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Opinionista

If cauliflower is racist, the racists are winning

Ivo Vegter is a columnist and the author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies. He writes on this and many other matters, from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

America’s young socialist starlet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she of the stillborn ‘Green New Deal’, has said that growing cauliflower in community gardens in New York is ‘a colonial approach to environmentalism’. This plays right into the racists’ hands.

In a self-shot YouTube video, the media darling of the left in the US Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, digressed at length about a community garden she came across in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Her rambling monologue somehow jumps from how amazing composting is to how it is a “core component of the Green New Deal” to “have all these projects make sense in a cultural context”.

From there, she continues: “When you really think about it, when someone says that it’s ‘too hard’ to do a green space that grows yucca instead of, I don’t know, cauliflower or something, what you’re doing is that you’re taking a colonial approach to environmentalism, and that’s why a lot of communities of colour get resistant to certain environmentalist movements, because they come with the colonial lens on them…”

So, growing cauliflower is racist, and that’s why a lot of community garden projects fail in “communities of colour”. The reason, she explains, is that black people don’t know how to cook cauliflower, and they don’t like it.

I can understand not liking cauliflower. It’s not everyone’s favourite vegetable. But being unable to cook it? How incompetent does she think black people are? It’s hardly an elaborate process. Even I can do it, although granted, I’m white, so maybe it’s in my genes.

Has anyone ever said that growing potatoes in Europe is racist because white people don’t know how to cook these exotic tubers from South America?

The real reason it’s “too hard” to do a green space that grows yucca in New York, is that it is not a desert, which is where yucca grows. It has nothing to do with colonial attitudes.

This is a patently idiotic attempt to cloak something entirely ordinary — growing cauliflower in urban community gardens in temperate climes — in a veil of racial identity politics.

That everything is racist has become a common view among the radical left. It is a core assumption of critical race theory that racism, even when you can’t see it, is ingrained in our cultures and institutions.

It is impossible to argue against critical race theory because it relies on narrative to explore experiences and “name one’s own reality”, instead of basing its conclusions upon facts, figures, logic and reasoned argument. It is a radically subjectivist subject in which what you feel is truth, while objective reality and knowledge are social constructs designed to oppress anyone who isn’t white, cis-male, able-bodied, and heterosexual.

It has driven identity politics to absurd extremes. Some observers wondered whether Ocasio-Cortez is secretly a conservative troll on a mission to make the left look like idiots. This might have been a joke, but there’s more to this theory than meets the eye, as we’ll soon see.

The ridiculousness doesn’t end with cauliflower. Mathematics is racist, according to Professor Rochelle Gutiérrez, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois. Teaching the Pythagorean theorem and pi, she says, gives the impression that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.

Mathematics — unlike, say, philosophy — is entirely abstract and independent of language, culture and yes, race. It cannot be racist, even if it tried.

The most basic symbols of mathematics, the digits from 0 to 9, the most revolutionary of which was the zero, are known as Hindu-Arabic numerals. They were invented by Indian mathematicians in about 500CE, and described by a Persian named Al-Khwarizmi (from which we get the term “algorithm”) and an Arab named Al-Kindi some 150 years before their first mention in a Western text. They were imported to Europe by Leonardo Fibonacci, who encountered them in North Africa, in 1202CE.

Europeans did dominate mathematics from the Middle Ages, despite significant language and cultural differences between its various nations. However, its roots are decidedly non-European, and a list of famous mathematicians includes quite a few Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic and Egyptian names.

Walking dogs on the campus of a predominantly black university is racist. “Howard University is supposed to be a safe space for black people and we don’t need you colonisers infiltrating it,” said a local radio host. An alumnus says it’s about “maintaining the sanctity of this sacred black space”.

Imagine someone saying they want to maintain the sanctity of a sacred white space. Would it really be so hard to simply say: “Your dogs shit on our lawns, so stay off them”?

The word “niggardly” has on a number of occasions been flagged as racist. The origin of the word, meaning stingy or miserly, goes back to at least the 14th century and has never referred to race, even obliquely. It predates the origin of the word “nigger”, which it superficially resembles, by almost two centuries. That word is derived from the French and Spanish words for “black” and clearly does refer to race.

Time is racist, according to Brittney Cooper, a professor of gender and women’s studies who describes herself as a black feminist whose superpower is rage.

Time is a European invention, she says, and the way we talk about “spending time”, as opposed to “passing time” apparently comes out of the Industrial Revolution, in which time was associated with monetary value. As if the time of black people doesn’t have value.

She argues that white people are taught time is linear, as if it isn’t linear for everyone. She says that black people have a past, a present and a future, as if white people don’t. And since black people’s past, present and future are all affected by racism, the concept of time is racist.

It’s an absurd bit of reasoning. Cooper mentions the notion of “coloured people time”, which we might know better as “African time”. The irony is that it is usually a term used by racists to denigrate black people, not by critical race theorists to defend them.

The movie Dunkirk was denounced as both racist and sexist for having cast few women, and no lead actors of colour. Of course, the army at Dunkirk was overwhelmingly white and male, so it merely reflected history, not prejudice.

Babies are racist. Reporting on a study about the changing demographics of heroin use is racist. Talking about Ebola is racist.

Wearing hoop earrings while white is racist. It’s one of the more egregious examples of taking offence at so-called “cultural appropriation”. Despite the fact that hoop earrings have been worn for thousands of years by almost every culture in the history of the world, some consider it characteristic of black or Hispanic women. According to critical race theorists, the appropriation of cultural symbols, fashions, music, or food of oppressed cultures by dominant cultures is a form of racism.

While one can certainly disrespect symbols that have religious or other significance, and one can mock other cultures by caricaturing them, there is no coherent, generalised way to distinguish such behaviour from simple cultural exchange. Prohibiting cultural appropriation actually reinforces the social barriers between cultures, which is the exact opposite of what anti-racism activists should want to achieve.

The air is racist. Because of racial disparities in the consumption of goods and services, black and Latino people respectively breathe about 56% and 63% more air pollution than is caused by their consumption, while white people breathe 17% less. Of course, if there is a disparity in wealth, which there is, even an equal distribution of pollution would produce such an apparent disparity. As it is, pollution is probably not equally distributed and is more likely in poor neighbourhoods that are close to industrial areas or use more wood and coal for heating, than in rich neighbourhoods.

But that makes exposure to pollution a function of prosperity, not a function of race. There are black people in rich neighbourhoods who don’t carry this burden and white people in poor neighbourhoods who do. A change in your race would not occasion a change in your circumstances, but a change in your prosperity certainly would. The solution to over-exposure to pollution is economic and not biological.

When the World Health Organisation advocated a worldwide ban on the marketing of breast-milk alternatives (infant formula), the US demurred. Notwithstanding the benefits of breastfeeding, the US didn’t believe it reasonable to infringe on the right to market a product that offers a convenience to many mothers — especially those who spend full days working, commuting and caring for families.

Now I would think that this is primarily an issue of infant health and nutrition, applicable to infants of all colours, shapes and sizes, but no. Because breastfeeding rates differ according to race, and black women buy more infant formula than white women, it’s about race, declared self-described critical race scholar Andrea Freeman. Instead of considering the real causes of this disparity, which are likely associated with wealth, health consciousness and the availability of time, she blames product marketing for being racist.

Freeman goes further, though. Cow’s milk is also a racist symbol, which makes US dietary guidelines racist. She even published her theory in a law journal. “At this moment in history, both white supremacists and federal food policy in the United States are engaging in oppression through milk,” she wrote. Radical vegans opportunistically lapped it up.

The roots of this notion can be found in a map of lactose intolerance around the world first published in Nature in September 2013. The map shows significant hot spots for the ability to digest lactose in Northern Europe, West Africa and the Middle East, where dairy farming originated.

Users of 4chan.org first thought to associate milk and white supremacy. This website hosts a wide variety of discussion boards, but is notorious for its Random (/random/) and Politically Incorrect (/pol/) board, which are generally cesspits of deliberate offensiveness, cruel parody and crass humour.

Adopting milk as a white supremacist symbol was their idea. They did it for a lark. They found it funny that a common internet meme, Pepe the Frog, was listed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a hate symbol, alongside swastikas and the Confederate flag. The ADL admits that the majority of uses of Pepe remain non-bigoted, but listed it anyway.

The legend is that the alt-right on 4chan used memes to get Donald Trump elected, and it is certainly likely that they influenced the campaign. With that success under their belts, they set out to get other perfectly ordinary things declared to be racist symbols.

The ADL’s most recent listing is the OK hand gesture, which also exists as an emoji, and is commonly used to signify agreement, approval or consent. Again, it admits that the overwhelming usage is innocent, and the origin of OK as a hate symbol was an elaborate hoax.

4channers have tried the same with the rainbow flag commonly waved by LGBTQI+ activists, another emoji hand sign signifying “small” or “very little”, and most recently, with the common hashtag, which they placed into a context where one otherwise might expect a swastika. Their hope, they say, is to destroy a core mechanic of Twitter, which they see as controlled by left-wing technology executives and media icons.

This is a deliberate strategy designed to make the media and the left look foolish. And it works surprisingly often. When it does, it’s not the anti-racist message that wins. It’s the racists.

Trivial or ridiculous accusations of racism substantially harm the anti-racism cause. It is divisive and polarising and perpetuates racialism, that is, the idea that racial identity defines us. It has a cry-wolf effect on the silent majority in the middle, who must be getting tired of constantly being told that their perfectly innocent everyday actions are unconsciously racist. The racist right wants to perpetuate racialism for its own ends, and it expertly manipulates academia and the media to this purpose.

The more often a real academic writes a serious paper about the racism inherent in milk, or a real politician declares it racist to plant cauliflower in a community garden, the further the alt-right drives the idea of racial equality and social justice into the fever swamps of the left.

The non-racial ideal — an important foundation of the struggle for liberation and racial justice in South Africa, enshrined in our Constitution — seems further away than ever in today’s polarised, racialised world. This is the fault not only of racists, but also of those opposed to them. But then, even non-racialism is racist now. And that’s exactly what the racists want. DM

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