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From the Great-Man Theory to Dead-White-Male-Criticism Theory
When race and class eclipse values, pursuing the truth is just “acting white.”

Detail of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, 1817

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Dennis Prager

When Americans over the age of, let us say, 45 look at any of the iconic paintings of America’s Founders — the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the signing of the Constitution, George Washington crossing the Delaware, any of the individual portraits of the Founders — what do they see?

They see great men founding a great country.

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If you ask many recent college graduates what they see when they look at these paintings, the chances are that it is something entirely different.

They are apt to see rich, white males who are not great and who did not found a great country. And for many, it is worse than that. These men are not only not great; they are morally quite flawed in that they were slaveholders, or at least founded a country based on slavery. Moreover, they were not only all racists — they were all sexists, who restricted the vote to males. And they were rich men who were primarily concerned with protecting their wealth, which is why they restricted the vote to landowners.

In the past, Americans overwhelmingly saw the images of our Founders as pictures of greatness. Increasingly, only conservatives do. More and more Americans — the entire Left and many of those who attended universities and were indoctrinated by left-wing professors — now see rich, white, self-interested males.

The left-wing trinity of race, gender, class has prevailed. The new dividing lines are no longer good and bad or excellent and mediocre but white and non-white, male and female, and rich and poor. Instead of seeing great human beings in those paintings of the Founders, Americans have been taught to see rich, white (meaning by definition selfish, bigoted, racist, sexist) males.

In colleges throughout America students are taught to have disdain for the white race. I know this sounds incredible, or at least exaggerated. It is neither.

For example, from the day they enter college, many students are taught about white privilege — how innately advantaged white students (and all other whites) are. Last week the president of Western Washington University asked on the university’s website, “How do we make sure that in future years we are not as white as we are today?”

Imagine if the president of the University of California, Berkeley had posed the question, “How do we make sure that in future years we are not as Asian as we are today?”  

Regarding white privilege, last year, three academics at the University of Rhode Island wrote in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The American Psychological Association’s educational goals for the psychology major include sociocultural and international awareness, with learning outcomes regarding mastery of concepts related to power and privilege. Other professional organizations, including the American Sociological Association, have developed similar learning goals for teaching in higher education. Instructors have been charged with teaching their white students to understand their own privileged positions in society relative to those of marginalized groups.

The key point here is that the word “values” never appears. Instead of asking what values made America’s Founders great, the Left asks what race, gender, and class privileges enabled them to found America. Instead of asking what values does the white majority (or, for that matter, on some campuses, the Asian majority) live by in order to succeed, and how can we help inculcate those values in more less-successful people of all racial and ethnic groups, the Left asks what privileges whites have that enable them to get into colleges and graduate at a higher rate than blacks and Latinos.

The undermining of the very concept of values was starkly made clear last month at a national intercollegiate debate tournament. As reported in The Atlantic last week:

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “F[***] the time!” he yelled.

In a national intercollegiate debate contest, a black team won by transforming the topic of the debate, one that that had nothing to do with race, into a race question.

Inner-city young blacks who work hard in school are routinely chastised by other black youth for “acting white.” Now, to adhere to a topic when trying to win a debate, or to argue that a team might be disqualified for yelling “f*** the time” when told it had gone over the time limit, or to ask what performing hip-hop has to do with the topic “whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted” — that is now to act white.

This is another victory for the Left. And another defeat for standards, for truth, and for the values embodied by the men in those paintings of the Founders.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.



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