How to Invent a False Reality in Just a Few Easy Steps
White privilege has in recent years become one of the conceptual centers of much academic activity and publication. The quantity of “research” purporting to show the consequences of white privilege in this, that, or another realm of social life is now growing at a rapid pace, aided institutionally on many campuses by funding from diversity, inclusion, and equity offices.
The deceitful logic by which this “research” proceeds and the a priori beliefs that must be accepted to make it cohere are never foregrounded in the literature, and for good reason. To do so would reveal how scientifically baseless the claims are. To illustrate, let’s consider a representative bit of this “research,” which claims to show that white men who have experienced a lack of privilege in some areas of their lives are better able to recognize their own white privilege, which awards things to white people for no other reason than their whiteness. Suffering, it seems, makes you better able to recognize suffering. The image sitting atop the article linked to here is that of a white man with a blade leg, a disability which, by the logic of the article, makes him more likely than a two-legged white man to accept woke, anti–white privilege principles.
What do you have to believe for something like this article to seem convincing to you?
First, you must buy the idea that a privilege hierarchy determines nearly everything important that happens to you. Those who are white enjoy privilege; those who are black do not. The neatness of the picture presented here must not be confused by moving outside of the comfortable abstraction. You must not compare actual, empirical human beings like, say, just about every white reader of this article and Barack Obama, and then rigorously examine which of the two is more likely to be shown the high-end houses by the real estate agent. But white homosexual men are less privileged than white heterosexual men, and so they have a greater likelihood of accepting the objective injustice their whiteness automatically inflicts on any non-white person. That’s the argument, such as it is, in this article.
Second, you must be ignorant of the great amount of data showing that the more objectively “privileged” you are—that is, the higher your level of education and income—the more likely you are to hold woke beliefs, such as the belief that all white people are beneficiaries of privilege by virtue of their white skin.
But the most important precondition for your acceptance of the article’s argument is: don’t read it. Because if you do, you’ll find within the first page that the whole thing is based on a huge fallacy.
The most basic premise of the article is that unearned white privilege exists, that is, whites are given things that they have not earned purely because of their race. This must be accepted before one can say which white men are more or less likely to accept the clear truth of their privilege.
What evidence is mustered here to prove this foundational proposition? All the claims to this effect are conveniently and neatly packed into one paragraph, the third on the first page of the article.
The authors note that predominately white schools are funded more robustly than predominantly non-white schools. Unaddressed is the question of how that funding is provided. Something over 90% of school funds come from state and local tax revenues, which means that this discrepancy is about the different incomes of the people living in those areas. Why are their incomes different? That’s potentially complicated. Houses are priced differently according to a whole range of features, and families can or cannot afford a given house based on what kind of income and wealth they have. What determines their income and wealth? Again, many factors are involved, including career field, educational attainment, and achievement of parents, among many others. The authors of the article make no effort whatever to prove that the sole reason some communities have higher-income residents than others is white privilege.
Next, they claim (without a link to any other studies demonstrating this) that white home buyers are shown more options for homes to purchase. Everyone who has ever looked for a home knows that the two most important factors determining which homes you will be shown are your income and your credit rating. Whites have a higher median income and credit rating than blacks, it is true. Is that an unearned consequence of privilege, though, or a complex accomplishment having to do with education, career choices, job performance, and a dozen other variables? The article silently presumes that there can be only one possible answer: white privilege.
Then, the authors claim that white car-buyers are quoted lower prices (here, they provide a link—to a study that does not give any evidence of this claim). Assuming it is true, why would it be so? They don’t say. We are to assume that it cannot have anything to do with higher white incomes and better white credit ratings, and if it does have to do with those things, we are to assume that only—you guessed it!—white privilege can produce such differences.
There is a claim that white wages are higher than those of blacks (with a link—to a CNN news story). Again, the authors insinuate that only white privilege can explain this.
White men, we are told, get more job callbacks than blacks. In a majority-white society, though, it isn’t that surprising that employers might want employees who represent the overall racial makeup of the society. The authors presume that white privilege is the only plausible reason for an aversion to hiring blacks. But what if, for example, employers are working from empirical evidence based on their own past hiring? That is, what if they suspect that systemic affirmative action has created a world in which positions go to blacks with the same educational pedigree but lower de facto qualifications? If affirmative action admissions policies have allowed for the admission of black candidates with test scores and grades that would win no non-black candidate admission, is it not imaginable that employers might have reasonably assumed or empirically perceived an accompanying discrepancy in the qualifications of potential employees along racial lines? You would need some method to discern precisely what decision-making calculus employers were using. Needless to say, the authors give no indication that they made such an effort, nor do they acknowledge that they would need to do this before they could legitimately claim to know what was informing employer’s decisions.
Finally, we learn that white executives are purportedly allowed more “behavioral freedom” than non-whites. The study linked is based on surveys of executives themselves. That is, the study asks black executives “are you discriminated against relative to white colleagues?” If they say “yes,” that answer is taken to be objectively true, without any need to inquire further. The authors accept this as objective proof of white privilege.
QED: White privilege exists, and now we can move on to demonstrate how white men of different levels of privilege accept their own privilege to varying degrees.
The whole house of cards collapses utterly as soon as you follow the paper trail. How, then, can it be that such a frivolous, mendacious enterprise has become so powerful? We might well wonder how it is even able to unironically label itself “research” when it obviously does not meet basic academic standards. Research implies a systematic and objective investigation into a matter with no preconceived destination in mind. That is clearly not what we are dealing with here.
So why does the house of cards stay up? It does so because there is almost no one left within or outside of academia to blow on the foundation. It took me all of about twenty minutes to explore the substance behind this article’s claims. All I needed was a Wi-Fi connection and university access to look at the scholarly journals that are behind paywalls. But the people who produce this kind of “research” know well that most of the academics who will read their work already agree with the premise, and so they can be counted on to do no homework of this kind. They also know that the average reader outside the professoriate who might have questions about this material will not have the time or access to do even the small amount of work needed to debunk it. Even the twenty minutes I took on this one article is likely too much time for many busy people outside academia, and these intellectually worthless articles sprout constantly from the weed patches of higher education. The work is much like weeding in a garden: as soon as you pull up one bit of crabgrass, three more have sprung up to replace it.
And so, the weeds grow and grow, and the gardener grows tired or has to attend to other tasks. Soon the garden is gone, overgrown completely with academic thistle, foxtail, and ragweed.
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