Two events in recent days suggest that progress in the arena of race and ethnicity remains hard to secure, or even to acknowledge. Man’s capacity for being aggrieved will, seemingly, always surface and find an act or a trend to kvetch and complain about. We have written about this phenomenon before regarding a variety of religious, racial and ethnic groups (e.g. here, here and here).
The Huffington Post published an article that almost defies description in its effort to stir up racial “issues” where none exist. It is hard to believe that an author and an editor at a respected publication could have thought that the “news” item was worthy of dissemination; yet, there it is with a 24 point headline: “Jeopardy Contestants Painfully Avoid Black History Questions As Long As They Can.”
In an unattributed article in the Black Voices section of the Post, the author bemoans the fact that three “white college students” chose the categories of “International Cinema Showcase," "Weather Verbs," and "Kiwi Fauna” before they answered the questions in the “African American History” category (which they answered 60% correct).
To the folks at the Huff Post these three college kids “painfully” chose to avoid the Black history questions and the reader is, presumably, to take that decision as affirmation of the pervasive hostility (?), racism (?), or ignorance (?) of the contestants---otherwise, why the article? There are countless benign explanations as to why the contestants chose the categories they chose and in the order they chose them; it takes a real effort to conjure up a negative reason that merits “exposure.”
But the Huffington Post is not alone in recently perpetuating a notion of victimization, despite a paucity of evidence, to justify the assertion.
Last week, the Asian Pacific Coalition at UCLA and 75 other organizations nationwide issued a press release appropriately decrying a vulgar, inflammatory, racist and incoherent flyer that had been mailed to the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA. Had the authors stuck to the incendiary flyer and expressed their concerns about its message (seemingly animated by anger at Asian women’s dating practices), it would have been understandable. Had this press release simply been authored by one student group on one campus, it wouldn’t merit attention; but it is co-signed by groups ranging from students at NYU and Berkeley and Florida State to organized labor, United Auto Workers (Local 2865).
The Coalition’s release quickly devolves into hyperbolic racial grievance. The flyer incident is decried as evidence of the “toxicity present at the UCLA campus.” The evidence for the charge of a poisonous environment are isolated events (e.g. vandalism of a bulletin board, a nasty flyer affixed to a student group’s office) that may merit claims of “unpleasant” or “irritating” but hardly toxic; the exception being an incident that was noted of a viral video from early 2011 by a then UCLA student that was appropriately handled. The young woman was widely chastised, withdrew from the university and apologized for her bigoted commentary.
The release asserts as dispositive evidence of UCLA’s chilling environment, “every year, at least one discriminatory and racially biased incident occurs, and many more go unreported….” Having been in the civil rights field for decades and having handled countless incidents of hate, vandalism and insensitivity----“one discriminatory incident”, or even a handful, per year in UCLA’s population of approximately 13,000 Asian Americans of various ethnicities hardly creates a chilling environment. Asian American students constitute approximately 35% (as of 2011) of the enrolled students on campus; people interact and tempers flare and regrettable things are said and done---one incident a year of the kind enumerated is neither catastrophic nor poisonous.
One has to wonder then, why the need for such Chicken Little-like hyperbole? Why does the Huff Post author feel compelled to complain about an act that has fifty benign explanations? Why does the Asian Pacific Coalition feel it necessary to extrapolate from one nasty flyer and argue that a campus that has embraced diversity and enrolled Asian Americans in large numbers is marginalizing them and painting them as “perpetual foreigners”? Why do human relations coalitions and the civil rights groups assert the sky is falling when a miniscule number of nasty and regrettable incidents occur in a nation of 350 million people? The test of our progress is not whether there are a handful of sociopaths who commit bad acts, but rather what the response to hate is by leaders and that the majority of the body politic.
One persuasive explanation as to why the focus on being a victim was offered by the noted pundit John McWhorter over a decade ago when he examined why complaints of racism so often arose when evidence of bigotry was absent (he wrote about Blacks, but his logic applies more broadly),
For blacks before the mid-1960s, decrying racism stemmed from sincere grievance. But for far too many blacks today, it has drifted into a recreational crutch, assuaging the insecurity at the heart of the human soul. A sad keystone of human nature is the balm of feeling superior. Gossip is a relatively innocuous manifestation; fashioning one's self as eternally battling a white America mired in "racism" is a more noisome one.
We must not deny that residual racism remains a reality -- but the idea that this impedes a group's success is a fiction. Black Americans who insist that we cannot achieve meaningfully until the ruling class adore us present an ideology foreign to any other minority group in history.
People like this see themselves as collaring an America deaf to the urgency of a "new Civil Rights revolution." But every self-indulgent performance of this kind is an insult to our black forebears, who endured a racism no one needed to be taught to "understand," as well as to living blacks running up against [bigotry’s] tragic remnants…
There is no doubt that the historic leaders of virtually every minority group in America would be incredulous at what has come to be termed racism and discrimination and constitutes grounds for grievance today. Ultimately, they would be amused and realize that while the world has changed, our psyches’ need to feel aggrieved hasn’t.