Let’s Teach Students About Whites’ Genetic Inferiority

In a satirical essay, Spencer Piston proposes that we expose college students to an argument far outside the mainstream.

June 26, 2020
 
 

After white police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, many of my students contacted me to ask questions -- many of which were difficult for me to respond to. Here’s one: “Why do white people keep oppressing black people?” Here’s another: “Why are so many white people so racist?” Here’s a third: “Why do white people keep killing black people?”

It’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all response to such broad inquiries as these. So my approach is to ask students first to share with me how they would answer their own question, and then, to broaden their perspective, I share with them possibilities they have not considered.

When it comes to this question about white oppression, I have noticed a peculiar pattern. Although many students have thoughtful answers, not one student I have ever taught has brought up the possibility that white people are genetically inferior, and that white violence against black people is a function of this subnormal genetic inheritance.

My students’ blind spot is troubling. It’s also made me more sympathetic to recent criticisms about a lack of “viewpoint diversity” in institutions of higher education. These critics have argued that colleges only expose students to a narrow range of ideological perspectives, inhibiting their growth and development and also stifling the free exchange of ideas. In order to address this issue, I propose that we expose students to an argument far outside the mainstream: that white people are genetically deficient.

Here’s an example of what this argument might look like. Many professors report that their white students tend to struggle to understand the concept of structural racism, while their students of color tend to “get it” more easily. Might genetics help explain this white achievement gap?

Perhaps genetic limitations could also help us understand why many whites in rural areas such as Appalachia are poor, or why so many whites are addicted to opioids, or why whites disproportionately suffer from such diseases as autism and breast cancer. There are so many areas of white disadvantage to investigate!

Some people might say college professors shouldn’t teach such an argument to students, basing this argument on the fact that race is a social and political construction rather than a biological reality. To this I reply: I certainly do not endorse the claim that white people are genetically inferior. I’m just saying that white students should be exposed to this claim, in service of the noble goal of ideological diversity on campus.

If white students spend their whole lives in a bubble, only interacting with like-minded people, how will they even be able to process, let alone respond to, articles such as the one on the Fox News website with the headline “Whites Genetically Weaker Than Blacks, Study Finds”? Even if race has nothing to do with genetics in reality, don’t white students still need to be introduced to this perspective? Doesn’t critical thinking require white students to engage with arguments that make them feel uncomfortable?

My proposal is likely to prove controversial. Many white students, in particular, would probably react unfavorably to the claim that they are inherently flawed. Some might get emotional, feel “triggered” and even go so far as to express their views by protesting, which would have a chilling effect on free speech. We would have to encourage these white students to lighten up, to toughen up -- indeed, to grow up.

Or perhaps we could cushion the blow, reminding our white students that as of yet there is scant scientific evidence that white people are genetically inferior. We might tell them to consider other explanations for whites’ disadvantages: their cultural pathologies, for example.

I also recommend sending inspiring messages to our white students, telling them that they should not be defined by negative stereotypes about them. We could try to make sure our white students know that we have high standards for them -- that as their professors, we fully reject claims that they are biologically inferior. Furthermore, to avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” we should inform our white students in no uncertain terms that they are obligated to perform just as well in our classes as they would if they were students of color.

Another problem with my modest proposal is that once we begin teaching about white genetic inferiority, it might be hard to stop. A wide range of questions would arise: Does genetics help explain centuries of white violence beyond recent police killings -- from chattel slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples and colonization to mass shootings in the present day? Does genetics help explain whites’ historic and continued dependency on extracted and hoarded wealth?

Meanwhile, students of color would surround our faculty offices, clamoring for attention: “Please, don’t forget us -- we also deserve to be taught about our inferiority.” But I, for one, am not too worried. We already do a pretty good job of that.

Bio

Spencer Piston is assistant professor of political science at Boston University and the author of Class Attitudes in America (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

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