Cathy Young wrote a great post at Arc Digital about the Othello outrage at the University of Michigan. John McWhorter followed it up with a post of his own at the New York Times. Both took the complaint of the students outraged by Sir Laurence Olivier in blackface seriously, and put in a good deal of effort to explain why it should not have generated the outrage it did.
When I wrote about the “incident,” I took a somewhat different tack. It wasn’t real. It was a manufactured outrage, a non-event that students who are finely attuned to reasons to see outrage saw outrage and acted upon it.
Was Sammy Sussman really traumatized by seeing, without a trigger warning, Olivier playing Othello? Sure, he knew he was supposed to be because the rules are that no one is allowed to be in blackface and no one should be subjected to the vision of someone being in blackface, but those are just the rules.
They know that they’re supposed to be outraged when the rules are violated. And so they are. But are they, in fact, triggered? Traumatized? As Ruth Marcus wrote with regard to the Yale Law School goofiness that followed, “Sorry, but if you’re triggered by the Federalist Society, you don’t belong on a law school campus.”
Both Cathy and McWhorter took the blackface issue very seriously, and discussed at some length why it either was not the issue it was turned into or produced more outrage than it was worth. Marcus raises the “thin skull” problem, and uses examples from both right and left to show how crazy it has become.
At Stanford Law School earlier this year, a graduating student was at risk of losing his diploma after circulating a mock announcement: “The Stanford Federalist Society presents: The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.”
Some Federalist Society crybabies then filed a complaint about the invite’s author with the university’s Office of Community Standards for attributing “false and defamatory beliefs to persons he listed on the event flier.” The investigation was dropped, but the whole episode was pretty rich, given conservatives’ complaints about liberal cancel culture.
While the unduly passionate from both sides of the spectrum will point fingers at each other while fabricating the most inane (and unpersuasive) excuses to defend their tribe, Marcus touches on the adult question.
It’s how to deal with a grievance culture in which every slight, real or perceived, is greeted with outsize demands for disciplinary consequences. There is — or should be — a distinction between sophomoric provocation and outright racism.
There is racism. Real racism. But making up outrages out of nothing ain’t it. At what point do the grownups stop taking every childish grievance seriously? Whether the adults are admins at a law school, like associate Yale law dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik who threatened the trap house kid that he would never see admission to the bar if he didn’t make an “acceptable” apology for the “harm” he caused or writers like Cathy Young or John McWhorter?
These are certainly grievances, but they are not real. No one was harmed. No one was traumatized. Those who say they were are lying liars who lie because we’re at a stage in our wokieness where anyone can lie about anything and everyone else is required to take whatever lie they tell seriously. But we all know it’s a lie. Or they are so mentally ill that they should not be allowed to walk in public, in which case they should get treatment and we can feel empathy for their illness, but not take their grievances seriously because they are not, they never were, serious.
You may not like it when the people in charge of dorms at Harvard are called housemasters, but the complaint has nothing to do with anyone who is not severely ill feeling unsafe. Rather than ping pong between explanations as to why a grievance is serious but misguided or the demand for public execution too severe, it’s time for the grownups to stop enabling childishness by taking their make-believe world seriously.
They don’t need puppies and Play-Doh. They need to be told to stand in the corner and be ashamed of themselves for lying about how their feelings were hurt and they were traumatized by someone mispronouncing their name. That’s not on the children, but the adults who take them seriously.