In his new book, White Shaming: Bullying Based on Prejudice, Virtue-Signaling, And Ignorance, Dr. Charles Negy, Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Central Florida, claims that in a country that proclaims to value diversity and multiculturalism, white Americans and white culture are under siege. They are attacked for transgressions, he claims, ranging from micro-aggression, colonialism, and Jim Crow laws to white privilege. Whites are expected to “shut up” and own their presumed racism, and feel guilty for the wrongdoing of others who simply belong to their racial group. Dr. Negy calls these attacks white shaming, and identifies them as a form of bullying. The bullying reflects shamers’ unacknowledged hostility and prejudice towards Whites, as well as shamers’ need to feel morally superior.
I recently interviewed Dr. Negy about his new book.
Hill: Dr. Negy, your book is a controversial one in that it inverts the politically correct conversation on race: You claim minorities are being elevated as perpetual victims and that this comes as a ruse for white shaming. This has been going on for some time. Why did you feel an urgency to write this book now?
Negy: I think the first thing I’d like to clarify is, I am not pretending that the social discrimination Whites may be experiencing today compares to the discrimination many ethnic or racial minorities have experienced throughout U.S. history. In my book, White Shaming, I wanted to draw attention to new social norms that have taken root in public discourse that I believe are contributing to racial tensions and unnecessary conflicts. I was born in 1960. For pretty much my entire adult life, norms proscribed mistreating people on the basis of race, gender, etc. Specifically, anyone who publicly disparaged non-Whites was rightfully chastised and sometimes even faced legal consequences. Yet, starting in the ‘80s, when what we colloquially call “political correctness” came on the scene, the norms started shifting, and not for the better. Although we continued maintaining social prohibitions against expressing racism toward minorities, it became increasingly acceptable for minorities to express racial contempt for people of European ancestry (i.e., Whites), including Western culture. Moreover, an additional trend that gained popularity was a subgroup of Whites (self-identifying as “liberal” or “progressive”) joined in, and as a means to display their anti-racism credentials, also began to express openly a disdain for Whites and European history and culture.
My concern today is that these new social mores are seriously jeopardizing race relations. Prejudice against Whites is just as aggressive and unfair as it is against non-Whites. On many college campuses and elsewhere, race relations are strained. This double-standard and hypocrisy for how we treat people, I believe, are not bringing us together but driving a wedge between Whites and non-Whites. I wanted to write a book that exposed and scrutinized this situation, called it what is—bullying—and offered ways to address White shaming and combat racism irrespective of the ethnicity of its targets.
Hill: I appreciate the fact of a phenomenon you bring to light: a presumed alliance among minority groups who do not really care about each other’s interests. They have one thing in common: to shame whites. You give the example of white feminists being silent about their support for Muslim culture as a result of them not having the courage to criticize many Muslim men who hold misogynous attitudes. Do you think such feminists’ hatred for Western civilization supersedes their own understanding of the nefarious nature of much of Islamic culture?
Negy: I certainly think ignorance about how many non-Western cultures (not just Muslim cultures) generally treat women contributes to white feminists’ apparent indifference to non-Western women’s suffering. But I also think the fact that, as part of the new social norms that I alluded to above, whereby it’s vogue and acceptable to criticize Whites and prohibited to criticize—even when warranted—non-White cultures, that also causes white feminists to have a field day, so to speak, bashing white men, while giving a huge pass to non-White men in both the U.S. and globally.
Hill: What do you mean exactly by “white culture” as opposed to say: Western Culture? I am bothered by this. There really is no such thing as white culture: whites in US society are a mixture of different ethnic groups many of whom, including Italians, Jews and Irish, were not even considered white at some point in US history. White culture seems like a non-concept. Western culture, however, is an open-ended, non-racial concept which consists in a set of ideas and principles to which people of color have contributed and can contribute to this day. As a classical liberal (conservative) and heir of the Enlightenment I emphatically consider myself a member of Western culture and purveyor of Western civilization. The latter has everything to do with ideas– not racial ascription. Please explain.
Negy: I understand your point, but I have a different take on this matter that I’ll try to clarify. As a starting point, whenever distinct groups come together and cohabitate a shared space, what typically emerges is a new culture comprised of a mixture of the different values, beliefs, and customs that each group brought with them. As an example, the African slaves brought to the New World did not come from a single tribe or region of Africa. They came from various regions and certainly from numerous distinct tribes. Yet, today, most of us would agree, I think, that there is a unique black American culture that exists (while acknowledging various subcultures within the black American culture). All it takes is for African Americans to visit a black dominant country, whether in the Caribbean or in Africa, and they instantly realize they are more American than Caribbean or African (and those Caribbean and African blacks do not perceive African Americans as being one of them culturally speaking). I think the same applies to Whites (and all groups, really). When British, French, German and other Europeans came to what we now call the U.S., over the years they intermixed and created their own white American culture. Few white Americans, when visiting, say, England, or Portugal, feel like they are British or Portuguese. They’re not. They’re American.
This gets to a larger question: what is culture? It’s a combination of shared language, values, beliefs, customs, and worldviews. If one were to take the position that there is no such thing as a white American culture, then we’d have to accept that there is no such thing as, say, a Mexican American culture; or an African American culture; or a Chinese American culture. To your point that other groups have influenced and contributed to the overall American culture, I agree. There probably are very few pure cultures remaining in the world as all cultural groups have their origins in multiple groups that came together for different reasons. That said, however, I don’t think we can deny that for significant periods in U.S. history (depending on the specific era), the group we call “Whites” represented up to 90% of the entire population. Logically, such a huge group would contribute the lion’s share of what constitutes the larger culture.
Hill: You’ve talked about the rampant cases of micro-aggression complaints across campuses that have led to some black students making egregious demands such as a “Day of Absence” at Evergreen University where all white persons were banned from the campus to give black students a break from white people, to black students demanding their own graduation ceremonies and student dorms. How did this form of identity politics become so virulent, and at what moment did it become so ostensible a phenomenon?
Negy: In my book, I endeavored to trace the developments that have gotten us to where we are today. In brief, for legitimate reasons in my opinion, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities decided in the ‘80s that they had had enough of mostly Whites, men, and heterosexuals defining their lives for them. They wanted to be the authors of their historical and contemporary life narratives. I was fine with that until it became clear how they elected to achieve their goals. They decided to attack the character of any White, male, and heterosexual who expressed views about minorities—either in class lectures or in writing, and regardless of the veracity of the expressions—by labeling them as racist, sexist, and homophobic. It worked. They had weaponized those words and few Whites, men, or heterosexuals wanted to be tarred by such pejorative terms.
Consequently, they immediately ceased commenting on anything related to minorities. That tactic coincided with the growing popularity of the notion of multiculturalism which is that minority groups ought to maintain cultural norms and identities separate from the overall national norms and identity. University administrators, professors, and others who questioned this ethnic balkanization was quickly silenced by charges of racism (or sexism, etc.). After four decades of what I just described, this is where we are today. We must all prostrate to multiculturalism, diversity, white privilege, and so on or else face the onslaught of weaponized words (and new words have been added to the list, such as misogynist, Islamophobe, transphobe, etc.). I’ll add here the fact that many pandering university administrators have encouraged minorities to lodge complaints against anyone (especially Whites, men, and heterosexuals) who offends them via Bias Response Teams has only exacerbated this thorny situation.
Hill: You report in your book that in your course you have claimed that irrespective of race or ethnicity, people are responsible for their own poverty. I thought you gave rational views for your position. The backlash was huge. Did you see this as an attack on free speech, and are whites—especially those who are conservatives—at a greater risk for persecution for holding views that are deemed offensive more than, say, ethnic minorities?
Negy: I’d first like to clarify that opinion of mine. I had told my students that those born in the U.S. and who were 60 years of age or less are mostly responsible for their poverty if they are poor. Why? Because they’re the ones who chose to drop out of school or quit prematurely. That’s often the kiss of death regarding poverty. Or, they chose to commit crime, or join gangs, or do drugs, and so on. That’s a debatable opinion I have and I’m fine with opposing positions on that. But the consequence to expressing that view in class—which was me being investigated by a university attorney working for our Equal Opportunity Office for I presume “racism”—was quite the surprise to me. I think the lack of respect for academic freedom and freedom of speech certainly played a role in the reaction to my comments.
But I also believe the students who self-identify as “social justice warriors” likely felt I was blaming poor people—especially poor ethnic minorities—for their poverty, when, in their minds, poor minorities are poor due to structural racism. And, I would be amiss not to assume the students who lodged the complaint probably simply disliked other views I had expressed about the groups I cover in that course. Luckily for me, I have tenure and I work for a public university that has to respect freedom of speech. But as you allude to in your question, there should be no doubt that many students are fearful of expressing their opinions in class lest they be attacked by progressive students. This applies to professors as well. We must ask ourselves: with so much presumed self-censoring occurring in universities because of “diversity orthodoxy,” what type of education are students receiving in college these days? I submit it’s an inferior one.
Hill: Can you speak to the connection between cultural and ethical relativism and white shaming?
Negy: You’re asking good questions. Of course, good questions often require complicated answers. Cultural and ethical relativism have merit on a behavioral case-by-case basis. There are distinct behavioral and attitudinal norms found among all cultures that are subjective, often arbitrary, and most importantly, neither better nor worse than norms found in other societies. As one example, whether a culture generally believes newborn infants ought to sleep in their own crib or in the parent’s bed is arbitrary as there are pros and cons to each option. Thus, relativism is a valid perspective on that specific example.
But with other behaviors, relativism seems little more than an apology for practices that stun Western sensibilities (such as honor killings, the way many sub-Saharan Africans treat albino citizens, etc.). Now, to the point of the connection between relativism and white shaming, there is a connection and it is a hypocritical one. I think it is safe to say that most people who embrace multiculturalism, diversity, and so on also endorse a relativistic stance on cultural differences. They believe all cultures are equally good and if you are not from a specific culture, you cannot judge the practices or beliefs of other cultures. Yet, they don’t apply their relativistic approach to Whites and Western culture. All cultures are valuable and immune from criticism except for Whites and Western civilization; they are considered the scourge of the world.
Hill: You talk about the fanaticism of statue topplers. Now Thomas Jefferson did own slaves. But he also authored the Declaration of Independence whose moral vocabularies were used in shoring up and eventually defending the intrinsic moral dignity of black people. He helped put an end to the importation of slaves; and he helped create our magnificent republic. What in your view truly drives the moral hysteria of the statue topplers?
Negy: As a general rule, combatting racism, supporting fairness, and assisting disadvantaged others are good things. I support anyone who pursues those goals. However, in the case of statue-topplers, it seems they are not so much concerned with making the world a better place, but with displaying their anti-racism and moral superiority of others. I bet few if any of them have ever volunteered in low-income black neighborhoods tutoring kids struggling with math or reading. Ditto with never having traveled to underdeveloped countries to help those living in abject poverty (and if they have traveled to non-White countries, it’s likely to islands visited briefly while on cruises where they treated the people they profess to care about as if they were their quasi-slaves). If you have observed video clips of college students toppling statues—whooping and hollering and taking selfies—they appear like drunken parties full of self-righteous teenagers and little more.
Hill: Finally, white shaming is bad not least because it undermines civic trust and social cohesion, but it’s racist, which is a form of radical evil. What are 3 distinct things ethical folks can do—regardless of ethnic and racial identity—to combat this malady. And: are you hopeful about race relations in this country?
Negy: There are things people can do to combat White shaming and I’ve addressed them at the end of my book. One thing people can do is to confront racism whenever they encounter it, not just when it is directed toward minorities. Obviously, we can’t be the speech or thought police, but any behavior that is blatantly inappropriate ought to be called out on the spot. I used the example in my book of the black Hebrew Israelites in D.C. who, a year and a half ago, verbally called a group of mostly white high schoolers on a field trip rather vile things (“future school shooters;” “incest babies;” “faggots”). The students were minding their own business and many passersby and tourists stood by and said nothing. That was a missed opportunity to raise those black offenders’ consciousness about the unacceptability of hurling racist comments against Whites.
A second thing people can do to combat White shaming is to challenge those who claim all Whites are responsible for the bad actions of other Whites, either in the past or currently. We readily recognize that blaming, say, all Blacks for the bad behaviors of some Blacks is unequivocally racist because Black people, per se, are not responsible for any problematic behaviors committed by other Blacks. Yet, that simple logic and fairness seem to escape so many White shamers.
A third thing that can be done to curb White shaming is to provide students historically accurate information about the U.S. and the rest of the world. As I documented briefly in my book, all major racial and ethnic groups have their own histories of racism, conquest, and slavery and if students knew that, I think there would be less haranguing of Whites over their ancestors’ transgressional histories. Just think of Project 1619 that currently is being adopted in some school districts across the country. The authors of that project conveniently left out key information that ought to be included in the study of U.S. history and slavery. Like what? Like the fact that Native Americans practiced chattel slavery for thousands of years prior to Europeans or Africans ever stepping foot on these lands. Some tribes even bought black African slaves, even by the thousands. That almost all black slaves were captured and sold by other black Africans on the international market. How often do we hear about those indicting Whites for slavery equally indicting Blacks for their role in the slave trade? Also, that over 96% of all black African slaves went to Latin American and the Caribbean. Where’s the outrage over slavery directed at Hispanics or Latinos/as? Such half-truths and distorted historical lessons contribute to black hostility toward Whites and to White guilt.
The overwhelming majority of us in the U.S. enjoy living in this great country and have no plans of moving elsewhere. National surveys even show that the majority of racial and ethnic minorities are happy to be here, as well as the majority of immigrants. Immigrants know what many (native) Americans don’t: In the U.S., individuals have a better chance of writing their own life story because there are so many opportunities for changing one’s lot in life that are unavailable in much of the world. Thus, it behooves all of us to do our share to respect and get along with others. I want to believe there is hope for a brighter future for all of us Americans. Unfortunately, those embracing identity politics and tribalism will continue creating a lot of conflicts for the rest of us, but I’m optimistic that eventually we’ll achieve some level of equilibrium and social cohesion. We have to. The alternative is unappealing to most of us.
Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People (Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press). Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.