Letter in response: Jordan Peterson vs everyone, racism is always racism

Usually I don’t like to talk about issues such as racism and sexism in public given the way in which your words can be misconstrued. After reading this article from Ubyssey editor Jack Hauen on Jordan Peterson, I feel like I shouldn’t be quiet, and that I need to say something. Jack, do not take this as an attack on you or your beliefs, I would love to have the chance to debate and discuss your article at length so that we can reach an understanding.

As a preface, I am not the kind of person who grips to the coattails of Dr. Peterson nor do I support a great deal of his conclusions. I do however appreciate that he is trying to have a discussion about difficult issues, something that has been lacking. For example, on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Dr. Peterson and Dr. Bret Weinstein of Evergreen College fame or infamy have a great discussion on Universal Basic Income (UBI). I disagree with their conclusion, as I truly believe that we are moving into an era where UBI is a necessity rather than a luxury.

The conversation however is fantastic, and Dr. Peterson’s challenge to the ideological hegemony is why I have some degree of respect for him. He is an articulate opponent in a climate where dissent is often not tolerated. I quite enjoy his bit on the Charlottesville white nationalist protest. Do I agree with what he is saying and his theses or conclusions? Not at all.

In particular, I took great issue with the discussion of racism within Hauen’s article.

“The definition of racism as a set of systemic and institutional functions which promote the continued dominance of a particular race, that being the one most academics agree on.”

This is a poor definition of racism — one as a history major I take great issue with. I personally prefer either the dictionary definition of racism:

“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.”

Racism can and certainly does exist outside of institutions and systems, and certainly exists in ways that do not “promote the continued dominance of a particular race.”

I will offer two historical examples.

The first is the Rwandan Genocide. The Belgian colonial project in Rwanda and Burundi had left a divide the between the Tutsis and Hutus, as they believe the Tutsis were the superior people. This created a social divide and helped to breed hate and racism in the Hutus against the Tutsis. That is racism directed towards a privileged class, and ultimately resulted in the deaths of 800,000 thousand Tutsis and even Hutu moderates who tried to prevent genocide from taking place.

How does this instance of racism fit the definition given in Hauen’s article? It doesn’t.

What about the Jewish people through European history? Due to there being no ban on usury in the Torah, the Jewish community often found themselves in positions of privilege due to being bankers or having high social status, both in contemporary and in the historical eras. There are thousands of years of pogroms against Jewish people all across Europe. During the Black Plague, the church and often most of Europe blamed the Jews.

Now analyze this how you will, because it is fair to conform to the definition that is laid out in Hauen’s article. But far more often and throughout history the people who held racist and anti-Semitic beliefs — in regards to the Jewish community — were people not from the privileged class, but were mostly from the lower and working class.

That is racism coming from the under-privileged class and directed against the privileged class or against people of “equal” standing. It cannot be reconciled with Hauen’s definition.

The very last point I want to make about this is nuanced and I guarantee that at least one reader of it is going to want my head on a pike for saying this, but, this definition of racism is helping to create the alt-right.

If we subscribe for a moment to this definition of racism and we believe that there exists “white privilege” or some racial hierarchy that puts “whites” at the top, then this definition in even the most abstract of interpretations excuses racism against white people. Now put yourself in the shoes of a young, impressionable individual who sees this definition, and sees that this as an excuse for racism against them. They may rationally believe some greater conspiracy to destroy their race. Possibly a whole generation of white supremacists is being bred by this narrative.

Hate is hate. The context and surroundings to it matter little. If I, a Jewish man who is descended from Holocaust survivors, uses racist language towards Arabs, is that different from an Arab using racist language towards me? It isn’t, it is just hate. But if we continue to subscribe to this problematic and frankly dangerous definition of racism, then the malignant cancer that is racism, that is hate, will grow.

Racism is racism, and we need to treat it all the same.

Sam Klein-Laufer is a 3rd year student studying History.