Is it Okay to Be White?

Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary, Culture Wars

Last Hallowe’en night a costumed person was seen tacking up posters at the University of Manitoba. The posters said “It’s Okay To Be White”. This strange occurrence was uniformly denounced by the university administration and various student associations who claimed that it was the organized work of white supremacists. The administrators also claimed that these racists had deliberately targeted an Indigenous students’ organization by sending copies of the posters to their office. In fact, so seriously has the university administration taken this incident that they called in the police to conduct an investigation into a possible hate crime. If the administration’s claims are true, and this was the organized work of racists or white supremacists the administrators’ actions make sense.

But maybe the administration should not have been so quick to denounce the action as the work of an organization of racists and whites supremacists. Because a person claiming responsibility for the posters – calling himself “Martin Luther” – sent an articulate and distinctly non-racist email to them claiming full responsibility for the posters, and explaining exactly why he felt compelled to put up them up.

In the first place, he said he is not part of any organization at all. He acted alone. He also stated that he did not send posters to any office (and the administration has since acknowledged that they were wrong on this point). But most importantly, it becomes crystal clear from a reading of his letter that this person is not a racist or white supremacist by any stretch of the imagination. Here is one of the things he said:

“I am the person who put up the ‘it’s okay to be white’ flyers at the U of M…They were posted in protest of racially discriminatory ideology that is taught at the University of Manitoba that targets white individuals”.

The letter goes on to describe the atmosphere of racism pervading the university atmosphere whereby students are taught that it is not okay to be white. The university, like many others now, has admission biases based on race, and also hiring biases based on race.

Admitting students and hiring academics on the basis of race is a misguided and decidedly racist policy that may be finally brought to an end in the United States. Harvard University is being sued by Asian-American students who claim that the enrolment preferences given to African and Spanish Americans discriminates against Asian people. Asians are denied spots that should be theirs on merit, while these spots are taken by less qualified people. If their lawsuit is successful, the entire affirmative action apparatus in the United States will be shaken to the core. School enrolment based on racial and ethnic considerations would be replaced by enrolment on merit alone. Hiring based on racial factors – that is, quotas and preferential hiring – would also quickly become a thing of the past.

Their case is apparently strong, and given the recent changes to the U.S. Supreme Court they have a good chance of success. In fact, The Department of Justice has intervened on behalf of the students. They will use studies and reports showing how racial quotas and racial hiring preferences hurt the very people they are supposed to be helping.

Thomas Sowell, noted African-American author, argues persuasively that university enrolment on racial lines has been a disaster for the country. For instance, students admitted for reasons of race often crash and burn, where they would have done well at a less demanding institution. This is a shattering experience for the student, and takes a spot away from a more qualified student in the process. This does no one any good.

Hiring by race or ethnic considerations has a similarly dismal outcome. Hiring less qualified people instead of hiring on merit lowers standards and quality while depriving better qualified applicants of their chance to succeed. The fact is that neither preferential enrolment or preferential hiring work. Proof of this statement can be found at the University of Manitoba, which is now at the bottom of almost every category on university measurement scales.

So it is quite possible that both preferential university admission and hiring based on race or ethnic origin will be phased out in the United States and replaced with enrolment and hiring based on merit.

But in Canada preferential admission and hiring are still being blindly and enthusiastically accepted as the norm at our universities. I have no doubt that Asian, and other students, are being discriminated against in Canada for the same reason that applies to the south of us. Spots they should be entitled to on merit are given to others based on racial and ethnic factors alone. Canadian universities openly recruit on racial lines – using the racist term “Indigenization” – for academics, simply based on an applicant’s self-identification and purported DNA. This is wrong for a whole host of reasons. In the first place, it means that you don’t necessarily get the best person for the job. Better qualified applicants who are not of the preferred group may be sidelined, while weaker applicants get the job. This weakens the discipline, and saps morale. But it also does nothing to meet its expressed goal of moving marginalized people forward. It simply replaces one middle class person with another less qualified middle class person.

Finally, fixating on a person’s race or ethnic origin is not what this country is all about. Multiculturalism means that people can celebrate their diversity, not become fixated on it. In the end, our race and ethnicity is just a part of who we are. University admission, as well as hiring, should be based primarily on merit.

So perhaps the university administrators should have responded to the posters by putting up posters of their own. They would say: “It’s Okay To Be Any Colour”.