LET’S MAKE NICE

A sensible academic on safe spaces stifling thinking:

Consider the ostensibly sophisticated handling of the idea that goes by the name of “privilege.” In current debates, it is often coupled with the word “white” so as to name a condition, a fact, that cannot be disputed, contradicted, or wished away by generous sentiments or liberal platitudes. An idea, white privilege, that is intended, when invoked, to banish any potentially troubling questions. Does the idea describe what is relevant or essential in any encounter between a white person and a nonwhite person, no matter who those persons are? Is an encounter between a black professor and a white student inevitably an exercise in race relations? Between a white professor and a black student? Is white privilege an important factor when the white persons in a given encounter are themselves poor and clearly victims of systemic injustices that have thwarted them in spite of their whiteness?

My point in raising these questions is not to answer them but to suggest that even legitimate ideas like “privilege” are often invoked as conversation stoppers, as blunt instruments wielded so as to inhibit real talk and real thinking …

Our educated classes regard the university chiefly as an instrument of our collective purpose and an efficient engine for transmitting anxiety about ideas felt to be dangerous or out of bounds. Bizarre that a culture officially committed to diversity and openness should be essentially conformist, and that the hostility to the clash of incommensurable ideas and even to elementary difference should be promoted with the sort of clear conscience that can belong only to people who don’t know what they’re doing.

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