Posted on May 14, 2018

Is There Room in Diversity for White People?

Steve Salerno, Quillette, May 10, 2018


Now, reasonable people can differ about whether academia, as the ancestral home of white guilt, has been overzealous at micromanaging outcomes. Significant race-based preferences remain widespread, and lawsuits continue to be filed by white and Asian students who feel they bore the brunt of academia’s attempt to realize its vision of a utopian society in which minorities are represented at demographically correct levels. Eyebrows also raise at the way in which black students may be acculturated upon their arrival: ironically, some colleges “ghetto-ize” incoming minorities by creating for them separate advising systems, housing, academic tracks, and even graduation ceremonies. Still, it’s hard to dispute the wholesomeness of the mindset from which such tokens of affirmative action spring.

And yet wholesome is not the word that comes to mind when one assesses the newest wrinkle in academia’s attempt to balance the scales: an all-out, unapologetic assault on ‘whiteness’ itself. Today’s college administrators increasingly frame diversity and inclusion as lessons that must be learned by whites alone—and they’re lessons that too often unfold as interventions that force whites to regard themselves less as full partners in diversity than an obstacle to be overcome so that other constituencies might thrive. {snip}

A tale of two coasts: New York’s Hunter College promotes coursework for poli-sci majors in “the abolition of whiteness.” Stanford examines “abolishing whiteness as a cultural identity.” Elsewhere, to cite just a few examples, classes at Grinnell and UW-Madison confront “the problem of whiteness.” New Mexico’s St. John’s College takes on the “depravity” of whiteness. Moreover, academic theorists crusade to purge whiteness from STEM courses, because critical thinking and research are regarded as tools of “white hegemony.” Engineering students at Purdue must contend with the school’s indictment of “racist and colonialist projects in science,” while a UC-Irvine professor condemns even “technical prowess” as a white male construct. A Linfield college Gender Studies professor even condemns her peers for putting “stellar” colleagues in leadership roles, because stellar individuals, she notes, tend to be white and thus have benefited unfairly from “a logic of meritocracy that is built on this racist assumption that everyone has had the same access and opportunities.” UCLA pays students a stipend to act as professional social justice activists who will diagnose, expose, and combat “whiteness” and “the patriarchy” in all campus manifestations.

Most of these initiatives surfaced within the past few semesters, so a Geiger reading on fallout is premature, but the message and predictable effects are worrisome. Aside from simple issues of fairness, academe’s crusade is almost guaranteed to backfire. Today’s white college students have little to do with the active bigotry of the past; treating them as if they arrive on campus with some endemic moral deficit is almost certain to foment a stronger sense of racial identity among students who deem the attacks unwarranted. (77 percent of today’s freshmen describe themselves as somewhere between liberal and middle-of-the-road.) No matter how erudite the packaging, labeling a race “depraved” is the textbook definition of bigotry (if not, some might argue, an institutionally sanctioned hate crime).

Consider, too, the implications for black self-reliance. It seems unhelpful to suggest to blacks that resolving the gap in minority performance remains a problem that somehow falls to whites; this undercutting of black agency subliminally echoes the very paternalism that colleges decry. For that matter, what is the message to non-whites of identifying such concepts as excellence, prowess, and stellar performance with whiteness?


Suggestion for my academic colleagues: ensure that opportunity exists for all, then allow diversity to occur organically on its own. It may take longer and never quite come to imagined fruition, but it will be genuine, and will not stigmatize an entire group of people in the guise of eliminating racial stigmas. You can commit to this truer diversity or you can allow your campus to devolve into a Balkanized chaos-sphere that not only perpetuates ancient grievances but stands in direct reproach to the mission of higher education.

You cannot do both.