Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of Andrew Sullivan’s politics, but on this one issue, he gets it right. Today he has a new piece titled: “When the ideologues come for the kids” which makes a point I’ve raised before about what the current focus on identity politics is likely to generate from those who are assigned the role of “the heavy” from a young age. Sullivan starts by referencing a recent piece written by a parent about seeing his kids encounter a wave of identity politics in NY schools. He then moves to a piece about “white boys” published earlier this year by a teacher:
This week, a student spoke up in class to say that every time a particular writer talked about White people and their role in racism, he would start to feel really guilty, and it made him not want to listen … I try to keep an arm around the boys who most need it, but it’s hard, because I’m also not willing to give an inch on making my room safe for my students of color. It’s not their job to keep hurting while White boys figure it out.
Children, in other words, are being taught to think constantly about race, and to feel guilty if they are the wrong one. And, of course, if they resist, that merely proves the point. A boy who doesn’t think he is personally responsible for racism is merely reflecting “white fragility” which is a function of “white supremacy.” QED. No one seems to have thought through the implications of telling white boys that their core identity is their “whiteness,” or worried that indoctrinating kids into white identity might lead quite a few to, yes, become “white identitarians” of the far right.
I wrote about this back in June when Bret Weinstein published a video arguing much the same thing. He said, “People who are the object of ire from the intersectionalists are going to be backed against the wall together. Who are they going to be? Well, primarily they are going to be straight and white and male.” He went on to predict that this combination of telling people that a) racial identity is paramount and b) your racial identity is suspect creates a breeding ground for the kind of white nationalism that we’d all like to avoid. Sullivan adds another note to his criticism, which is that there is no rational way out of this cult because reason has little to do with it. This is a substitute religion:
One of the key aspects about social-justice theory is that it’s completely unfalsifiable (as well as unreadable); it’s a closed circle that refers only to itself and its own categories. (For a searing take down of this huge academic con, check out Douglas Murray’s superb new book, The Madness of Crowds.) The forces involved — “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “heterosexism” — are all invisible to the naked eye, like the Holy Spirit. Their philosophical origins — an attempt by structuralist French philosophers to rescue what was left of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s — are generally obscured in any practical context. Like religion, you cannot prove any of its doctrines empirically, but children are being forced into believing them anyway. This is hard, of course, as this teacher explains: “I’m trying. I am. But you know how the saying goes: You can lead a White male to anti-racism, but you can’t make him think.”
The racism, sexism, and condescension in those sentences! (The teacher, by the way, is not some outlier. In 2014, he was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year!) Having taken one form of religion out of the public schools, the social-justice left is now replacing it with the doctrines of intersectionality.
You can, of course, teach history, including the history of slavery and racism in America, to students. But the message that “white boys” in the class have been born into a kind of original sin from which there is no escape except to constantly feel bad about themselves seems like a very bad idea. The alternative, as I’ve said repeatedly, is the idea that each person is not a racial or sexual category or even the intersection of several such categories but an individual who should always be treated as such. That was a popular idea not so long ago but now seems to have been replaced with the idea that we can never really escape the categories placed on us by chance.
Here’s the Bret Weinstein clip I referenced above. If you missed this the first time it’s worth a look: