By Alex Grass
Friday, February 17, 2017
It used to be that you’d walk down the street, see someone wearing a pin in the shape of a puzzle piece, and assume that person was expressing solidarity for those with autism.
But these days, at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Penn., students are donning white puzzle piece pins as a means of (virtue) signaling penitence for our time’s en vogue original sin: whiteness.
This movement is twofold: it is ahistorical, and it is anti-science. It evinces a stark ignorance of history—and of the differences among white people. It also espouses anti-scientific tropes that recall the era of eugenics, anti-Semitism, and race theorists.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Privilege
The Elizabethtown College Democrats hatched this campaign to encourage self-loathing among inheritors of white ancestral sin. Their spokeswoman, Aileen Ida, explained that “[inherent white privilege] can be seen in the day-to-day life of people of color versus the day-to-day life of white people.”
The day-to-day life of which white people?
Elizabethtown College is in Lancaster County, prime landscape for the Anabaptist—Amish and Mennonite—resettlement after they fled Europe. Ida’s generalized gripe about white “privilege” is crippled when set against the Anabaptists’ history of persecution.
In the 16th Century, European states declared Anabaptists punishable by death. Supplying them with food or shelter compelled the same punishment. Austrian King Ferdinand “commissioned a company of executioners to root out the Anabaptist faith in his lands.” There was a literal plan to blot out the Anabaptist faith via thought-out and state-sponsored genocide. Ida’s concern for those lost “centuries of inequality” are risible once set against the Anabaptists’ own history of persecution.
Using Race As A Privilege Measure Doesn’t Always Work
But how do “white people” fare today? The 2016 Misery Index—a metric created by economist Arthur Okun to calculate economic wellbeing—ranks Ukraine, Greece, and Russia in the top 20 most miserable countries.
How, precisely, should a Ukrainian foreign exchange student ponder the inborn malevolence of his or her skin color while Avdiivka and other cities in his home country char and crumble under the rain of Russian shells?
The somewhat relevant snag of group histories and national origins seems to throw a wrench in the engine of Ida’s self-loathing philosophy. Walter Benn Michaels, author of “The Trouble With Diversity,” might point out to Ida that many groups of blacks are more genetically similar to whites than to their presupposed co-race-members.
Additionally, Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” depicts not a racially stratified society, but a world in which high-price education and upper-class income streams mean that the lucky few—likely including black attendees of Elizabethtown—will always do better than their lower class fellows.
Whatever shall we do with all those white-privileged Anabaptists, Ukrainians, and the perpetually poor white underclass? Surely, Ida would think twice before asking them to wear her white puzzle piece. But then again, maybe not.
Race Theory Oversimplifies Our World
Ida’s focus on whiteness has nothing to do with history or any other logical assessment of “privilege.” Instead, it has everything to do with race theory. This explains the easy comfort with which Black Lives Matter activists like Yusra K. Ali can make claims like “white ppl are a genetic defect of blackness.”
This focus on the evils of whiteness is an obverse echo of race-theories propagated by Wilhelm Marr and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Wilhelm Marr, patriarch and inventor of the term “anti-Semitism,” codified baseless conspiracy theories about worldwide Jewish power. Chamberlain, an intellectual forefather of Hitler, blamed German ills on the Jews as well.
Much like the Elizabethtown Democrats, Marr’s theories relied on caricatures and exaggerations of Jewish power, and generalizations about who is a Jew. Today, genetic studies tell us that “characteriz[ing] Jewish people as mere coreligionists or as genetic isolates that may be closely or loosely related remains unresolved.”
We already know about the vast genetic and economic disparities between different types of “white” people. Lumping them together is a literal exercise in anti-intellectualism.
Thus, independent-minded groups on campus would do well to invite speakers like Michaels and Murray to speak truthfully on matters of race and economics. If the race-theory narrative of Ms. Ida and her cohorts goes unchallenged, it will leave a stain of ignorance on generations of students.