Feminist history is typically described in three waves: The struggle to secure voting rights, then workplace rights, and third—roughly—to upend stereotypes. The battle against racism and its effects is often described in a similar three-part timeline, with movements against slavery and segregation, and then—vaguely—the post-civil-rights era.
The ambiguity of that last term masks that third-wave antiracism, as one might call it, and reflects a profound change in methods and attitudes. Just as the first and second waves of both feminism and antiracism transformed social structures, third-wave antiracism may seem parallel to third-wave feminism in moving on to a different form of abuse, psychological rather than institutional. But this focus on the psychological has morphed, of late, from a pragmatic mission to change minds into a witch hunt driven by the personal benefits of virtue signaling, obsessed with unconscious and subconscious bias. As noble as this culture of shaming genuinely seems to many, it’s a dead end.
In their new book, The Coddling of the American Mind Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt discuss modern antiracism as it exists within the collegiate social-justice culture. (The book is expanded from the eponymous 2015 article in The Atlantic.) On American college campuses, it is typical to depict unwelcome opinions as injurious to one’s sense of safety. In a version of self-defense, it’s voguish to “de-platform” controversial speakers. Occasional unsavory incidents are said to render a university a thoroughly racist establishment. And questions interpretable as exotifying— such as “Where are you from?” to someone born in the United States—are considered as hurtful as bullying.