A small cadre of Dartmouth students threatened violence if the school didn’t invest a great deal more money in “diversity” (skin color and gender diversity, of course, rather than intellectual diversity). Dartmouth caved, diverting funds from actual academics to appease the radicals. The theory on the right is that Dartmouth’s administrators backed down in the face of physical violence.
After all, we know that intellectuals can happily contemplate violence in the abstract but they don’t like it when it shows up on their own doorsteps. We’ve seen that reality play out frequently when the West’s self-styled intelligentsia run afoul of Muslim demands. There’s something about staring in the face of a man who thinks beheading you is a really good idea that makes a lot of people second-guess their values.
You and I know, though, that the violence threatened at Dartmouth wouldn’t include beheading. It would be bomb threats, acts of vandalism, low-grade physical assaults, graffiti, office takeovers, etc. (The diversity cadre, thankfully, hasn’t yet gone full sharia.)
Knowing that we’re not talking the full-sharia press here, is it really possible that the Dartmouth powers-that-be can be pushed around simply because they’re worried that their cars will be keyed? I don’t think so. I think there’s something different going on here. In this context, Shelby Steele’s White Guilt makes for illuminating reading.
Steele was part of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and was there, on the ground, in an Iowa University president’s office when he saw white guilt kick in, rendering the guilty party completely helpless, anxious only for the faint hope of redemption that acceding to extremist demands could provide:
I know two things about Dr. McCabe that help explain his transformation before our eyes into a modern college president: he was a man of considerable integrity, and he did not deny or minimize the injustice of racism. He had personally contributed money to Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference when this was not typical of college presidents. Thus, on some level—and in a way that may have caught him by surprise—he would have known that behind our outrageous behavior was a far greater American outrage.
And in this intransigent piece of knowledge was the very essence of what I have called white guilt. Dr. McCabe simply came to a place where his own knowledge of American racism—knowledge his personal integrity prevented him from denying—opened a vacuum of moral authority within him. He was not suddenly stricken with pangs of guilt over American racism. He simply found himself without the moral authority to reprimand us for our disruptive behavior. He knew that we had a point, that our behavior was in some way connected to centuries of indisputable injustice. So he was trumped by his knowledge of this, not by his remorse over it, though he may have felt such remorse. Our outrage at racism simply had far greater moral authority than his outrage over our breach of decorum. And had he actually risen to challenge us, I was prepared to say that we would worry about our behavior when he and the college started worrying about the racism we encountered everywhere, including on his campus.
And this is when I first really saw white guilt in action. Now I know it to be something very specific: the vacuum of moral authority that comes from simply knowing that one’s race is associated with racism. Whites (and American institutions) must acknowledge historical racism to show themselves redeemed of it, but once they acknowledge it, they lose moral authority over everything having to do with race, equality, social justice, poverty, and so on. They step into a void of vulnerability. The authority they lose transfers to the “victims” of historical racism and becomes their great power in society. This is why white guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power. (Steele, Shelby, White Guilt [Kindle Locations 370-374]. HarperCollins; emphasis mine.)
It wasn’t physical cowardice that drove the Dartmouth decision — it was moral emptiness. The school’s administrators have been steeped for decades in white guilt. That is the new original sin in America. Moreover, there is no Christ the Redeemer to save the individuals burdened by the knowledge that their melanin-free DNA means that they are marked from conception by this original sin. Each of them is responsible for a never-ending cycle of guilt, remorse, and self-abnegation, with no possibility of redemption in sight.
So no, they’re not that chicken at Dartmouth; they’re that morally empty, unable to stand for anything as it relates to who and what they are — or all the great good their fore-bearers — have done for the world. All that they can do is crouch down in a perpetual mea culpa, acceding to even the most outrageous demands in an effort to excuse their very existence.