This kind of language is the product of postmodernist social studies courses that now proliferate on US campuses. The core philosophy that unites these courses is that our modernist post-Enlightenment world, its scientific advances, liberal democracies, technological, medical and cultural advances were created by white Eurocentric men for the benefit of themselves. As such, these need to be completely dismantled and rebuilt in a more equitable manner. Where modernists value science, postmodernists place the subjective experience above all and deny that there is any such thing as objectivity. Where modernists value Democracy, postmodernists see it as a tool for the oppression of minority voices and chip away at its fundamental pillars: the legal system, law enforcement and civil obedience. Where modernists celebrate individuality, postmodernists divide people into groups based, usually, on innate characteristics such as gender, skin colour and sexual orientation. Whereas straight white men are seen as the beneficiaries of power in society, all others are then seen as being oppressed by this group. “Intersectionality” is a means of grading one’s perceived oppression, so while a straight white man is not at all oppressed, indeed he is the oppressor, a black lesbian woman would be terribly oppressed while a white lesbian woman would fall in between.
The problem is that the current incarnation of this postmodernist movement was born in the USA out of the unique cultural and historical events of that country. However, through the global reach of Social Media there is now a tendency to copy and paste arguments and perspectives that are unique to the US context to other predominantly or historically white nations. It is becoming unavoidable on all Social Media and in particular in education circles where postmodernist thinking is fast becoming the driving philosophical ideology that underpins all teaching and learning. Race in particular is the key issue that postmodernists believe is safe ground for attacking anyone who disagrees with their philosophy or who happens to be a white man. I ran into this recently and it has caused me to write this blog as I am increasingly concerned about how postmodernism is shaping the role of education and how it is sowing the seeds of hatred by dividing individuals into groups while presuming to speak for them. Here, then, I will talk about race.
I recently came across a thread (like many before it) in which an educator stated that anyone can be racist. It so happened that she was a British woman of Pakistani heritage. She argued that a white person can be subjected to racism. She was quickly set upon. One British man who would like me to refer to him as "a male member of the GM" in place of his ethnicity (Global Minority = another postmodern term that is meant to strip people of their individuality), one white British man and one young white British woman all told her – rather patronisingly – that it is not possible for a white person to experience racism.
As to the view that white people cannot be victims of racism because of their historic hold on power that is equally unsupportable outside of the US and European colonial nations. The narrative of the postmodernist here is that white people have traditionally held power and use that power to oppress minorities. Stemming from this today white people, particularly white men benefit from white privilege. Modern history is littered with examples where this is not the case. In the immediate post-War period ethnic Germans were systematically murdered and displaced from their homes across central and eastern Europe. Upon their arrival in Germany they were often met with taunts of "Gypsy" and shunned by the native population. Those who remained in their countries were stripped of their assets and civil rights. In Northern Ireland in the 1960s it was impossible for Catholic workers to get work in Protestant- (the “privileged” elite) owned businesses. In the Balkans until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire Slavic youths were routinely taken from their families to fight in Turkish colonial wars while their families were forced to produce foodstuffs for the empire. Today, modern Irish Travellers and Romani gypsies are denied access to public houses and restaurants and are routinely denied employment because of their background. In other words, white people can be the victims of racism if racism is defined by the systematic oppression of one group by another. Any of these examples should stand as evidence that white people can be and have been systematically oppressed. In my Twitter discussion this was all dismissed.
When I mentioned this in said Twitter conversation about definitions of racism it was rejected out of hand and rather than discuss the points I had raised, it was met with personal attacks and questions about my fitness to teach.
With all of this being said, in all of the examples that I have given, white people have been systematically oppressed. Yes, systems can be oppressive. Racism can be both institutional and individual. Fixing this is a matter for legal recourse and implementation of existing anti-discrimination laws etc. That is an evolutionary process and a welcome one. Postmodernism, however, links this power imbalance specifically to race. White men benefit and white men oppress. I have shown several (and there are many, many more) examples of where white men have been systematically oppressed by prevailing systems. Therefore not only is it offensive and unhelpful to identify white men as a monolithic and oppressive group, but this postmodern view is inconsistent as a philosophy. To speak with postmodernists online one would think this was established fact. Then again, they do not believe in objective fact, in which case I would say tread lightly with children in schools and how we are training them to view the world around them and their fellow citizens. In the meantime, please do not refer to me as a “white man” or a “straight white man” along with what is inferred by these labels. Please don’t tell me to “check my privilege”. White people can be systematically oppressed and victims of racism too.
The statement “check your privilege” means nothing and is only employed derogatively to discredit alternative viewpoints. I am an individual. I do not judge anyone on their innate characteristics and as an educator I deal with individuals, not stereotypes.