National Post (Latest Edition)

Anti-racism’s dangerous dinosaurs

A conference shows how the fight against bigotry has transforme­d into a radicalize­d cult of censorship

- JONATHAN KAY

One of the nice things about writing an op-ed column for this newspaper is that you get invited to speak on a lot of “media panels” at academic conference­s. I flatter myself to think people are genuinely interested in what I have to say. But I suspect the main reason they want me is that I provide the appearance of “balance”: Even when a confab is wall-to-wall campus lefties and CBC types, the words National Post on my podium placard signal there’s at least one right-wing maniac in the house.

Which is to say, I’m used to being the odd man out. But I’ve never felt quite so odd as I did last week at “Combating Hatred,” a day-long biennial antiracism conference hosted by the University of Toronto for the benefit of the city’s lawyers, judges, police officers, educators and government workers.

My panel (“The Media: Part of the problem or part of the solution”) didn’t start till the late morning. But I showed up a few hours early to enjoy the free breakfast and listen to the keynote speaker, a native activist and lawyer named Donald Worme.

And I’m glad I did, because a large part of Worme’s speech was dedicated to the theme Why Jonathan Kay Is a Racist.

Shortly after taking the podium, Worme quoted at length from an article I’d written on these pages last month titled “Off The Reservatio­n,” which argued that our system of native reserves is inhumane, and should be overhauled for the good of aboriginal­s themselves. He (falsely) claimed that I wanted natives to “cease to exist as a people,” that I was calling for the “destructio­n” of First Nations and — most outrageous­ly — that I was an advocate of “a form of ‘final solution.”

And all this while I was 100 feet away, eating a blueberry muffin and drinking a double-double.

After Worme finished comparing me to the Nazis, he went on to excoriate Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail, who wrote a column last month about abused native children who are put at risk when politicall­y correct government officials refuse to place them with white families. Between the two hit jobs, the overarchin­g theme for the day had been establishe­d: Challengin­g the received pieties of identity politics renders you a presumptiv­e racist.

In fact, Worme proved to be tame compared to some of the speakers that followed. One anti-racism activist and diversity “consultant,” for instance, claimed (without evidence) that Canada’s leaders “validate racism,” and argued that special Afro-centric schools should be set up for Toronto’s blacks because their culture is being systematic­ally “denigrated” in multiracia­l public schools. Then he made my jaw drop by quoting — not once, but twice — from the work of AfricanAme­rican poet Amiri Baraka, an antiSemiti­c conspiracy theorist who believes Jews were warned to stay away from the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Next came a Muslim activist who upped the ante by arguing that the state of inter-group relations in Canada is even worse than in Pakistan, a country where political dissidents get thrown in jail and Sunni suicide bombers explode themselves in Shiite mosques. Hatred in Pakistan, she argued, at least has the advantage of being overt. Here in Canada, on the other hand, it is subtle and hidden — which apparently makes it more invidious.

Then my panel began, and a middle-aged academic launched into a stream of jargon-laden duckspeak about “white privilege,” “racialized spaces” and “existing paradigms of public discourse in the media.” The larger point, buried in there somewhere, seemed to be that hotheads like me shouldn’t be allowed to write the sort of thing that the Donald Wormes of the world find offensive.

By the time my turn was up, I’d thrown out my rather tame prepared speech in favour of a strenuous takedown of what I’d just heard. All of it, I said, was proof that radical anti-racism had become not only a cult of censorship, but a mental toxin as irrational and destructiv­e as racism itself.

And since I was in the mood to make friends, I went further. I told the crowd that conference­s like these were actually hurting minority communitie­s by giving them a one-sizefits-all excuse to avoid confrontin­g their problems. Talk about gang culture, AWOL fathers, teen motherhood and shocking crime statistics in black communitie­s, and “diversity consultant­s” accuse you of racism. Connect the dots between Canada’s radicalize­d mosques and the terror threat, and you get accused of Islamophob­ia. Write about the economic dysfunctio­n and social pathologie­s that fester on native reserves, and Donald Worme accuses you of penning a new Mein Kampf.

During the Q&A, a school board official got up to tell me that I had no right to comment on issues affecting black people because I wasn’t black. And a few other audience members added their own sneers at the angry National Post freak who, for reasons known only to himself, was ruining their fun. But otherwise, the discourse was relatively civil. Which is to say, no one else compared me to Hitler.

In any case, I went home feeling more pity than anger. For all their claim to progressiv­e politics, there is something slightly old-fashioned and fusty about the people who run these conference­s. Many of them have been fighting the evil of prejudice since the early days. And they have chalked up some spectacula­r successes during that time: the Charter of Rights, human rights tribunals in every province, hate speech laws, gay marriage, etc. Even more importantl­y, they have managed to make race-hatred the ultimate taboo — a subject that can get you fired from any job or ostracized at any social gathering. But instead of taking a bow and declaring victory, the anti-racism industry is still chugging, seeking desperatel­y to justify its existence by trumpeting ever more implausibl­e and exotic theories of discrimina­tion.

As I sat at the dais, I did indeed feel quite “privileged” — though not because of my race. Rather, it was because I am an opinion journalist who can write about these issues candidly. The jurists, NGO types, academics and public servants staring back at me from the audience, on the other hand, enjoyed no such freedom. Whatever their private views, they inhabit politicall­y correct profession­al milieus that require them to at least pretend to believe the anti-racism orthodoxy being spouted at them.

Most perversely of all, many of these same folks pay for their indoctrina­tion out of their own pocket: At last week’s conference, the list of donors and sponsors read like a who’s who of some of Toronto’s best-known law firms and financial services companies. As a farcical metaphor for the guilty attitude of Canada’s white elites, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect vignette: a parade of suits and ties slapping down thousands of dollars so activists can tell them how racist they are.

Nice work if you can get it.

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