“I’m not politically correct,” says the person who is racially, sexually and anatomically correct. The 1990s’ favorite straw man is back, possibly for real but definitely as something to fret about. For the last several days, Yale has been embroiled in debate over an email professor Erika Christakis wrote suggesting campus administrators not supervise students’ Halloween costumes. Students were outraged, calling for Christakis’s resignation and demanding that Nicholas Christakis, her husband, apologize. “You should not sleep at night,” one student shouted at him. “You’re disgusting.” It is pretty disgusting when a man refuses to apologize for his wife saying kids should get to wear what they want. This seems like another troubling indicator that today’s college students are less interested in free speech and more interested in enforcing a simplistic ethos of identity. But what if they’re not?
Halfway through this interview with Salon, critic of the Ivy League (and Ivy-League critic) Michael Deresiewicz discusses the way that our ostensibly meritocratic college admissions system serves to “launder privilege”:
Instead of saying, “You get to go because you’re born,” which is obviously unfair, we say, “You get to go because you have really great scores and grades and you’ve done a million extracurricular activities.” But the only way to get to that point is if you have rich parents. I mean, again, there are exceptions, but there are not a lot of exceptions.
Approximately 35,000 kids apply to Harvard each year, and 2,000 get in. When I was an SAT tutor, more kids submitted perfect scores to Yale than there were total admissions slots. As selective colleges become more selective, admissions become an arms race of adolescent achievement—one that demands more money than lower- and even middle-income families can afford. But we are invested in believing this system rewards merit, because the Ivies and so-called junior Ivies produce so many of our leaders.
I pretty much only know via books, but being persecuted appears to suck. Anne Frank, the dude in Invisible Man, every character in the field of postcolonial studies—the only good thing about these people’s situations is that they are fictional and we sympathize with them. The real lives and diaspora on which they are modeled offered no such comfort, in both cases pretty much by definition. Actual persecution is a drag, but imagined persecution—especially when it’s imagined by members of a comfortable majority—rules. You get none of the actual inconvenience of institutionalized prejudice, plus the benefits of victim status. Today is Friday, and our link section is chockablock with jerks who have convinced themselves that they are crushed under the heels of jerks. Won’t you manufacture a smug self-pity with me?