Donald Wright is professor and chair of political science at the University of New Brunswick.
Fox News has fired its leading host and prime-time star, but not for his racism.
To the best of my knowledge, Tucker Carlson hasn’t publicly used the N-word, or any other racial epithet for that matter. But he subscribes to the “great replacement theory,” the idea – if it can be called that – that not enough white women are having children and that, through immigration, non-white people will replace white people. In fact, Mr. Carlson believes that immigration from what he calls “third world countries” – is a deliberate plot on the part of the Democrats to consolidate electoral and political power.
In a 2019 interview with the British singer and climate activist Blythe Pepino, Mr. Carlson’s racism was veiled, but still visible. Ms. Pepino had co-founded BirthStrike, a now-defunct group of women who had decided not to have children in the middle of a climate emergency.
“We feel too afraid to have kids,” she explained, “because we feel we are heading towards civilization breakdown as a result of the environmental crisis.”
A stunned Mr. Carlson responded, “You’re basically saying the species is over – it’s hopeless. We should, in effect, as a group, end it, commit suicide.” But Mr. Carlson wasn’t worried about the species. He was worried about a subset of the species.
Calling BirthStrike “a metaphor for the broader West’s loss of the will to live,” he asked Ms. Pepino what kind of reaction she would get if she were “to fly to Africa tonight” and explain to 10 random people in five different countries what she was doing. “Do you think people outside the West can understand this? Do you think there is any other civilization that has decided things are so hopeless we must all die?”
According to Mr. Carlson’s racial logic, there are too many Black people and not enough white people, and so he ended the interview with some advice, telling Ms. Pepino that she really ought to have children.
Mr. Carlson’s racial anxiety has been well documented. Less well documented is its connection to “race suicide,” an awful term with a long history in the United States, Britain and Canada.
First coined by the American sociologist Edward Ross in 1901, race suicide referred both to falling birth rates among white Americans and the idea that there were too many immigrants from lesser races. “There is no bloodshed, no violence, no assault of the race that waxes upon the race that wanes,” he wrote. “The higher race quietly and unmurmuringly eliminates itself rather than endure individually the bitter competition it has failed to ward off from itself by collective action.” In other words, the white race is prepared to commit suicide, Ross believed, rather than doing the hard work of having more children and limiting the number of immigrants from what he called “primitive” yet “fecund” races.
Soon, everyone had an opinion on the subject of race suicide, including professors, journalists, doctors, ministers, reformers, and politicians. Even the president of the United States had something to say. “If the women flinch from breeding,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1903, “the deserved death of the race takes place much quicker.” In fact, “The woman who flinches from childbirth stands on a par with the soldier who drops his rifle and runs in battle.” Speaking before the National Birthrate Commission in London, England, in 1919, the British writer Sir Rider Haggard worried that, on top of falling birth rates, “Western races” would be “submerged” by “the teeming myriads of the East.” And as late as 1942, the Canadian professor and university administrator Watson Kirkconnell opined that English Canadians, “addicted to race suicide,” now faced “racial extinction.” A year later, Arthur Lower picked up where his colleague left off when he asserted that English Canadians were risking “race suicide,” unlike their “virile” counterparts in French Canada.
After the Second World War, which was fought in part against racism, ideas about race suicide were pushed to the distant margins and dark corners of Western societies, replaced by ideas of equality, pluralism, and multiculturalism. It wasn’t seamless, and racism never fully disappeared.
The rise of a new and emboldened right in the past three decades, and in the past decade of right-wing populism, Trumpism, and the alt-right, has challenged ideas of equality, something Tucker Carlson clearly understands. Using the authority and reach of his platform he brought race suicide, now rebranded as replacement theory, back into the mainstream of American life. Suddenly, it was okay to worry aloud about a white woman – in this case, Blythe Pepino – choosing not to have children. For that matter, it’s still okay, because Tuckerism – a mash-up of race suicide, misogyny, and loopy conspiracy theories – has found a wide and receptive audience.