My argument here, of course, is subject to the same critique: by indicting the people who so conspicuously acknowledge their white privilege, I’m setting myself on a higher plane than they are, and thus guilty of the same kind of jockeying for rank on the righteousness hierarchy I’m critiquing. But this merely serves to underscore the problem: anti-racism as mental hygiene is a road that has no ending. The question is whether our goal is to be good or to do good.
The question of what he would have us do about privilege and racism is answered a couple paragraphs earlier, and it’s as predictable as you might expect: more affirmative action, more cosmetic diversity in high-status areas. Conservatives, as well as liberals with integrity, have long observed that progressives only care about superficial diversity while demanding ideological conformity. The same people who can’t congratulate themselves enough for managing to enjoy the company of people who look different than them will break out into hives if the objects of their patronizing attention should have the unmitigated gall to hold different political opinions from them. If you need to see proof of this in action, just watch how progressives feel perfectly free to use outright racist language toward black conservatives.
Speaking of that endangered species, Shelby Steele has reiterated in several books his conviction that affirmative action is primarily a scheme for restoring white moral authority. By that, he means that such programs have never come close to accomplishing their ostensible goals, but, as always when policies are rooted in emotional need rather than practical results, the failure is ours, not theirs. We didn’t try hard enough, we didn’t clap loud enough, we need to do it again, this time with feeling. Steele’s insightful approach owes much more to psychology than political science — as he describes it, “Whites and American institutions live by a simple formula: lessening moral responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism.” But, he adds, “White guilt wants no obligation to minority development. It needs only the display of social justice to win moral authority. It gets no credit when blacks independently develop themselves.”
In other words, white progressives are primarily concerned with being seen to make amends for the sins of their race in order to regain the authority they always enjoyed, whether they actually make anything better or not. Doing so keeps them in charge of proceedings. Again, note the way in which “diversity” among, say, Supreme Court justices is only a good thing as long as it can be taken for granted that the minority representatives will act in accordance with the political values of the white progressives who make such a false show of stepping aside and renouncing their control. Let someone like Clarence Thomas step into the gap, though, and see how they react. As Steele bitterly summarizes the mentality, “We’ll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you’ll just let us reduce you to your race so we can take moral authority for ‘helping’ you. When they called you a nigger back in the days of segregation, at least they didn’t ask you to be grateful.” Blacks who refuse to agree that white progressives always know best are further humiliated by the indignity of having their opinions belittled, stripped from them, and credited to the racist white conservatives who have supposedly brainwashed them or bought them off. Clearly, if they didn’t come to the correct conclusions, they must not know how to think at all. If you’re not with us, you can only be an idiot or a whore.
How amusingly ironic, then, that by offering those same old ersatz solutions, Freddie thinks he’s escaping the spectacle of white progressives competing to see who can take more responsibility for black uplift. At least the conspicuous anti-racism he’s criticizing is safely contained in a social media playpen where its effects on the real world are limited.