Monday, May 5, 2014

The Phantom Menace Has Learned the Language of 'Anti-Racism': Is America Ready and Prepared for Angry Young White Men Like Princeton's Tal Fortgang?

I admire Tal Fortgang's hustle. It takes lots of cultivated hubris and myopic whiteness to write such dreck--and then to defend it on national television:
There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. 
“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world...It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character... It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates “privilege.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Social media, a slow news cycle, and being a white victimologist wunderkind in the Age of Obama does have its advantages. Moreover, being a privileged white male victimologist wunderkind at Princeton University, who can use his privilege to get some shine, while also denying the existence of empirical realities such as white racism and white privilege, is some Three-Card Monte 3D Star Trek chess gamesmanship.

There is also a beautiful ugly irony at work in Fortgang's essay: he is denying the existence of white privilege and he is Jewish, a member of a group that recently earned their "whiteness" in the second part of the 20th century. His ancestors in the United States knew a great deal about the realities of white supremacy and white privilege. Many of them were not even be able to gain admission to an Ivy League institution because of a anti-Jewish quota system.

One of the powers of Whiteness is its ability to create amnesia among white folks. Fortgang is an object lesson in that fact.

I am loathe to feed Tal Fortgang's ego by rewarding how he successfully trolled too many folks with his essay in Princeton's student newspaper. But, Fortgang (and those on Fox News and elsewhere who are enabling him) is the future-present of white racism and white supremacy in the post civil rights era.

One of the causes of the Great Recession was how rent-seeking, corrupt, casino capitalists and Wall Street hustlers, were able to game the system with the knowledge that there would no real consequences for their destructive behavior.

Many of them likely went to business school and/or majored in finance or a related discipline while undergraduates. These criminals had a liberal arts education. But somewhere along the way, they may not have taken courses in philosophy or ethics. If so, said financial gangsters did not internalize a sense of justice, a sense of linked fate with other people, or the basic principles of secular humanism and the Common Good.

Allowing for those in the financier and plutocratic classes who are sociopathic (I do not mean this as a mere turn of phrase or fun play on words; I encountered one such person in a classroom who proudly announced that his goal in life was to be fabulously wealthy, he would lie and cheat to that end, and destroy anyone that got in his way. I told this student that the poor have to eat and he would be the meal) it is readily apparent that too many students simply check off the mental boxes to get a grade and do not reflect upon or internalize knowledge as a means towards critical self-reflection. As the university becomes more of a trade school and degree mill those outcomes will be increasingly common.

The inverse of a student who does not learn or internalize material in the best spirit of how it is taught or intended is the person that takes information and uses it for contrary or ethically problematic ends.

In college, one of my favorite professors was a direct and politically conservative sociologist who happened to be white. One of his favorite students knocked on the office door one day several years after graduating. My professor-mentor was happily surprised as his former student shared how all that he learned in the former's classes on social inequality had been put to good use. The professor was initially pleased because he had a transformative impact on a (then) young student. His hopes were soon deflated and broken as the now adult professional explained how he used all the information about redlining, housing segregation, job discrimination, and the like to make lots of money as a real estate agent who discriminated against people of color.

Cut from the same mold, young students such as Tal Fortgang are the new face of white racism and white supremacy in post civil rights America.

Of course, racism has evolved and changed over time. But, as revealed by measures such as wealth and income inequality, residential segregation, school performance, as well as the persistence of institutional white supremacy in the legal system and job market, Jim and Jane Crow were simply replaced by a multicultural elite class that serves as the human paint and veneer on a white supremacist society where race still over-determines life outcomes to the advantage of white people.

The post civil rights generation has learned the language of anti-racism and white supremacy. In the same moment, white supremacy and overt racial animus has migrated from the frontstage of American life to the backstage, and other private spaces. Tal Fortgang is one of many white students, and some deluded and self-hating people of color in the same cohort, who have learned the language of anti-racism well enough to be conversant while using it to advance the cause of white supremacy.

They are young Padawans--Star Wars day was last weekend, please indulge me--who are tempted by the Dark Side to challenge their masters. I worry that many of the supposed Jedi Masters have become weak and rusty in their skills because they have been surrounded for too long by all too willing students, trained like Pavlov's dogs to respond with "politically correct" and "anti-racist" slogans.

Tal Fortgang's essay is easily gutted by a basic appeal to the facts of American history, and how the arbitrariness of who is considered "white by law", have over-determined upward mobility and life success in the United States for centuries.

Tal Fortgang's claim on his fore bearer's "hard work" as somehow being his own, and somehow making him virtuous and righteous in comparison to others not so lucky, is the very definition of white privilege as a type of unearned advantage. Like so many other white folks drunk on white privilege, Fortgang is either unable or unwilling to see how people of color encountered challenges and difficulties at least, if not not more so, than his ancestors in the ideal-typical "hard times" white ethnic myth that he so easily recycles.

What Tal Fortgang, and so many other white victimologists and white racism deniers of all ages are unable and unwilling to accept (although they know it to be a visceral truth), is that the real power of white privilege and white supremacy is not seen among the outliers, those white folks of "good breeding" and money that would have inevitably succeeded, materially or career-wise, in life.

By comparison, the profoundly ugly and grotesque power of white supremacy and white privilege is seen in the middle part of the distribution and on its low-trailing end.

Historically, white supremacy's most socially deleterious power, and what so many white folks are desperately clinging to in the United States, is white racism's ability to elevate mediocre, failing, low-skilled, degenerate, unmotivated, and otherwise sub par white folks to the level of "respectability" and "middle class" over people of color who are in almost every way superior to them.

The successes of the civil rights movement and the Black and Brown freedom struggles have moderated (and in some ways limited) the ability of white human mediocrities to always, all things being equal, succeed in America.

Tal Fortgang will have a Princeton degree, as well as the benefits of his family's material resources, social capital, and other assets. Part of Tal Fortgang's skill set will also be the ability to use the language of "multiculturalism" and "diversity" to protect and advance white privilege. Tal Fortgang would be a much more dangerous foe if he learned to camouflage his racist speech. I am sure that his mentors are giving him that advice in the present moment.

Are black and brown Americans, progressives, liberals, and reasonable centrists, ready and prepared for ostensibly "anti-racist" 007's who are really double agents for white supremacy? I doubt it. In a moment of changing racial demographics and constrained job opportunities, young people like Tal Fortgang are America's phantom menace.


Myshkin the Idiot said...

He didn't actually seek to understand white privilege and racial discrimination in America. He wrote a contemptuous screed about how rough his grandparents lives were in Europe and how their exodus to the United States gave them untold advantage "if only they worked hard enough".

He's using false empathy to malign anti-racism activism.

If his Jewish family had continued to live in European ghettos, would they be as successful today as they were when they came to America?

If they were told to move back to their Jewish ghetto in Germany and "make the best for themselves" while the Nazi Party was still active and powerful, would their hard work have paid off in material wealth benefits from today?

When African Americans talk about how past discrimination affects black communities and people in the present, they are told something like this (from the comments):

"And that, Shaniqua, is why you will be stuck in the past. It’s the only place you look. FYI the first African Americans were owned by African Americans. Try making something of yourself instead of using your heritage as a crutch to whine about life."

I wonder if he realizes his fiscal conservatism will harm a large number of Jewish poor in the United States when he complains: "when we [raise] questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals."

He ought to understand the idea of a ghetto a lot better, ghetto being an Italian word for segregated Jewish neighborhoods.

There's a great quote I cannot locate from the debate surrounding housing/residential discrimination. Someone said they never intended the poor ghetto to go away, but if black folk could work hard enough, they could move out of it.

Martin Luther King in 1967:
"In just nine years, this country will mark the second continary of it's Declaration of Independence. Will Negroes be able to celebrate?
"What is the right to live of black children who are born to be hungry and whose very minds and spirits are maimed by the savage conditions of their existence? What is it that the young people in the streets have a right to -- a life of unemployment and low pay when there is work?
"In nine years will the right to liberty for the black man mean that he is free to move from one slum to another and that he can periodically choose from among politicians who will do nothing?
"Two hundred years after the Declaration of Independence will the right to the pursuit of happiness mock the majority of Negroes locked up in an economic underworld of poverty, joblessness, and unemployment?"

KissedByTheSun said...

But I thought racism was dying out with the older generation. You mean to tell me that white youth aren't willing turn their backs on billions of unearned dollars?

threeoutside said...

Sociopaths will always have the upper hand over decent people with empathy and consciences UNTIL the latter wake up and realize the former need to be controlled. My only other comment is that if you aren't already a decent person with "a sense of justice, a sense of linked fate with other people, or the basic principles of secular humanism and the Common Good" by the time you get to college - indeed, by the time you're in middle school - no number of courses in ethics will make you one. "Real" people need to understand that there is no changing of a true sociopath.

Courtney H. said...

Here is another article about this d*ck:

Miles_Ellison said...

I missed the part of the story where jealous American bigots destroyed his parents' hard earned Eden in a hail of bullets, fire, and rope. Oh, that didn't happen? Funny how that works.

chauncey devega said...

It was all between the lines. Plus, he is better than those people anyway. If they had "character" like his ancestors nothing bad would have happened.

chauncey devega said...

He is a smart young white conservative race hustler. He is connected and using his privilege and access to get his shine on. Ain't that the joke?

chauncey devega said...

Sociopathy and clinical narcissism have been cultivated and sharpened among the Facebook/Millennial generation. Nothing good will come of it.

chauncey devega said...

You know how I feel about those claims as well as the cheering on about the "browning" of America. Whiteness will transform; white racial animus and bigotry has evolved to the backstage. Folks know what to say and how to perform.

chauncey devega said...

His ethnic past is a convenient foil to defend his racism. Old con game we saw in the backlash to the civil rights movement--all sorts of white ethnics discovered their hard times past to deny and deflect the justice claims of people of color.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

The rub of it is that he is talking to his peers at Princeton who are minorities when he says:

“It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education — from mathematics to morality — cannot be overstated."

The Sanity Inspector said...

Okay, so whose children was the Fortgangs' son born owing a debt of restitution to? What is those people's "fair share" of Tal's abilities, determination and potential? For my own children, the answers are "no one" and "F!-all", respectively.

chauncey devega said...

Sometimes you are sane Inspector. Other times that Right-wing political meth has you seeing chimeras and phantoms. Got to get you to rehab.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

no one said he owes a debt of restitution. No one asked him to apologize.

When they say, "check your privilege" they are saying, "it's time for you to do some listening to other people's perspectives" Stop talking, start listening and finding ways to be supportive of diverse communities in our diverse country.

KissedByTheSun said...

I have to admit, I once fell for the "majority-minority" by 2050 myth myself. However, I've learned that whiteness being a thing of human invention, can be reinvented. Its done it before (kiss me I'm talking about the Irish) and it will do it again.

chauncey devega said...

All those colored at Princeton got there on affirmative action and come from broken homes where they learned bad morals and have no work ethic. You didn't know that? Geez.

SabrinaBee said...

When these people step up onto their soapboxes, what always comes to mind for me is denial. Of course in their effort to appear superior, they either refuse to acknowledge or simply don't know that their parents may have had assistance in their trek to the top.

Often times than not, parents are not going to tell their children that they had to apply for one form of assistance or another, in order to shore up or even take advantage of what was available. And we know that since the 30's, if not sooner, there has been one "net" or another available for them. Most having to do with government funding.

Of course this is not to take away from the Jewish apparent commitment to education and rejection of consumer based-upbringing but, these are not inherently white features. And they certainly don't denote a superiority of character. I know I've met some pretty wild ones in my travails. I can't help but snicker because, in towns near me, there are so many Yeshivas set up in ordinary homes that qualify for tax breaks and government funding, it's not even funny.

Mary Burrell said...

Tim Wise would break it down for him and his ilk.

Miles_Ellison said...

It would have been interesting to see the Super Von Trapp Family achieve all this success in an intolerant fascist environment. Their character would have gotten them killed.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

well, if they don't come from broken homes and are articulate and hard working, they're practically white! sheesh

That story about the conservative professor and his returning student. Damn!

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RPM said...

When I was taught about how my ancestors struggled and died in famine back in Ireland it was to impress on me how much luckier I was. To show how systematic poverty and oppression isn't something that just comes out of thin air but government and societal action. All famines and poverty have been due to government actions ditto slavery and aparteid. Action or inaction on representatives part is what allows this shit to continue and always exist. White privilege exists because of government sanction. Denying minorities rights in a land a equal protection and this little ratfuck can't see the hypocrisy? I'm sick of white people claiming how they're ancestors were oppressed as bad as people oppressed today so the oppressed should get over it.
And while it is easy to dismiss turds like this as sociopathic remember that sociopathy is taught and conditioned psychopathy is what you are born with. Zero empathy is the result either way but sociopaths have the capability to change. A lot of young and old people sound that twisted because no one smacked the vile out of their mouth. So keep swinging.

The Sanity Inspector said...

That by itself is quite an assumption--what is the warrant of some university diversicrat to assume that a white male freshman hasn't been doing all that already? Maybe more deeply and more wisely than said diversicrat has been, insulated from the non-academic world?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

At 19 years old anyone has heard all they need to make such definitive resolutions regarding race and gender privilege? Please.

I think what I have expressed is an accurate reflection of what others mean when they say: "check your privilege"

Then you proceed to deliver an ad hominem attack on my person and use "diversicrat" as a pejorative. Showing your true colors, Sanity Infector.

Regarding the "diversicrat" nonsense: this nation is diverse in cultures and origins and has been for a very long time. Diversity is not going away, so, not sure what you're trying to get at there.

chauncey devega said...

Huh? I think Myshin summed up how you showed your hand. Please explain what a "diversicrat" is? Are they oppressing good white folks? Hurting their feelings? Part of the puzzle w. the hostility that so many conservatives and esp. aggrieved white culture war types is that a diverse school environment is actually to their advantage and those of their children so they can learn how to navigate an increasingly global and multicultural society. Myopic whiteness often has a hard time understanding that.

Nina Flowers said...

You hit it out of the park again Chauncey! I especially note one of your last paragraphs where you talk about how unqualified white folks are constantly moving up the ladder when they should be nowhere near it. It has really been highlighted in this oligarchy of ours. The incompetent elite whites (Carly Fiorina, Dick Fuld, Bob Nardelli, etc.) continue to receive vast rewards for failure. However the great recession and increased globalism has flushed out a lot of those middle class whites who will never regain their standing because of their lack of education, skills, etc. The championed the destruction of education by opposing integration and despising college degrees. Now it's come full circle with other nations full of people of color (China, Japan, Brazil, et al) who are outmaneuvering them at every turn.

Nina Flowers said...

This colored worked her butt off at a job and I could not even afford to pay for half a class at UW when all of my other bills were paid (a scholarship pays half). I am a veteran whose GI Bill expired and being so close to graduation (a senior), I could not register for classes. I had a breakdown and am now working like crazy to save money to finish school! Boy do I have something to say to the folks who tell me that I did not "earn" my place on campus. They don't know what work is!