Check your bigotry


If there is one movement, that by its humourlessness, its obsessive mania and its blindness to its failings, chokes on its own goals, it is the so-called anti-racism movement.

It was called by some the ouroboros — a serpent that swallows its own tail.  For some it was an early emblem of utter futility.  And I think about it when I hear some of the strange, absurd and utterly self-contradictory reports from North American campuses, particularly those that come filed under the "anti-racism" banner.

For if there is one movement, that by its humourlessness, its obsessive mania and its blindness to its failings, chokes on its own goals, it is the so-called anti-racism movement.  And you will find its most feverish exemplars in the very citadels of reason, the modern-day university campus.  Nowhere in the West will one find such fundamentalist fury as in the frenzies of campus political correctness on the subject of race.

There is no venue more receiving, that more struggles to accommodate, than universities.  They have codes and classes and whole courses to instruct on the vile institutions of racism — and yet to read the news is to come away with the idea that every day some campus is a repulsive hotbed of bigotry.

Universities are frantically sensitive to the least, the most minuscule, the most trivial examples of what might be racism.  They police for "insensitivity" with the same intense puritanical rage that governed the Victorians on the subject of sex.  To read the student newspapers of some campuses, it would seem the hearty days of the KKK are just a tick of the clock away from returning.  They seem especially convinced that every white person is a bundle of unearned advantages, owns a place purely because of his/her skin colour, and wanders through life with a Free For Me Pass simply because daddy and mommy, and their daddy and mommy, were white.

It's astonishing.  Could there be a better definition of racism, a better example of a purely racist concept, than this, the holding that all a person does and is springs from the colour of his skin?

The entire notion is called "white privilege."  In our moderns seats of learning, with their skyrocketing tuition rates, and celebrity professors, do they ever test an idea?  Do they ever ask the questions that even a 10-year-old would ask about this concept of "white privilege?"

Do they ask: What part of the great DNA chain, specifically, houses the gene for white privilege?  How does skin colour and privilege interlink, and why does privilege always follow only one skin colour?  Do individuals always and only reflect the characteristics of their skin-colour group?  Do "whites" have any qualities or achievements at all that do not spring only from their skin colour?

The appropriate step for someone blessed with white privilege is to "check" it, as in "check your privilege."  That is, before doing anything or sharing an opinion, white persons are supposed to do something of a confessional inventory of all they owe to being white, and all the harm they or their ancestors have done to every other skin colour on the human spectrum.  It has a very Maoist tang, this "check your privilege," encouraging self-abasement and self-humiliation before the cadres of politically correct betters, and anti-racism squads.

Could there be a better definition of racism, a better example of a purely racist concept, than this, the holding that all a person does and is springs from the colour of his skin?

Check your white privilege is attempting to become a catchphrase, though how something both so clumsy and ambiguous will ever find a pulse on other than academic lips is a good question.  Yet how many immature, callow and overeager students will listen to this stuff, and actually think it has any intellectual quality?  How many will not see it as being a tormented, spurious, divisive effort to assert a racialist reading on just about everything, everywhere?

It is a direct effort to impose guilt where gratification should reign.  It is to make those who work hard, try to conduct themselves responsibly, who apply themselves to study, feel that none of these attributes, none of their honest effort, has earned them success.  Why should all a young person's effort and sweat, holding on to a moral code, and determined application to make something of their life be turned against them, be denied its efficacy, and everything praiseworthy about a person be dismissed as merely a gift of their ethnicity?

What's most obnoxious about this trend is its blatant attempt to chase effort, merit, industry and determination off the field entirely.  The privilege movement seeks to sully and taint the commonplace eternal virtues, so that when one of us sees another happy in marriage, perhaps, or successful in business, and maybe temperate and easy in private life, we should all shout in envy and hate.  It is bitterly ironic that the antiracist message has been reduced to this: You have all that you have only because you have white skin.

It is the cheapest form of racism, no subtlety at all … and it finds fullest expression in those academic institutions most attuned to any whiff of prejudice.  Only in the very best universities would you ever be able to find so stupid a thought being given such frantic attention.  And Orwell's famous taunt about some ideas being so stupid only an intellectual would support them is sadly truer now, by far, than when he wrote them.




Rex Murphy, "Check your bigotry." National Post (May 17, 2014).

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and contributes weekly TV essays on diverse topics to CBC TV's The National. (See Rex's TV commentaries). In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post.

Rex Murphy was born near St. John's, Newfoundland, where he graduated from Memorial University. In l968, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His primary interest is in language and English literature, but he also has a strong link with politics. His first book, Points of View, is described on Amazon: "With TV commentator and journalist Rex Murphy, it's easy to put a twist on the old parable: when he is good he is very very good, and when he's angry, he's awesome. Uncommonly dignified, relentlessly honest, unencumbered by de rigueur political correctness, and solidly grounded by his Newfoundland roots, Murphy is that rarest of TV types. He's an everyman who happens to be a Rhodes Scholar, and a personality treasured for his brain, not his looks...A cranky intellect, maybe, but an intellect just the same. It's Murphy's almost reluctant cynicism — delivered in language as sharp as shattered glass and aimed squarely at those in ivory towers — that makes Points of View a must-read."

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