As often is the case, the attempt to correct one ill in society creates a second ill. To point out the second ill, of course, is not to minimize the one ill, but, rather, to prevent a perpetual reciprocity of ill for ill.
In this case, the critique of white privilege as the cause of economic and racial inequities in the US may ultimately reinforce the problems the critique attempts to resolve. At least that is the point of David Marcus’ “How Anti-White Rhetoric Is Fueling White Nationalism” (May 23, 2016). He writes, “In reducing all phenomena to a question of race, both the alt right and the progressive left ensure the dominance of racial resentment as the lynchpin of our society.” He argues that the more white guilt is stressed, the more likely whites, who are trying to ignore race, become sensitized to it, with the result that some of them are drawn into the polarization that the critique intended to dissolve.
Generalizing the guilt to all whites, especially white males, leaves little room for examining specific issues and actions that could redress the injury. This generalizing lends itself to placing whites in the impossible position of being held responsible for crimes that predate them, forcing a confession that may prove a relief to some whites but an intolerable aggravation to others. Instead of white guilt, Marcus urges, the focus should be on white supremacy, allowing (non-supremacist) whites to align themselves with those who have been injured.
This mirroring effect, according to Eric Gans’ “Donald Trump, Metaconservative” (March 12, 2016), is key to understanding the surprising popularity of Trump who “embodies far more than he articulates resistance to the victimocracy.” If victimary issues (emphasizing unfair treatment of different classes, races, and social strata) necessarily encase those with white privilege in a morally inferior position from which there is no escape, a reaction is inevitable.
The victimizers (as a class) are likely to reject (or ignore) the victimary claims, instead of accepting underlying interests that, presented as interests, could actually be redressed (as exemplified by Dr. King’s civil rights efforts). As a result of the progressives’ reduction of whites to white privilege, “Trump’s supporters turn to him as a figure of hope because his mind, unclouded by White Guilt, views the political battlefield, foreign as well as domestic, as a place for making deals.” We may reject his specific deal with another deal, and that is the tractable nature of deal making.
It is the emphasis on a deal (which involves two parties negotiating) that Gans argues is in keeping with liberalism, and is more effective for social change than the progressive condemnation of those associated with categorical privilege. To exemplify the difference, he remarks that while the left promotes “minority concerns not as group interests but in the guise of victimary social justice … the minority community has experienced previously unknown levels of social disintegration, with results clearly visible in Detroit, Baltimore, Washington DC, Saint Louis … .”
My interest in both these articles (which state their cases much better than this brief overview) is that they independently call into question a trend that is bound to backfire. Whatever one’s theoretical justifications may be, the practice is doomed to fail—to fail in a way not foreseen by the justifications. Gans characterizes the trend as the the change from “defending interests to seeking justice.” Marcus characterizes it as the change from rejecting white supremacy to obtaining “guilt and confession.” For Gans, we should return to the dialogical process of making deals. For Marcus we “must return to the goal of treating people as individuals, not as representatives of their race.”