Thursday, May 15, 2014

The White Privilege Guilt Trip

The great minds of American academia have gotten together and have decided that their students are suffering from a lack of guilt. Not a lack of knowledge, not a lack of social skills, not an absence of hard work... no, American students, especially the white ones, do not feel sufficiently guilty.

As these students prepare to compete against their peers from the rest of the world, their teachers, especially their humanities teachers want them to understand that their advantages in life derive largely from the fact that they have white skin.

Princeton undergraduate Tal Fortgang provoked the most recent debate when he wrote about being told to check his privilege, that is, to recognize that he has gained so many advantages for being white that he cannot properly feel the pain of those whose skin color has consigned them to the ranks of the underprivileged.

Kat Stoeffel explains it in New York Magazine:

Privilege — a catchall term for the perks an individual enjoys in society because of his race, gender, or class — has been used to analyze social inequality for decades. It’s also enjoying something of a moment, thanks to social-justice bloggers and their critics, like Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang. In a viral article for the conservative Princeton Tory, Fortgang wrote that calls to “check his privilege” — that is, to consider how his good fortune might impair his ability to empathize with others in any given debate — “threaten to strike down opinions without regard for their merits” and “solely on the basis of the person that voiced them.” Being told to check his privilege is not overt reverse racism, Fortgang admitted, but it “toes the line.”

Mody has some sympathy for Fortgang and his ilk. “If what you’ve been told all your life is you’re really talented and you deserve what you have, it’s going to be really hard to find out Maybe I don’t deserve it, and all these other people equally deserve it but never even had a shot,” she says. “Schools are not giving students a space to manage that loss of identity.”

Maybe they don’t deserve it… whatever does that mean? Is there an affirmative action program for white students, the ones who are not as talented as they think they are, but who keep getting promoted because of their race?

Does any of this make any sense at all?

For reasons that escape me the guilt trip seems especially to target white students. Better yet, it targets Jewish students like Fortgang.

What about the Asian students? What about the children of the Tiger Moms? When white students and Asian compete for college admissions, it turns out that the children of color, the Asian children, usually do much better.

Is that a function of privilege? Or is it about hard work? If these students do better at tests does that mean that they have enjoyed certain privileges that have accrued to them because they are Chinese or Korean? Or is it because their parents forced them to study all the time?

Ought they to feel overprivileged because they needed to have higher test scores and a higher GPA to get admitted to college? If Asian students outperform minority students, ought they to check their privilege, thus, to do worse on their exams because their success makes other students feel bad.

Should these students feel guilty for the success they have earned? Should they feel more empathy for those students who did not have Tiger Moms?

In a competition, feeling empathy for your competitor is guaranteed to undermine your performance. Should you be willing to pay this price in order to make other students feel good about themselves? If so, you will be saying that they cannot achieve on their own, that they cannot succeed through their own work, but that you are willing to condescend to them by feeling their pain.

If your parents worked hard to provide you with certain advantages, with certain privileges, and if people are even inclined to think well of you because they think well of them, do you not deserve the benefits that accrue to you. Not because of what you did but because of what your parents and grandparents earned, achieved and built.

Effectively, Tal Fortgang, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, explains that his grandparents and parents earned what they have. He refuses to feel guilty about it. They earned it because they wanted to give him certain advantages in life. Ought they not to be allowed to pass on the benefits that accrue from their hard work to their children? Or should they pass it on while guilt tripping their son for not having earned it himself?

Very few of the commentaries on Fortgang’s essay make mention of the fact that he is Jewish? And yet, if the white privilege guilt trip does not aim at Asians, does it aim at Jews and WASPs? Does it assume that Jews and WASPs exert undue influence on the world because they have cheated their way to the top?

Does checking your privilege mean repudiating your upbringing? Does it mean failing to appreciate the advantages that your parents, by their hard work provided for you and to feel guilty because their successes—in the zero-sum world of the guilt trippers—could only have occurred at the expense of someone else?

None of the guilt mongers in the white privilege movement seems to care about the fact that some people have privileges and advantages because they earn them or because their families or even communities built something. What does it mean to check your privilege in that context: to feel badly that others did not achieve the same success?

If you do, then you are diminishing yourself, disrespecting what your family provided for you and condescending to those whose families provided less.

Fortgang understands well the basis of the white privilege guilt trip:

Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

At a time when China is ascending, when the Western world, trapped in a self-defeating ideology seems to be floundering, the white privilege guilt trip can only accelerate the process.

Since this guilt trip has been running wild in America since the time of the Vietnam counterculture—I noted it in my book Saving Face-- it makes sense to say that it is the problem, not the solution.


Anonymous said...
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Ares Olympus said...

I had discussions about this with my pastor, and learned he even saw Korean Americans like himself as "white" in the privilege sense. He also mentioned that Jews were long not considered white, but at some mysterious point became "white". Its still all fuzzy to me.

What's clear to me is that there is a lot of minority resentment, and some of it is legitimate, and some of it is self-pity, and its almost impossible to separate.

It is interesting Obama got 80% of the "Minority vote" while only 39% of the "white vote" which is certainly a problem!

Self-identification is very interesting, more than just racial ancestry, and it appears America is changing. When I was in Mexico city I was surprised to see people with primarily Spanish ancestry considered themselves culturally with the pre-spanish Indians, I mean with pride, and talked about Cort├ęs the Conquerer, although I guess it is because there was a lot more native integration of cultures there.

If "white privilege" guilt is the tool for our American transformation, its going to be an interesting one. Liberals perhaps have embraced the "minority culture" and are busy integrating themselves into the new order of things, while Conservatives have more tribal pride, and are resisting, and trying to keep themselves separate from the new America.

Since I expect continued global economic collapse in the next decade as financialization has its final death throes, I imagine the future is a place that identity will be more important.

The key idea that I see leaving our future is hyper-individualism, including the Libertarians. It's a great identity when you know hard work will be rewarded, but a harder one to embrace when you know how ever hard you work, you may never succeed, and then the "Minority model" arises where you identify yourself with others like yourself, and you bet your prosperity on your tribe.

And I guess from that view Conservative whites are already a minority in their own minds, and are digging in. It's just that they don't necessarily know who there real enemies are. "White" isn't good enough identity to feel safe, so it surely will be abandoned sooner than we expect by mere demographics.

Anonymous said...

I am so tired of the Left - their endless grievances, their identity politics, and their inability to engage forthrightly and honestly with out country's problems. I live outside Detroit and I have seen the entire play from beginning to end many times. Ironically, the biggest victims of leftist identity politics are blacks themselves, yet they keep voting for more of it, over and over and over. It seems this attitude is spreading more widely in our culture and I can see it undoing our country entirely.

miriam sawyer said...

I am a Jewish person--one of the most privileged persons in the US, according to your first commenter.

Where is all the money and influence I'm supposed to have? I can't find it.

I am privileged all right. I am lucky that my ancestors got out of Belarus before the Jews who remained were slaughtered.

Sam L. said...

We should all who have one, put on our ELO recording of "Don't Bring Me Down(, Bruce)", and play it at high volume.

Dennis said...


I think the first commenter is one who leaves these kinds of comments so that he can fault the site for these kind of comments. The Obama ilk do this a lot. Probably learned it from the Canadians.

Dennis said...

I can only be responsible for what I have done in my own life and Lord knows I have done a few stupid things. I feel not a wit of guilt because I am white. Along the way many of my mentors were minorities. I have helped them and suggested that they are the ones most qualified when they were.
I would suggest that the people who play this game are the ones least likely to expend the effort to succeed on their own merit. Excuses are used by those who lack the wherewithal to live up to the challenges that are set before them.
One can only feel guilty if they actually have done things that create that guilt. Otherwise, to allow others to control your life is to not live up to your potential. It is time to stop treating minorities with kid gloves and expect the best from them because it has been my experience that they are quite capable of being the best they can be.
Challenge the race and sex hustlers that act like a drag on the success of minorities for they are envious of those who have real ability.
I have met few people in this life who do not have the capability and capacity to grow and succeed if they don't let those who are afraid of their success keep them down. The only true enemy most people have is themselves especially in this country.
If one wants to become the best they can be then the first thing they have to flee the Liberal Plantation which will keep them in thrall to people who really do believe they are better and don't think you have the ability to succeed. And stop being a slave to any political party for what has it really gained you.

Dennis said...

A little history that is conveniently forgotten. Amazing what one can find if they are interested in history.

The root of the word slave comes from slav.

And people wonder why a lot of have no respect for the education system especially where history is concerned.

Sam L. said...

If someone gives me a ticket for a guilt trip, well, I used to tear it up and throw it in their faces, but now I stick the pieces back into their pockets. Wouldna want to litter, doncha know.

Mark McGreevey said...

Growing up in 1960's/70's San Francisco, we were children of European immigrants. All around us were Irish, Italian, German, Russian, Polish and many others who'd left Europe after the war to settle in USA. We were all "white" but never even considered using the word. To this day, my identity is Irish, as a Mexican can be offended if I call him or her a Nicaraugan.

White priviledge we didn't have. Why? Because money we didn't have. But we had schools and libraries free to us, and that is all open to "people of disadvantage" throughout the USA. All they have to decide to do is use them. Everyday, hard study, and become model "minorities"... skip all the baloney and sports.

When a black professor of history came over to lecture us once from UC Berkeley, no one in the room had an ounce of "white guilt". We couldn't understand why he seemed to be angry at us, the children of lower middle class families, when we almost all hustled for afterschool and weekend jobs, rode the public buses, etc. etc.

Unfortunately, even a man of his education was color-blind in that he could not see a "white" person (be he as dark as a Southern Italian or white as a RUssian) without thinking that person had more power and money than him! And he was a professor!!!!

He called us all "lilywhite" when he walked into the classroom. We sixteen-year-olds asked at the end, "Excuse us, sir, but if you ARE a professor, can you tell US why MAYBE a Catholic school doesn't have a lot of black Americans in it?"

That question came from a very, very, very quiet and shy nerd.