Visiting prawf at Gonzaga, Jeffrey Omari, told the story, so unsurprisingly makes himself its hero. Or in context, the victim.
As the student walked to his usual seat in the seminar, which was directly in my line of vision, the message on his flaming red hat was unmistakable: “MAGA,” or “Make American Great Again.”
A black law prof in a mostly white school. What could it mean?
From my (progressive) perspective as a black man living in the increasingly polarized political climate that is America, MAGA is an undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups.
To his credit, Omari acknowledges that this comes from his perspective, although his choice of word, “undeniable,” basically challenges anyone to deny it, and challenges anyone denying a black man’s perspective to assume the mantle of racist for doing so.
At Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman parses Omari’s tale of strength in the face of victimhood.
Regardless of anything that happened the previous weeks of the class, regardless of the student’s overall performance and behavior, donning that hat, without more, rendered this person an “insensitive student” who “defiantly undermined” this professor.
Notably, Omari’s outing his student as at best oblivious, and at worst, racist, might do little to those of us who don’t attend Gonzaga, but likely pinpoints his target to those who do.
In the comments, prawf Marty Lederman offers a defense of Omari’s victimhood.
I sense, however, that you think his presumption (viz., that the student “was directing a hateful message toward me”) was incorrect and unreasonable.
OK, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right about that (although I think we don’t know enough about the student and the class to be confident about it). In that case, by Omari’s account, the student would merely have been “oblivious to how his hat might be interpreted by his black law professor”–namely, as “an undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups,” reflecting “an effort to return to a time in American history when this country was ‘great’ for some—particularly, propertied white men—but brutally exclusionary for others, most notably women and people of color.”
If so, was it reasonable for Omari to see the MAGA hat as such a symbol, given its common usage in the past few years? And, more to the point, was his student being at least insensitive, or “oblivious,” to the fact that his African-American teacher would likely view it as such?
There have been many instances involving MAGA hats raising this issue. There was the case of Edith Macias, stealing a MAGA hat from a fellow student’s head. There was the image of the Covington Catholic student smirking from beneath his MAGA hat. Is it unfair to say that to some, the MAGA hat is the “undeniable” symbol of racism and hatred roughly equivalent to a swastika or a confederate flag?
If that’s how it’s perceived by minorities and/or progressives, how can it not be an “undeniable” wrong to wear a MAGA hat, flaunt the message of racism received, whether or not intended, when the wearer knows, or should know, that it “undeniably” offends the eyes, the mind, the heart, of others?
The message of the hat isn’t necessarily clear, much as the confederate battle flag on the top of an orange Challenger 01 was meant to reflect southern pride rather than confederate slavery. There is a reality that, despite dispute, is missed here, that roughly half a nation voted for, if not actually supported, Trump for president. There are certainly racists among them, but they are certainly not all racists, and yet they supported Trump. And to them, the MAGA hat reflects their political views, whatever they may be.
But they’re racist, you say? To you, sure. We’re at that peculiar political state where the sides are divided into the simplistic binary of good and evil, and belief is a matter of faith, absolute and unshakable. But just as there are Christians and Muslims, not to mention a smattering of Jews, their belief in the righteousness of their religion isn’t accepted as a particularly good reason for the good people of one to go out and destroy the religious symbolism of the other.
Omari’s “undeniable” belief that this MAGA hat was a symbol of racism isn’t the issue. He can believe anything he wants. After all, this is America. But that doesn’t mean that his belief, or Marty Lederman’s uncited and rather blithe claim that the MAGA hat’s “common usage in the past few years,” converts the hat into an overt symbol of racism.
To Omari, to Lederman, to progressives and allies and social justice warriors, this is surely the case. But to Trump supporters who don’t perceive themselves to be racist (although in the eyes of the offended, they almost certainly are, because everyone not progressive is a racist), it’s a reflection of their political support.
Do the Democrats get to dictate to the Republicans what they’re allowed to wear? Do the Republicans get to do so to the Democrats? Do the Muslims and Christians get to do so to each other? Ironically, one of the comments at Howard’s post raised an interesting analogy.
Imagine a Palestinian Professor saying that a student’s yarmulke was intrinsically a symbol of occupation, Jewish supremacy and racism.
The problem isn’t that Omari is wrong in his “undeniable” belief, but that his belief doesn’t dictate what is allowable by others or what others mean by the monumentally banal act of wearing a hat reflecting the political views of millions upon millions of perfectly nice Americans.
As the professor, one could fairly respond to Omari to grow up, suffer the indignities of his feelings and do his job without his self-serving snark and deep hurt at a hat. Or, if one is of the view that the person feeling most victimized gets to set the rules for his oppressors, shift the burden to student to meet Omari’s claim of legal professionalism by removing the trappings of his political sensitivities.
Who is responsible for Omari’s feelings? When did a hat become so powerful that it made grown men cry and write polemics, even if in the dulcet tones of the Academy? Which tribe feels their claim of victimhood entitles them to dictate to the other half a nation what they’re allowed to wear lest they’re insensitive, racist or both?