September 18, 2020 - 3:00pm

In one of the few feel-good stories in a grim year, news that the US Department of Education is investigating Princeton University after its president declared that racism was “embedded” at the institution.

The Washington Examiner reports that President Christopher Eisgruber published an open letter earlier this month claiming that “racism and the damage it does to people of color persist at Princeton” and that “racist assumptions” are “embedded in structures of the University itself”:

According to a letter the Department of Education sent to Princeton, such an admission from Eisgruber raises concerns that Princeton has been receiving tens of millions of dollars of federal funds in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

It’s funny, of course, because it means that either the elite university loses millions of dollars because of its racism, or it admits that its self-declaration of racial bias was no more than an empty gesture, or at best a profession of faith.

There is a form of survivorship bias in which, the more you hear about corruption or human rights abuses in a country, the less widespread the problems are likely to be; so, for example, we hear a lot about bad things done by Israel because it is a relatively free country and reporters are allowed to wander around. Far worse horror happens elsewhere in the region but you don’t get to hear much about it.

Likewise with racism in the US, and especially Blue State America; we hear endlessly about it because, compared to most of the world the United States is unusually anti-racist: certainly compared to China, India, the Arab world, eastern Europe and even much of western Europe. The president of a truly racist university in an actually racist society wouldn’t be interested in taking part in declaring the organisation’s racism or any other variation of the racial struggle session.

(Elite universities do racially discriminate, of course, against east Asians, but when Americans say racism, they tend to mean anti-black racism.)

It would be more accurate to say that anti-racism is embedded at Princeton and other elite universities. Anti-racism is a sort of quasi-religious ideology found almost exclusively in the English-speaking world, and one based on Christian notions of guilt, except with the guilt transferred from the individual to the group. Which is partly why it is so popular with elites, a cynic might argue.

It is a virtue, but a virtue gone mad, as Chesterton would have put it, and as with all powerful faiths, many of its adherents are disingenuous and don’t believe it when they cry mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Still, if this investigation does go ahead, we’ll at least get to see how serious Princeton really are about racism, or if it’s just the usual upper-class white narcissism and the need to justify one’s privileged place in society with a declaration of moral self-worth.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable