Byron York writes about …
‘WHITENESS’ AND THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & CULTURE. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue in Washington, is the newest — opened 2016 — and one of the most successful in the Smithsonian system.
It has a lot of money — $33 million in federal government funding in fiscal 2019. It receives tens of millions more from some of the biggest names in American business and philanthropy: the Lilly Endowment, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, American Express, Bank of America, 3M, Boeing, Michael Jordan, Kaiser Permanente, the Rockefeller Foundation, Target, UnitedHealth, Walmart, and many more.
Some of the museum’s most popular exhibits include the Emancipation Proclamation, a passenger railroad car from the segregation era, an Emmett Till memorial, show business artifacts like Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and Oprah Winfrey’s set, and much more.
It is perhaps less well known, but the Museum also seeks to educate the public on “whiteness.” Its website features a long section on “whiteness,” including a video by Robin DiAngelo, author of the bestseller White Fragility. It also features a chart, “Aspects & Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the United States.”
The chart endeavors to list “the ways white people and their traditions, attitudes and ways of life have been normalized over time and are now considered standard practices in the United States.” Among those traditions, attitudes, and ways of life are: Individualism, hard work, objectivity, the nuclear family, a belief in progress, a written tradition, politeness, the justice system, respect for authority, delayed gratification and planning for the future, plus much more.
What to make of the list? Most of the attributes listed seem to be a recipe for success for anyone. Certainly millions of black Americans work hard every day, respect individual effort, plan for the future, are polite to others, and so on. It seems odd to attribute that to “whiteness,” as opposed to, say, the everyday values of trying to lead a successful life. Yet according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “whiteness” it is.
The list is credited to a diversity consultant named Judith H. Katz, who has written about race for many years. In the late 1970s, she wrote White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training. She later wrote Inclusion Breakthrough: Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity. (In the 1990s, the Boston Herald called her a “diversity doyenne.”) Today, the company where she is a top executive, Kaleel Jamison Consulting, counts among its clients FedEx, Merck, Toyota, and several others.
I tweeted the museum’s “whiteness” chart on Wednesday. It got a lot of reaction. The most common was that the attributes the chart listed — individualism, hard work, etc. — are universal values that can help anyone lead a better and more fulfilling life. Many were surprised to see a prestigious, taxpayer- and business-funded institution like the National Museum of African American History & Culture label those attributes the product of “whiteness” — effectively giving its imprimatur to business consultant-speak that many Americans find baffling and even offensive.
To suggest that hard work is something only whites do is racist beyond words — the very definition of George W. Bush’s phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Other than possibly the second and third bullet points of “Family Structure” (because everyone knows that wives run families, whether or not anyone wants to admit it, and there are many families where the wife makes more than the husband — for instance, nearly every man who works in journalism), that chart applies, and should apply, to everyone.
Admittedly it’s easier to be biased against someone who by visual evidence isn’t like you. But an argument like this, that the proven recipe for success in this culture, is just a race thing, will be as effective in changing minds as claiming that all whiteys are racist.
A corollary comes from the non-conservative Brookings Institution:
Policy aimed at promoting economic opportunity for poor children must be framed within three stark realities. First, many poor children come from families that do not give them the kind of support that middle-class children get from their families. Second, as a result, these children enter kindergarten far behind their more advantaged peers and, on average, never catch up and even fall further behind. Third, in addition to the education deficit, poor children are more likely to make bad decisions that lead them to drop out of school, become teen parents, join gangs and break the law.
In addition to the thousands of local and national programs that aim to help young people avoid these life-altering problems, we should figure out more ways to convince young people that their decisions will greatly influence whether they avoid poverty and enter the middle class. Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.
Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year). There are surely influences other than these principles at play, but following them guides a young adult away from poverty and toward the middle class.
Of course, some idiot thinks that’s racist too.