Dear 1585:

    As a (more or less) liberal, I'm sure that you are quite familiar with the crippling force that is white guilt.  Sometimes, it seems as if the leftist standpoint is almost entirely drawn from being embarrassed about one's affluence or lack of melanin.  You've got a loyal fan base now, so maybe you can help free some of the tens of thousands of college kids who are trying to atone for something that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The "rich white people are responsible for all the problems in the world" bit gets really old when heard from a pale kid from Connecticut.  What do you think?


    Dear Max:

    We want to be careful how we answer this.  Not because we’re “scared,” of course, but because the issue you’re raising here is a complex one:  On the one hand, yes, you’re 100% correct that it is annoying when rich college kids from Connecticut blast Bob Marley out of their dorm windows and try to act like they’re “down”—but, on the other hand, it’s also true that this “white guilt” meme is largely a buzzword created by the Right in order to trick people into ignoring instances of actual racism, and to limit the influence among middle-class Caucasians (the majority of the population, and the target audience for nearly all media) of the segment of that demographic who actually are concerned with legitimate issues of social justice by labeling them “paranoid,” “alarmist,” or even “fashionable.”  This is an issue where one risks losing sight of the forest for the trees, so we’ll open by saying that we hope you agree with us about the fact that, although certainly irritating, white people who pose as “street” or who are overly paranoid about giving offense are obviously much less of a problem than actual racists.

    Furthermore, it would seem that you either are now, or have recently been, in college (please talk up The 1585 on campus if you are, by the way).  We surmised this not just from the references to college in the last half of your e-mail, but also from the “it seems as if the leftist standpoint is almost entirely drawn from being embarrassed about one’s affluence” quote at the beginning—it definitely seemed that way to us when we were in college too, but we have good news for you: college liberalism is not the same thing at all as actual real-world liberalism.  College liberalism, you see, is rendered silly by three factors:  1) College kids prefer getting mad about stuff that is easy to understand, as opposed to getting mad about stuff that, although equally important, is complicated and boring (thus, there will be a lot more protests about various types of discrimination than there will be protests about campaign finance reform).  2) It is easier to get a classroom discussion going about something that involves the students’ personal experience (thus, there will be way more discussions about race and gender than there will be about tax policy, since most college kids aren’t even doing their own taxes yet).  3) Everyone is trying to get laid (which is fine, of course, but for some reason, it is easier to get laid by speaking generally about how bourgeois people are bourgeois than by speaking specifically about how there need to be more controls over district gerrymandering, even though this is the very process by which bourgeois people stay bourgeois—and, apropos of this issue, we might point out the fact that, ironically, the fashionable anti-racism that annoys you so much has in fact been enabled by actual racism, which is a paradox if we ever saw one).    

    In short, it’s important to remember that college is not life, and so it is definitely not the case that “the leftist standpoint is almost entirely drawn from being embarrassed about one’s… lack of melanin.”  Some of our own leftist beliefs, for example, are:  “more effort must be put into researching and developing clean, renewable sources of energy;” “abstinence-only sex education is ineffective and obnoxious;” and “people should not be able to waltz into Wal-Mart and buy an AK-47”—and none of these has anything to do with being embarrassed about being white.  Additionally, you may have noticed that we are extremely critical of religion, as are many (but not all) contemporary Liberals, and this would certainly not be the case if we (or all Liberals) were basing their positions solely on the desire to kiss up to minorities, since ethnic minorities in the U.S. are considerably more religious than Caucasians are (although the really insane religious people are almost always Caucasians).

    Finally, in keeping with the subject of college, we figure we should touch upon affirmative action, even though you didn’t bring it up specifically, since it’s the main issue that gets brought up in conjunction with this idea of “white guilt.”  While it is definitely true that there are many Caucasians who don’t understand the valid reasons for affirmative action, and only support such policies because of “white guilt,” that doesn’t mean that good reasons to support affirmative action don’t exist.  This may surprise you, but 1585 does in fact support affirmative action, because we have had enough experience with academia to feel confident in saying that the overall effect of these policies is net positive (although we used to be against it, before we had the experience and information we have now).  We of course feel that it’s important to correct misconceptions about affirmative action (e.g., it’s not about revenge against whites, or about making up for past racism, but rather about handicapping to correct for present economic inequality), and to point out that we support it with some qualifications (e.g., we think it should be cross-referenced with income so that wealthy minority individuals don’t benefit from it; we would be open to the idea of reforming the point scale so that it’s not as extreme), but speaking generally, if our options are “for it” and “against it,” then we guess we are “for it.”  It is supposed to be a stopgap measure rather than a permanent thing, of course, and the point of affirmative action is supposed to be getting to the point when we don’t need it anymore, and furthermore there are any number of ideas that we think would work even better (if the basis for affirmative action is correcting for the fact that most minorities attend shitty high schools, then it seems to us like reforming public-school funding so that those schools aren’t shitty anymore would be the best thing to do, since this would eliminate the need for affirmative action a lot faster than actual affirmative action will), but if our options are “affirmative action” and “nothing,” then we think affirmative action is better than nothing.

    But these points only establish that affirmative-action policies have positive ends, and this leaves us open to responses about whether the ends justify the means (in this case, “reverse discrimination”), so we want to address that idea too by pointing out the fact that affirmative action is really no different from what college offices of admissions already do with respect to a bunch of other things—admissions departments already “unfairly” diversify incoming classes by giving “extra points” to applicants who play positions that a given sports team needs, or instruments that the orchestra needs, and try to ensure a mix of people who will be interested in different majors, etc.  They also, of course, shoot for a specific gender ratio—specifically, one that is about 54:46 girls-to-boys, since both males and females overwhelmingly say they would prefer to attend a college with more girls than boys (but, contrary to popular belief, this still usually results in there being “affirmative action” for boys, since girls tend to have higher high-school GPAs, and if schools were going strictly on merit then the percentage of girls would be even higher—of course, the fact that girls have higher GPAs is partly because high-school teachers are biased in favor of girls, but let’s not get off-track here), and also try as hard as they can to accept students from a wide range of states (because if they didn’t, then virtually every single kid at all of the nation’s top colleges would be from New York, California, Connecticut, or Massachusetts—so, technically, a white kid from Oklahoma or Wyoming who went to a good school “got in because of affirmative action,” but you never hear anyone complaining about “reverse discrimination” there).  So, in conclusion, if schools are already doing all this other shit to “diversify” the incoming class in various ways, then what’s the big deal if they do it with respect to race too?  True, the points someone gets for being a racial minority dwarf the consideration someone gets for any of this other stuff, but remember we said we were open to revising the specifics of the point system.  The bottom line is, people really do learn more when they are surrounded by people who aren't exactly the same as themselves, whether the difference is ethnicity or any of a thousand possible other factors.  The kids from the ’hood who are in the classroom partially because of affirmative action may not necessarily have perfect grammar, but they frequently have excellent bullshit detectors, and bullshit-detection skills are an invaluable ingredient in any discussion—everyone is learning more because those kids are present, not just them. 

    Anyway, to answer your specific question, no, of course there is no reason for white people to go around ashamed of being white, because there is no reason for anyone to go around being ashamed of whatever their ethnicity is (most “white” people, by the way, don’t even think of their ethnicity as “white,” but rather, you know, Irish or Swedish or French or Russian or whatever they are specifically), and it is definitely counterproductive whenever anyone tries to reduce things to this level.  At the same time, however, it is also a bad idea to assume that “white guilt” is to blame whenever a middle-class Caucasian espouses a progressive stance—maybe he just thinks it’s a good idea.  And if it’s not, well, then you should have no trouble arguing against the idea on its merits—especially considering the fact that you’re smart enough to be a reader of our site.

    Thanks very much for writing, Max, and remember, college is not life.

    —S.G. and the Crew

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