Yelp goes looking for ideological dragons to slay

The online restaurant review service Yelp has added a new feature to its platform that encourages users to identify establishments accused of racism. The company announced the new social shaming mechanisms in a blog post entitled, “New Consumer Alert on Yelp Takes Firm Stance Against Racism”.

The Black Lives Matter unrest of 2020 has changed the nature of acceptable racial tolerance in the United States. No longer is it enough to simply treat everyone equitably. No longer is it sufficient to be colorblind. It is now necessary to adopt a constantly militant attitude on racial politics, commonly referred to as “antiracism”.

In our present environment, a failure to proactively display “antiracist” sentiments often brings accusations of holding racist ones. Many corporations are therefore enacting policies to get ahead of online cancel culture by overtly demonstrating their compliance. This is clearly what Yelp is up to. 

Forcing others to constantly demonstrate their ideological compliance is an old tactic on the political Left. During the Reign of Terror in Revolutionary France, a failure to address others with the revolutionary salutation citoyen (“citizen”) could bring accusations of monarchist sentiments. This could mean a hasty trial before the Committee of Public Safety, and then a trip to la guillotine.

In the darkest days of repression in Communist China, cadres were sometimes forced to fill quotas of individuals who harbored counterrevolutionary beliefs. The cadres responded by contriving accusations, and the accused individuals were sent to gulags. This happened in the late 1950s, in the political crackdown that followed the Hundred Flowers Campaign. It also occurred during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

We are now seeing a similar tendency with the American left’s embrace of revolutionary racial politics. They aren’t sending anyone to gulags yet, or erecting guillotines on American campuses. But give them time.

In the post-Civil Rights era, it has been the custom of Americans to downplay racial divisions and focus on individual identity. This doesn’t mean that specific acts of racism are tolerated. It does mean that such conduct is dealt with on an exception basis. The default state of social interaction has been for people of all races to assume the best of their fellow Americans until they demonstrate otherwise.

The revolutionary “antiracism” doctrine begins with the assumption that most Americans will be racist unless subjected to a nonstop litany of lectures, hashtags, and monitoring devices designed to root out racist behavior. Rather than assuming the best of each other, “antiracism” urges us to assume the worst. The doctrine of “antiracism” exhorts us to actively search for racist dragons to slay.

When citizens are encouraged to seek out and report thoughtcrimes among their neighbors, the results are never good. An atmosphere of revolutionary vigilance and denunciation brings out the worst in everyone. It causes a toxic cycle of suspicion and cynical opportunism.

Moreover, Yelp’s actions won’t benefit African Americans in the long run. At present, there is no rational reason for restaurant owners to treat African American clients any differently from clients of any other race. Henceforth, though, thanks to Yelp, every African American restaurant diner brings with him or her the threat of an online accusation of racism.

This may encourage some restaurateurs to walk on eggshells with African American guests. It will likely lead many more to simply avoid opening their businesses in predominantly African American neighborhoods.

The executive team at Yelp may feel that it has no choice save to jump on the “antiracism” bandwagon, and encourage users of the platform to serve as grassroots political informants. But the company’s actions will only foster distrust and ill will among Americans of all races.

Citizens reporting on each other for thoughtcrimes is something that routinely happens in China, North Korea, and Cuba. We don’t need that in the United States. Shame on Yelp for cravenly bowing to political pressure, and thereby politicizing your next meal out.