MacDonald’s Insight

In an oped that appeared in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago, Heather MacDonald made a simple point that I have been thinking about ever since:


“By perpetuating a false narrative about its own racism, Yale, like the vast majority of colleges and universities today, encourages its minority students to think of themselves as victims. That mentality is contrary to fact and will hinder those who adopt it from fully seizing the boundless opportunities …

I don’t doubt that academics think that they’re promoting their idea of justice by teaching the idea, now taken as Unchallenged Truth in academia and popular culture, that “implicit bias” against minorities is deeply – and often unconsciously – embedded in our society. (Well, “implicit bias” against non-Asian-American minorities, that is; leading academics seem quite comfortable with their own institutions’ overt bias against Asian-Americans).

What I do doubt, though, is whether such nebulous and unfalsifiable claims are either true or helpful to their presumptively intended beneficiaries. Indeed, in such claims I see a paternalistic (and, I write with fully intended irony, implicitly racist) denial of agency to individuals of minority backgrounds.

If minority students are taught that the whole world is against them (except for the uber-woke, according to the current “progressive” ideology), one can hardly blame them for either holding a grudge against the world or for attributing their individual shortcomings and personal disappointments to others’ racism. And what individual, minority or otherwise, doesn’t have shortcomings and disappointments of his or her own with which he or she must come to terms?

To the extent that such students are taught to resent society at large and to think of themselves as perpetual victims, they will naturally feel – and perhaps be – disempowered by those convictions. Why even try to fight a tidal wave of irrational evil so vast and – generally – imperceptible as to constitute a permanent barrier to full integration into the life of American society? How can it ever be helpful for somebody to think of him or her -self as a perpetual victim of society’s perfidy?

But are the assertions of nearly omnipresent “implicit bias” in American society true? Academics will respond in the affirmative, pointing to the substantial statistical differences in economic outcomes measured on a group-wide basis in our country between African-Americans and some Latinos, on the one hand, and people of the Caucasian persuasion (with whom high-achieving people of Asian descent are often lumped), on the other.

I certainly wouldn’t deny that such statistics are an accurate measure of today’s relative levels of prosperity between groups defined by race, religion and/or other sub-cultures. Insofar as one chooses to focus on such groups rather than on individuals, doubtless the statistics are revealing – but not necessarily of what the academics want us to think.

For one thing, such statistics change over time. Many subgroups within American society (Jews, Asian-Americans, Irish and Italian -Americans, and so on) have traveled paths from relative impoverishment and resentment as the “other” from those who came before to economic and social success within American society. Some of these groups are now doing better in material terms than those whose ancestors came to this country before their ancestors did. In that sense, our nation’s bounties have proven remarkably fluid.

Even so, academics will respond, the reason that African-Americans have not similarly advanced on a relative basis as a group is racism, pure and simple. And they can point to the fact that in this society as in every other, racism undeniably exists.

***

People have a natural inclination to want to interact with others from whom they know what to expect, as doing so reduces the risks inherent in all human interactions, and some people falsely conflate race with culture, viewing the former as determinative of the latter. Understanding an individual’s culture, how and why he or she can be expected to behave, is a perfectly legitimate, and indeed a sensible, way for people to tailor their interactions with others; making such decisions based on involuntary, immutable characteristics like skin color, is not.

In my view, most people are culturist rather than racist. They just try to navigate their days, interacting with others who they perceive as, at a minimum, non-threatening and, ideally, helpful to whatever they’re trying to achieve at the moment. Nobody is color-blind – of course we see the physical differences between ourselves and others – but few really care what others look like as long as the others behave as hoped and expected.

I don’t recall one instance – in my sixty-one years – in which I so much as heard another say or imply that somebody should be deprived of an opportunity because of his or her skin color. Others may call me blind, but in spite of having been around the block many times, I just haven’t seen it. And, to me, that means that even if I have missed some instances of genuinely racist behavior, they were so few as to be anything but the kind of omnipresent “implicit bias” about which academics prate.

***

Our country was founded with a proclamation that “all men are created equal” – an idea that was imperfectly understood by those who first articulated it in 1776 but has been growing in strength ever since. One of the most important fruits of that first premise is that we have become a nation of people of all ancestries rather than the modern incarnation of an ancient tribe.

For us to be a nation though, rather than a set of immutable subgroups coincidentally resident within the same borders and in constant strife with each other, we must revive and assert our fealty to America’s unifying ideals – that we are each of us free individuals, equal before God and in the eyes of the law.

Ideas like “implicit bias” and my own opinion that real racism is actually rare today, that are both unprovable and unfalsifiable, should not be taught as if they were facts – teaching them as the latter is the stuff of indoctrination, not education.

What MacDonald labels “a false narrative about (Yale’s) own racism” is just that and both harmfully disempowering of its presumptive audience and poison to the ideals that made this country great.

M.H. Johnston

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