John McWhorter, a Black Man, Suggests That We Might Need to Give White Folks a Break and Give All This “White Privilege” Talk a Rest

EDITOR’S NOTE: And while we are on the subject, we at Black Christian News Network One (BCNN1) believe that black folk in general and white folk at Oklahoma University ought to forgive the 18-year-old white frat boys for singing the “nigger song” on the bus, and after their suspension, let them go back to college and then go on with their lives. Even the ultra-liberal Van Jones seems to believe the same thing according to his recent appearance on CNN. Some black people and some white people need to stop tripping!


by John McWhorter

When students are compelled to have “White Privilege 101” classes, we have every right to ask: Why, and for whose benefit?

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.

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.

But “White Privilege” is more than just a term these days. For example, some of New York City’s elite private schools are giving White Privilege lessons to their student bodies, teaching them, for example, that when affluent white students talk about their expensive vacations this could be hurtful to students of color from humbler circumstances. The Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service kicked off its community meetings in Ferguson with White Privilege teachings. There are college courses, and even a yearly conference. White Privilege is suddenly a hot topic and cottage industries have sprung up around it.

However, one can thoroughly understand how racism works and still ask just what this laser focus on “White Privilege” is meant to achieve.

“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. Okay—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?


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.

On the American version of The Office, Michael Scott fakes a physical disability and solicits sympathy from black salesman Stanley, designating him as “disabled” by “obstacles” because of his color. “I am not disabled and neither are you,” grouses Stanley—and in the scene, he is the wise one and Scott is the buffoon. But those urging us to think about White Privilege are not buffoons.

Is the goal to urge people into activism against the conditions that afford whites their privilege? White Privilege spokespersons would surely agree. After all, the White Privilege Conference’s website noting that it is “About Creating Change.”

But two things seem hard to miss.

First, making a lot of the changes White Privilege tutors seem to suggest would tie us up into knots, especially in the educational realm. If no one asks black people to comment on racial issues, then the charge will be that whites are turning a blind eye to … White Privilege. As to discomfort from being suspected of being an Affirmative Action hire, to have any but the tiniest of criticisms of racial preferences is considered blasphemy, displaying an ignorance of … White Privilege.

I went to a private school in the seventies with white kids happily talking about their vacations and lavish bar mitzvahs; some of them had VCRs before I even knew what one was. For what it’s worth, I did not feel hurt that I didn’t live on their scale. And in any case, what good would it have done to tell these white kids to not talk around black kids about their toys and trips? Wouldn’t that have implied that kids like me were pathologically delicate, and wouldn’t the next complaint have been that white kids were holding themselves back from the black kids, i.e. segregating themselves, ignorant of … White Privilege?

Second, it’s hard not to notice that amidst the White Privilege rhetoric, the activist goal is largely implied. Obviously, no one puts it that way, but as those interested in White Privilege know so well when it comes to racism, what people say is often an approximate reflection of their true feelings and intents. McIntosh’s essay refers in passing to something as hypothetical as the “redesign of social systems” at the end of her tome, calling whether we want to seek such a thing “an open question.” The discussion hasn’t changed much since 1988. The White Privilege Conference bills itself as being about “understanding, respecting, and connecting.” Those are all admirable aims but they apply to the White Privilege teach-ins, not applying the lessons to actually changing society. White Privilege puts a laser focus on the awareness raising. The awareness raising is what it is about.

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SOURCE: John McWhorter
The Daily Beast

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