheery message:

As people around the world demand justice for Black lives, the Sierra Club recognizes the urgent need to dismantle systemic racism within our own organization, the environmental movement, and our country. We must reckon with how racism—both past and present—has shaped our organization and work to repair the harm done. The struggles to protect people and our environment cannot be separated, and it is our responsibility to use our power to help abolish racism, which is destroying lives and the planet.

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One Hop Hopkins explained in an accompanying article that: “I really believe in my heart of hearts—after a lifetime of thinking and talking about these issues—that we will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy.” In another article on the same website, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune declared: “The Sierra Club is a 128-year-old organization with a complex history, some of which has caused significant and immeasurable harm. As defenders of Black life pull down Confederate monuments across the country, we must also take this moment to reexamine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.” He then went on to attack founder John Muir and various of the early members of the club for their racism.

Now, mind you, I have had little use for the Sierra Club since they endorsed infanticide decades ago—“abortion helps the environment,” has become one of their disgusting little mantras. But, as is the case with most Eagle Scouts, I have had an interest in conservation since my teens. Therefore, I turned my attention to an organization I have always regarded as rather sensible: the Audubon Society. As a rule, the support that the leadership in the National Society has had for abortion has tended to be discreet while the state and local chapters have been more concerned with establishing and maintaining a network of wildlife refuges across the country. So it was that I hoped for common sense. After all, although they had endorsed pulling down Confederate monuments, they had thus far ignored the calls to drop “Audubon” from their name for the usual reasons. They have begun, however,  to “de-mythologize” him. The National Society’s CEO declares on its website that “Audubon is choosing action. Instead of using vaguer words, we’re going to talk about how Audubon can become antiracist in everything we do, internally and externally… Racism is something created and sustained by white people to give ourselves an advantage over others. It’s our responsibility to understand and interrupt all the ways—large and small—that happens.”

Well, the national conservation organizations have been a bit crazy for a while. Surely, I would find sanity amongst Historic Preservationists? I turned to the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Therein I was informed that “historic preservation organizations have an obligation to confront and address structural racism within our own institutions.”

On to the American Antiquarian Society:

We recognize that the voices of Black people in America have been suppressed since the inception of our nation. At the American Antiquarian Society we are committed to recovering and preserving these voices from the past and to sharing them today. We believe that only by honoring these voices and confronting racism can we move together as a nation to fulfill our communal destiny of universal equality and liberty.

The site of one of my favorite magazines, American Heritage, helpfully informed me that “our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.” The fact that the article in question, “Confederates in Congress: Heritage or Hate?” was written by Edwin S. Grosvenor, the editor-in-chief who single-handedly led the effort to revive American Heritage rather shook me.

Meanwhile, at the Boy Scouts, the national leadership began their letter explaining the new, required “Diversity Merit Badge” by saying, “As our country reckons with racial injustice, we all must consider our role and our failures and commit to meaningful action.”

But where this communal breast-beating on the part of the cultural and educational elites really came to sound like a bass drum was within the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian Institution—or at least that hallowed body’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Part of their website is devoted to “Talking About Race: Whiteness,” although an outcry forced them to take down Judith Katz’s rather offensive graphic on white thought and behavior. (Among other things, Ms. Katz attacked such things as rational linear thought, monotheism, believing in cause and effect, keeping schedules, monogamy, and working for a living as specifically “white” qualities that have been imposed upon hapless people of color.)

Of course, the unspoken assumption thereby is that blacks and others are natively attached to the opposite traits in each case. It remains an essential starting point for understanding the racial beliefs of our intellectual and governmental… er… elite. Brief quotes can hardly do it justice. It needs to be read in extenso. Alas, the opening must suffice:

Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of are compared. Whiteness is also at the core of understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.


Whiteness (and its accepted normality) also exist as everyday microaggressions toward people of color. Acts of microaggressions include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults toward nonwhites. Whether intentional or not, these attitudes communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages.

This is the Rosetta Stone for understanding the verbiage that is being excreted from almost every major cultural institution in the United States, and very many overseas.

Now, I do understand and appreciate where the authors of this stuff are coming from. Various factors have eliminated the industrial proletariat from the United States and the rest of the Western nations (although they remain very much a factor in the rest of the world, nowhere more than in Communist China). Therefore, would-be Marxists need a substitute victim body, one with as many genuine grievances as 19th-century industrial workers had. People of color, and black folk especially, seem tailor-made for the job. There are several problems with this strategy, however, other than the fact that quite a number—perhaps an increasing number—of the intended tools are aware that they are being used.

Moreover, while education has been increasingly filled with this stuff—to the great detriment of real learning—it has thereby produced graduates incapable of doing much save mindlessly repeating its mantras and wreaking mayhem. At the same time, it has had corrosive effects on the instruments of power that any regime requires to be strong, such as the police and the military. In Russia, the Reds inherited a power structure that was, with some…er…fine-tuning, perfect for Stalin’s needs. But defunded law-enforcement and a military whose combat arms elements are overwhelmingly members of the demonized majority shall be very unreliable instruments in the hands of the feckless woke rulership. Worse yet, the whole “whiteness” mythos actually serves as the most powerful argument for segregation I have ever seen in my lifetime, though its purveyors are apparently too dim to see that. I fear a tremendous eventual backlash to all of this—and one whose results will be the opposite of what people such as Ms. Katz claim to be pushing for.

What is to be done right now? Unfortunately, I fear that many of us will need to stop supporting the various organizations we have loved or else fight fiercely to change their leadership. We also must think about replacements to do the jobs these bodies have been rendered incapable of doing properly. And we must demand from our political leadership defunding of any office of government—at any level—that slings this particular hash.


  • Charles Coulombe

    Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine’s European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan’s Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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