There was one major reason why I dropped out of a prestigious grad school this past fall. It wasn’t the economic insecurity, the poor wages, or the need for geographical flexibility: Journalism isn’t much better. The simple fact I learned after half a semester studying sociology is that the discipline isn’t very tolerant.
Americans were reminded of this when sociology professor Sam Richards of Penn State University picked an “average white guy” and treated him like a dissected biology specimen in a packed lecture hall. “I just take the average white guy in class, whoever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Dude, this guy here. Stand up, bro. What’s your name, bro?” the middle-aged, and evidently hip, Richards asks. The bewildered freshman, Russell, stands at attention to make the visual experience easier for the gawking crowd. “Look at Russell, right here, it doesn’t matter what he does. If I match him up with [an identical] a black guy in class . . . and we send them into the same jobs, Russell has a benefit of having white skin,” Richards says.
In another clip, Richards points to a projected slideshow referencing a study in which job applicants are segmented by race and criminal record. The paper found that even whites with a criminal record were more likely to get call-backs than blacks without one. Richards then turns to the white student. “Bro, how does it feel knowing that push comes to shove your skin’s kind of nice?” Richards prods. “I don’t know, it makes me feel like sad cause like, God knows, I don’t deserve it. You know what I mean? Like, I didn’t choose to be white,” the student rambles.
What is edifying about Richards cornering a student, based on skin color, in front of hundreds of classmates? The show trial offered no academic value apart from humiliation. In an act of poetic blindness, Richards, who prides himself on having a viral TED talk entitled “A Radical Experiment with Empathy,” demonstrated a magnificent lack of empathy throughout the incident. Nor were university administrators all that bothered. Defending Richards’s conduct, the university released a statement that Richards and his colleagues “take time to discuss opinions from many perspectives — from liberal to conservative — and the classroom conversation is framed in a thoughtful way,” a spokesman noted.
The flavor of Richards’s lecture, described by the school as “an introductory class on race and culture,” as well as the administration’s equivocation, struck me as eerily similar to my own latest academic stint. Had I been sitting in the lecture, Richards could easily have pointed at me as the epitome of white privilege, although I identify as Jewish. Richards certainly would never have scoured the room for Chinese, Korean, Iranian, or Indian students, even though members of such groups come from wealthier and, on average, better-educated backgrounds.
When all you have is a hammer, all the world is a nail; so, too, when one is devoutly anti-racist, all the world is racist.
This kind of treatment has become increasingly standard fare for students, particularly at elite universities. Following the murder of George Floyd and nationwide Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests last year, educational spaces are now confronting calls for a “racial reckoning” with the past. These “History Wars” have thrust once-esoteric academic debates into the public square. The stickiest of these is “critical race theory” (CRT), which views white supremacy as inextricably baked into the American pie.
Read more at National Review.