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Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Dismantling White Privilege

This past weekend at the Race Matters Conference, people, who otherwise might be intelligent people, challenged paradigms of white privilege and power in the university system. Without mentioning the value of education, teaching, students and student-teacher interaction, the junior varsity radicals and revolutionaries proceeded to criticize the academy. One particularly horrid woman gave a speech about "decolonizing the university" which was myopic in its overview of Western history. While pretending to be about education and a mysterious force called "democratization", the pundits outlined a plan for the university that was Nietzschean in its methodology, Marxist in its ontology, and Foucaultian in its analysis. This junior varsity team of polemics, (I say polemics because for the first two panels, more comments were made about national politics and foreign policy, the natural jurisdiction of Humanities and Literature Profs, than about education in the academy) rattled off a collection of adjectives that simply decorated normative (not empirical) judgments and concealed advocacy of a political choice. (The only exceptions to this rule being Hortense Spillers and Cornel West who actually took on the burden of considering the university and an academic curriculum.) The call to end white privilege, however, though condemnable in and of itself, begs the question of for what is it most condemnable?

One option could be: this is an example of racism against whites that is sanctioned by the PC-culture in force since the late 80s. A compelling case can then be made that pink-skinned people (especially those with penises) undergo unnecessary ritual abuse because they are the only ones who cannot claim minority status. Then one could go off on a tirade about multiculturalism and the deification of difference in the modern academy with a pit stop to affirm the Western Canon, complete with an after-dinner game of left-bashing.

Another option could be to: acknowledge "white" "privilege" but suggest that these loons have taken a good concept to far and proceed to deconstruct structures of power complete with your own portable Foucault and Derrida for just $2.95. By doing so, you could condemn morally insufferable radicalism without reverting rightist jargon and showing your leftist credentials.

However, let's suppose that we wanted to move beyond the simplistic binaries of left/right in racialized world. Suppose that we were more concerned about the world than about the dissonance of clashing ideologies. To adopt this approach, we have to realize not only that race is socially constructed, but is also a psychological worldview (like atheism for example) that one superimposes upon the neutral facts to make interpretation easier. (Very similar to using literary theory as a substitute for the true reading of the text.) Then the problem is not the racism but the race-ism of the idea of abolishing the white race.

My main problem, and I hope your main problem, is the concept of race itself. The idea that merits and punishments should be distributed along lines of "race" is fallacious. Not just because it is ultimately impossible to determine who is of what race, but because our political regime is prefaced upon a strong, comprehensive, Kantian view of individual moral autonomy. Formal groups do not exist in America, though social ones might. It is our responsibility then to abolish race-thinking and race-theorizing from the very fabric of our society or it will destroy the regime that has permitted our lives to be so great.

I think we should issue a call, or a start a petition, asking anyone at Dartmouth who owes their position at the university and therefore in society to race or racism to step down from their positions at once.