What Kristof Doesn’t Get About White Privilege



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The eminent New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, has written four pieces over the summer and fall regarding race relations.  He identifies a variety of statistics that once again demonstrate a white child is statistically more likely to succeed in America than a black child.  He then blames that result on “white privilege”.

This is the concept that whites have it so good in terms of resources: good schools; good lawyers: access to people of power; jobs; good parenting; and a variety of other advantages that whites are oblivious to the plight of black youth. Oblivious to an unjust war on drugs, failed racial justice policies, and despair. No matter how much they give to charities, how much they volunteer, how much they pay in taxes toward federal poverty programs, they are oblivious.

Given the amount of ink, television, and new media attention devoted to Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the relentless procession of killings of black children does that theory really pass what lawyers call “the straight face” test?

Except for the out and out racists, the “white” population is enormously frustrated that progress on race relations is so fraught after so much effort following the 1960s.  They are not oblivious, but rather keenly aware that five decades of federal intervention (busing, affirmative action, minority contracting, poverty programs) still allowed for a predominantly African-American community, Ferguson, governed and policed by whites.

Most “whites” one way or the other do “get it”.  What unites them in frustration is commentators purposely targeting them for shame when they too want a solution.  Tell me what the answer is? Beyond my own personal efforts, what are the policies measurable with real data that will heal this wound that dates from the founding of the republic?

Kristof is a proponent of data. Let me once again point out how selective and therefore frustrating Kristof can be.  And as a policy matter how dangerous this faux argument is for the poor.

As I have previously written Head Start, the federal program designed to deliver early childhood education to the poor, does not.  But Kristof refuses to accept the bipartisan study funded over three administrations, including presidents of both parties, that found Head Start failed to deliver effective early childhood education to the poor.

What that study and subsequent studies  do show is the unintended consequence of this massive federal program. It provides adequate part-time daycare.  Now I would argue that quality safe daycare that allows mothers to work or focus on their families is in itself a worthy goal.  But is it too much to ask that a federal program designed to deliver early childhood education, deliver it?

And worse talk about not “getting it”.  While Kristof may have sent his kids to local Head Start or equivalent programs in his overseas assignments, most politicians in Washington, D.C. appear to send their kids to elite privately funded childhood education programs. Programs that actually deliver early and lifelong advantages in reading and math.

Talk about separate but equal.

Every citizen regardless of race who cares about equality shares a disappointment about the lack of success versus investment in fifty years of racial justice and reconciliation.   I would argue a majority of “whites” are keenly aware of that failure, the differences in the communities, and share a desire for new effective ideas for racial justice. Many are frustrated with talk that wants to shame them as a racial group as a way of expanding failing federal programs.  Can you imagine the reaction to an article titled “when blacks just don’t get it.”  Yet it is somehow helpful and persuasive for Kristof to title his article “when whites just don’t get it.”

A huge part of the “white” reaction to Mr. Kristof’s columns is also really an argument for empowerment.  Register to vote, elect your prefered local candidate, and hold them accountable.  Do not wait on Mr. Kristof and the federal bureaucracy. Take control of your destiny. Because as Mr. Kristof so aptly demonstrates a certain section of the intelligentsia preaching equality and delivering poverty remains alive and well.


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