Prof: racist abuse on college campus is ‘theater’

  • Prof. John McWhorter criticized the concepts of "white privilege" and safe spaces at the Aspen Ideas Festival, according to The Atlantic.

Columbia University Professor John McWhorter, an outspoken African-American linguist and social critic, thinks that white privilege and safe space rhetoric on college campuses has become unconstructive.

“I think anybody in their more sober moments understands that even though racism exists and microaggressions are real, college campuses are perhaps the least racist spots on earth,” McWhorter said at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Thursday, according to The Atlantic.

"[I]f a white person is constantly attesting to their privilege... I suggest that be reexamined."   

“And the idea that any student is undergoing a constant litany of constant racist abuse is theater, it's theatrical––you hate to say that to somebody 19 years old, but it's not true.”

[RELATED: GVSU offers scholarships to attend White Privilege Conference]

While the professor acknowledges that the paradigm of white privilege could be a useful part of education and that it is real, he argues that it has been “taken in a direction that is less constructive.”

“The idea is you are to learn that you're a privileged white person; you are to learn it over and over; really what you're supposed to learn is to feel guilty about it; and to express that on a regular basis, understanding that at no point in your lifetime will you ever be a morally legitimate person, because you have this privilege,” McWhorter says.

”For white people, it is a great way to show that you understand racism is real. For black people and Latino people, it is a great way to assuage how bad a self-image a race can have after hundreds of years of torture. I can't speak for Latinos there, but certainly for black Americans. It ends up being a kind of a security blanket,” he adds.

For McWhorter, such an approach does not “[take] students anywhere” and facilitates a loss of “flexibility in the way that we talk about things on college campuses.”

“To be a black student who learns that their purpose, that something special about them, is that they can make a loud noise and make white people guilty, I don't think that's an education,” he maintained, according to the report.

“And quite honestly, if a white person is constantly attesting to their privilege, constantly attesting that they still have things to learn, and not ever specifying what more it is that they have to learn, the idea that is somehow constructive, I suggest that be reexamined.”

McWhorter also observed that while negative moral labels have been commonly applied to people who expressed unpopular opinions in the past, a push to suppress dissenting speech entirely is new tendency.

[RELATED: Prof: ‘college campuses are not free-speech areas’]

“I think that now, more specifically, the problem is, ‘you're a bad person and you should not speak,’ that's what is new,” he said.

“Today the idea is that you walk out of the room, you can't hear it, because the space isn't safe. That's a theatrical gesture. It should be used for auditions.”

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Nikita Vladimirov
Nikita Vladimirov | Correspondents Editor

Nikita Vladimirov is a Correspondents Editor for Campus Reform. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he wrote for The Hill, where he extensively covered the latest political developments in U.S. and around the world. A 2016 national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists' "Mark of Excellence Award," Nikita now resides in Washington D.C. and contributes to the Washington Examiner. His work has appeared on the front pages of The Drudge Report and The Hill, and has been featured by leading media organizations including Fox News, MSN, Real Clear Defense and many others.

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