After reading the post at the conservative student newspaper, the Claremont Independent, and the letter sent to Claremont College president, David Oxtoby, the impression was that this was just another Wellesley College debacle, stupid children filled with an excess of passion and empty jargon, and just shy of a full complement of logic. But then I saw Walter Olson’s reply to a twit by some random fool.
Note the hashtag, #BlackIntellectualsMatter. She repeated this ad hominem again. Black intellectuals. While calling everyone who disagrees racist or sexist, whatever other -ists and -isms are in vogue that hour, has long been a substitute for the brutal difficulty of thought, the effectiveness had long since worn thin.
Once you’re labeled racist or misogynist, it loses its sting. As weapons go, name-calling isn’t very effective except to the person doing the calling, who believes they’ve scored a huge victory. Of course, this goes to one of the root problems, that they fail to grasp that their words are only meaningful to people who believe as they do. To others, it’s no different than screaming “your mother wears army boots.”
But the letter to Oxtoby was, well, a spectacle. As with the Wellesley editorial, it was both substantively nuts and very poorly written. It was, at best, gibberish.
Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.
Got that? More, you say?
Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–‘the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.
Who wants their abilities to exist in open spaces endangered, right? But here’s the new line of defense. Can a white male point out that this is incomprehensible gibberish, crafted by people who are, ahem, not exactly “intellectuals”? After all, as the random twitterer replied to Wally, these are “black intellectuals,” and therefore their writing, their demands, their entreaties must be taken seriously and treated with respect.
Wally refused to bite on the set-up, that this letter deserves no respect and would get none. But most people aren’t as bold. They wouldn’t refuse to be goaded into moderating reality for fear that they would go a step too far. How does one respond to the characterization of crap like this as the worthy words of black intellectuals? Are black intellectuals different from any other intellectuals? Are black intellectuals entitled to forsake rational thought, not to mention yeoman writing skills?
Not to belabor the point, but the Claremont letter includes the incredible demand:
We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds. Provided that the Claremont Independent releases the identity of students involved with this letter and such students begin to receive threats and hate mail, we demand that this institution and its constituents take legal action against members of the Claremont Independent involved with the editing and publication process as well as disciplinary action, such as expulsion on the grounds of endangering the wellbeing of others.
Yes, expel the racist heretics. Burn the witches. And get it done by the deadline.
[W]e invite you to respond to this email by Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 4:07pm (since we have more energy to expend on the frivolity of this institution and not Black lives).
I can’t even. But Brit Nick Cohen can, and does.
I cannot tell you how many good people they drive out of left-wing politics. They are sincere, they want to see change, then some pointy-nosed prig accuses them of siding with the enemy because they did not realise that words which were acceptable yesterday are unacceptable today. Electoral calculation ought to stop left-wingers allowing conservatives to own the inspiring idea of freedom of speech. If they could only see how they appear to others, they would understand that the people they are trying to convert tend to suspect those who would tell them what to say and how to say it. Many who should be open to radical arguments will turn away because they associate the Left with the silencing of contrary views and the imposition of orthodoxy.
Why are the deeply passionate so blind to the reaction of others who won’t swallow their tasty word salad?
Fighting it can feel almost impossible. When I argue for freedom of speech at student unions, I am greeted with incomprehension as much as outrage. It’s not only that they don’t believe in it, they don’t understand how anyone could believe in it unless they were a racist or rapist.
It’s not an affliction that affects people by skin color or genitalia, but by taste. And it’s impossible to cure if they can’t comprehend why anyone except a racist or rapist won’t dine on their word salad, which is now the only dish they serve at the Intellectual Cafe.