The problem with "standpoint epistemology."
I think a lot more folks on the center-right would be open to discussion if the left and center-left would just acknowledge the enormous progress we as a country have made over the last thirty years in race relations. My wife and I just visited a beach popular with the working class a few weekends ago, and there were “rednecks,” African-Americans, and Hispanics swimming together in the same river, drinking together in the same dive bars, and listening to the same lousy Sublime cover band. If you get your information from Twitter or what passes for journalism these days, you’d expect Thunderdome, instead of blue-collar families of all races just having a good day at the beach.
This is a particularly trenchant article for me personally. I ran for Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2001 and my entire platform was based on the notorious de facto racism of the public school system in Pittsburgh. I ran as a Republican; so of course I lost, but I nevertheless had the bull horn to stand up to the silent racism of the teacher unions who supported that racism. And, with the help of an African American School Board member, I created Take Your Father To School Day, because father absence is fundamentally destructive to student success. I was also the founding board member of a Charter School in Penn Hills Pa, with a primarily African American student population. I sent my own kids there, and they were the only white kids in their classes. The idea of the charter school was to provide gifted education to children whose families simply were not aware of the options for their bright children. Yes, I see institutional racism in education very clearly, and I am an old white guy college professor. And now with college prices sky-rocketing college is simply unaffordable to the VAST majority of African American kids. Critical Race Theory is a white game. It is itself malicious and racist fraud that demonstrably harms black children, while helping white academics pad their vitae to get tenure. CRT? Phooey! Making college affordable to Black families is the authentic place where our culture needs to demonstrate that Black Lives Really Matter. Increase African American SAT scores by spending the money necessary to improve poor city schools. Affordable high quality Education is the doorway to success, Critical Race Theory is not. When I completed my PhD, I told people I was a radical feminist because I really wanted women to like me and to publish feminist articles for my own vita. I had convinced myself that to change who I was would help women. Then I read Christina Hoff Summers and I saw the light. And I was embarrassed too. You do not need to hit yourself in the head with a hammer to prove that you are a good white man. Do what is right; be a mensch, and be who you are authentically. Yes lots of people will not like you. CRT is fraud and it must end.
Thank you for laying out so clearly the perils of sacrificing thought for allegiance to a cause. I taught African American Political Thought at a small liberal arts college for over twenty years. I would love to see more attention given to the deep thinking of W. E. B. DuBois and James Baldwin who understood the perils of simplistic reasoning.
Good piece. Bernstein especially deserves credit for acknowledging that CRT does contain a grain of truth that, no matter how much it gets exaggerated into a lie, is still true. It ought to be possible to say at the same time that they deserve a seat at the table and they do not deserve the sort of totalitarian power they're demanding.
Of course, politics these days would see that as a weak-ass compromise by someone who doesn't have the balls to (as Colbert's old character would say) "Pick a side! We're at war!" Which is what's wrong with politics these days.
Oh, and since he does touch on Israeli-Palestinian matters, I do have a question for him. Is he willing to concede that a reasonable person might conclude that "It's ours because we live here" and "It's ours because our ancestors lived here thousands of years ago" are really not two equally legitimate claims?
All schools should have to read and discuss this arguments as part of anti-racist training.
Hi David Bernstein: thank you for your essay and especially for the way you carefully lay out the problems with the "demand for deference." I'm with you! As an academic who's worked in a radical "studies" field for what feels like way too long, I just want to suggest one correction: there's more to "standpoint epistemology" than you suggest in this admittedly brief essay. The problem sometimes is that what starts out as a complex intellectual undertaking with curious people working out the costs and benefits of a particular concept or perspective ends with ideologues prescribing one strand as the right answer to which all must adhere. Aside from having at one time taught students about standpoint theory, I have no dog in the standpoint fight. But I will say that the literature on standpoint is much more interesting than you suggest here and includes smart critiques of the positions the ideologues have settled on as those to which we all must give obeisance.
You could not be more wrong in suggesting that “mass incarceration” in its modern incarnation is only discoverable as a concept through people of color. Totally absurd proposition. Completely without standing.
David has left out an important point. Who exactly determines who belongs to an "oppressed" group? Where is the dividing line? Is the son of a white Cuban-American doctor as equally "oppressed" as the brown-skinned "Indio" son of a Mexican-American farm worker? Why are black immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean given all the benefits of affirmative action and considered as equally oppressed as the descendants of American slaves? Even though the political Left has now started talking about "races" as if they were different species, racial intermarriage is a reality. Is a white ginger like Archie Mountbatten-Windsor "oppressed" just because he has one "black" grandparent? How far back should we go?
I think a lot of what DiAngelo writes about is mindfulness: if you feel defensive against someone else’s articulation of racism, you don’t have to be carried away in that defensiveness and counter it in the moment. You can choose to withstand that discomfort for a while and try to consider if you are the one who might be wrong. I think it speaks to the *immediacy of the interaction*, not a wholesale requirement of agreeing with the other person or internalizing their viewpoint.
To go from saying that CRT grants victims of racism a presumed competence to speak about racism —> CRT contends that only minorities have standing to articulate a view on racism seems like a really big logical leap to me. It also seems to paint with a broad brush people who use CRT to understand the world.
I think it is useful to imagine Kimberlé Crenshaw’s prism metaphor when she introduced intersectionality. Like the way a prism separates the colors that make up white light, CRT may help us separate and see things we might not otherwise see.
I'd recommend James Lindsay on "standpoint epistemology" - that is really the definitive explanation of what it is, how it evolved, and how the "rules" work. https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-standpoint-epistemology/