Given the hard Left impetus behind events at Yale and the University of Missouri, it seems ironically appropriate to echo Karl Marx’s observation that, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Donning the mantle of 1960s Civil Rights protesters, students at both universities have brought to their knees the administrations at the respective schools. But while the 1960s protesters had legitimate grievances about the way in which American blacks were denied their civil rights, today’s thin-skinned protesters are screaming about microaggressions and hurt feelings.
At Yale, the farce began before Halloween, when Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee thought it could head off the usual complaints about costumes that constitute impermissible microaggressions and “cultural appropriation” if it sent the students a reminder to choose their costumes with care. After some cozy commentary about the upcoming holiday season, the email got down to business:
However, Halloween is also unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most Yale students can sometimes be forgotten and some poor decisions can be made including wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface. These same issues and examples of cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation are increasingly surfacing with representations of Asians and Latinos.
The culturally unaware or insensitive choices made by some members of our community in the past, have not just been directed toward a cultural group, but have impacted religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc. In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact…
Having established its culturally sensitive bona fides, the Committee created a checklist to help students avoid “wrong-thinking” Halloween costumes:
So, if you are planning to dress-up for Halloween, or will be attending any social gatherings planned for the weekend, please ask yourself these questions before deciding upon your costume choice:
• Wearing a funny costume? Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, human traits or cultures?
• Wearing a historical costume? If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?
• Wearing a ‘cultural’ costume? Does this costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?
• Wearing a ‘religious’ costume? Does this costume mock or belittle someone’s deeply held faith tradition?
• Could someone take offense with your costume and why?
Keep in mind that the above list, suitable for an elementary school class, was sent to a group that purports to represent America’s best and brightest . . . God help us all.
At least one member of Yale’s faculty was troubled by the email’s mixture of hypersensitivity and condescension. Erika Christakis, a faculty member who lectures on early childhood education, an administrator at a student residence, and the wife of Professor Nicholas Christakis, also of Yale, wrote a tactfully phrased response suggesting that Yale students who went ballistic about Halloween costumes might want to check their sensitivity at the door lest they be indistinguishable from pre-schoolers:
Nicholas and I have heard from a number of students who were frustrated by the mass email sent to the student body about appropriate Halloween-wear. I’ve always found Halloween an interesting embodiment of more general adult worries about young people. As some of you may be aware, I teach a class on “The Concept of the Problem Child,” and I was speaking with some of my students yesterday about the ways in which Halloween – traditionally a day of subversion for children and young people – is also an occasion for adults to exert their control.
I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.
It seems to me that we can have this discussion of costumes on many levels: we can talk about complex issues of identify, free speech, cultural appropriation, and virtue “signalling.” But I wanted to share my thoughts with you from a totally different angle, as an educator concerned with the developmental stages of childhood and young adulthood.
As a former preschool teacher, for example, it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it. I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.
Normal people, reading Ms. Christakis’s polite email, would be nodding their head in agreement and wondering what the heck was going on at Yale. But too many Yale students, marinated in the victim culture that defines early 21st century education directed at minorities and their non-minority enablers, are not normal. They went on a rampage, that ended with one hysterically Yalie imprinting herself forever on the popular consciousness with a screaming, incoherent rant about her feelings that was captured forever on video:
Yale’s president, rather than defending free speech and the toughness necessary to survive and thrive in a healthy marketplace of ideas, instead collapsed completely, issuing a groveling apology in the New York Times because of his lack of sensitivity.
Things were no better at the University of Missouri. There, the all-important football team went on strike because the President had failed to show insufficient anger in the face of racial slurs crudely daubed around the campus. (Incidentally, there is beginning to be some quite valid speculation that the slurs were, as so many in the past have been, a hoax.) The charge that the President showed insufficient emotion is reminiscent of nothing so much as the tears North Koreans shed when Kim Jong Il died — not necessarily because they were sad to see a tyrant go, but because the failure to mourn with enthusiasm could result in a one-way trip to a concentration camp:
As it was, although they were spared internment, Missouri’s president and chancellor both got a one way trip off campus.
What’s striking about the events at both Yale and Missouri is that they sounded so familiar. Those of us alive in the 1960s remember well the Free Speech Movement that exploded at the University of California at Berkeley, a student-led movement that lent fire to those protesting both racism and the Vietnam War. While the Vietnam War protest are not relevant here (with war protests vanishing the moment Barack Obama, rather than George Bush, led the charge), the racism protests are very relevant.
In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which responded to the fact that, since the Civil War ended, blacks in America had been systematically deprived of their civil rights. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, Americans had been galvanized by TV images show blacks lynched, beaten, attacked with dogs, and sprayed with hoses, all in the service of a dignified protest against the tyranny the government wielded against them.
By the time the student activists got hold of the civil rights issue, it was in the process of being transformed from a matter of human equality into the aggressive “black power” movement, complete with Black Panthers lending a dangerous martial edge to the whole thing. Black students and their white supporters descended upon college administrative offices and demanded that they give restitution for the indignities blacks had suffered for so many years in America and, especially, at many of America’s educational institutions.
America’s college administrators, good liberals all, knew that American blacks had been treated shamefully. With this knowledge, they were unable to claim any moral authority when the protesters tracked them to their lush offices and refused to leave. Conservative author Shelby Steele, in White Guilt, describes what happened at the University of Iowa, where he was a student:
I know two things about Dr. McCabe that help explain his transformation before our eyes into a modern college president: he was a man of considerable integrity, and he did not deny or minimize the injustice of racism. He had personally contributed money to Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference when this was not typical of college presidents. Thus, on some level—and in a way that may have caught him by surprise—he would have known that behind our outrageous behavior was a far greater American outrage.
And in this intransigent piece of knowledge was the very essence of what I have called white guilt. Dr. McCabe simply came to a place where his own knowledge of American racism—knowledge his personal integrity prevented him from denying—opened a vacuum of moral authority within him. He was not suddenly stricken with pangs of guilt over American racism. He simply found himself without the moral authority to reprimand us for our disruptive behavior. He knew that we had a point, that our behavior was in some way connected to centuries of indisputable injustice. So he was trumped by his knowledge of this, not by his remorse over it, though he may have felt such remorse. Our outrage at racism simply had far greater moral authority than his outrage over our breach of decorum. And had he actually risen to challenge us, I was prepared to say that we would worry about our behavior when he and the college started worrying about the racism we encountered everywhere, including on his campus.
And this is when I first really saw white guilt in action. Now I know it to be something very specific: the vacuum of moral authority that comes from simply knowing that one’s race is associated with racism. Whites (and American institutions) must acknowledge historical racism to show themselves redeemed of it, but once they acknowledge it, they lose moral authority over everything having to do with race, equality, social justice, poverty, and so on. They step into a void of vulnerability. The authority they lose transfers to the “victims” of historical racism and becomes their great power in society. This is why white guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power. (Steele, Shelby, White Guilt [Kindle Locations 370-374]. HarperCollins; emphasis mine.)
Of course, as is invariably the case when 21st century Leftists act out mid-20th century grievances, the current version is a meaningless copy of the original. Back in the 1960s, there really was pervasive racism across large parts of America. What’s going on at Yale and the University of Missouri, however, is Kabuki theater. Both on campus and off, Leftists are resurrecting that old white guilt to effect permanent changes in America’s institutions. They will destroy the police, who are often the only bulwark between blacks and their true enemy, namely, other blacks; take over, rather than merely share, America’s educational establishments; and ensure permanent Democrat dominance in America’s agencies and other administrative offices, which is where the real political power in our country now lies.
We are not reaping the bitter harvest of the first black slaves to arrive in America (replacing the Irish slaves who died too quickly). We are not seeing the result of the Constitution’s morally wrong decision to deny Southern blacks civil rights but, instead, to treat them as slaves so as to preserve the Union. Nor is this the fallout from the Civil War in which America spilled so much blood to preserve the Union without that fatal taint of slavery.
What we’re seeing instead is the bitter fruit of the somewhat righteous seeds planted during the 1960s. In the years since then, Leftists have completed co-opted the Civil Rights movement, perverting it from one aimed at giving all Americans equal rights under the law, and turning it instead into a cudgel by which to destroy America’s institutions and begin the Marxist revolution.
This is a bitter harvest indeed, and the fact that the administrators at America’s universities have no will to stand and fight doesn’t bode well for America.
It’s also apparent that the most obvious way to stop the college madness, which is for parents to stop sending their children to these insane asylums, will not work. As long as parents perceive a benefit to a college degree (and most studies do share that a college degree, no matter how ridiculous, increases a person’s earnings over his lifetime), America’s middle class parents will not stop sending their children institutions that have abandoned teaching and are simply cesspools of classroom Leftism and dorm room debauchery. Even soaring tuition and staggering debts will not deter them.
What will deter parents is for them to realize that a college degree in the misnamed “liberal” arts, rather than giving their children greater opportunities for employment will limit them. It’s therefore time for America’s employers to look at these shrill, hyper-sensitive, trigger-warning happy, illogical, weak, pathetic, hate-filled graduates and say “No.”
“No, we will not hire you. You university grads are useless in the work place. You have no initiative, no moral decency, no backbone, and you’re really irritating with your trigger warnings, political correctness, and self involvement.”
If enough employers refuse to hire these mewling brats, the air should finally go out of the grossly inflated higher education balloon.