This Monday, November 9th, the President of the University of Missouri resigned under intense pressure from student protests, student-athletes, and faculty. The massive protest, which included one student on a hunger strike, a small tent village, a change.org petition, and all “athletes of color” on the college’s football team going on strike, seems like a pretty big deal, or a rather large ruckus, wouldn’t it?
Certainly it was a pretty big deal to all those involved, including Marshall Allen, a member of the protest group Concerned Student 1950 (a reference to the first year black students were permitted to attend the college), as according to him: “This is just a beginning in dismantling systems of oppression in higher education, specifically the UM system.”
So what was the hullabaloo about?
On September 12, the President of the Missouri Students Association, Payton Head, posted on facebook about how he had been called a “Nigger” several times by some guys in a pickup truck. Later in October, members of the Legion of Black Collegians complained on Twitter about an inebriated peer stumbling into a rehearsal and calling people “Niggers.” Later still, a nazi symbol made out of feces was found in a school bathroom, most likely the work of a rather illustrative troll.
The Concerned Student 1950 group demanded, among other things, mandatory racial awareness training for the faculty, more black faculty, and that the President of the College resign and “acknowledge his white privilege.”
The outrage of convenience never ceases to amaze me when it comes to college, identitarian liberals. While certainly these things don’t necessarily make for a good learning environment for the black students at the University of Missouri, a couple of guys (who may or may not even go to the college) and a drunken student making offensive remarks is hardly the fault of the administration. They are also not things that oppress any of the students. They may be hurtful to some feelings, but the racism of a handful of individuals, who from these descriptions appear to have little power over society, will not prevent any of the students from using their college degrees to go on and try their damnedest to be counted among the bourgeoisie or petite bourgeoisie of our capitalist society. Granted, some may argue racism exists among their potential American employers, consciously or subconsciously, and this will prevent them from effectively participating in the economy.
But remember, these protests are just about “systems of oppression in higher education.”
So while workers all over the country were protesting and fighting for a minimum wage they could actually live on, the student protesters at MU wanted to have a man fired for daring to not stop someone from calling them a derogatory name.
In the Facebook post that started all this, Head spoke about the “importance of inclusion and respect,” the “right to feel safe,” and how the slurs indicated he was perceived as a “threat to society.” All of these things, as well as the emphasis on other oppressed minorities he included, have become running themes of modern liberal identity politics.
Indeed, the solutions to all this bigotry complained about by college activists is a “safe space,” where all hateful speech gets shut down, regardless of the 1st amendment and the free speech it seemingly advocates. Probably the most dramatic example of this safe space solution at MU came when a student reporter tried to take photographs of the tent city erected on campus – public land. The protesters confronted him, saying it was a no media allowed safe space, to which the reporter replied “This is the 1st Amendment that protects your right to stand here and mine! … The law protects both of us being here.” They then tried to push him out of the encampment and threatened to use force against another reporter.
After the University President resigned, it seemed that the protesters got one step closer to that ideal “safe space” with the university police asking students to report “hurtful speech” so the speaker can face discipline at the hands of the college.
Why do they want this as a solution anyway? What about hurtful language constitutes oppression?
For one, they are supported by an ideology (intersectional feminism) that firstly, breaks the world up into power structures based on physical characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, whereby the minority groups in these power structures are oppressed and being in the majority of the groups is equated to having power. One way they help justify this is by saying that any showing of racism or sexism et al. in a member of the majority’s language is a part of this oppression. This link is made by a conflation between physical threats of violence, which usually find their moral objection in how they might be precursors to someone actually being harmed, and an expression of bigotry. As Caitlin Wolper puts it in an op-ed about racism on campus, “Non-violent hate speech can leave one feeling just as vulnerable as physical threats…” thereby making the moral objection to physical threats based on how the threats make the target feel, and making any hateful language as oppressive as threats of actual violence. The word “microaggression,” popularized by this ideology, which can refer to virtually anything a member of the majority does, including speech, speaks volumes to this idea.
Indeed, this ideology does little more than to justify identity politics, and take the center of political power and rights away from the individual and give it to the group identity. Exactly as our tribal instincts would prefer, and how a liberal democracy or socialist society cannot effectively operate in. The ideology is just a vehicle to which they can use to give “rational” reasons for vying for power that they believe is lost to them by past inequalities, regardless of the fact that equality to individuals cannot be achieved this way.
After all, within groups there are hierarchies. And even if one group gets more power, the people at the top of the group hierarchy are the ones who benefit the most, and while those at the bottom might be a little better off, they are certainly not equal to those at the top. In this scenario, the protesting college students are at the top of the group hierarchy, while the blacks and other minorities who didn’t make it into college and are probably working those minimum wage jobs are at the bottom.
Those at the bottom are left to fend for themselves while also expected to have solidarity with those at the top because they happen to share the same group identity.
You might argue, though, that because they ideologically argue for the advancement of all minorities, that it’s not in fact identity politics. This ignores the reality of the situation. While it is advantageous for these groups to support each other in politics as it stands, and doing so provides a moral high ground, when push comes to shove the true nature of the politics is revealed. After all, a safe space protecting the feelings of one group cannot work for everyone. An anecdotal example includes how an Asian woman at Claremont McKenna College in California was shut down at an event for students advocating such a safe space for saying how she was harassed by a black man.
The Dean of Claremont McKenna College resigned under student protests about racial insensitivity earlier this week.
If these petty identity politics are allowed to continue to dominate colleges and the left, we may very well see the emergence of these safe spaces to protect the precious feelings of college students and the continued exploitation of everyone at the bottom of society’s hierarchy. Some social justice that is.