When students are compelled to have “White Privilege 101” classes, we have every right to ask: Why, and for whose benefit?He's right so far.
If you’ve been white lately, you have likely been confronted with the idea that to be a good person, you must cultivate a guilt complex over the privileged status your race enjoys.
It isn’t that you are doing, or even quite thinking, anything racist. Rather, your existential state of Living While White constitutes a form of racism in itself. Your understanding will serve as a tool … for something. But be careful about asking just what that something is, because that will mean you “just don’t get it.”
To be sure, there is, indeed, a distinct White Privilege. Being white does offer a freedom not easily available to others. You can underperform without it being ascribed to your race. And when you excel, no one wonders whether Affirmative Action had anything to do it. Authority figures are likely to be your color, and no one associates people of your color with a propensity to violence. No one expects you to represent your race in a class discussion or anywhere else.Schools are giving "white privilege" lessons, too. Gotta indoctrinate the young, I guess.
These are the basics of White Privilege, disseminated in key campus texts such as Peggy McIntosh’s foundational “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” from 1988. It’s become a meme of Blue America’s mental software, recently focused by the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.
“This is messy work, but these conversations are necessary,” says Sandra Chapman, director of diversity and community at Little Red School House in New York City. OK—but why? Note that the answer cannot be, “So that whites will understand that they are the privileged … etc.” That makes as much sense as saying “Because!” So I’m going to dare to ask a simple question: What exactly are we trying to achieve with this particular lesson?Did you catch that? For those of you who need to know this before evaluating his comments, the author is black. And his last remark is a body blow to why affirmative action is so insidious.
I assume, for example, that the idea is not to teach white people that White Privilege means that black people are the only group of people in human history who cannot deal with obstacles and challenges. If the idea is that black people cannot solve their problems short of white people developing an exquisite sensitivity to how privileged they are, then we in the black community are being designated as disabled poster children.
The question, then, becomes: Precisely what benefit do White Privilege 101 lessons add to all of what there already is? (Again, “knowing about White Privilege” is not an answer.) What are we hoping will happen in the wake of these lessons that hasn’t been happening before, and crucially, upon what evidence has that hope been founded?For liberals it's always the 1960s (or earlier).
America is by no means post-racial, but it is not 1960 either; change happens.
It is often assumed that someone expressing views like these has roughly the take on race of Samuel Jackson’s character in Django Unchained. Not. I am neither criticizing activism nor saying that everybody needs to just pull themselves up by those proverbial bootstraps.Seems to me like he would rather channel his energies into something useful, not something just for show. In that we entirely agree.
I get too much hate mail from the right to submit gracefully to the sellout label. I deplore the War on Drugs, linguistic discrimination against black people, and naïve dogma that keeps poor black kids from learning to read. I support prisoner re-entry programs, supported the Ferguson protests ardently, and was behind Barack Obama earlier than many black writers. I have never voted Republican in my life.
However, I firmly believe that improving the black condition does not require changing human nature, which may always contain some tribalist taints of racism. We exhibit no strength—Black Power—in pretending otherwise. I’m trying to take a page from Civil Rights heroes of the past, who would never have imagined that we would be shunting energy into trying to micromanage white psychology out of a sense that this was a continuation of the work of our elders. I am not “being a contrarian” or “stirring up the pot”—I do not consider this a renegade position. Plenty of ordinary black people nationwide would agree with me on the difference between White Privilege teach-ins and continuing the struggle.
And here's the finale:
They deserve civil answers to their questions. The white high schooler who doesn’t get why she needs to be smilingly commanded to recognize her status as an unjustly “privileged” white person is not a racist because she doesn’t “get” it. She deserves to be given a rationale, and if that rationale is essentially a repetition of the White Privilege lesson paradigm, then we need to ask some more questions.Well done, sir.