I’m with these guys

Love what these two Black college professors had to say about recent campus protests in similar and similarly compelling op-eds this past week.  First Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy in response to someone placing black tape over photos of Harvard Law’s Black faculty:

Questioners often seem to assume that I should feel deeply alarmed and hurt. I don’t.

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined. Perhaps the defacer is part of the law school community. But maybe not. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis, or was a rebuke to those who have recently been taping over the law school’s seal, which memorializes a family of slaveholders from colonial times. Some observers, bristling with certainty, insist that the message conveyed by the taping of the photographs is obvious. To me it is puzzling.

Assuming that it was a racist gesture, there is a need to calibrate carefully its significance. On a campus containing thousands of students, faculty members and staff, one should not be surprised or unglued by an instance or even a number of instances of racism. The question is whether those episodes are characteristic or outliers. Substantial numbers of onlookers believe that this episode is by no means isolated, that it offers a revealing glimpse into the soul of Harvard Law School…

While some of these complaints have a ring of validity, several are dubious. A decision by a professor to focus on a seemingly dry, technical issue rather than a more accessible, volatile subject involving race might well reflect a justifiable pedagogical strategy. Opposition to racial affirmative action can stem from a wide range of sources other than prejudice. Racism and its kindred pathologies are already big foes; there is no sustained payoff in exaggerating their presence, thus making them more formidable than they actually are.

Disturbing, too, is a related tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults. Some activists seem to have learned that invoking the rhetoric of trauma is an effective way of hooking into the consciences of solicitous authorities. Perhaps it is useful for purposes of eliciting certain short-term gains.

In the long run, though, reformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization. A colleague of mine whose portrait was taped over exhibited the right spirit when he jauntily declared that it would take far more than tape to slow him down.

And Columbia University Linguist, John McWhorter in the WSJ:

Of course, it was part of a racist America, and so I encountered discrimination here and there. The girl at the open-mic night who opened with “What do you call 150 black people at the bottom of the ocean? A good start!” The German teacher who told me I was in the wrong class the second I walked in and openly despised me for the rest of the semester. The frat boys yelling “Zebra!” as I passed with a white girl I dated.

But I was too busy with the other 99.7% of my life to really focus on such things—maybe being an introverted geek was part of it? Under the current campus Zeitgeist, I was nevertheless behind the curve. The new idea is that even occasionally stubbing your toe on racism renders a university a grievously “unsafe space” and justifies students calling for the ouster of a lecturer who calls for reasoned discussion (Yale) and even of a dean stepping down in shame for an awkwardly worded email (Claremont McKenna)…

However, something is off about today’s student protests. The protesters may start with valuable observations, but then they drift into a mistaken idea of what a university—and even a society—should be.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the now-standard demand that all members of the university community attend a new battery of tutoring on the nature and power of racism. The demand at Yale is for “mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff,” plus orientation programs that “explore diversity and inclusion.” The University of Missouri protesters want a “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments and units, faculty, staff, and administration.”

The problem is that the university campus is already one of the most exquisitely racially sensitized contexts a human being will ever encounter in America—a place where, for example, comedians such as Chris Rock have stopped performing because audiences are so P.C. In what way exactly will further workshops, teach-ins and classes on “racial sensitivity” create real change? Many students have already gone through these types of programs (as I mentioned in a short piece I wrote for the European edition of Politico last week), but the call for more of them suggests their insufficiency in the eyes of the protesters…

For example, current ideological fashions call for telling whites to “acknowledge” their “privilege.” This paradigm has no place in a university environment: It assumes a truth at the outset and allows no room for genuine exploration. (“It’s Not About You!” is a common mantra.) Another central part of the New Indoctrination is the battle against “microaggressions.” An advanced society benefits from understanding that racism isn’t always blunt or overt and that “little things” can hurt. However, too often, the definition of microaggressions is so broad as to condemn almost anything a white person says or does. It is forbidden to associate someone’s color with any particular trait because it is stereotyping, but then it is also forbidden to say that one doesn’t see color at all—and to question a person of color’s claim of being discriminated against. What begins as a plea for compassion becomes a kind of bullying.

These protesters appear to miss how Orwellian their terms often sound; the enraged indoctrination sounds like something out of “1984,” not enlightenment.

Good stuff.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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