Thursday, November 12, 2015

the anti-mandingo: big enough to play football, but too sweet to bust a grape....,


theatlantic | Over the course of U.S. history, both the protections enshrined by the First Amendment and the larger ethos of free expression that pervades American culture have played a major role in every successful push that marginalized groups have made to secure civil rights, fight against prejudice, and move toward greater equality.

Despite that history, Jelani Cobb asserts in The New Yorker that to avoid discussions of racism, critical observers of student protests at Yale and the University of Missouri “invoke a separate principle, one with which few would disagree in the abstract—free speech, respectful participation in class—as the counterpoint to the violation of principles relating to civil rights.” The fact that race controversies “have now been subsumed in a debate over political correctness and free speech on campus—important but largely separate subjects—is proof of the self-serving deflection to which we should be accustomed at this point,” he declares.

Cobb calls these supposed diversions “victim-blaming with a software update,” and positing that they are somehow having the same effect as disparaging Trayvon Martin, he cites my article “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” as his prime example.

He writes as if unaware that millions of Americans believe the defense of free speech and the fight against racism to be complementary causes, and not at odds with each other. The false premises underpinning his analysis exacerbate a persistent, counterproductive gulf between the majority of those struggling against racism in the United States, who believe that First Amendment protections, rigorous public discourse, and efforts to educate empowered, resilient young people are the surest ways to a more just future, and a much smaller group that subscribes to a strain of thought most popular on college campuses.

Members of this latter group may be less opposed to speech restrictions; rely more heavily on stigma, call-outs, and norm-shaping in their efforts to combat racism; purport to target “institutional" and “systemic” racism, but often insist on the urgency of policing racism that is neither systemic nor institutional, like Halloween costume choices; focus to an unusual degree on getting validation from administrators and others in positions of authority; and often seem unaware or unconvinced that others can and do share their ends while objecting to some of their means, the less rigorous parts of their jargon, and campus status-signaling. For this reason, they spend a lot of time misrepresenting and stigmatizing allies.

Cobb misunderstands my motives, my body of work, and my article, which makes it doubly frustrating that he neglects to provide an outbound link to allow his readers to judge it for themselves. His erroneous assumptions render him less able to engage on this subject with millions who reject his ideology but are sympathetic to his concerns.

Let me underscore how erroneous his assumptions are. His article is premised on the notion that my piece on Yale and others like one I wrote a day later on Missouri are part of a “diversion,” an attempt to avoid talking about racism through deflection. “The fault line here,” he posits, “is between those who find intolerance objectionable and those who oppose intolerance of the intolerant.” Of course, it’s far more consistent to find intolerance objectionable across the board, and to speak out against it especially when its targets have historically faced discrimination.