Thursday, April 24, 2014

White Privilege, White Guilt

Dennis Prager opens a recent column at NRO with a provocative image:
When Americans over the age of, let us say, 45 look at any of the iconic paintings of America’s Founders — the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the signing of the Constitution, George Washington crossing the Delaware, any of the individual portraits of the Founders — what do they see?

They see great men founding a great country.

If you ask many recent college graduates what they see when they look at these paintings, the chances are that it is something entirely different.

They are apt to see rich, white males who are not great and who did not found a great country. And for many, it is worse than that. These men are not only not great; they are morally quite flawed in that they were slaveholders, or at least founded a country based on slavery. Moreover, they were not only all racists — they were all sexists, who restricted the vote to males. And they were rich men who were primarily concerned with protecting their wealth, which is why they restricted the vote to landowners.

In the past, Americans overwhelmingly saw the images of our Founders as pictures of greatness. Increasingly, only conservatives do. More and more Americans — the entire Left and many of those who attended universities and were indoctrinated by left-wing professors — now see rich, white, self-interested males.

The left-wing trinity of race, gender, class has prevailed. The new dividing lines are no longer good and bad or excellent and mediocre but white and non-white, male and female, and rich and poor. Instead of seeing great human beings in those paintings of the Founders, Americans have been taught to see rich, white (meaning by definition selfish, bigoted, racist, sexist) males.

In colleges throughout America students are taught to have disdain for the white race. I know this sounds incredible, or at least exaggerated. It is neither.
Prager supports this claim with several examples. Here's one:
Regarding white privilege, last year, three academics at the University of Rhode Island wrote in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The American Psychological Association’s educational goals for the psychology major include sociocultural and international awareness, with learning outcomes regarding mastery of concepts related to power and privilege. Other professional organizations, including the American Sociological Association, have developed similar learning goals for teaching in higher education. Instructors have been charged with teaching their white students to understand their own privileged positions in society relative to those of marginalized groups.
The key point here is that the word “values” never appears. Instead of asking what values made America’s Founders great, the Left asks what race, gender, and class privileges enabled them to found America. Instead of asking what values does the white majority (or, for that matter, on some campuses, the Asian majority) live by in order to succeed, and how can we help inculcate those values in more less-successful people of all racial and ethnic groups, the Left asks what privileges whites have that enable them to get into colleges and graduate at a higher rate than blacks and Latinos.
Prager is correct to point to the indifference toward values which are, in any case, considered to be merely an atavism of white male patriarchy, but I think there's something else just as insidious at play in all this. It's the attempt to make white students feel guilty for being white. Make a man feel guilty and you can dominate him, and that's the goal of the Left. Make whiteness a mortal sin for which the bearer must seek repeated absolution from the politico-cultural priesthood, which is invariably leftist, and he'll be putty in your hands.

Moreover, it's an attempt to somehow rationalize the inadequacies of those who cannot compete in an academic setting. By focusing on race, gender, and privilege the message is sent to those who find themselves languishing in academic purgatory that it's not their fault, they're victims of a racist, sexist, classist society. This is a toxic message to send to young people, but it's the message the Left reinforces in a multitude of ways every day.

Prager goes on to give a particularly disturbing example of the rejection of values and rules rooted in "white ways of doing things." This rejection, it seems to me, is a tacit admission of inadequacy and incompetence. When people can't compete by playing by the rules they'll mask their failure any way they can. Unfortunately, some on the Left think this is as it should be. You can read about the farce to which I refer at the link.

Some years ago I wrote a response to a student who displayed precisely this sense of guilt at what she thought was her privileged status. The response is here.