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ANDERSON: White privilege, gullibility and true racism

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December 08, 2015 - 8:06 AM

There have always been charlatans trotting about on the fringes of believability making loads of money off gullible people. Deepak Chopra has been accused of being one such individual, misusing scientific terms with wild abandon and tossing out alleged profundities that make no sense at all, claiming for example that "consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe". This is demonstrably untrue and even silly-sounding, yet thousands of people eat it up as if it were manna from heaven. For a bit of fun, check out this bullshit phrase generator and compare its generated memes to Chopra's to see if you can tell them apart.

And then there's academia or, to be more precise, the "social science" side of academia.

For a long time the snake oil salespeople of academia created harmless - and sometimes mind-expanding - fun that students grew out of once they hit the real world. But in the Age of the Internet, with its wider and often less-educated audience, the results can be darker, and cause harm to whole groups of people. Indeed, Gordon Pennycook PhD, in a study published in the prestigious journal of psychology "Judgment and Decision Making," posits a link between lower intelligence and the ready acceptance of academically indefensible tripe as long as it is presented as "profound sounding".

These days almost any would-be academic can fabricate an irrational thesis, bolster it with bloviatingly portentous phraseology, and release it to the great churn of social media where, even though it can't withstand even a cursory logical examination, it is almost guaranteed to catch the imagination of those whose preconceived biases are already aligned with it.

Enter the concept of "white privilege," a notion bolstered not only by the pseudo-academic bafflegab of critical theory, but protected from critique by the career-ruining accusation of "racism" hanging over the head of any academic who dares point out its logical fallacies.

Originally introduced by W. E. B. Du Bois in the 1930s, white privilege assumes that being white within western society confers benefits, both seen and unseen, on white people by virtue of their skin colour. While this undoubtedly held a great deal of truth in 1930s America, it is much harder in a world of non-white presidents, non-white majorities, and affirmative action to make the same case today. As a result, its contemporary iteration has slid into the shadowy world of proto-psychology and is embraced mainly by left-leaning white liberals and minority career activists.

It is important to reiterate that this notion of "white privilege" applies only to whiteness within western society.

That whiteness is overvalued in many non-western societies goes almost without saying: in global terms the market for skin whitening products dwarfs the market for skin tanning products; numerous societies try to "marry white" so their offspring are a lighter shade; and whiteness is often taken as synonymous with wealth and intelligence in Africa and parts of Asia. But these ideas are failings of those societies and not, as is often posited, a relic of colonialism or the alleged neo-colonialism of latterday Marxist internationalism. They held true within those societies long before contact was ever made with Europe, and it is up to those societies to deal with the fallacy of white superiority.

The concept of "white privilege" within western society is something different. It shares with other schools of critical theory (gender, sexuality, class etc) the chameleon-like ability to lose one point and retreat to another, fighting a circuitous rearguard action until finally pinned against the wall, at which point the "racism" bomb is often thrown.

For example, specious economic comparisons are often made between blacks and whites, or indigenous people and whites, until someone points to Asians within western society, who generally succeed economically better than anyone else, at which point the argument skitters down various rabbit holes involving colonialism, slavery, cultural genocide, or Jim Crow, none of which have anything to do with the argument at hand.

Nor do proponents of 'white privilege' ever want to talk about the origins of disparaging terms like "white trash" or "redneck" etc, because sooner or later that line of conversation will meander along to a comparison between a dirt poor Kentucky coal miner and the current president of the United States... a comparison not likely to do the 'white privilege' thesis any favours.

It seems to me that the concept of white privilege, so beloved of the far left fringe of lilly white liberalism, hides the soft racism of lowered expectations. As the writer and secularist Tarek Fatah said of the left's apologia for the excesses of fundamentalist Islamism:

"These are white folks who really don’t think that Muslims are human beings. Maybe in 5,000 years, we will develop to be in that state. Right now, we are some underclass who need to be pandered to. We can make mistakes and they will tolerate us and reach out to us under the diversity agenda. It is the racism of lower expectations."

What he is talking about is the very heart of the "white privilege" thesis. If the proponents of white privilege indeed believed that they were fighting for the value of non-whites against a monolithic and pervasive "white privilege," then one would think they'd hold non-whites to be as intelligent and self-controlled as whites, no?  But their actions suggest the opposite. They would hold the KKK responsible for a lynching without a moment's pause, yet they blame whites for the actions of ISIS, blame whites for the gun violence among inner city blacks, blame whites for the problems of natives held in enervating apartheid. This is a clear avoidance of responsibility, as much as saying that these groups cannot be held responsible for their own failings.

I don't know what they think they mean by this evasion of responsibility, but what they are saying for all the world to see is that non-whites cannot be held to the same standards as whites.

That is true racism, pure and simple and ugly.

— Scott Anderson is a Vernon City Councillor, freelance writer and a bunch of other stuff. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Philosophy, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode.

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