Most people are perplexed by the fact that Leftists/progressives don't believe that blacks can ever be racist. They're equally perplexed by the parallel claim that only whites can be racist. People are also baffled by the assertion that “capitalism invented racism”. Indeed there are hordes of ideas which baffle most people. These absurd ideas even baffle Leftists themselves. Or at least they do until they realise that such ideas are required to bring about radical change. This is the main theme of this piece.
As Marx himself put it:
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
These are a few examples of these beliefs: “capitalism is in crisis”, “Israel is an apartheid state”, “Donald Trump is a fascist”, “Islamophobia is racism”, “global warming caused the Syrian Civil War”, “the Daily Mail is fascist”, “blacks can't be racist”, “America is a Nazi state”, “the rich are rich because the poor are poor”....
So how are people made to believe these absurd things? Than answer to that question is simple. It can be summed up in a single word: theory.
What is Scientific Theory?
It can be seen that Leftist/progressive theories aren't scientific. (Marx and later communists, of course, believed otherwise.) It isn't scientific theory because its primary goal is to help give people the intellectual weapons required to bring about radical, revolutionary or “progressive” change. Thus such theories serve a political purpose. They aren't designed to explain or describe the world/society. They're designed to change the world/society.
Let the United States National Academy of Sciences define scientific theories:
“The formal scientific definition of 'theory' is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.”
There are literally innumerable definitions and descriptions of theory. So bear with my simplifications. The following, after all, isn't supposed to be philosophy of science.
Because theories aren't themselves observations, readings from the facts, or data; then, by definition, they must go beyond observation, fact or data (or all of these things). Instead, theories account for the facts, or explain them. They do this by referring to things which are effectively unobservable. Theories are thus non-factual; which isn't the same as saying that they're untrue or incorrect.
Theories can also be problematic. Theories can be false; or at least partly false. And it's also the case that observation itself can be/is imbued with interpretation and theory. That means that there may not be any complete (or even possible) separation of fact from theory.
In any case, it's this going beyond the observable (beyond fact and data) where the trouble can hide.
From the beginning it can be seen that Leftist/progressive theories don't conform to standard definitions of scientific theory. And they're rarely consistent with scientific method. (For those who accept that such a thing exists.) In point of fact, they can be called normative (i.e., prescriptive) tools in that they guide actions and tell us what the theorist wants to be the case (or what he wants to happen). Hence Leftist theory is more like theology or ethics; rather than a systematic account of what is the case.
Nonetheless, there are distinctions between scientific theories and, for example, philosophical theories which partly correspond with the Leftist reality of theory. To generalise, scientific theories are seen as being descriptive. In philosophy, on the other hand, some theories are deemed to be normative (or prescriptive).
It's also said that that theories aren't about “gaols and values”. Because this is a rather idealised explanation of what theories are, Marxists, Leftists and progressives have jumped upon this idealisation. Many have said that theories “determine what we take to be the facts” and - in certain ways and to a limited extent - that's true. They also say that “so-called objective science” is “goal- and value-laden”. More specifically (as Oxford University's Marxist Professor Terry Eagleton put it), “all theories are political”. Indeed Fredric Jameson went one step further and said that “all life is political”.
Now if you believe all that a strong way, then there's nothing to stop the theorist making his theories even more gaol-directed and value-laden. Or, more relevantly, more political. In other words, why beat around the bush? (Aristotle himself made a well-known distinction between theory and “practice” - from Greek praxis, πρᾶξις – doing.)
Leftists have of course said similar things about truth, morality, religion... and about everything else! Indeed, as stated earlier, some have literally said that all life is political. This is, of course, largely (though not entirely) psychological projection. (It can be seen, most explicitly, in movements like the “radical science movement” of the 1970s and beyond.)
Thus the theoretician is taking us way beyond what's observable and factual. And in so doing he often takes us vastly astray.
Now many Leftists think that their theories are sophisticated. They're sophisticated primarily because they show us what the murderer and Marxist Louis Althusser called “the unseen”. Theories also help scrape away what Marxists call “false consciousness”.
Marxists also think their theories are sophisticated for one other more basic reason: they're at odds with what “sheeple”, the middle classes, conservatives, etc. think. (Despite the fact that virtually all Marxist theorists have been middle- or upper-middle class.) Now if theories are at odds with what the plebs in the pubs, etc. think, then such theories must - by the Leftist's own definition - be sophisticated.
Whether or not a Leftist theory is accurate or true, it's still interpreting political events and realities; which all the commoners, of course, simply take at face value.
The Leftist Theory of Racism
The journalist and writer Kenan Malik says that scientific racism “justified the superiority of the capitalist class to rule over the black”. Most Leftists believe that racism is a European and capitalist invention.
Thus if racism was born in the 19th century (primarily, according to Malik, because of “racial science”), and modern (industrial) capitalism also largely began in the 19th century, then Leftists can forge a very tight link between capitalism and racism.
This results in a conclusion that's summed-up in an often-quoted phrase spoken by none other than Malcolm X. Thus: “You can't have capitalism without racism.”
That means that if racism is indeed a capitalist phenomenon, then it's well to distinguish racism (as found in all capitalist states and in the minds of all whites – except the Leftist ones) from “prejudice” (which even blacks are capable of). This is precisely what Leftists do.
The idea goes along the lines that “when prejudice exists alongside political and economic power”, it is racism. Without power, on the other hand, all we have is “prejudice”. Thus when a black man says that he “hates honkies”, or even when he says that “whites are evil and subhuman” (sometimes heard from the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, etc.), that, according to Leftists, isn't racism. It isn't racism because Leftists must literally believe that all blacks lack political and economic power. (In their eyes, even the blacks who do have economic and/or political power... don't.)... Or do they believe that? If theories are political weapons, then it doesn't matter if they're true or if they reflect realities.
The problem is that you must accept a hell of a lot of Marxist theory before you can accept that black/Muslim/etc. racism is simply prejudice.
Despite the theories behind all this, the vast majority of times I've heard people say that “blacks can't be racist, only prejudiced”, it's never explained why that's the case. It's simply stated as some kind of theological diktat or religious catechism.
Now how can the idea that Leftist theories are political tools or weapons be tied to the specific theory of racism?
In simple terms, it isn't that black people can't be racist. It's more a case that it makes political sense (to the Leftist) to claim that blacks can't be racist. In other words, since racism is the major problem of society, then claiming that blacks can also be racist is bound to be counterproductive (i.e., from a progressive or radical point of view). It also makes political sense to tie racism to capitalism if one is a socialist or progressive. In other words, if you're an anti-capitalist anyway, why not say that say that capitalism and racism are essentially linked? That will work political wonders (as it has) for your cause.
Finally, to paraphrase Marx's words quoted at the beginning of this piece:
Philosophers have only been concerned with discovering truths about the world. The point, however, isn't truth: it's changing the world in a progressive direction.