What We Are Reading
The Self-Interest of White Fragility
Ross Douthat offers one of the best and most original explanations of the intense and quasi-religious attraction of the new ideology of white fragility. At the core of Douthat’s analysis is the insight that the admission of white fragility serves the self-interest of many white people who embrace it. One part of this argument is Hannah Arendt’s repeated rejection of all claims of collective responsibility. To say that everyone is guilty is to actually excuse the hard work of asking who is guilty; it is to make it so that nobody is guilty. What Douthat adds to this argument is that white people are embracing white fragility and abandoning meritocracy at the very moment when they are increasingly losing their privileged status to hard working poor white, Asian American, and African American students who embrace hard work to actually come out on top. Douthat writes:
And wouldn’t it be especially appealing if — and here I’m afraid I’m going to be very cynical — in the course of relaxing the demands of whiteness you could, just coincidentally, make your own family’s position a little bit more secure?
For instance: Once you dismiss the SAT as just a tool of white supremacy, then it gets easier for elite schools to justify excluding the Asian-American students whose standardized-test scores keep climbing while white scores stay relatively flat. Or again: If you induce inner-city charter schools to disavow their previous stress on hard work and discipline and meritocratic ambition, because those are racist, too — well, then their minority graduates might become less competitive with your own kids in the college-admissions race as well.
Not that anyone is consciously thinking like this. What I’m describing is a subtle and subconscious current, deep down in the progressive stream.