Most people, having grown up with traditional, dictionary-based definitions of racism, struggle to comprehend the brave new world where “everything’s racist”. It seems ridiculous, like the Weimer-era hyperinflation, except with offence instead of German marks. How can anyone actually believe that? How did we get from Martin Luther King Jr. to fingering gardening, jigsaw puzzles and punctuality as redoubts of white supremacy?
Contrary to what you might assume, there is a method in this madness, but to answer the above questions we need to go back some 150 years in time. In developing his philosophy, Karl Marx posited human history as a struggle of two sections of society: the minority who hold all the power and the powerless majority. In Marx’s time, the minority was termed the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, or simply The Capital, those controlling (owning and benefitting from) the means of production, while the majority was called the working class, or the proletariat, the masses who sell their labour, and whose collective toil makes the capitalists rich. The essential dynamic of a society is one of power: who has it and who doesn’t, and how it’s exercised (or as Lenin said, “for whom?”). It’s a zero-sum equation: all or nothing, the one or the other, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed. There is a moral dimension to this dichotomy: the former, by virtue of their position, are the villains, the latter the virtuous. It’s also absolutist: the individual doesn’t matter and individuality is an irrelevant illusion; you are the class to which you belong.