Thursday, November 12, 2015

Darwin Rules!

I feel like I have "limited" standing to comment on "white privilege". Of course, I am "white" by today's definition of it, although my background is Ukranian and Eastern European Ashkenazi Jew. Until quite recently, there are many in this country who would hardly consider me "white" in Anglo-Saxon terms and, in fact, many would have considered me an outsider since my ancestors fled their native lands because they were victims of pogroms and other forms of oppression.

I attended a progressive university, Rutgers College, in the early to mid 70's. I marched down College Avenue with the Students for a Democratic Society (a more ironic name has rarely been coined) to protest the Vietnam War and to oppose the university's acceptance of government funding for various research projects. I marched to protest the disparity of minority admittances in comparison to their presence in the New Jersey community which led eventually to a more balanced admissions policy nationwide.

When my patents left Brooklyn in 1958 or so to move to the suburbs, they rented an apartment in a cooperative project in New Jersey that strove to proactively integrate. It might have been the North, but it was unusual to find "negro" and "white" families actively engaged in integrating new neighborhoods. It was an intentionally progressive social experiment and it affected me profoundly. The co-op had its own nursery school (I mean, pre-school) which I attended with all sorts of people. I never saw people of color as odd, abnormal or any different than I.

As a freshman at Rutgers, I was exposed to the possibility of getting drafted into the service and potentially sent to Vietnam. One of my best friends' birthdays was selected #3 in that year's draft, so he enlisted in the Navy rather than being drafted (which was a certainty) and placed in the Army Infantry. We marched, we protested because we fundamentally disagreed with the Vietnam War, but let's be honest - we didn't want to get drafted.

I find this environment difficult to compare with the faux outrage currently sweeping some college campuses. Although racism and irrational hate directed against certain ethnic or religious groups will never disappear completely, it is a shadow of what it once was. And that is especially true in university environments today. Anyone with a child in a university today, who lives near a university and comes into periodic contact with it, knows that they are uniformly home base for progressive culture; they provide gender neutral facilities, they epitomize inclusiveness, in many cases they provide in state tuition to illegal aliens and their curriculum has incorporated many intellectual pursuits once considered outside mainstream "majors" for the awarding of degrees.

At the University of Texas, near where I live, there are degrees offered in Ethnic Studies - African American Studies; Asian American Studies; Mexican American Studies, for example. This is great! This is progress! I'm being completely serious. This is indicative of the university community responding to the changing needs of its student population.

But how is this all being twisted into some outrageous New Protest Movement against institutional racism or "hate speech" that violates one's "safe space"? This is a spurious bastardization of the protest movement of the '60's and '70's. It doesn't mean that the kids out there offended by edgy Halloween costumes don't believe in their "cause" any less fervently than my contemporaries did, but the stakes for society or the political fabric of the country do not seem to compare.

When my parents marched with their black neighbors for civil rights in the '60's, people could not drink from the same water fountains or eat at the same lunch counters. Discrimination was an uncomfortable, accepted norm, not the exception. Black Americans could only hope at that time that maybe someday society would offer them some form of a safe space where they could live in real equality. That has happened in my lifetime. Racism will never fully disappear, just as anti-Semitism, in my personal case, remains ever-present.

But in the context of 2015, it is a bit sad and a tad ironic that progressive universities, that have contorted themselves in exaggerated ways to insure their political rectitude, are being attacked by the very people they tried so hard to cottle and satisfy as being insufficiently inclusive. It is poetic justice that the community elders in an endless search for social justice are being devoured by their young.

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