Get Ready to Be Canceled
The speech police are knocking at your door, and there is a new standard in town. It's called white privilege. The left has already taken control of speech on college campuses, where college administrators determine what can be said by whom and where (and where not, ergo safe spaces). But now they can cancel alumni at social events in their living rooms. If you thought you could evade the tentacles of political correctness by avoiding a campus or classroom, steering clear of political protests, or self-censoring your Facebook posts, think again.
Recently, a college friend was asked if she would share her experiences living abroad at an upcoming alumni gathering. These gatherings are friendly and relaxed, involve only alumni and their guests, and are meant to put local members in touch with each other. Of course, they fall under the umbrella of encouraging generous donations to the beloved alma mater. This seemingly innocent invitation turned into a nightmare battle of censure and censorship and the drawing of lines by an elite institution of what it will tolerate from its graduates. My friend, by no means a conservative, never thought her life abroad could be canceled. She was told that before sharing her experiences, a native from the country she had lived in had to review her book about her experience to ensure there was nothing culturally insensitive or offensive. In her honesty, my friend replied that there were in fact negative but true experiences discussed that probably would offend some people. She complained to the club organizers as well as college administrators about the censorship. Aren’t graduates of our institution equipped and educated enough to engage in the free exchange of ideas and experiences? she asked. Apparently not. An official from the college actually wrote the following words (emphasis mine):
[T]his has less to do with the censorship of ideas and more to do with the risk of appropriation or insult present in any talk where someone who is white presents their thoughts and opinions on a culture that is not their native one. Because of the inherent power imbalance white people are afforded over people of color, there is the possibility that someone speaking on their expat experiences could unintentionally make statements or generalizations that are hurtful to members of [that country’s] descent, resulting in a club atmosphere that alienates people of color.
So let me get this right. According to this administrator, no white person can comment on another culture. White people, merely by the color of their skin, have innate power over those of color, throughout the world. And people are unable to separate themselves from their innate prejudices. It means we cannot judge other cultures for any bad actions at all, even those generally recognized as evil. Imaginary victims and hypothetical hurt feelings now determine what is appropriate, not actual thinking people who choose to attend the event, knowing the topic in advance. The cynical might defend this as the college’s way of not upsetting any alumni who might not donate if offended at an event. More disturbingly, it may be avoiding any large foreign institutions or governments that richly endow the school. But finances explain only so much. At its most benign, it makes the college officials look as though they don’t trust their graduates to share experiences and exchange points of view with each other. More insidiously, it means that cultural courses can be taught only by members of that culture. Taken to its logical conclusion, it could result in downsizing most anthropology, sociology, and religious and ethnic studies departments. But absurdly, a promoter of higher learning is willing to disregard the spirit of the American experience and an intellectual tradition that is accepting and protective of other cultures. The metaphors for this country, that it is both a “melting pot” and “marketplace of ideas,” are as American as baseball and apple pie. But don’t forget to write your check to the college.
So why does this matter to the rest of us? We express ourselves (our thoughts and being) in the way we communicate with each other. It should startle all of us that there is no longer a common easily recognized standard to judge what is acceptable among civilized, respectful people. We will always have to worry lest we offend. The only standard for offense is that a statement might hurt some feelings. Accepted community and historical norms (sometimes offending) no longer matter. Would the corollary be true? Are certain traditionally offensive words okay if no one in the room is hurt on hearing them? Of course not.
The term “white privilege” is as vague and confusing as its history and attempts to define it. This reminds me of the colloquialism regarding pornography: I can’t define it; I just know it when I see it. Its usage as a standard is just as capricious, confusing, and condescending. Its meaning changes depending on how and when it is used and who uses it.
A well ordered society cannot depend on standards with amorphous definitions. It arbitrarily orders a hierarchy of citizens based on perceived power, experiences and traits. Who decides who is white? Does this include those of Latin, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Arab, and bi-racial heritage? And who defines what is meant by privilege? From what is privilege derived? Hard work, inheritance, luck? Are descendants of Holocaust-era Jews, and any fleeing religious or economic persecution, privileged? By this standard, your skin color determines how much social power you have regardless of your personal struggles and circumstances. And it presumes that all non-white people are not freely granted the glories and successes of society. Unless they are protected from white privilege, they are merely victims waiting to be taken advantage of. What about the hardworking people of virtually every immigrant or underprivileged community who are proud of their well earned success and who do not feel like victims? There are many non-whites who would find this insulting, since they believe that their culture is not inferior to American values.
Where will this standard lead us? The label of “white privilege” is currently used by leftists and progressives to discount or deny speech and data that contradict the narrative of whatever movement they seek to justify. Recently, it has been used to dispel the criticism of the violent looting and riots that followed peaceful protests decrying the murder of George Floyd. One Minneapolis councilwoman used it to justify dismantling the police, even when private homes are broken into. It is now a basis for dismantling statues and desecrating historical monuments. Whether seeking to silence whites or even hurt successful communities as a means to balance or make reparations for perceived injustices, this social weapon is gaining strength and credibility. Many would argue that it is becoming a means to upheave the current social order and redefine traditional values derived from education, hard work, faith, and family.
What should matter right now is that none of us is immune from the speech police, no matter how safe you feel in your neighborhood, among your friends, or at work. As with my college friend, they will surprise you when they come, and they will already have the backing and support of whatever institution you appeal to for fairness. Let your moral and financial support speak for you.