“Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.”
— Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ch. 17.
The notion of “white privilege” is collectivist. It’s Marxism seen through a racial lens.
You don’t need Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy to know that crimes are not racially shared, that there is no collective guilt. The fact that a group of people with white skin enslaved a group of people with dark skin does not mean that everyone with a white skin bears guilt for the crime. The same applies to the “Jim Crow” laws that used to exist in the Southern states: guilt for this rights violation does not attach to skin color.
But it seems that you do need Rand’s Objectivism, or at least quite an advanced understanding of capitalism, to realize the error and the insult to blacks in the idea that whites gained financially from slavery, as the term “white privilege” implies.
The truth is that, aside from the plantation owners (a tiny minority), the white population of the South was hurt by slavery—kept poor by it—rather than enriched.
Only racists, who believe that African-Americans are sub-human, could imagine that treating them like beasts of burden would be the path to riches. If you recognize that the enslaved people were human beings, with the rational faculty, you understand that slavery and discrimination were not only viciously evil but also socially and economically destructive. The forcible suppression of blacks was deliberately directed toward thwarting and paralyzing their minds—their deepest essence and most economically valuable asset.
In the words of Spinoza, “Nothing is more valuable to man than [another] man who lives by reason.”
Not just basic human decency, not just the understanding of individual rights, but also the profit-motive demands that you treat every member of every race as the rational beings they are.
Slavery sets the slave’s mind against you. Respecting a man’s individual rights and paying him for his services puts a free man’s mind on your side.
Or do the pushers of the slogan “white privilege” secretly believe that only whites can think rationally?!
The same anti-black, racist premise is behind the idea that capitalism is consistent with racial bigotry. The vile insult to those suffering from the bigotry is the ugly assumption that the members of the victimized race could not, in fact, perform as well as the members of the “privileged” race.
In concrete terms, the charge of “white privilege” assumes that it made economic sense for Southern businesses to give preference to whites over blacks. This assumes the inferiority of the black race! Otherwise, not hiring blacks and not selling to them would spell economic suicide.
On a free, capitalist market, the price of a man’s labor (his wages), like the price of any other factors of production, is set by the man’s contribution to production, not by non-economic considerations like his shoe size, the number of syllables in his first name, or his skin color.
Sure, in backward areas, like the 19th century Deep South, there would initially have been, from rednecks, resistance to doing business with blacks and general resistance to dropping racial prejudice. The Archie Bunkers have always looked with horror at competition from members of other groups (Jews, Irish, Italians, women, etc.). But as individual members of a group perform well, as they advance in wealth and form friendships, and marriages, with the more reasonable individuals of other groups, the old collectivist prejudices become less and less tenable—because they are false.
Capitalism sets the profit motive against irrationality. And racism is the height—or lowest depth—of irrationality.
To see why racism is anti-capitalist, consider the analogy to a Luddite prejudice against machinery. What would happen, under capitalism, to business owners who discriminated against machinery? Suppose the vast majority of businessmen thought machines were instruments of the devil; suppose they would not buy machines at all. How would these superstitious businessmen compete against a lone rational businessman who was not prejudiced against machines and gladly used them to save time and money? They couldn’t compete. The price of prejudice against machines would be: inability to cut costs, thus cut prices, thus maintain sales, thus stay in business. The same is true for prejudice against men.
It’s simple. Irrationality doesn’t pay. Racism is grossly irrational. Therefore, racism doesn’t pay.
Do the chanters of “white privilege,” then, think that it is rational to view blacks as inferior?
Originally appeared on HBLetter.com (HBL)–a private email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at HBLetter.com.