“White privilege” is no longer a term isolated to the academic fringe or radical-left organizations like Black Lives Matter. Pushed by progressive politicians and the left-leaning media in an overt attempt to leverage public outrage and curry favor with the “woke” crowd, the divisive notion has become pervasive in the last few years and reached a cultural primacy in recent months. A closer look at the concept of “white privilege,” however, reveals that it’s based on fatally flawed premises, while the impact of its promotion suggests it is outright destructive, only adding to the vitriol and animosity pulling at the already strained seams of the nation.
The roots of the term
White privilege and its theoretical matrix, Critical Race Theory, are not at all rooted in some careful analysis of history or complex socioeconomic factors. Instead, they originate from the nebulous postmodern constructs of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault. His work serves as the foundation for most of the current trends in so-called “social justice” theory among the Left, as New Discourses explains:
“The postmodern understanding of power [and privilege] is…currently more influential than the Neo-Marxist…In fact, Social Justice is, perhaps, best thought of as a fusion of these two approaches with the postmodern understanding of power holding dominance. This understanding owes most of its formulation to a single Theorist named Michel Foucault…Foucault was instrumental in developing the idea that power (indeed, hegemony) works through society as it works through everybody, like a grid, in terms of how it defines people and groups as legitimate knowers, thus people with access to influence and power.”
It’s worth noting that Foucault was also an ardent supporter of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. His infamous essay on the social unrest that lead to the revolution is suffused with naive praise for Ayatollah Khomeini as some quasi-messianic figure as well as his own confounding postmodern theorizing.
The flaws of “white privilege”
The fundamental flaw of “white privilege” is that the assertion completely fails to recognize the individual in any meaningful way, dehumanizing persons by way of superficialities and abstraction. It presents an entire group of people as monolithic and employs sweeping generalizations that have far more to do with prejudice than the very thing it seeks to redress: namely, racism.
Zaid Jilani argues against this uncritical bias in his 2019 piece for Quillette:
“When activists and academics invoke the phrase ‘white privilege,’ they typically are speaking of advantages that whites, on average, have over members of other ethnic minority groups in our society. But there is a danger that, by talking about this inequality as an all-consuming phenomenon, we will end up creating a flattened and unfair image that portrays all whites in all situations and all contexts as benefiting from unearned advantages. Indeed, it’s possible that we will cause people to confuse a structural inequality that exists on the level of group average with the circumstances of every individual within a particular racial group.”
Jilani goes on to cite a study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology that found that hammering “privileged’ white people with critical race theory doesn’t help minorities; instead, it only ends up hurting poor white people.
“What the researchers found is that among social liberals — i.e., participants who had indicated that they hold liberal beliefs about social issues — reading a text about white privilege did nothing to significantly increase their sympathy toward the plight of poor blacks. But, as Cooley told me, ‘it did significantly bump down their sympathy for a…poor white person.’ (Among conservative participants, there was observed no significant change in attitudes at all.)”
Its destructive effects are becoming more evident
As we bear witness to seemingly endless civil unrest, rioting and a dogmatic shift toward intolerance, many now understand just how pernicious such flawed ideas of systemic racism and white privilege have become in our own country.
Writing for City Journal, Christopher F. Rufo contends that the promotion of critical race theory has resulted in the elimination of the concept of due process and has encouraged the weaponization of “victimhood,” erupting in violence across the country:
“Under the dogma of critical race theory, the neo-Marxist Left now treats members of ‘oppressor’ groups (whites, males, Christians, Jews, conservatives) as inherently guilty by virtue of their group membership; conversely, members of victim groups are considered morally innocent. By this logic, claims of victimization by members of victim groups necessarily must be believed, while members of oppressor groups are already guilty by virtue of their group membership. This formula eliminates any need for due process, since the mere perception of victimization constitutes proof of same.
Critical race theory is fast becoming a broad cultural mainstay and is no longer confined to the ivory towers of academia. Often it’s now employed as a training protocol on a state and federal level. Worse, as Rufo points out, so much of the violence and mayhem witnessed at recent protests all across our nation draws from this decidedly “Marxist narrative” as Democrats have “embraced the ideology of the woke Left.” Rufo predicts that with “such widespread penetration of that ideology, the crisis is unlikely to fade away.”
An alternative to “antiracism”
Rather than bringing us together as a people and a nation, spurious notions like white privilege are dividing us even further apart. The likes of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo remain corrosive voices contributing to this growing antipathy with their insistence on “antiracism” as some illiberal antidote to white privilege in all its various guises.
Coleman Hughes, an intrepid and vital black voice, rightly opposes the onerous prescriptions found in the works of Kendi and DiAngelo that are disguised as wise or enlightened. Instead, Hughes offers a far more thoughtful approach to antiracism in his piece for Persuasion that dispels postmodern notions of privilege and, instead, accords with the fundamental values our nation was founded upon. Hughes insists that the only way forward for all of us is to, ultimately, move past the very idea of race itself:
“America has a long tradition of liberal anti-racism that reaches back to Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Frederick Douglass, and beyond. It is an anti-racism grounded in the idea that there is a single human race to which we all belong — and that all the ways of dividing us up, though they may be important to understand our present reality, should not be given moral weight. That is the principle that ultimately conquered slavery and Jim Crow — and it is the principle that ought to be revived today.”