You are to learn it over and over

John McWhorter at the Aspen Ideas Festival last June, answering questions about students and free speech.

The whole white privilege paradigm is very interesting because I think it should be part of an education for students to learn that there is something, and I’ll title it white privilege, that’s fine. These are things that must be considered, such that a student wouldn’t look at a disadvantaged part of the city and just say, “Well what’s wrong with them?” The idea is to understand that a lot of what the person sees is that people start out at different places––and that whiteness is a privilege. However, our problem once again these days is that it is being taken in a direction that is less constructive. The idea is not people can learn that there is white privilege and be considered to have learned it, and learn some other things.

The idea is you are to learn that you’re a privileged white person; you are to learn it over and over; really what you’re supposed to learn is to feel guilty about it; and to express that on a regular basis, understanding that at no point in your lifetime will you ever be a morally legitimate person, because you have this privilege. It becomes a kind of Christian teaching, and it seems to serve a certain purpose––I have to say this, I hope it doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings. For white people, it is a great way to show that you understand racism is real. For black people and Latino people, it is a great way to assuage how bad a self-image a race can have after hundreds of years of torture. I can’t speak for Latinos there, but certainly for black Americans. It ends up being a kind of a security blanket.

I don’t think that either one of those things takes students anywhere. To be a black student who learns that their purpose, that something special about them, is that they can make a loud noise and make white people guilty, I don’t think that’s an education.

In other words it’s a dead end. It’s necessary at times but it’s far from sufficient.

It’s certainly true that if you’re born white you have a greater chance at success than if you are born black. It doesn’t mean that being born black is a sentence to poverty and despair. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t a great many white people who are suffering. But the whole white privilege idea, it used to be called societal racism or institutional racism. The term started to weaken so we now say white privilege because it grabs people more by the collar.

So I’ll use it. White privilege is real.

The issue is that it shouldn’t be used as something to shut down conversation, to inculcate unreligious people with a new sense of original sin.

H/t Lady Mondegreen

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