The left's original sin
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on February 9, 2006.
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." -- Martin Luther King
The collectivist left has renounced King's dream and imposed instead a nightmare of racial hypersensitivity, tribal guilt and perpetual victimhood.
Writing for the Jan. 15 Denver Post, Jennifer Brown describes "whiteness studies" at the University of Colorado. She discusses a symposium that offered "an introspective look by white CU scholars and students at the privileges they say are automatically afforded the white race."
Brown quotes CU's Duncan Rinehart: "As long as whiteness is invisible, it's contributing to inequality and injustice."
Brown also mentions "feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh" and the Center for the Study of White American Culture, so I looked them up.
"The Center operates on the premise that knowledge of one's own racial background and culture is essential when learning how to relate to people of other racial and cultural groups."
McIntosh writes, "I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will."
But that, she explains, is totally wrong. We're not supposed judge ourselves or others by the content of our character, but rather according to race. If you're white, you have "an invisible package of unearned assets," or "skin privilege," which tends to make you oppressive. If you're not "white," then you're oppressed.
Of course racism exists. It took a century for this country to overcome the moral outrage of slavery, then another century to remove laws that forcibly suppressed blacks. Now overtly racist laws are gone, but Wayne Laugesen has documented recent incidents of racist hostility and violence (even) in Boulder.
But the way to overcome racism is not to ascribe it to a particular race. You can't fix racism by preaching it.
Because of her obsession with race, McIntosh loses sight of reality. In modern America, most people, "white" or otherwise, are not racists. They interact peaceably and respectfully with individuals of all different skin tones. They are living King's dream. They are, fundamentally, individualists who judge others not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
McIntosh sees "white privilege" everywhere, even in the presumption that "I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed."
McIntosh encourages the view that non-"whites" are necessarily victims. Thus, she undercuts the real and huge successes of individuals who happen to be black or some other racial minority. Her view also tends to rationalize or excuse self-destructive behavior.
"Whiteness studies" perpetuates the myth that it is affirmative action -- rather than better education for younger children -- that will help minorities succeed in college (see my column of June 30 of last year).
What does "whiteness" even mean? The "white" Irish immigrants were treated miserably. Some of my "white" friends with Italian roots have darker skin tones that those with Mexican roots. Asians, who also suffered severe discrimination, now on average perform spectacularly in school; for some reason they don't need "affirmative action."
In ascribing "privilege" to "whiteness," McIntosh also ignores real causes of oppression. Anti-immigration laws hurt Latinos. The drug war, racist in origin, continues to harm everyone, particularly blacks. The left, by imposing wage controls and union favoritism, force some poor and inexperienced youth, who often happen to be minorities, out of the labor market. Protectionist "regulations" of business prevent many non-mainstream entrepreneurs -- often minorities -- from earning a living. Welfare encourages sloth and irresponsibility, while high, often regressive, taxes hurt the poor. These are among the real sources of oppression -- often perpetuated by the same leftists who obsess about "white privilege."
The worst effect of McIntosh's approach is that it undermines the ideal of the self-made soul. This focus on "whiteness" encourages racially based unearned guilt and self-loathing. It is the left's version of Original Sin, the idea that people are born bad, but that, if they pursue a life of servile penance (in this case left-wing activism), they can atone for their sinful nature.
A country of achievement, a country of opportunity, a country of individual rights requires self-confident individuals, not collective guilt. It requires personal improvement, not group-flagellation and entrenched victim status.
Google George Washington Carver to learn about a man of true achievement. Tuskegee University relates that Carver quoted a poem by Edgar A. Guest, a message for every member of the human race: "You are the handicap you must face/ You are the one who must choose your place/ You must say where you want to go/ How much you will study the truth to know... Courage must come from the soul within/ The man must furnish the will to win/ So figure it out for yourself, my lad/ You were born with all that the great have had/ With your equipment they all began/ Get hold of yourself and say: 'I can.'"