It's no surprise that the ad campaign is running - the message is widely believed on the liberal left which dominates the universities both in America and elsewhere. But before I get into the theory, here is the ad:
There are also posters in which a white person's face is scribbled over with the message that:
You give me better jobs, better pay, better treatment, and a better chance - all because of the color of my skin.
Why would left-liberals push this message? Liberals in general think of individual autonomy as an overriding good. This means that people are supposed to be self-determining, which then means that our race, which is predetermined, must be made not to matter. In particular, race is not supposed to affect our life choices or our life outcomes.
But it does. Statistically, on a range of social indicators, blacks in the U.S. come out worst and Hispanics come out next worst. So liberals have to account for why race still matters.
Right-liberals usually opt for the idea that society is gradually progressing toward the desired liberal outcomes. Society is becoming ever more enlightened and continuing education and prosperity will eventually do the trick and create a truly race blind society.
Left-liberals have their own explanation. They believe that inequality arises when one group of people create a false category (e.g. "whiteness") in order to "other" and then oppress and exploit everyone else. In this view, whiteness is a social construct in which one group of people gain an unearned privilege at the expense of everyone else.
This left-liberal theory makes whites exceptional. Whites become the one group who need to be deconstructed and whose success can be put down to unearned privilege rather than to effort and talent.
The argument against whiteness studies
One argument against whiteness studies is simply this: that it is generated by a political ideology rather than by a disinterested examination of the facts.
But even if we disregard the ideological origins of the theory, there are still some compelling arguments against it.
The first I have made several times before. Whilst it is true that blacks and Hispanics do worst on a range of social indicators, it's not true that whites do best. It is Asian Americans, not white Americans, who on average have higher incomes, better access to the professions, and better educational and family outcomes.
This is not what the theory predicts. If society is set up to benefit whites at the expense of everyone else, then why would Asian Americans so rapidly rise to the top?
Here is some of the data:
a) Asians are the most highly educated group of Americans, with more than half with a bachelor’s degrees or higher.
b) Asian Americans, though only 4 percent of the nation's population, account for nearly 20 percent of all medical students. Forty-five percent of Berkeley's freshman class, but only 12 percent of California's populace, consists of Asian-Americans. And at UT-Austin, 18 percent of the freshman class is Asian American, compared to 3 percent for the state.
c) An Asian American male with the same level of experience and education as a white American male receives a 4% bonus in earnings - for women the gap rises to 17%. If mean earnings remain unadjusted for education and experience, then the discrepancy is even more pronounced: in 2000, native-born Asian American men recorded a 14% bonus in mean earnings compared to white American men, and the gap for women was 32%.
But here's something else to consider. If the theory of white privilege were correct then it ought to be evident in data showing economic growth across past centuries. In short, Europe, Africa and Asia ought to have had a similar standard of living until European colonisation began in earnest in about the 1550s. From that time onward, the data should show a gradual rise in the economic fortunes of the white colonial powers and a gradual fall in the economies of the Asian and African nations.
But that doesn't seem to be the case. Here is a chart showing GDP from the year 1 AD to 1800 AD:
The chart shows that African GDP hardly changed over the centuries; China's rose a little until the year 1500 and then stagnated, as did India's; Japan's rose very gradually; whilst Western Europe's GDP took off from about the year 1100 AD and kept rising.
That doesn't fit with what whiteness theory would predict. The Western economies began to rise a long time, in fact about 400 years, prior to any colonial contact with other races. So the economic success of the Western nations has to be attributed to something else. Nor did the rise of the West cause other parts of the world to decrease in GDP. Africa's GDP hardly budged from the $400 per capita over the entire period, regardless of what the European powers were doing.
It's true that China and India's economies stagnated from about the year 1500, but it's difficult to link this to European colonialism as most areas of China and India weren't subject to colonisation until a long time after the year 1500 as these maps indicate:
A) Colonisation 1550
B) Colonisation 1660
D) Colonisation 1822
Here are some conclusions that can be drawn from these maps:
a) China wasn't subject to colonisation prior to 1822. To my knowledge, China kept out the West up to this time, apart from a guarded compound of merchants in the city of Canton. So the stagnation of the Chinese economy doesn't seem to be due to what white people were doing.
b) There were some Portuguese trading posts established in India by the 1550s, but they are so small they're difficult to see on the map. By the 1660s the European powers were active in the coastal areas, but even so this doesn't really match the fact that Indian economic stagnation began much earlier, by the year 1500.
c) You can see too that two of the main colonial powers were not even Western European. Russia expanded greatly to the east during this time, whilst the Turks had large colonial possessions both in Europe and Africa.
d) Even in 1822 the British colonies weren't as extensive as might be thought. Yes, parts of Australia are coloured red but in 1822 Australia was barely settled by Europeans and was not well developed economically. The same would be true of New Zealand. It's not really until very late in the 1800s that the expansion of a territorial empire starts to look more impressive on a map - and that was after the real take-off of the British economy, not before it.
What happened after 1800? Instead of a gradual rise in the economies of the colonial powers and a gradual fall in those of Asia and Africa, as the whiteness studies theory would predict, we get something very different:
What you're looking at is the effect of the Industrial Revolution. That is what really shot up GDP per capita in Western Europe and the U.S. - rather than some sort of white colonial "othering".
So let me summarise: Western European GDP per capita did rise gradually for a long time - but this rise predates any contact with non-Europeans by a period of 400 years. So it can't be attributed to the "invention of whiteness". Second, a big increase in GDP happened quite suddenly at the very time the Industrial Revolution was taking place. So this was a matter of industrial organisation and technique taking place in England and elsewhere, rather than a transfer of wealth from non-whites to whites.
Finally, I'd like to give some publicity to a group called Campus Reform which has criticised the University of Minnesota-Duluth campaign against white students. It's refreshing that there is some kind of organised opposition to what is happening.