A while back, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a museum in Washington, D.C. that’s part of the Smithsonian Institution, posted these guidelines on a page called “Talking about Race: Whiteness“. These traits were taken to be characteristics of White Culture:
I can’t say that I rejected these posters out of hand when I first saw them, for, after all, these are mostly characteristics seen as useful for success, and many were established in cultures that were white. Could they really be connected with racism? But thinking about it, I realized that these aren’t limited to one racial group, for many are traits seen by many societies as useful for success (“hard work”, “respect authority”). If anything, these are probably traits more characteristic of capitalism that of whiteness. And some, like the man being “head of the household” are features of many cultures, though no longer anything to aspire to. At any rate, I thought it was both false and patronizing to African-Americans to divide up cultural traits this way. The Museum realized it, too, and after a lot of blowback the Smithsonian took down these figures. That page, though, is still heavily larded with Critical Race Theory (CRT).
This view of what John McWhorter calls “Critical Race Theory’s transmogrification into education for children” is what he discusses briefly in his column this week (click on screenshot below):
McWhorter remembers that Smithsonian display, and criticizes it far better than I can:
Yet, seeing this educational philosophy laid out in the sunlight, The Elect cannot dismiss it as fringe “kookiness” — unless they want to insult the curators of a national museum devoted to celebrating the very black people The Elect live to liberate. At the African-American History Museum in Washington, D.C., for a hot minute or two in 2020 you could see a variation on the Jones-Okun business, an expanded presentation of what we must reject as “white” evil. An educational poster was displayed that slammed not only objectivity, individualism, and writing, but linear thinking, quantitative reasoning, the Protestant work ethic, planning for the future, and being on time.
Yes, this was real – from people who surely bemoan the stereotype of black people as dumb and lazy! Again, only a mental override could explain why the people responsible for this display would allow that emblazonment of precisely the stereotypes lobbed at black people for centuries. Tarring whites as imposers of alien values felt more important than considering that the poster depicted black people as gorillas – and was created by a white woman!
And because this was enshrined at America’s flagship museum of black history, we can’t say that this sort of thing is just “woo-woo” sidebar nonsense. The museum yanked it down when the media got a sniff, but they had made a highly indicative statement in having hung it in the first place. Namely, they subordinated logic – that black people should not embrace being semiliterate, unanalytical and tardy – to the religious score of identifying racism regardless of logic (as in, here, the racism of whites expecting blacks to in any way be “like them”). Let us pray.
The Elect’s last stand will be that this was just a mistake made by a curator or two at that one museum. But the idea that it is unfair to expect quantitative reasoning from black people has taken quite a hold among many black academics.
And he brings up Dr. Kendi in this connection:
Ibram Kendi is an advocate of the idea that precision, and being able to demonstrate it, is to ask black kids to perform “inauthentically.” That there are ways of “knowing” beyond the kind that require rigorous training to master is behind passages such as his venturing in the Elect Biblical testament How to Be an Antiracist:
“What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments? What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know?”
Anyone who sings of this book as prophecy is saying that a passage like that makes sense, despite it being a savage smack in the face on any black person in America. Translation: we should elevate that which students take in subconsciously without effort – e.g. street smarts, emotional empathy, and “spunk.” If a white man smilingly encouraged black people to be satisfied with this he would look like a bigot in a daguerrotype. Kendi thinks we should redefine braininess as just being “swell.” As opposed to the oh-so-benighted idea of helping black kids do better on tests – but no: to him that’s giving in to “whiteness.” But the world of decentered “whiteness” – i.e. that spunky, funky, holistic, intuitive world where everybody dances to hiphop and does what they feel like and, if they do science, focus on telling the older folks that they need to pay more attention to spunky, funky, holistic, intuitive, hip-hoppyness — would be one without electricity.
And in this Kendi is not a lone wolf, but a representative of a kind of thinking that has become “a thing” especially in the 2010s.Glenn Singleton is a black man and heads a diversity consultant firm. Asked how this notion of precision as whiteness will prepare brown kids for the world as we know it, he spoke of “a new world, a world, first and foremost, where we have elevated the consciousness, where we pay attention to the human being.” Note that first, this means nothing whatsoever. Note second that if it makes any kind of sense at all, it is as scripture. It sounds like something somewhere between Lost Horizon and The Ten Commandments, and has no more place in a modern educational philosophy than the Rigveda. The “diversity consultant” like Singleton is a priest.
Any white person who embraces the idea that precision is “white” is, quite simply, a bigot.
How can you agree with turning what used to be bigoted stereotypes into virtues? I don’t see how a society can succeed if people simply reject hard work, study, and “conventional” achievement in favor of street smarts or other traits that antiracists like Kendi find admirable. And by “succeed,” I really mean “provide equality of opportunity for everyone”. If we are to provide that opportunity, then it’s necessary to inspire people to internalize certain values that help them seize opportunities. If you want to become a surgeon or a pilot or a biology professor, you’re simply going to have to adhere to hard work, dedication, and “scientific” thinking. I can see why McWhorter, an academic success himself, and one who clearly works like a demon, is so opposed to the rejection of “conventional” values.
While I adhere to certain forms of affirmative action, dismantling a whole meritocracy of talent and dedication isn’t helpful to anyone. And we can start by reinstating the standardized tests that schools and colleges have been eliminating because they’re seen as reflecting the kind of culture shown in the posters above.