The race-centered state policies of the Jim Crow era are typified by segregated drinking fountains shown in this image.

Race and State

The upcoming ruling by the US Supreme Court on racial preferences is certain to ignite yet another divisive debate about whether or not a person’s ethnic heritage should determine their treatment by the state and major institutions. After steady progress towards “race-blind” governance, the notion of equal treatment is disappearing in a frenzy of ethnic self-assertion and white guilt.

The new racialized politics sunders the basis for liberal societies, essentially diminishing the value of merit and hard work. Some advocates even support separate living places on college campuses, a chilling reprise of segregation. Elsewhere, grade schoolers are instructed that America is based on lies and its current systems and structures are irredeemable. There are cases of schools separating third-graders by race and asking them to rank their “privilege.”

The wellspring for this movement lies on college campuses, where whiteness is sometimes treated like a social disease. Evergreen University’s “Day of Absence” instructed white students to leave campus, and the University of Florida’s “BIPOC Anthropology town hall” excluded whites. Canadian universities, like their American counterparts, have become enamored with guilt-tripping whites, accusing them collectively for the damage done to First Peoples, irrespective of when their families arrived or any traceable culpability.

The origins of the racial state

The advocates of the emerging racial state generally dismiss the fundamentals of democracy—the rule of law, open debate, equal treatment, perceiving them to be subtle instruments of white supremacy. They often want to replace the ideal of merit with a regime in which decisions are largely shaped by race and gender. Sadly, the Biden administration has followed this approach while some blue states employed racial “qualifications” for vaccines, even though it was clearly the elderly, whatever their ethnicity, who were most vulnerable.

Race-centrism has become the modern equivalent of Catholic dogma, once a requirement at church-run colleges. Now some legal and medical establishments routinely publish pledges in support of an omnipresent DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) agenda. DEI-related courses are now required of all students at the State University of New York; job applicants at Ohio State’s engineering school must sign a pledge to promote the progressive race agenda. A recent AEI study found that in a survey of 999 jobs, “19 percent require diversity statements, while 68 percent include the terms ‘diversity’ or ‘diverse’ in some fashion, often as a way of describing the university environment.”

Although racism has been a component of the human condition from time immemorial, race has often not been the primary motivation for human behavior. Indeed, for most of history, even slavery was not based on race—instead, slaves were sourced from the ranks of subjugated war prisoners, conquered peoples, and the destitute. Turkish slavers and other Muslim regimes bound over a million eastern Europeans for servants, concubines, soldiers, and even administrators.

Racialized slavery emerged with the rise of Europe’s nation-states. As Europe’s imperial regimes expanded to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, they adopted racial categorization to justify their exploitation of “inferior” races. Non-whites, such as Native Americans and Africans were quickly enslaved by the Spanish in the Americas, and once these populations declined, they looked to African chieftains to supply the human cargo needed by the plantations of the Caribbean and later North America. Aborigines in Australia were considered—as the Hobart Town Gazette suggested in 1826—a “savage and vindictive race,” whose neolithic culture justified conquest and subjection to a “superior” Western culture.

Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage image: Public Domain.