The effort to change the way New York City’s elite public high schools admit students provides us not only with a window into the progressive’s world view, but also with some insight as to the demands placed on our culture’s “oppressed” identity groups.

In modern social justice jargon, each identity group gets sorted into one of two categories: “oppressor” and “oppressed.” Someone relatively new to the woke world might presume that this is as simple as white males vs everyone else, or might take it one step beyond that and understand that there are different levels of “oppressed-ness,” that there’s a grievance hierarchy where different levels of “oppressed-ness” determine who gets to complain about who. But, of course, there’s more to consider.

It is undeniable that Asians in America have experienced a history of oppression and bigotry. From the sometimes-violent racism (and exploitation) in the Old West and gold-rush California, through the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, the internment of Japanese during World War II, the carry-over post-war bigotries (held in particular by Pacific Theater veterans and their circles), the economic and ethnic stereotyping in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and the formulation of the controversial “model minority myth,” there’s quite a bit in American history to categorize Asians (the term itself is an amalgamation created in the 1960s for political solidarity purposes, and replaced national identifications such as Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino) as an “oppressed” class.

It is also undeniable that Asians have, collectively, achieved success that often exceeds that of the “traditional” white oppressors. The Left’s backlash against Asian-American success is not only exhibited in the NYC high school initiative, it’s seen in the top echelons of academia, e.g. Harvard’s disparate admissions standards, where the SAT cutoff for Asians was 250 points higher than for blacks, latinos and Native Americans. Some assert (see the aforementioned model minority myth) that this success is born of the influx of immigrants who were already highly educated, but, frankly, this reeks of excuse-making as a defense for long-running (and failed) progressive polices.

As does the emergence of the term “whitening.” As the linked Atlantic article explains, some sociologists have posited that white society sometimes accepts and makes its own those it once deemed “non-white.” A century ago, that would have included Irish, southern Europeans, and Jews. No, wait. Make that just a few decades ago. I recall a friend who attended the Air Force Academy once relating to me how it was explained to him by another student there that, since he was Italian, he wasn’t “white.”

Such bigotries have faded over time, although I’m sure they still exist, but it is the subtext of the term “whitening” that is of more interest than the biases of a decreasing number of individuals.

Remember George Zimmerman, whose shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent trial sparked a national controversy? The liberal news coverage, led as it almost always is by the New York Times, chose to refer to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” Many concluded, correctly in my opinion, that the theretofore-uncommon turn of phrase was a deliberate attempt to portray a racist element in the shooting, and in more modern terminology, to cast Zimmerman as a member of the “oppressor” class rather than allowing the default categorization as “oppressed” by dint of his Hispanic lineage.

This same dynamic is at play in the “whitening of Asian Americans,” and it’s a subtext of the NYC elite high school controversy that the Mayor and his chancellor really don’t want to talk about.

What does it tell us about progressivism’s desire to help the oppressed and disadvantaged that those who achieve success and rise out of the ranks of disadvantage get “whitened,” i.e. added to the ranks of “oppressor?”

It tells us that they have a zero-sum view of success.

It tells us that they need the ranks of the oppressed to remain full.

It tells us that they want the oppressed to point fingers of blame at “whites,” whether they be of actual European heritage or merely “whitened” because of their success.

I’m also prompted to recall the derogatory term “Oreo,” applied by blacks to blacks who “act white” in various ways, including, per Urban Dictionary, “being (but not limited to), raised in an environment that’s NOT the projects, speaking proper english/very limited use of slang, having an eclectic taste in music, having a diverse group of friends, being well-educated, being legitimately employed, not abusing the welfare system, being well-mannered and civilized, saves money for college instead of bling and cheap grills, and wearing nice clothes that are not Roca Wear, Sean Jean, Baby Phat and so on.” Many of these are markers or results of a drive to succeed, but they are (it’s really disheartening to note) considered by many to be a betrayal of one’s black heritage, as if cultural conformity is a sufficient counterweight to aggressive, divisive and/or (self-) destructive behavior.

Why would such a term arise?

The message from the social justice influencers runs something like this:

  • Whites are oppressors, both historically and currently.
  • Successful people achieve their success via exploitation: whether it be of workers, of natural resources, of governmental force, or societal bigotry.
  • Historically, it has been minority groups who have been most exploited, and by simple math, whites who’ve achieved most of the success.

So, we have a conflation of “oppressor,” “success,” and “white.” If you can be assigned one of these labels, you get tagged with the other two.

And, therefore, being successful makes you no different from the white oppressors that we are told are the scourge of society.

Thus, the “whitening” insult. Thus, Asians and blacks who embrace behaviors more likely to produce success are denounced or denied fair treatment, by their peers and by the woker-than-thous who’ve taken it upon themselves to decide how things should be. Thus, assertions that wealth should be “redistributed” (itself an odious term, because it suggests it was “distributed” in the first place, rather than created by individuals’ efforts) from the successful to the “oppressed” and “victim” classes.

This parallels other common behaviors.

Consider the college students who want to earn big upon graduation, but don’t want to pursue a quality STEM or professional degree because it’s not fulfilling or socially important. They lament their six-figure debt, and deride those who went the mundane (and more difficult) but lucrative path because the latter don’t want to be taxed to death in order to absolve others’ student loans.

Consider the workers who want to be paid top dollar, but don’t feel they should put in top effort until they get that top dollar. Time and again, such folks fall back to their prior levels of effort even if they get what they want, and complain when they stagnate and their peers get promoted. Or, they resent their co-workers who put in greater effort, and undermine them and their efforts, even though doing so harms the companies that pay them.

Consider the focus that unions, especially public-sector unions, have on protecting and preserving the jobs of their worst performers. Why should it take two years (if all goes smoothly) to fire a lousy teacher in New York City’s public school system? What kind of message does it send to the good performers if slackers, malingerers, the ineffective and the “too risky to allow near children” continue to get paid and accrue pension benefits as they do?

Consider the Scandinavian Law of Jante. I know that many progressives in America extol what they call the Scandinavian model, even though what they propose for America is quite different from the reality of that model, but I expect they’d also love the glorification of conformity and mediocrity. It does fit in quite nicely with the aversion to and denigration of (others’) success (funny how they don’t mind it when they make piles of money). The Law of Jante parallels the Crab Mentality‘s “if I can’t have it, neither can you,” (recently discussed on this blog with regard to New York City’s public service travails) and the Tall Poppy Syndrome’s resentment and cutting-down of people with high status.

Contrast the common thread of all these examples – the vilification of another’s excellence – with the evidence that the Asian-American culture presses for and lauds success, to a degree even greater than the traditional Protestant work ethic. But, since it would be transparently racist for the social justice folks who only support the oppressed/disadvantaged/downtrodden as long as they stay oppressed to denounce the Asian-American community for its motivation to academic success, so they dance around it. The same holds true for the “oreo” epithet – they don’t want to denounce the message behind it, because it’s uncomfortably close to their own narrative.

The politics of today’s Left has become a pursuit of the least common denominator. Success is an invitation for resentment, a reduction of rank in the grievance hierarchy, a loss of champions and personal bureaucracies, reversal of past good will and positive treatment, and the painting of a “fleece me” target on one’s back. Success, since it reduces or eliminates one’s need for the white knights of the social justice movement, pisses those knights off, and turns them against you. And, since they collect all those who they consider their enemies into one lump of “other,” it no longer matters if you’ve got a highly intersectional list of grievances, unless you avow and atone for your “sin” of success in all the prescribed ways.

Remaining at the lowest socioeconomic levels of society in perpetuity, on the other hand, ensures continued victim status and an eternal march of champions on your behalf. Don’t you dare succeed. They’ll turn on you if you do.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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