Friday, January 8, 2010

the unbearable whiteness and upper class privilege of anti-racism

Wondering why anti-racists don't like to talk about class issues, I finally took advice that's always good if you want to understand anything in a capitalist society: Follow the money.

What I found: Modern anti-racism is a commercial movement driven by graduates of the most expensive private colleges and universities in the US. That may explain why Thandeka, author of Learning To Be White, says anti-racists “make an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America.”

Though whiteness studies is a racially diverse field, three of anti-racism's most influential promoters, based on how often they're cited by the anti-racists I encounter on the web, are white:

Peggy McIntosh wrote “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She's the associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, one of the fifty most expensive colleges in the US.

Judith H. Katz first defined racism as “prejudice plus power.” She's the Executive Vice President and “Client Brand Lead” of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, a business that prospers by teaching anti-racism.

Tim Wise, a graduate of Tulane University, has lectured about anti-racism at “over 400 college campuses, including Harvard, Stanford, and the Law Schools at Yale, Columbia, and Vanderbilt.” I watched a little of one of his youtube videos, then turned it off when he claimed he was doing what black speakers could not. I was a teenager when my father went to a university in the late 1960s—black speakers were very popular on college campuses then. The idea that someone like Ralph Abernathy or Fannie Lou Hamer could not speak at a college campus today is as silly as the title of one of Wise's books, Speaking Treason Fluently. When the majority of a nation supports diversity, a better title would be Speaking Truisms Fluently.

So far as I can tell, Wise, Katz, and McIntosh are all very good people. That they content themselves with a superficial understanding of injustice in the US— Well, my favorite Sinclair Lewis quote applies yet again: “It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

ETA: Most Expensive Colleges for 2009-2010

The Most Expensive U.S. Colleges


  1. Oh, man, they're hauling out idiocy from the 1990s today? I've only read the commentary, but I'll look over the report later.

  2. I'm going to have to do a separate post about this report. On the one hand, Katherine Kersten seems to have a lot of biases I don't, and I admire parts of the reading list, like Zinn's People's History. On the other, there is something Maoist in statements like "Future teachers will understand that they are privileged & marginalized depending on context" and the mentions of class seem awfully token--they don't seem to grasp that middle class whites and blacks are likely to have more in common with each other than with lower class whites and blacks.

  3. Exactly!! It always astonishes me... the one thing Marx got right- that class is more important than race, religion, or ethnicity, is the one thing liberals never seem to grasp... while in a world in which the President is black, the Secretary of state is a woman, the best rapper is white, the best golfer is black, and Oprah and Cosby have more money than God, (whatever color God is), they're still teaching that race trumps all. It sometimes seems to me that AR/AO activists suffer from a racism more insidious than that of klansmen.

  4. Joel, total agreement there. I believe they keep insisting everyone is racist because they're horrified that they are. Or at least, they're horrified by their fear that they are. One brilliant point from Thandeka's essay is that people often misidentify racism--conforming to a racist group doesn't mean you're a racist, for example; it means you're a coward, or that you've had to do what was necessary to survive.

  5. :Well, my favorite Sinclair Lewis quote applies yet again: “It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Which is no doubt *exactly* why the UU World refused to report on my protest against the UUA's negligent and effectively complicit mishandling of my own and other people's clergy misconduct complaints. The UU World refused to send down a reporter even though I was quite literally standing on the doorsteps of 25 Beacon Street in the spring of 2000. When I called Tom Stites several days later to try to persuade the UU World to run a story about my protest he told me that he was "under instructions from my employers" not to talk to me. The UUA's negligent responses to clergy misconduct complaints has *everything* to do with *class*, and of course lack thereof. . .

  6. Robin, you're trolling again. FYI. I'll give you this one, since it's your first in 2010. Happy New Year!

    But, I beg you, restrict your UU obsession to posts in which I discuss Unitarian Universalism.

  7. What?!!

    You didn't know that Sinclair Lewis was a "famous Unitarian" Will?

    To say nothing of Thandeka. . .

    How is pointing out strong parallels between "the unbearable whiteness and upper class privilege of anti-racism" and the U*Unbearable 97% Whiteness and U*Upper Class Privilege and Hierarchy of the UUA "trolling"? I mean those two subjects are *very* interconnected and interdependent. . .

    For the record Will, it's my ever so anal U*U obsession. :-)

  8. You're really stretching, Robin. And do you have any evidence that Lewis was a UU? That didn't turn up on a two-minute googling.

  9. Robin, that's enough for 2010. Anyone who wants to know about your obsession can google your name. You're still welcome to post here so long as the post is on-topic.

    Frankly, I really wish you hadn't provided the link to your latest diatribe. Ignoring the question of whether UUs should welcome your attempts to convert them, you're just being rude.

  10. Sheesh you ask for evidence that Sinclair lewis was a "famous Unitarian> and then you "memory hole" it?

  11. BTW That was a comparatively old diatribe but one that fit well with the theme of stretching it. . .

  12. Problem was you mixed the answer with the diatribe, and Blogger doesn't have a way to selectively edit posts, so the Ban Hammer came down. I don't think it's "memory-holing" though, 'cause in memory-holing, all the evidence disappears. Blogger does have the option to memory-hole, but I thought it was better to leave your name so people would know something had been there and could pursue it if they pleased.