The Unbearable Whiteness of Being at the University of Texas-Arlington
Out-of-state friends frequently ask me what life is like in “deep-red Texas.” I answer that there are many blessings to living in the Lone Star State, to which I escaped from Chicago a decade ago. But when they ask whether the same blessings accrue in Texas public higher education, the story is mixed, for I have to inform them that racial scapegoating has come to Texas higher education.
Case in point: At the University of Texas-Arlington (UTA), all incoming undergraduate students are required to take a one-credit class called “UNIV 1101, Career Preparation and Student Success.” The UTA course catalog informs us that in this one-hour-a-week class, students “will discover effective ways to balance personal and career obligations with academic goals. The course will allow for the discovery of marketable skills within a chosen academic discipline and the professions associated with that program of study.”
On its face, there appears to be nothing wrong with this. However, this semester, it was “suggested” to instructors that they spend a day on “white privilege.” It was also suggested that another day was to be spent on white privilege’s close cousin, “micro-aggressions.”
To help students learn about white privilege, instructors distributed an article from the Wellesley Centers for Women called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The article contains a laundry list of examples of privilege that whites must learn about. Consider Number 11 on the list: “I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.” Number 24 on the list states: “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.” Number 26 states: “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in ‘flesh’ color and have them more or less match my skin.” When students think of these things, they will come to understand that “this is not such a free country.” If you are born white or male, “privilege simply confers dominance because of one’s race or sex.” This is “power from unearned privilege,” which whites may think of as “strength,” but is in fact “permission . . . to dominate.”
While the focus here is on race, the same process applies to sex. As the “Knapsack” author explains, “I have met very few men who are truly distressed about systemic, unearned male advantage and conferred dominance.” Indeed, “unearned advantage” can come from “economic class, race, religion, sex, and ethnic identity,” and these sources of oppression are “interlocking.” White and male advantage “is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy.”
The myth of meritocracy? It’s a myth that hardworking people generally do better? This is what our children are being taught? But it gets worse: The instructors were given a lesson plan to follow. It lists three objectives for the class:
- Students will build upon their identity and bias/microaggession work by defining what privilege is and exploring their own privilege.
- Students will be able to recognize, identify, and reflect multiple examples of how privilege influences daily life and offer examples from their own experiences.
- Students will learn about perspective(s) similar and different from one’s own as it relates to privilege and oppression. Students will be able to describe how privileged and oppressed social identities intersect to influence an individual’s experiences.”
Instructors are told that they can note six privileges that exist today: “ability, Christian in the U.S., cisgender (mostly cisgender) man, socioeconomic status, and U.S. citizenship privilege.” Students should be put into groups to discuss each of these privileges, and each student “must choose a privilege that you hold yourself.” In other words, this is the Americanized version of the requirement in totalitarian regimes for wrong-thinking citizens to engage in public self-criticism.
Finally, the instructor is advised to close the lesson by saying “I encourage you to continue learning about privilege and how you can harness it to create a more just world.”
What exactly would a more just world look like, according to this UTA course? First, it would be a world in which you and I no longer think of ourselves as individuals first but as members of a race. Second, the world is divided into victims and victimizers. The victimizers are white, male, enjoy U.S. citizenship status, and/or are Christian. Third, the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of human equality (in our inalienable rights) is now defunct, replaced by “equity” (equality in outcomes). Fourth, and finally, if you have the audacity to disagree with Numbers 1, 2, or 3, your efforts at dissent (that is, your exercise of your First Amendment right to free speech) will be “canceled.”
Does this sound like a more just world? If so, you’ll love UTA’s new course.
On the other hand, if the whole edifice of “white privilege” doctrine sounds to you like a false, hateful, deceptive doctrine, you might wonder why students and their parents have been forced to pay tuition for instruction in this required course.
There was a time when our country believed that a “more just world” would be one in which we come to judge each other not by the color our skin, but by the content of our character, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it.
But in the more just world envisioned by the purveyors of “white privilege” doctrine, King’s plea is guilty of, at best, a “microaggression.”
And this has all been made possible by your tax dollars.