The provocative title of this article should not be misconstrued. Starbucks/USA Today’s “RACE TOGETHER” campaign is undoubtedly motivated by a desire to foster better harmony among people of different races. But their means to that end can only hamper progress toward that goal—and likely set it back.
Why? Consider the explanation for the campaign offered by Starbucks Coffee Company CEO Howard Schultz and USA TODAY President Larry Kramer:
Racial diversity is the story of America, our triumphs as well as our faults.
Yet racial inequality is not a topic we readily discuss.
It’s time to start.
The purpose of the campaign, they say, is to confront
barriers to social justice and economic equality [that] exist in far too many corners. RACE TOGETHER is not a solution, but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time.
The very premise that forms the basis for RACE TOGETHER is wrong. Individualism, not racial diversity, is the story of America. The Declaration of Independence—the document that lays out the fundamental principles of America and serves as the philosophic blueprint for the U.S. Constitution—states, in essence, that all people possess the same inalienable individual rights, and that every person’s rights deserve equal protection under the law, administered by a government charged with the sole task of “securing these rights.” Period.
The Declaration says nothing about racial or any other kinds of groups, and for good reason: Rights belong to individuals, not groups. Equality of individual rights before the law is the only form of equality that can be guaranteed to you. No other kind of equality, whether social, economic, or whatever, has ever been, is, or should ever be the goal of American law. Any equality other than equality of rights—which sanction the freedom of the individual to act in pursuit of his own flourishing—is contrary to our nature as human beings. That is because the individual is the only human entity that exists, and individually, each of us is unique and an end in himself. This is a matter of observable, scientific fact. By our nature as humans, we are not equal—not in our natural mental or physical capabilities, our ambition, our upbringing, the personal, social, or environmental influences on our lives. We are not equal in any characterological respect. We share only one aspect of our nature—our capacity to reason and make choices. Any attempt to enforce equality aside from the equal freedom to think, choose our values, and act accordingly would destroy America’s very reason for being.
But consider what it means to set a goal of “economic equality” based on race. If white people as a group average higher earnings than black people as a group, then a successful white person must be judged by a less successful black person not on how that white person earned his money, but only on the fact that white people as a group make more money than black people as a group. The white person may have earned his money honorably; i.e., by work and voluntary trade. But—with economic equality among racial groups as the standard—the individual white person would have to be viewed by the individual black person with moral suspicion, based solely on the color of his skin and regardless of how he earned his money. The content of the white person’s character, actions, and virtues would have to be thought irrelevant, or at least of lesser consequence than his white skin. Is this a good way to foster “a more empathetic and inclusive society ?”
America is indeed a racially diverse nation. But that is a consequence of the fact that, in America, your race doesn’t legally matter. This is what drew people from from every imaginable racial background to the Land of Liberty. The real diversity is in our individuality, not our race. Striving for any kind of equality other than equality of rights before the law is contrary to the story of America. The fact that America has often not been consistent in establishing this principle in practice is a huge stain on our history, to be sure, but beside the point. Under equality of rights under law as the fundamental political absolute, inequality is actually a welcome result of the fully free society the Founders sought to erect. Such inequality is a hallmark of a society that protects each individual’s right to live and flourish in accord with his rationality, ability, ambition, values, personal circumstances and overall character, restrained only by the obligation to respect the same rights of others.
Starbucks/USA TODAY’s diversity campaign undermines America’s noble principles by encouraging us to think in terms of race, not individual character, in our associations with other people. In this way, RACE TOGETHER is explicitly racist. This is not to imply that Schultz and Kramer or anyone else in the Starbucks and USA Today organizations is racist. But there’s no escaping the fact that lumping people together according to race fits the very definition of racism. Encouraging people to think in fundamentally racist terms can only foster racial suspicion and antagonism.
Putting race at the forefront in people’s minds won’t accomplish the goal RACE TOGETHER strives for. We should aim for an individual-conscious, not race-conscious, society. The only antidote to racism, and only path toward peaceful coexistence in a racially diverse culture, is individualism.
Racism is a subset of collectivism. Collectivism holds that the group—society, the tribe, the economic class, the race, etc.—is the fundamental focus of moral concern. Therefor an individual must be judged primarily according to his group identity—in this case, his race. This is how RACE TOGETHER urges us to judge others.
Individualism holds that the individual, regardless of his accidental, unchosen group characteristics, is the fundamental focus of moral concern. Therefor, every individual must be judged on the content of his character—his chosen actions, values, and ideas—rather than the color of his skin. This is how we should judge others.
I have no doubt that Schultz and Kramer have the noblest of motives. But I respectfully disagree with their initiative. We must learn to view our fellow human beings as individuals rather than as members of black, white, yellow, brown, or red tribes. We must celebrate America’s true, individualistic diversity.
Schultz and Kramer ask us to think about “race and what it means to you.” Very well. My contribution to the conversation Starbucks/USA TODAY seeks to foster can be summed up thusly: Race doesn’t matter, end of story.
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