It’s not a coincidence that many of the loudest critics decrying white privilege are . . . privileged whites.
“I’m a white woman. . . . And my job is to shut other white people down when they want to interrupt. My job is to shut other white people down when they want to say, ‘Oh no I’m not prejudiced, I’m a Democrat, I’m accepting.’”
— Sally Boynton Brown, erstwhile candidate to head the Democratic National Committee
“These white men, old by the way, are not protecting women. They’re protecting a man who is probably guilty.”
— Joy Behar, cohost, The View
“Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins? . . . Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”
— Sarah Jeong, newly appointed editorial board member, the New York Times
Why are current monotonous slogans like “white privilege” and “old white men” finally losing their currency?
Who exactly is “white” in a multiracial, intermarried, and integrated society? How do we determine who is a purported victim of racial bias — relative degrees of nonwhite skin color, DNA badges, an ethnicized last name, or nomenclature with two or three accent marks?
The reason that Arab-, Greek-, or Italian-Americans are more likely to be branded or to self-identify as “white” than Brazilian-, Argentinian, Spanish-, or Mexican-Americans doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with appearance or their DNA or their ancestors’ or their own historical experience in America. It has everything to do with the perversities of the devolving diversity industry in which claims to victimization bring greater careerist advantage or at least psychological satisfaction.
The recent farce involving Elizabeth Warren’s “ancestry” has not only probably aborted her presidential aspirations, but — along with the Asian-American lawsuit against Harvard’s admission practices — also reminded us of the growing corruption of race-based set-asides. Warren’s desperate gambit was simply a response to the new reality that minority status often has little relation with appearance. (Many Latinos — a term never adequately defined — look “whiter” than Italian Americans or Greek Americans who have been absorbed as “white” long ago.)
When called out, a flustered Warren was finally reduced to releasing her DNA pedigree, only to argue that a possible 1 percent (or perhaps less) Native American ancestry adjudicates her identity. (Adding to the oddity, her DNA researcher, as a basis of comparison, used samples from Mexico, Colombia, and Peru to “stand in” for Native American DNA, owing to a dearth of Native American DNA.) Is Warren’s lesson that Americans are now to be neo-Confederate racialists, and so, in antebellum Southern style, we now define a person by a 1 percent drop of blood and not 51, 75 or 99 percent? Do we “construct” our race the same way that we now construct our gender? If Ward Churchill feels he is a Native American, then why cannot he be whatever he wishes? What is the difference between a biologically mostly white Rachel Dolezal transracialing to an exclusively black identity and a biologically determined male transgendering to a female?
Which whites really do have privilege? If all whites were uniformly privileged, why would so many whites, such as Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren, strive so hard to construct a nonwhite identity? Why does progressive upscale white male Texas Senate candidate Robert Francis O’Rourke go by the Hispanic nickname “Beto,” as in “Beto O’Rourke? Would he do so in Maine or Montana? Why did California congressional candidate Kevin Leon rather abruptly become Kevin de León, emphasizing an ethnic cachet — if “whiteness” equaled unearned advantage and non-whiteness earned lifelong discrimination?
In a world of real white privilege, would people not instead be taking DNA tests to “prove” that they were overwhelming white, and not black, Native American, or other nonwhite supposedly victimized groups? In the days of a prior race-obsessed America, supposed nonwhites sought to “pass” as supposed whites; in the days of a present race-obsessed America, supposed whites seek to “pass” as supposed nonwhites. The common denominator across time and space is to adapt to whims of the race-obsessed establishment that doles out non-meritocratic concessions on the basis of appearance.
Class now means nothing. Working-class people of all ancestries, from Merced to Youngstown, have grown accustomed to TV talking heads, academics, and politicians damning “white privilege.” Poor blacks are accorded no more preference that what is given to wealthy Latinos.
By now we have come to a rough consensus about the entire comedy: Those of the elite classes (who enjoy “good” jobs, income, neighborhoods, and schools, and often are able to shore up their class privileges by admission to elite schools, inheritances, old-boy networks, power marriages, and all the accustomed, all-too-human effort to use nepotistic and tribal advantages) are the most likely to decry “white privilege.” So, as a general rule, those who do not enjoy intrinsic white privilege are damned by those who do enjoy some sort of class or ethnic leg up.
The only mystery of the weird white-privilege mantra is motive: Do elite whites racially disparage as privileged middle-class and poor whites as a way of squaring their own circles of advantage, either as a psychological means of assuaging their guilt, or as a more self-interested ploy of pulling up the ladder after they have reached the attic of career success, or ingratiating themselves with perceived new loci of power?
I noticed after decades in academia that the fiercest proponents of racial preferences in faculty hiring were usually older, white male professors nearing retirement (many of them real mediocrities hired under the lax standards of the 1960s and 1970s when university expansion required thousands of sight-unseen Ph.D.s, most of them white and male). On hiring committees, such old white guys selected new faculty applicants by race and gender, and often at the expense of younger, white male Ph.D. job applicants far more gifted than those who were doing the hiring. After watching dozens of these faculty hiring committees operate, I never once saw a 60-year-old white male say, “After 30 years of enjoying white privilege in the days of white exclusivity, and understanding that my publications and teaching record are far less impressive than those of the current applicants for this job, I announce my retirement and step down to allow others better qualified to have my billet.” Virtue was always the loudest expressed when it was at some else’s expense.
The white working classes lack the clout of the elite white professionals, and they also have no access to class-based affirmative action. In other words, in our increasingly non-meritocratic society, it is advantageous for elites either to establish minority status (increasingly defined as anything nonwhite), or to draw on their wealth, contacts, and family advantages.
Like everything else, a “concern” about people being treated racially fairly is nothing but a transient concern, depending upon which view yields the maximum political benefit for the left.