White privilege is real, but mewling about it isn’t helping

During the hot racial strife of 1968, author James Baldwin was interviewed by Esquire magazine on the status of race relations in the country. Baldwin, whose works offered keen insight into the worldview of black America, didn’t pull any punches. He was up front with describing the ineptitude of white Americans in alleviating racial animosity. When asked why the state of New York planned to erect a government building in place of a black nationalist bookstore in Harlem, Baldwin plainly told the interviewer, “the American white man has proved, if nothing else, he is absolutely, endlessly, foolish when it comes to this problem.”

“Foolish” is a good way to describe Lehigh University visiting professor Christopher Driscoll. Stupidly garrulous may be another. Dr. Driscoll takes political correctness to a whole new level with his blog Shades of White. After co-hosting a rap music symposium (totally appropriate for a university) with two hip-hop educators (such pedagogy), Driscoll decided to issue “The Ten Cracka Commandments” to teach his fellow whites how to view and interact with black culture. Like Moses descending from Mount Sinai, the totally conscious professor wants, I think, to make sure his people aren’t creating a golden calf out of racial misunderstanding.

First, I’ll give credit where credit is due: Dr. Driscoll is as “white” as can be. His website’s profile picture shows him wearing bright yellow pants and loafers. For being a college professor and dressing like a Capitol Hill staffer, I grant Driscoll the title of “expert on white people.” He better be welcome.

With that settled, If you don’t know already, the “cracka commandments” title is a take on a popular Notorious B.I.G. song detailing how to become a millionaire selling addictive substances to your neighbors. Driscoll really knows how to pick his role-models. I know what you’re thinking: how edgy and hip! Clearly this Driscoll fella knows urban culture enough to explain it for clueless white folks. Say, isn’t there an unspoken rule about appropriating another race’s culture to your own? Well, I guess it’s fine as long as you’re shaming whites into submission.

Driscoll’s list of commandments is on-the-high lecturing from someone who appears to have never walked down the streets of inner Baltimore. In lecturing whites on why they are in the wrong for being born with fair skin complexion, the professor demonstrates how not to confront the evil deeds done by former leaders of America.

He begins innocently enough, stating “#AllLivesMatter won’t matter until #BlackLivesMatter. This commandment is a litmus test and the greatest commandment.” As a matter of logic, all lives can’t matter if black Americans are used and abused by the police. No controversy there.

But the underlying point in Driscoll’s “greatest commandment” is that until blacks are treated better by police, officers gunned down in the streets are of little importance. In other words, all lives matter, but some lives matter first. Somewhere, the pigs from Animal Farm are oinking in approval.

This point is accentuated by Driscoll’s fifth ukase: “Always remember that it is never a question of if violence, but whose violence are you going to defend. Unjust state-sanctioned and racist violence, or justified resistance; the choice is yours, the choice is ours.” Good to know we have a choice! That is, until we choose wrong, and are proverbially beheaded by the mob. Driscoll’s dichotomy is overly simple, and leaves out a crucial possibility: violence to maintain order in chaos, otherwise known as police protection. I’m going to take a wild guess, and assume that Driscoll doesn’t consider that “justified resistance.” Knocking over a CVS is probably more his style.

The next edict is where things become clearer. Without missing a beat, Driscoll proclaims, “Never tolerate racism from your friends or family.” He urges readers that no matter the hardships, struggles, age, or attitude of loved ones, “confront [racism] always.” Well there you have it: screw your family and friends. Be a pestering little jerk if they make an off-color joke. Call out grandpa, who fought the Nazis, survived the Great Depression, worked for three decades at a manufacturing plant to put food on the table, just because he doesn’t understand why the black crime rate is substantially more than that of whites. Gee, I bet Driscoll is a real hoot around the holidays. And I bet his family members love being grilled over racial micro-aggression over the Christmas roast.

The final “cracka” commandment is unrelenting: “Never put white fragility ahead of justice.” You see, you can’t put the feelings and life experiences of complicated individuals over the nebulous and abstract idea of justice. Sympathy and tolerance for opposing viewpoints is not allowed; only justice shall reign. Driscoll issues an ultimatum: “Do you want justice or comfort?” Seeing as how justice is scarcely defined and even harder to achieve, while comfort comes just as sparingly but, if properly ordered, can bring lasting fulfillment, the latter is a more realistic goal. God will mete out justice eventually. Humans struggle on all fronts to get even the slightest amount of repose.

I have to admit that the concept of “white privilege” isn’t totally without merit. When it comes to real white privilege, I’m not as ideologically blind as the race crazies over at The Right Stuff blog. Driscoll is correct when he says that privilege exists, regardless of if you recognize it or not. The United States has an unfortunate history of systematic racism. Slavery, housing segregation, Jim Crow laws, high incarceration rates among black males—these were deliberate policies pursued by government at all levels. Conservatives who pat themselves on the back and carry on about America being the “greatest country in the history of ever” fool themselves. Like all countries, the U.S. has committed grievous sins. No nation is without moral blemish. And ill treatment of black Americans is one of our country’s most ignoble heritages.

If recognizing the less-than-perfect history of America means acknowledging white privilege, then by all means, consider me a race-minded social justice warrior. Christ brought the world the idea of radical equality, after all. But there is a difference between recognizing when injustice is committed and going full-blown Ta-Nehisi Coates. You can still appreciate your country without condemning it non-stop. And you can still maintain steady devotion to God-granted equality without chastising others for being insufficiently aware of racial identity. I doubt Driscoll understands that. Rather, he seems like just another indignant progressive who will never stop agitating for a perfect society. And his students will likely be no different.

Telling white people they are irredeemable because of their privilege is like your teacher saying you’ll fail the final exam no matter how hard you study. It stings, and it’s no way to go about remedying racial relations. The crooked timber of humanity is brittle enough. Perhaps it’s better in the end to see what’s wrong, without having the arrogance to think it can be fixed by tearing down each other based on skin color.

(Image source)

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One comment

  1. That photo of the professor is painful. He isn’t wearing any socks with his fine Corinthian leather loafers. Okay, I’ll stop being snarky now. I think we can still claim that America is the “greatest country in the history of ever”. If that weren’t true, there wouldn’t be so many people from elsewhere trying to immigrate here. They still are, and it isn’t just people from Mexico and Latin America. The USA remains the number one preferred destination for migrants globally, according to one of those spiffy charts from OECD or the World Bank.

    Next, there is Ta-Nesi Coates. He was championing the end of “white identity” just the other day on the Twitter.

    If that is a good thing, does that mean that he wants to see the end of “black identity” and every other identity too? Or is only white ethnicity bad, and all other ethnicities are good, thus are allowed to remain extant? This is very slippery ground here. There are plenty of people on lefty-progressive websites like Quora who believe, unquestioningly, that white people are the most racist, evilest people, ever. To say otherwise, even citing all sorts of historical examples, gets you banned forever. Occasionally, one might be told to go educate oneself, even though there are abundant historical examples to indicate that everyone, everywhere has been racist at some point in time, when judged by current standards.

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