White privilege consists of being white. Black privilege consists of denouncing white people in ways that would be considered racist if the shoe were on the other foot.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a man whose website modestly describes him as a “Professor, Author, Speaker, Public Intellectual,” has assembled a list of what he believes are the 15 most overrated white people to prove the point. Any college faculty member who tried assembling a list of the 15 most overrated black people would soon be the target of the most overzealous witch-hunt since Salem.
But if we were assembling a list of overrated black people, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill might just deserve his own place on the notepad. Hill’s bio is the usual intriguing world of African-American academia, complete with essays on social commentary in Hip Hop. Hill writes, so he’s an author. He speaks, so he’s a speaker. And he was once a weekly contributor to the Star Jones talk show, so he’s clearly a public intellectual. Best of all, he’s an affiliated faculty member in African American Studies at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University. IRAAS has a logo that features two iguanas mating and offers all the usual navel-gazing courses that exist only to waste tuition money, except they’re African-American navel-gazing courses.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill’s list of the 15 most overrated white people displays exactly the intellectual rigor you would expect from a man affiliated with such a fine academic institution. It isn’t a list that’s oriented around anything but race. To be on the list, you can be a playwright, a musician, an economist, a football player or a politician. You can be American or European. You can be alive in the present day or dead for 400 years. It doesn’t really matter so long as you’re white.
This is racism, but it’s also the kind of mindless unthinking racism that we have long ago come to expect from social justice commentators doing their best Malcolm X imitations while having lunch in the faculty dining room and public intellectuals whose intellectual activity consists of saying racist things about white people and then defending their racism with the ubiquitous cry of white privilege.
Hill denounces Christopher Columbus, the man whose discovery made Hill’s entire profitable career possible, and William Shakespeare, the man who helped shape the language that Hill mangles while giving a tiny fraction of the world his thoughts on how much change is needed. (A lot. When it comes to change, the answer is always a lot.)
But where would Dr. Marc Lamont Hill be without that “immoral treasure hunter,” Christopher Columbus? If we asked Hill that question, we would have to sit through a long answer about slavery and slave boats. And he’s right. If Christopher Columbus had never existed, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill may very well be a slave. Slavery existed in Africa and the Middle East long before Columbus and it went on existing there after it was abolished in the United States.
Had Europe stayed out of America and out of Africa, the African slave trade would never have been disrupted by European colonialism and the millions of slaves who wound up shipped to America would never have found a place where millions of overrated white people would fight to free them from bondage.
Slavery still exists in the Muslim world and as a slave in Africa or the Middle East, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill would have been little better off than many of them. If not for Christopher Columbus, the odds are good that Dr. Lamont would not have a PhD, he would have a hoe. Indeed when overrated white people did liberate slaves and helped set up an African-American colony in Liberia, one of the first things that those former slaves did was set up their own system of forced labor for the African natives.
But black privilege means existing in a world where none of that matters; a world where a man who writes books on “Hip Hop Pedagogy” feels entitled to diss William Shakespeare. And who needs Shakespeare anyway? The guy probably never even listened to Jay-Z. According to Hill, Shakespeare is only well known because of “narrow-minded educational systems”; the kind that don’t teach Hip Hop.
Through Hill’s black privilege gaze, Reagan and Clinton are reduced to overrated figures guilty of shrinking the welfare state. And if all you can see is your entitlement to welfare checks, then that’s all that matters about two presidents in pivotal periods of American history. That’s black privilege too.
According to Hill’s black privilege, Elvis and Tim Tebow are only popular because they’re white and so he goes down the list of white people who took away all the fame that rightfully belonged to black people. Babe Ruth was only good because he played in a segregated league, Shakespeare probably couldn’t have measured up to Alice Walker and the NHL is just taking away attention from the NBA.
It’s arrogant, it’s racist and it’s also commonplace. It might be possible to assemble a list of overrated black people, but Dr. Marc Lamont Hill wouldn’t be on it because to be overrated, you first have to rate. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is uninteresting as a figure; he attracts attention only as a specimen of the vapid core of what passes for African-American Studies.
Unlike any of the men he has listed, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill has contributed nothing, but he is in a position to contribute nothing. His entire field, like his article, is based around the negative; existing to take up space, to attract attention, to work up anger and to suck up money.
African-American Studies isn’t a research field; it’s what happens when grievance becomes academic. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill isn’t a public intellectual; he’s a poser in a field full of them.
White privilege is a degree in the post-evocative phase in semi-structured experiences. Black privilege is a degree in African-American post-evocative semi-structured experiences. The former is a fancy way of saying nothing at all. The latter is a fancy way of saying nothing at all while blaming white people for it.
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