Anti-Racism Mania at Elite Private Schools
For over half a century America has struggled to improve race relations and progress is modest, at best. But optimism soldiers on although failure only seems to breed desperation. A recent New York Times article recounts the latest crackpot panacea. The article tells how wealthy white children enrolled in some of New York City’s toniest and expensive private schools are being detoxified of their poisonous white racism. The message is that these youngsters must develop “anti-racist thinking” as a skill, a competency necessary for the 21st century. It exaggerates only slightly to compare this process with Maoist self-criticism where people publicly confessed to crimes, many imaginary, and then admit remorse as the first step in “voluntarily” embracing the party line (see here).
Typical was a daylong session (“A Day of Concern”) at Manhattan’s upscale and largely white Friends Seminary where speakers lead the workshop discussion about social justice and its relationship to racial/ethnic identify, gender, and most of all, privilege and power. According to Derrick Gay, a professional diversity consultant who led the discussion, the exercise was to help students escape their racial/ethnic “bubble” that hinders them in a global society. Mr. Gay explained that everyone has an identity, for example, lesbian or Jewish and society does not value all identities equally. But that is nobody’s fault -- you just must be aware of the inequality.
Elsewhere comparable elite schools held discussions, often in all-white groups, about unearned (white) skin privilege, white racism and dominance (see here and here and here among others). A particularly hot topic is white micro-aggression -- how whites unconsciously, often with the best of intentions, repeatedly harm people of color, for example, compliment black students for a high test score that would not draw praise if the student were white. Some schools send students to the annual White Privilege Conference where they examine privilege and oppression to help build a more equitable world.
Also popular are films (e.g., The Prep School Negro) that portray these students as being unaware of their enormous privilege vis-à-vis less advantaged minority students, e.g., being able to travel abroad during school breaks. One educator bemoans the absence of white anti-racist role models who would allow students to confront white racism directly versus, say, claiming to be colorblind or unaware of racism. Especially fashionable is hiring directors of diversity to insure that the anti-racist message will be inescapable. Repeatedly students are pushed to label themselves according to a hodge-podge of categories and then made to explain how these identities fit into society’s hierarchies.
This is clearly foolishness. It’s hard enough teaching today’s often indifferent students so why waste time on society’s alleged injustices? Race relations in schools are already a minefield, so why hire outside agitators to stir the pot? What’s the pedagogical point of forcing students into categories such as gay or Jewish? Surely a case could be made that these convocations and workshops could be better devoted teaching writing or learning a foreign language. Actually, ridding schools of this costly twaddle would lower tuition and thereby make the school more accessible to middle-class families.
There are, however, more serious problems. That these lessons are thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of racial egalitarianism should be obvious to all but the most dimwitted. Imagine a white student being told that he enjoys special benefits thanks to his skin color when he knows that his family is paying $20,000 a year or more for tuition while his African American classmate gets a free ride? Or regularly sees mediocre blacks being admitted to Ivy League schools with scholarships while far more academically qualified whites and Asians must settle for state schools. If anything, as measured by government benefits, blacks and select other minorities are now America’s privileged.
The PC babble is more than just misinformation. It engenders cynicism regarding teacher credibility. Recall how Soviet apparatchiki would harangue workers about their Workers’ Paradise. After a point, nobody would believe anything, including 2+2=4.Though I have not personally witnessed these excoriations of white privilege, I’d guess that most whites just zone out knowing full well than objections would only certify them as troublemakers and conceivably hinder their path toward Harvard. Better to play along with the charade.
These anti-racism crusades may also deepen “dangerous stereotypes” about racial inferiority. This is almost guaranteed when schools recruit marginally qualified black students and teachers to showcase their diversity. Then bring in “diversity experts” (typically black) who babble on with little more than PC slogans and homilies. A better way of undermining race relations is hard to imagine.
Finally, there are scientific explanations for the plight of African Americans but one is unlikely to find them discussed at these elite prep schools. Rather, entire strategy of these school programs is more religious dogma than empirical research. Everything blithely assumes that the tribulations of American blacks are largely the fault of whites -- cleanse the bad thinking of whites, and a racial Utopia will arrive. So, for example, whites expect little from blacks and these low expectations debilitate blacks so raise expectations and watch test scores soar. This is all about psychologically refurbishing white America to solve our racial woes. Blacks are just hapless victims.
The underlying logic of this “theory” is preposterous. I have never seen it put under the microscope, let alone even hypothesized as a scientifically testable proposition. Can any administrator at one of these diversity-obsessed schools offer any proof how the presence of minority students enriched the educational milieu? Surely this could be demonstrated. How would convincing a WASP preppy that openly acknowledging his white privilege will help millions of blacks, not just his black classmates, to strive harder in school, avoid teenage pregnancy, eschew crime and domestic violence, and otherwise behave more like high-achieving whites and Asians? Do black students excel when informed that their white classmates receive better grades thanks to their family’s wealth? All this blaming of whites may only exacerbate black flight from personal responsibility and thus make matters worse.
This exercise in forcing whites to confess to their unearned privilege harkens back to the medieval black plague when an angry, vengeful god was, supposedly, appeased by self-flagellation and public confessions of sin. Put concretely, real racial equality will come when we humiliate enough children of rich white folk.
This costly stupidity is best understood as what can happen when 60 years worth of expensive nostrums have failed but the urge to solve the problem remains irrepressible. It also makes perfect evolutionary sense: humans with their superstitions and belief in magic have existed for 300,000+ years while by contrast, modern science is relatively new and critically not all that popular among professional educators. It is thus predictable that when remedy after remedy fails, when spending billions leave racial gaps untouched, we instinctively return to our roots with “solutions” that resemble burning witches. These bogus solutions are more alluring than conducting scientific investigations of why blacks and Hispanics lag behind in academic achievement.
This is expensive educational malpractice, even a form of child abuse, that will add nothing to student learning save, perhaps, deepening racial animus. As to why it thrives in these elite schools, I can only speculate. Perhaps such anti-white racism mania is the latest fashion in a profession where career advancement requires embracing the latest craze. Among today’s educators, nobody will ever be condemned for being too anti-racist, no matter how foolish their arguments and the inflicted damage. End of lesson.