MY white male university students are beginning to realise exactly how much trouble they are in. It is not that they are unused to negativity. They grew up in a western culture which increasingly perceived them through a one-sided narrative about social justice and equality. White males, it was claimed, grabbed too big a share of the action across the system, and the process of correcting this would be regrettably disruptive. But not to worry: once the necessary systemic changes were made the bad vibes would subside, and everyone would be home again in time for tea. In the meantime the key thing was to stand back and not take it personally.
Terrible and disingenuous advice, as illustrated by recent events. Now the woke culture warriors are triumphant. Their radical goals and the accompanying Get Whitey misandry are no longer hidden, especially in the university social science departments which nurtured their ideology. I work in one of those departments and the ambience, for me as a conservative white man, is very personal indeed. For the moment I am consoled by the fact that the university pays me a salary. Students, contrastingly, are paying the university, and if of a certain gender and skin colour they are paying to be told how undesirable they are.
A mature student phoned me, voice cracking: ‘I’m not sure I can go on much longer if I’ve always got to hide my opinions . . .’ I encouraged him to persevere. Apart from anything else he was a working-class white male, a demographic under-represented in academia and which genuinely needs support (an underprivileged group that, incidentally, is regarded with particular disdain by the academic ‘equity’ activists).
He knew before he called that I would sympathise, but talking was still risky. If our conversation got out we both could be targeted by the fabricated allegations of bigotry and extremism that await those who dissent. Other students, unsurprisingly, are reluctant to complain, however discreetly.
In group discussions this demoralisation, even with my attempts to encourage debate, becomes ludicrously apparent. For many students, appeasement remains a tactic despite the abundant evidence of its failure. They stay silent when under attack. Or they try to pre-empt criticism through ironic self-disparagement: ‘I know I’m just a white male but . . .’
Some timorously address the issues with words such as: ‘I understand your argument about privilege, yet many white men are not particularly privileged.’ They politely use terms like ‘political correctness’ as if such locutions could possibly capture the maliciousness of what is under way. A few, laudably enough, draw upon relevant theory: ‘What you say about gender and race is interesting,’ one such student argued, ‘but other approaches, like methodological individualism, emphasise collective identity much less.’
All such considerations are mere piffle to the tutor and student identity warriors. Their viewpoint, penetrating classrooms across the university, distrusts nuance and context. Tolerance of diverse perspectives gets boilerplate recognition in official paperwork, but is regarded as inherently unpalatable in practice, a dastardly avoidance of the issues. Life is about oppressors and oppressed. And no doubt is allowed about which category white men (with various exemptions for gays and self-hating fellow travellers) fall into.
Objectivity and the vigorous exchange of ideas are therefore regarded as anachronistic impediments to the woke cultural putsch that must be imposed. Even the grading system has been thoroughly corrupted. Some tutors openly, and others covertly, downgrade students whose essays cite too many white male authors. I know an undergraduate who thereby failed to get the first-class degree that he deserved. He will not be the only one to suffer in this way.
I wish I could report that the aforementioned students are rebelling against the venom that pursues them. They have little to lose. They know that their prospects, in a western world which has grown weirdly stupid, are being severely damaged. Yet they cannot see a way forward when establishment figures (who inevitably protect their own progeny) will not openly support them. So instead they are fatalistic, adjusting, step by step, to their underclass status.
Perhaps I am too pessimistic and the young men I know are untypical, and in universities unfamiliar to me white male students are preparing to organise against the fate visited upon them. But if such resistance is burgeoning it needs to show itself very soon.
Recently I chatted with the mature student again. ‘I’ve come to terms with it all,’ he sighed. ‘The world has changed and I had better get on with life.’ He then announced that his new academic interest would be suitably conformist: climate change. At least he did not say gender studies.