Doth Protest Too Much? Why Corporate and Academic Confessions Increasingly Fall On Deaf Ears


Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the anti-racism demonstrations from the NFL displays to corporate campaigns to academic confessions. What is most striking about these campaigns is how little they are likely to impact opinions on racism. Indeed, the NFL displays were not only booed by fans but denounced by figures like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as meaningless propaganda. Most people are unwilling to discuss racism honestly.  Booing is a form of anonymous speech and many of those individuals would not want to speak publicly about countervailing views of racial justice or the role of the NFL in such causes. Unless we can have that honest (and mutually tolerant) discussion, few minds will be changed in these campaigns.  That requires a real interest in discussing different views of racial justice and its underlying issues for social reform, not just repeating affirmations or offering confessions.  Otherwise, many are tuning out these demonstrations. There is clearly a view of many that corporations “doth protest too much” and mean too little in terms of real change in attitudes on racism.

Here is the column:

The National Football League tried this week to address cries over racial justice with the demonstration of players, signs proclaiming Black Lives Matter, and the words “end racism” in the end zones. The response was not uniformly positive, including loud disapproval from some fans.

The controversy intensified after announcer Cris Collinsworth praised the demonstration, but went on, “Let us just get that out of the way and call a football game.” Some objected to his transition. Others such as former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala claimed that announcer Alan Michaels did not declare his own support. “Crickets,” as Begala suggested, was insufficient, leading some to push back on the pressure of forced statements.

The greater concern could be the impact of such corporate displays and whether they constitute real progress toward racial justice or are a tactic that will effectively diminish the issue. The Food and Drug Administration and consumer advocates have studied how the saturation using product warnings has caused consumers to ignore stated risks. It becomes a kind of background noise tuned out by commercials. Racial justice should not fall victim to the same claims. Companies have been fast to create public displays of their “wokeness” in campaigns. But will such messages really resonate with people when they become pervasive and uniform?

Take Lululemon, a $45 billion corporation that is funding the campaign to “unveil historical erasure and resist capitalism.” A global company with a campaign against capitalism brings to mind Vladimir Lenin, who claimed, “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will vie with each other for the rope contract.” Lululemon must hope to sell not just the rope but the attire of the revolution. What better way to redefine society than in a fetching Lululemon “define jacket” that costs more than $100?

Such campaigns have become a kind of certification, where denouncing oneself is the new standard. I have been deluged by relatives and friends blasting out social media confessions of being racists. Several professors have read or signed statements declaring themselves racists.

The acting dean of Northwestern University Law School began a diversity event by declaring, “I am James Speta and I am a racist.” He was followed by Emily Mullin, executive director of major gifts, who said, “I am a racist and a gatekeeper of white supremacy. I will work to be better.” These kind recitations are now expected of anyone claiming to oppose racism. There is a sense for urgency among some faculty not to be the last to condemn themselves. As Begala has shown, “crickets” invite criticism.

I do not doubt the motives of Speta. I assume this was a heartfelt effort to support racial justice. Yet this social catharsis comes across with all such spontaneity of a recitation at a retraining camp. It is difficult to see how it assists the cause of racial justice for everyone to dutifully call themselves racists or tools of white supremacy. But an emerging view is that all white people are racist or at least presumptively racist. Angela Bell, an assistant professor at Lafayette College, said, “If you have to ask if you are a racist, you are, and if you are not asking if you are a racist, you are.”

If everyone is a racist, then this becomes a common rather than a singular distinction. It makes it easy for everyone to declare themselves recovering racists, then tackling real racism becomes more instead of less difficult to address. The protests have educated me with a number of issues. Racism remains our most transcendent and unresolved national matter. However, saying “I am a racist” may be popular now, but it is not true. That does not mean I do not want to address ways that my words may negatively impact other people, or to become better educated about their lives.

The question is whether this movement is being advanced or undermined by these awkward recitations of condemnation or corporate identity. That is why many recoiled when Collinsworth said, “I feel like I have to start off by stating I stand behind these players 100 percent. What they are trying to do is bring positive change for this country that is frankly overdue. Let us just get that out of the way and call a football game.” Most fans believe the National Football League has not actually changed its views. It simply wants to get on with the game, like how Lululemon wants to get back to selling $125 leggings as an anti-capitalist corporation.

It is clear why such campaigns and declarations work for some firms or individuals. Yet they can also give us a false sense of progress. Painting “end racism” in a stadium is gratifying, but it does not move the ball on racism because it is not part of a real discussion on race, and that core conversation happens less in society. Many advocates have pushed for these declarations as evidence that we finally are having a debate over race. However, it is only a recitation instead of a conversation.

What we need is what few are willing to tolerate: a real discussion on race. There are many who believe racism is a scourge but disagree with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others disagree that police killings of African Americans are under the systemic problem of racism, as opposed to a systemic problem with use of lethal force. When academics have published some studies on such issues, they have been denounced as racists or subjected to firing campaigns. Few minds will be changed in this heated environment, and that is sadly a loss for society.

Public confessions or corporate slogans will not change many minds. We can change minds on both sides by talking about different views of racism with the understanding that reasonable people may disagree over aspects of the problem. For most of us, there may not be different sides but rather different views of the causes and solutions, which is a much more difficult conversation to have than painting a slogan or leading a public confession. Otherwise, from gridirons to colleges to runways, campaigns against racism will simply turn into a cost of doing business.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

63 thoughts on “Doth Protest Too Much? Why Corporate and Academic Confessions Increasingly Fall On Deaf Ears”

  1. Advocating ‘real discussions on race’ is not much different from what was featured as the object of Turley’s criticism. What must be done is to separate ‘race related’ from ‘racist’ and at the same time realize that race is not going away. People will always come from and or be a part of one race or another, perhaps several. People will always try to draw strength by associating with one race or another and sometimes perversely by putting down another race. Racial hubris, national hubris, hubris for any reason is the root cause of racism. Only through social evolution will racism wain. Understanding the difference between race related issues and racism is the first step.

  2. Dims keeping poor, uneducated blacks in inferior schools, run down neighborhoods and out of jobs are the real racists. Throwing blacks some crumbs every election cycle keeps the patronization going as the Dims cash in on the race business to the tune of billions. “Hello, I’m _________ and I’m a racist” is a small, insincere affront to an ego in service to control of the culture. Dims ought to be ashamed but, of course, they’re committed to destroying the middle class or enslaving it so such bourgeoisie notions of morality and decency have no currency in their world view. (See the rich-sponsored rabble blocking ER entrances while two middle class police officers fought for their lives.) The only response to the insatiable search for power is the one adopted by the French peasants which predictably turned out horribly wrong as one tyrant was replaced with another tyrant. That said, a little bloodletting is the hallmark of human existence and we’ve been long overdue for a course correction to starboard. There is a reckoning coming and if history is any guide, it won’t be pleasant for the radicals.

  3. Are there any FBI statistics regarding how many black citizens have had interactions with police and didn’t get shot because they FOLLWED THE OFFICERS INSTRUCTIONS? Because if Floyd and the others had simply followed instructions they would all be alive today.

    Of course, not having enough fentanyl to kill a horse in your system greatly improves one’s concentration.

  4. This current obsession with racism is missing the point. The charge or racism is a diagnosis of the real problem. And since racism is a set of assumptions within a persons mind, is the public flogging of anything hint of opinions not meeting a purity test really the way to change the minds of rational people? Instead, we should be identifying and addressing the real problem the source of which may include racism but may also include other societal ills. My hunch is that the real problem to be addressed is that a certain group of people (African Americans) sense that they are not as successful as a group as other groups of people such as European Americans or Asian Americans. They see real differences in crime statistics, wealth, etc. that are not favorable to their group. The one and only source of the difference between these groups that is currently being assumed is racism. The “proof” of this is usually concluded by considering outcome statistics relative (not to the input but) to the basic population statistics. This method completely ignores the input statistics to whatever process (e.g. arrests, admissions to universities, hiring, …) is under consideration. The flaw in this methodology is easily seen by considering the distribution of races in say the NBA or NFL player population. These are highly competitive organizations – not given to hiring by adherence to some racial theory. So we naturally conclude that though the player employment population is skewed from the general population, there is no bias at work. Why do we look at other processes (e.g. hiring at Microsoft or admissions to Harvard) and rush to conclude otherwise? To say that the skew of a selected population (e.g. Microsoft employees or Harvard students) is the result of racism is a very lazy answer. To make any progress, we really need to much more deeply understand the real problem if indeed there is a problem at all. Does anyone think that the player race population distribution in the NBA is a problem worthy of the public’s attention?

  5. Of course, much of this is phony. The left constantly tell us that, “we need to have a conversation on race”. No, what they mean is that ordinary Americans need to sit down for a lecture describing how white racism, privilege and oppression are to explain for black failure all the time, everywhere and that explains everything. The least questioning or deviation from this accepted line of thinking means banishment from respectable society and destruction of one’s livelihood.

    People say “the right things” or keep their mouths shut to get along and hope they can avoid trouble, all while trying to avoid the undertow.

    Fortunately being a “good white” does not require getting one’s hands dirty. Even the biggest BLM supporting suburban whites wouldn’t be caught dead living in a black neighborhood or sending their kids to black school. But they are good at condemning working class whites for white flight.

    When it comes to mating and migratory habits, “good whites” are no different than the KKK.

    Hate to tell “good whites” that your constant virtue signaling will be of no help when BLM, the Brave Masked Wonderful Warriors of Antifa ™ or just a plain dindu come calling to your suburban neighborhood.


      1. By almost every measure of success Asian Americans outperform Whites (income, education, health indicators, longevity). Does this support Asian privledge? Or do Asian Americans outperform because they value supportive families, education, delayed satisfaction, respect for elderly, savings, entrepreneurship, reverence for history, marriage, self-reliance, planning for the future, community, etc.

        1. they have good values, they work hard, rice culture people actually work very hard for 360 some days a year, and the genetically heritable IQ is higher too.

          interestingly, whites still hold the edge on patents and inventions. some say this is due to a different distribution 2 std deviations above the mean for the european ancestry aka white population, it is more dispersed with more high end very high iq outliers per a similar sample of north asian population. i think this was from the work of Richard Lynn if you want to look it up.

          but cultural values matter a lot!

          1. they have good values, they work hard, rice culture people actually work very hard for 360 some days a year, and the genetically heritable IQ is higher too.

            They don’t. The OECD contends that 77% of Japan’s ‘working-aged’ population is currently employed, v. 62.5% of that of the United States. (It’s not clear how they define ‘working-aged’. Per the same set of surveys, American workers put in 1,770 hours per year, v. 1,640 hours per year in Japan.

        1. I guess that it my point. Why aren’t black communities thriving and inviting to the point that all other races want to be part of it?

  6. I agree with Turley here. This behavior reminds me of North Korea, where people must compete with each other to be the loudest, to cry the loudest, to make the most show of their loyalty to the Kim kingdom.

    All of this celebrity, corporate and sports player forced-feeding of virtuism, combined with arrogant black people demanding that others bow down to them and shooting cops and rioting, has made people racist who weren’t before. So yeah, there are more racists now, but the problem has been caused by those most willing to push their white-privilege racist propaganda onto everyone else.

  7. The very fact that some feel the need to make such a public statement is evidence of the countervailing. Which, simply stated, is that – while racism is so obviously evolutionary, the black-man is wholly indifferent and generally under-performing – if only he would straighten up and fly right, if only he would offer goods and services of value, he himself would be of value.

    When seventy percent are born out of wedlock, when half do not graduate high school, when one-third have well-deserved felony records, the “countervailing” in a society that values such statistical evidence is valid. The black-man in America is considered lazy and untrustworthy; he is not only disliked, he is, in many cases, despised. That’s the “honest” conversation we need to have. And I say this for one reason and one reason only – because I consider capitalism and civility to be euphemisms, reciprocals, two sides of the same coin. If mankind is going to advance or progress, as only he can through unbridled spirit of free enterprise, then we must remain a “civil” people.

    Love cannot be induced through enforced protocol; more, we are not a naturally submissive people, we do not readily bow to authority, America’s so-called “Celtic” ancestors have been free-spirited for a thousand years. For reason; that reason, is “progress.” We will not be bowed. Or, as Cuomo has said, “you better bring an army” (words to that effect).

    Football, an apolitical contest, a bloodshot without the blood, has suddenly gone political to press a cause that many oppose – we will NOT grant the black-man unbridled privilege in America because to do so is to threaten civility, the very fabric of our nation and our culture. In the classless or class-leveled society one must earn his place, that’s just the way it is.

  8. Interesting viewpoint. I ask are there no Black Racist ?? Of course there are. I know many in my own family. I suspect many of these over paid, under informed, hypercritical athletes are in that group. Good nor Evil have a color. How many of these Athletes live in predominantly Black neighborhoods, bought their home through a Black real estate professional, Drive cars bought from Black owned dealerships ?? How many of the Known drug users have Black Doctors or lawyers to help clean up behind them ? How many of them inves their money in anything Black owned or controled ? How many of them send their kids to Black owned or operated private schools, or any public school ? How many of those among us that are so quick to scream Racism, systemic and otherwise,. Know that about 80% of ALL immergration to this country is from South of our border, Asia and Africa. These Athletes should put their money where their mouth is or shut up. Businesses should follow existing law on discrimination and stay out of the politics.
    The West is dying. Because it chose “diversity” over assimilation. Many of the Hispanics and Africans I work with are here for the welfare and money and see all Whites as racist. About 2044 White’s will be a minority in the United States. Who will we blame our problems on then ??

  9. In August, I went to Capitol Hill with a sign saying: “Democrats, please end white privilege in the House. Rep. Clyburn for Speaker.” My point is to point out the hypocrisy of some Democrats who often talk up white privilege. Of course, I do not endorse the notion of widespread white privilege.

  10. Perhaps we might start having more meaningful discussions if we kept the presumptive, boring, virtue-signaling phonies off the stage. I’ve never seen and heard more irrelevant, spaced-out and confused people in my life.

  11. You’re playing divide to conquer, JT. I get what you’re saying…but let’s just look at one issue. You’ve cited whether police killings are inspired by race or by a tactically militaristic police force. The answer is both. Police, already accustomed to treating law enforcement as a hammer seeking out nails, jumped into the next realm of militarism post 9/11. But profiling policies have always been hugely stilted and influenced by racism from the beginning. So it’s an all the above situation, as is any truly perplexing phenomenon. It exists on several levels concurrently.

    We’re seeing a pause to de-tangle racism just a little bit more than the last attempt to de-tangle racism. Do corporations try to monetize and take advantage of these situations when they present themselves? Of course they do. Pepsi did “I’d love to teach the whole world to sing” ads in the ’70’s. Is this a current attempt a serious enough to address the underlying problem that America was built on the back of chattel slavery? Not really. Is it better than nothing but pure denial? Probably. Will the effort prove silly and insufficient, even tone deaf and completely limited on some level in the not distant future? Of course it will. So it goes, that’s the history of America in a nutshell. And I salute your effort to point out that the corporate realm will probably always fall short in remedying the situations it, in fact, helps perpetuate.

    Each venture into trying to address racism brings it out of polite conversation in the academy, away from cocktail party harrumphing and theorizing, away from trying to boil things down to one answer to an incredibly complex situation. Dialogue can’t return to the way it was handled pre George Floyd for instance because, hey, technology put a modern lynching on cam. That’s not going to change.

      1. This entire fraudulent movement has all the hallmarks of a Maoist Cultural Revolution.

        I fear the consequences will be almost as dire. I say almost because of our smaller population. We don’t have the same number of lives to be ruined.

    1. “George Floyd for instance because, hey, technology put a modern lynching on cam.”

      Please explain how this was a lynching.

  12. What we need is what few are willing to tolerate: a real discussion on race.

    Don’t need that either. What correlates with race is of interest to sales and marketing types, to academicians, to policy mavens of a certain sort, and to actuaries. It should be of no interest to any of the rest of us. What we do need is more order in the streets, more order in the schools, schooling better adapted to the task of benefiting the clientele of schools, and to structure common provision in such a way as perverse incentives are minimal. You do this, you don’t need to have a discussion of race at all.

    1. In August, I went to Capitol with a sign saying, “Democrats, please end white privilege in the House. Rep. Clyburn for speaker”. You see, Dems, often talk about white privilege, but when it comes to addressing it meaningfully, there is no action.

      Of course, I do not endorse the notion of widespread white privilege; my point was just to point out the hypocrisy of some in the Democratic Party.

  13. One action, by police chiefs and legislatures, that could greatly minimize police violence – violence which created the Black Lives Matter movement – is also constitutional. Hire more female officers so they represent the population. Women make up about half the nation. If we had approximately a 50-50% ratio of male to female officers, simply having more women could help in deescalation practices that many men aren’t good at. Maybe have the female officer do public relations while the male waits in the car as a backup.

  14. Most people are unwilling to discuss racism honestly.

    The overwhelming majority of people are unwilling to discuss racism at all because they have no need to do so personally and it leads to arguments they’d rather not have. From the perspective of the collectivity, the benefit we derive in common from ‘discussions of racism’ is net negative and gross nil. The only people who want to ‘discuss racism’ are twerps like TN Coates who are making a living off of it.

    We can discuss ways we might act (within the limits of what is prudent and categorically imperative) to improve the quality of life in slum neighborhoods. That, however, does not entail a discussion of racism at all.

    1. That is so true. This generation weeping at present created this nonsense out of the thin air of their snowflake imaginations. This is what coddling and sheltering your children to the point of suffocation and personality obliteration does. Most people are not actively racist in this country. Funny how most of the protestors are white, on the privileged side, and largely under 35. They are a disgrace to the struggles of every single person before them, and they would all wet their pants if you took away their wifi.

  15. “Henrico County’s police headquarters were located in a building used by Robert E. Lee during the Civil War”

    If you actually think that has any relevance, you’re a complete and total fool.

    Both the Union Army and the Confederate Army used hundreds of buildings and homes during the war.

    WTF does that have to do with anything?

    1. Following the Civil War, the American Oath of Office, that also governs police officers, was amended to include “domestic enemies” to the U.S. Constitution. This was amended so that southern officials and police officers would pledge allegiance to the United States Constitution, which included protecting the constitutional rights of African-Americans.

      Throughout world history, the losing side of most civil wars were executed or imprisoned. Following the American Civil War, both the Union side and the losing side wanted to unify the nation by essentially offering an amnesty deal to losing side. The amnesty deal was that the losers of the civil war would NOT be executed or imprisoned but allowed to even serve in the government (as police officers, legislators, etc) on one condition – they could only hold governing authority if they pledged supreme loyalty, in their job duties and authorities, to a “constitutional rule of law” government which protects the constitutional rights of all persons on U.S. soil.

      Ironically, even Robert E. Lee chose this amnesty deal over executing and imprisoning Americans that fought on the losing side. Locating a police headquarters in a symbol that contradicts and betrays the American Oath of Office [Title 5 US Code 3331 and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution] is precisely what the Confederate monuments controversy is all about. These actions weren’t done in the late 1860’s but most were constructed in the 20th Century by officials that accepted the amnesty deal. It was done to disrespect African-Americans and our constitutional rule of law system of government. If think it wasn’t done for racist motives, where are the statues of Confederate General Longstreet – a former General that accepted the amnesty deal and then protected African-Americans following the Civil War. Longstreet was loyal to his Oath of Office following the war.

      1. “Locating a police headquarters in a symbol that contradicts and betrays the American Oath of Office [Title 5 US Code 3331 and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution] is precisely what the Confederate monuments controversy is all about”

        specious nonsense. that’s what it’s about for eggheads. for rioters and vandals, it’s about hating whitey

  16. It’s 2020, not 1960. So “Don’t piss down my leg, and tell me it’s raining”.

    This entire “racism” meme is nothing more, and nothing less, than yet another tactic to feed into the Dialectic in order to create more us versus them divisiveness in the general population. Which only serves the long term agenda of the elites. (I.E.- Divide & Conquer = Control).

    Purposefully lost and obscured in all of this “racism” BS, is the tremendous gains that have been made over the past 60 years.

    But the last thing the elitists want to do is accentuate the positive. All that they want to do is create more fear and negativity. That’s because they know that fear is the greatest motivator.

    So spare me you own personal indulgent BS, Jonathan. You have a forum and an audience. Yet you also are feeding into this false us versus them Dialectic.

    “The Hegelian Dialectic as a Tool of Mass Manipulation”

    Now watch all of the usual suspects demonstrate how the Dialectic works……..

    1. is the tremendous gains that have been made over the past 60 years.

      Nothing tremendous has happened in the last 60 years. A few agreeable things, a few disagreeable things.

      1. “Nothing tremendous has happened in the last 60 years.”

        Despite what you want to believe, thanks to your indoctrination. Compared to what the US was like 60 years ago, the gains in racial equality have been tremendous.

        There is still a welfare class among the poor black and poor white population, thanks to LBJ’s virtual welfare plantation that he created in 1964. But it had consistently decreased in size year over year until the purposefully constructed 2008 financial meltdown. Which created tremendous economic damage to the entire American middle class.

        1. According to Gallup, in 1960 about 50% of whites said they’d move if a black family moved next door. By the ’90s, only around 1% held the same opinion.

          According to another Gallup poll, 54% said in 1968 they would not vote for a “qualified” black candidate for president. By 1999, only 5% said they held that opinion. By 2012, 97% of Democrats, 95% of Independents and 95% of Republicans all said they’d vote for a “qualified” black candidate for president.

          In 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of mixed race marriage. By 2013, it had risen to 87%.

          There is virtually NO political market for racist candidates. David Duke ran for the US Senate in Louisiana in 2016. He finished in 7th place.

          I agree with you the change in attitudes about race has been tremendous.

          1. @scott

            Don’t go by what people say but by what they do. Sure, the average, middle class black family moving to your suburban neighborhood is probably not a big deal but once their numbers get to around 20 or 25%, the neighborhood will become majority black in a few years. Something Sir Francis Galton predicted and called it “reversion to the mean”.

            This percentage holds true for schools, neighborhoods or anything else. Once the number of blacks gets to a critical mass, they will become a majority in a few years due to the resulting crime, disorder, noise, etc. And there is nowhere in the US where this has not proven to be true.

            And lefties before you call me a slur, I dare you to prove me wrong. Put your money where your mouth is, move to one of these neighborhoods and send your kids to school there.


            1. Antonio– Once the number of blacks gets to a critical mass, they will become a majority in a few years due to the resulting crime, disorder, noise, etc. And there is nowhere in the US where this has not proven to be true.


              I think that is mostly true. In LA I think some Hispanic immigrants have taken over formerly black neighborhoods, making them safer, and gentrification has changed some. Years ago the Miami Herald ran a strangely truthful article on the subject [not pc] and said that a mixed [black and other] neighborhood is not stable. It will either go predominantly black or predominantly other. Nothing in this field is always true, but that conclusion seems generally true. I have seen it happen a few times since then.

              If you are ‘other’ and move into a largely black neighborhood you would be wise to expect to have a number of unpleasant experiences. We did. Won’t do it again. Even white-hating Rev Wright moved into a predominantly white gated community I believe. He knows who the gates are for.

    2. i agree the notion that there is a use of dialectic by the plutocracy to divide and conquer and atomize

      however, if we are white folks who can’t afford the full time security teams the Democrat mayors and centi-billionaires like Bezos and Bloomberg have,.

      then we had better hold up our end of the dialectic when it comes to sticking together here on the ground.

      because it’s not just about dividing its also about conquering; and the legacy white working and middle class is still the most coherent and socially invested segment of the American population

  17. Americans should applaud those actually “walking-the-walk” like today’s announcement about Henrico County, Virginia appointing it’s first ever African-American police chief. What’s so remarkable about this is, for decades, Henrico County’s police headquarters were located in a building used by Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, sending a terrible message to African-Americans living in this suburb of Richmond.

    1. Minneapolis had a black police chief when George Floyd died and the world shook, so apparently that makes no difference.

    2. So long as he’s an American citizen with a clean record, a requisite history in law enforcement, and believes in law and fixed standards, I don’t give a rip whether he’s black, white, or green. We need police chiefs who will deploy their manpower optimally, promote according to performance, and motivate their workforce to get out on the street and police proactively. We need that everywhere.

Leave a Reply