"Sometimes, our self-deception can be downright funny. Two weekends ago, the New York Times profiled a group of fancy private schools in New York City where wealthy, white and privileged students learn that they are…wealthy, white and privileged. There’s even an annual 'White Privilege Conference,' which is being held this year at Dalton School (tuition: $41,350). More and more private schools, according to the Times, 'select students to attend' that conference. These students are so select (and these schools so selective) that they have to be selected to attend a conference on their selectedness.
"You’d think that if the parents
and teachers of these masters of the universe were truly concerned about
racial and class privilege they’d simply abolish private schools. Or
lobby for better state and federal laws, and more liberal courts, to
reintegrate the public schools: after all, in 1988,
even after two terms of Ronald Reagan, even after two decades of a
Republican near-monopoly on the White House, racial integration was at
an all-time high. That’s how strong the laws and court orders were.
schools could organize workshops to teach students how to lead a mass
movement that would divest private schools of federal tax benefits, such
as the Coverdell Education Savings Account, or state-level tax benefits, which are even more generous to the wealthy.
"The advantages of such a movement would be many. Students would learn,
firsthand, that race or race privilege is indeed constructed—a term
often bandied about but not always understood—not merely by words and
symbols but by laws, taxes, wealth and institutions. In confronting the
defenders of these privileges, which might include their parents,
teachers, principals and even themselves, students would see, in a
concrete way, just how invested people can be in their privilege. And,
who knows, they might even win.
"But that, of course, is what private school leaders don’t want. They
want a conversation, not a confrontation, about privilege. They want to
change words, not worlds. So why talk about privilege at all? Because
privilege talk is good for business.
"There’s actually an industry
of privilege consultants who sell their services to schools like Dalton,
Spence and Collegiate. According to one of these consultants, school
administrators realize that 'raising students to live in a bubble—a
white bubble, a black bubble, a Latino bubble, whatever type of bubble
you want to call it—is not to your benefit in a global society.' And 'anti-racist thinking,' adds the Times, 'is a 21st-century skill.'
society, 21st-century skills: These are buzzwords for the international
capitalism the students of these schools are being trained to lead. Far
from being educated to dismantle privilege, they’re being schooled to
perpetuate and preside over it.
"Education is the quintessential
American hustle. Schoolmen and con men have one thing in common: They
both believe they can talk their way out of anything. But the reason our
schools are unequal is that our society is unequal. And no amount of
privilege talk is going to change that." - Corey Robin