Forgive me, cher lecteur, but what kind of columnist would I be if I didn’t, from time to irksome time, take the Twitter-outrage bait? A happier one, assuredly. But not as entertaining, or informative, if waxing thoughtfully on the asinity of tweet takes can at all be considered didactic.
The latest chum to grab my attention: a proposed ballot initiative by an also-ran Washington, DC council candidate to reinstitute de jure segregation via secession. No, no, this isn’t a ploy to help the South rise again by turning the Wharf into the new Confederacy. It also isn’t an admittedly reasonable proposition to sever socialist-fond Northern Virginia from the rest of the blood-red state (excluding Richmond exurbs), though it would leave yours truly at the whim of his Violet Beauregarde-blue neighbors. No mihi amor fati in that unlikely scenario.
The proposal, dubbed the Black Autonomy Act, would section off parts of the capital city to be entirely black-run, complete with their own chief executives and law-making bodies.
The motion’s mastermind, black autonomy advocate Addison Sarter, has his sights set on three neighborhoods ripe for racial liberation: “East of the Anacostia River is the perfect area for an [African American] autonomous region, because it is 90 percent [African American] and has been systematically isolated/segregated from the rest of [Washington, DC] due to the 295 highway.” The Langdon Park and Brentwood communities, which are three-quarters African American in toto, are also autonomization targets.
To justify his racial grievance irredentism, Sarter leans heavily on the United Nations’ “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,” which, like all U.N. Xeroxed code leaflets, lacks enforcement. No matter: Sarter declares African Americans indigenous captives who ”have the right to have our own autonomous regions in America AND the right to enjoy being a citizen in all of America, outside of our autonomous regions.” Confused? Black Americans should get all the benefits of being citizens without having to follow the accordant laws. Still sound unfair? Perhaps you need to revisit your HR department’s critical race PowerPoint presentation for a refresher on “allyship.”
Ah! But who will spare a thought for the hated financiers already deeply invested in the newly freed black sects? Not Sarter, who seems to think legal fiat crosses the book, automatically balancing debits and credits. Those oofy investors will presumably be either bought off or compelled to relinquish all monetary stakes. And if the evil monocled lenders resist, a reputational tarring and feathering awaits, along with the un-erasable branding of “RACIST.”
That Sarter’s plebiscite is a dead letter walking is not in question. It won’t pass electoral muster, let alone go into effect: the FBI would never turn a blind eye to a makeshift nuclear fission lab in a Ward 8 tenement. Sarter’s whistling Dixie—or, rather, whistling Tulsa—in hope for a blacks-only redoubt from the rapacious white world. Why he wishes for a recrudescence of Plessy-like separation shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Mainstream American culture has swallowed whole and metabolized the key tenet of critical race theory: that our Anglo-jurisprudential origins are just manifested white supremacy. The great-pale-enemy narrative is pushed by every cultural maven, from academic high-brows to Hollywood half-wits to idiot-box airheads to corporate suits to fast food social media interns to pop-radio compères to the New York Times bestseller list curators to whoever or whatever Logan Paul is supposed to be. From Tom Hanks to Thomas the Tank Engine, there’s hardly a popular American figure not regurgitating critical race theory shibboleths. What Wesley Yang calls the “successor ideology” has overthrown the mid-century story of America as a land of racial reconciliation and liberal striving.
Sarter sets out his sectarian stall along this line: “[African Americans] continue to be systematically prevented from controlling the institutions and resources in our communities.” Thus the racialist reclamation. Sarter insists that his motion is “not segregation,” but only blacks assuming control of “institutions in our communities.” This black autonomy is perfectly simpatico with the American creed of independence and self-government. It would also seem to validate Abraham Lincoln’s uneasy suggestion that it’d be better for whites and blacks to live apart.
For the autonomy-happy libertarian, this may come off as no trouble whatsoever. Murray Rothbard once posited that, following the Civil War, newly manumitted slaves should have been awarded ownership rights over the plantations and fields they serviced with their forced labor. This embondaged homesteading was, according to Lockean theory, a rite of asset transference. Yet the 40 acres and a mule went ungifted—still inspiring bitter resentment today.
Why not get on board with black autonomy? What reason, other than sentimental notions of togetherness, is there to not let the Black Belt or Harlem or North Philadelphia split off from the hole, denizens forming their own black enclaves? Racial harmony has inverted over the last twenty years: a majority thinks race relations are “somewhat bad.” Secessionism is a taboo-ish libertarian pipe dream; conservatives, contrary to popular stereotype, appreciate particularity among varying ethnicities. The left demands uniformity under the state’s steel-gray umbrella. So how about owning the libs by embracing all-black proprietorship? Democrats won’t know what hit them when Collier Heights goes gules!
Jim Crow’s second act isn’t a new show either. Woke college campuses have established, or re- in some cases, racially segregated dorms at the behest of black students who feel maltreated. “If in campus life, why not real life?” goes the identitarian logic. It was only a matter of time before the no-whites-allowed dorms graduated to the ZIP code.
There’s no prima facie reason why the right should oppose racialist secession. It jibes with the freedom of association. These minority DNI zones also promote a kind of awkward modus vivendi at a time when the concept of race itself seems like a lit fuse. With all this heated talk of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin and equity and reparations and Sally Hemings and defunding the police and Charlottesville and structural racism, wouldn’t it be far better to retreat to our mono-melanin hives and wait a spell before attempting to live amongst each other again?
Racial withdrawal would be taking the easy way out, and would evidence the American experiment of equality under the rule of law is a farce.
That should be depressive for Americans versed in Whitman and Martin Luther King, Jr. It would constitute a failure in transcending ancient prejudice. The 150-year struggle for racial reconciliation, the blood shed at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Antietam, the billions spent on reconstruction and integration, would all have to be written off. The hope that America is a good nation slowly fulfilling its promise of liberty and justice for all would be dashed. For that reason, the Hochpolitik of racial equality—now derided by elites as “colorblindness”—shouldn’t be so readily cast aside.
Sarter’s made-in-America apartheid may be a Twitter clout stunt, but, considering how quickly radical racialist ideas have invaded pop culture (would you have even known what “anti-racist” meant two years ago?), it would be folly to treat it as idle philosophizing. Black separatism is the next logical leap for critical race theory. More formalized proposals are coming, complete with statute citation and lawyer sign-offs. The bait is for the larger catch down the road: country-wide crackup.
When the racial schism arrives, I suspect everyone, white, black, brown, vitiligio suffers, tattoo-sleeved, red-haired, cyan-eyed, liver-spotted, schnoz-pierced, and bright-neon-pink-mohawked alike, will regret it. Acrimony doesn’t attentuate on its own. Ignoring ill feelings only perpetuates them. Black self-segregation will only strain our already frayed racial comity. If you think we fall to racialist rancor too often now, just wait until neighbors compete for the same infrastructural resources across a legal color line.
Ideas have consequences, and Sarter’s black-autonomy idea has bigger, more graver consequences than he realizes.