Anyone looking at the photo of me that accompanies this column may have guessed that I am a white guy. Funny, but I don't really notice that myself. I see a wrinkly guy. I see, most of all an individual with traits, and quirks, and failings, like anyone else. Human beings are not clones. I love them for that. Sure, I know I'm white. I'm not like the character Steve Martin played in “The Jerk,” who having been raised by a black family is convinced that he is black himself. But I don't give my whiteness a lot of thought.
Some people claim that this is a symptom of my entrenched white privilege. Others may not have the luxury of such color blindness; they're judged every day for their color, slighted and marginalized because of circumstances beyond their control. I don't entirely disagree.
I went to a coffee talk hosted by Mountainfilm last week on the subject of white fragility to get an ear full of what two progressive women — academic and author Robin DiAngelo ,and activist Favianna Rodriguez — think I ought to understand about whiteness.
DiAngelo encouraged the white members of the audience —approximately 95 percent of us. It was a Telluride crowd after all. — “break down our identity from the core and rebuild it.” She said we should ask ourselves “how has our whiteness shaped us.” She confessed that “I was born into hierarchy and that system has shaped my life.” She pointed out that white supremacy is all around us. It's in us. It's not just a handful of Klan members marching around the town square. It’s a problem for all of us, particularly those who won't acknowledge it, or work to excise it from our unconscious thinking. Without a critical mass of white people acknowledging their racism, systemic racism is here to stay.
The best quote of the morning came from co-presenter Rodriguez who claimed "whiteness must be unlearned.” Her audience didn't bat an eye at this remark. I challenge you to examine this prescription for yourself. I "must unlearn my whiteness?” Doesn't that sound a tiny bit insulting, maybe even a tiny bit racist? Modern progressives have redefined racism in order to weaponize it against philosophical opponents while providing themselves a handy formula for misunderstanding them. They don't know what racism is, but are certain that it is everywhere, influencing everything. The same goes for patriarchy or homophobia. I doubt she'd recognize real racism if she saw it, having twisted the concept so far beyond recognition.
Are whites more inclined to judge others by their skin color, their accents, their culture? More than Chinese, more than Pakistanis, than Kenyans, than a mestizo living in Mexico or Ecuador, more than anyone else? I'd like to see the data on that. I suspect this is a firmly held belief without any basis in fact. The speakers had a lot of those.
What if she had said this about any race or group other than Caucasian? Say something comparable to Polynesians, or Hxoza's, or Zulus or Indo-Africans or anyone in South Africa other than whites — what might we say about the speaker? She'd rightly be branded a racist. Why the pass on whites? It's not hard to trace this trend to earlier currents in academia that have long been popular. Now they're doctrine. Anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-Western have morphed into anti-white, and now and then, anti-Semite. We've steadily wound ourselves into this perplexing state and no one dare question it. Once academics considered it their duty to open the minds of students. Once (but I'm not sure when) the Socratic method of unflinchingly holding every piece of accepted wisdom up to scrutiny was thought to be praiseworthy and valuable. Without our noticing, academics have assumed the role of medieval priests and inquisitors, stamping out heresy wherever they find it, and enforcing dogma.
What's it matter anyway? Of the races of man, whites are first on the list to go the way of the dodo. We're not reproducing at sustainable rates. Europeans haven't been replacing their numbers for generations, ditto Japanese. White Americans have finally joined them. Soon we'll find the white race as extinct as the Valley Floor prairie dog. I'm not passing judgment, I’m just passing on a few facts. As someone who is nearly extinct himself, it really doesn't matter to me whether future generations look more like Brad Pitt than Tiger Woods (but wouldn't it be great if we could look like Brad or Angelina and play golf like Tiger?). I care more about what our progeny do and think than their skin color. Some ideas really ought to follow the dodo.