In tune with the Zeitgeist

Not all that funny.

I have to say that I find this pretty amusing. After Princeton’s President (like officials of many other colleges) wrote a letter flagellating himself and his University for systemic racism, the U.S. Department of Education has begun investigating Princeton for violating Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The charge is taking federal money for years while purporting to abide by federal nondiscrimination and equal-opportunity standards. If Princeton is indeed rife with “systemic racism” that it hasn’t addressed, then surely they have violated that agreement.

I saw items about it earlier today, and had the same ambivalent reaction.

I get why it’s a little funny, I suppose. I definitely get that it can be cringe-inducing to see presidents of ivy league universities and the like accuse their universities of systemic racism, but at the same time…should we really just assume that there is no such systemic racism? If the “we” in question means white people? Do we just know, for certain, that we recognize it when we see it and instantly leap to stamp it out, leaving the world cleaner and better?

I don’t think we do know that, and I don’t think we should assume it. We should probably also avoid narcissistic displays of self-accusation, but I don’t know that that’s what the Princeton president was doing. (I grew up in Princeton by the way. It’s very very white, and very impressed with itself, and very snooty – at least it was then. That’s Princeton the town, but most people I know who went to the university confirm that the two take their style from each other.)

The thing is, the white majority went along for decade after decade not giving a single thought to systemic racism, or any other kind, and taking the racism around them (us) for granted. The Civil Rights movement started a change in that, but is it finished? Of course it’s not. Trump has dragged us sharply backwards in some ways, with enthusiastic help from Stephen Miller and Don Junior and other assorted shits. The problem isn’t solved or over, so how likely is it that crusty old elite institutions like Princeton have shed all trace of racism? By the way it was much favored by the few [editing to add: pre-Civil War] southern boys who went north for further education – Yale and Harvard were seen as way too Yankee, while Princeton was more relaxed and forgiving…of white boys.

It’s true that I wouldn’t have any idea how to come up with concrete evidence that Princeton is systemically racist – not unless I got some social science training at least – but I don’t think that means I have to assume there absolutely is none. I think the jeering about this is a bit trumpish.

This is amusing because I don’t believe that Princeton is systemically racist, though there may be private instances of racism. And yet the University had to admit deep-seated racism to keep in tune with the Zeitgeist. By so doing, it got itself investigated. It’ll be interesting to see how Princeton plays this one, maintaining that it has a climate of systemic racism but yet doesn’t violate federal statues.

But maybe it’s not quite that simple. Maybe they’re not just “keeping in tune with the Zeitgeist.” Maybe they really do think racism isn’t over yet and therefore they shouldn’t take it for granted that there’s no trace of it at Princeton. Is that out of the question? I’m not seeing it.

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