Swinging Swords at Specters: The sad fate of social justice

In this April 15, 2017 file photo, young protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter march in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

In November of 2015, Black Lives Matter protestors flooded into a Dartmouth College library and began harassing and intimidating students. According to one witness, the protestors demanded that those who were seated and studying “stand up to show their solidarity” with the Black Lives Matter movement, and added that “those who did not stand were targeted and questioned.” A girl in a study room closed the door, prompting the activists to “storm” the room and follow the girl until she left the building, all the while “screaming at her calling her a white bitch.” The activists interrogated a student about his Hispanic heritage, shouted things like, “F- you, you filthy white f-,” and told a girl who was crying “F- your white tears."

The spiteful, quasi-criminal conduct of these protestors cannot be deemed surprising. Those on the American far-left tend to believe that systemic oppression entitles them to say and do whatever they want, whether it is calling someone a “white bitch” or shutting down a campus president’s speech. If leftists want to beat the right, they should begin by fostering an open discussion of political and social issues. Instead, the far-left bases its philosophy on condemnation of the innocuous and strict control over the public discourse.

It is disappointing when leftists refuse to acknowledge that many social justice advocates act like complete bullies. One culture commentator from Splinternews.com minimized the volatility of the far-left by suggesting that “pink-haired college students working in coffee shops … who demand you call them the right gender pronoun [are not] what’s dangerous to American democracy”. It may be true that far-left activism is not dangerous to American democracy just yet, but it is dangerous to the intellectual integrity of the American college campus. At Brandeis University, 76 percent of liberal students are willing to publicly share their political opinions, as compared to 75 percent of conservatives who are unwilling to do so.

One Brandeis student anonymously complained of a microeconomics professor yelling “that he hated Republicans,” and several conservative students claimed that they “never really speak up” or that they have to listen to news and political YouTube videos “in secret”. Nonetheless, true-believers like Kelly Wilz, an academic who writes for The Huffington Post, deny that “faculty members are using classrooms to promote their agenda”. Denial of this problem only lets the wound fester.

The far-left has such an obsessive need to name groups of people as “privileged,” “prejudiced,” “patriarchal,” “problematic,” or “oppressive,” that it seems their movement has adopted the idea of original sin. Why did Jessie Daniels, a sociology professor from the City University of New York, state that “if you’re a white person who says they’re engaged in dismantling white supremacy but you’re forming a white family and reproducing white children” then you are “part of the problem”? Why did Rochelle Gutierrez, a math professor from the University of Illinois, claim “mathematics itself operates as whiteness” and that math perpetuates white privilege?  Why did Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of gender studies at Rutgers, allege that Israeli Defense Forces tend not to shoot to kill when engaging insurgents so that they can “maintain Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them”? The answer, in all three cases, is simple: radical liberals refuse to acknowledge the obvious truth that human interaction cannot be reduced to a simple clash of the oppressor and the oppressed.

A white, cissexual, heterosexual man cannot be part of social justice advocacy without performing daily ablutions for his white privilege, his male privilege, his mansplaining, his manspreading, and his toxic masculinity. The original sin can never be washed away, no matter how many confessions one attends. Even if a man is an inerrant ally to social justice, he will still be barraged with articles asking him to stop judging women, to fight masculinity, to do more research on feminism, to yield space to others, and to shut up. What is the point of being an ally to social justice if the greatest contribution one can make is to “shut up?” If social justice activists want to attract people to their cause, then they should spend less time blaming potential allies for everything wrong with the world.

Those on the far-left see racism, sexism, and fascism where they do not exist, so when they attempt to take political action against a supposed threat, they end up swinging their swords at specters. In late October, the UCONN student organization Honors for Diversity, held a presentation with the title “My Culture is Not a Costume,” in which speakers stressed the importance of choosing a Halloween costume that does not offend anyone or appropriate a culture. There is a difference between a white nationalist and a white person who wears a kimono. One is an actual racist, and one is, at worst, insensitive. Is the goal of liberal identity politics to end racism? If so, this will not be accomplished by creating new social rules for choosing Halloween costumes. All this campaign does is make little girls scared to dress up as Mulan.

Anyhow, it is naïve to think that crusades such as the one against Halloween costumes are motivated by a desire to speak for the marginalized. Try explaining that to Nicholas and Erika Christakis, two academics and employees of Yale University, who had the gall to publicly disagree with administrators who advised students not to offend anyone with their costumes on Halloween. The Christakis couple merely asserted that college administrators should not exercise control over students’ choice of dress in such a fashion. For this offense, students organized a campaign to have them fired, and, in a recorded confrontation with Nicholas Christakis, shouted things like “You are disgusting!” and “[Working at a university] is not about creating an intellectual space!”. The campaign against Halloween is symptomatic of the greater issue with the far left. Radical liberals will gladly chip away at the right to say what you want or express yourself as you please if doing so could hypothetically prevent someone from being offended.

One half of American undergraduates find shouting down a public speaker acceptable, and one fifth of them think violence is an acceptable method for disrupting controversial speakers. This problem is not exclusive to the left, but campuses are overwhelmingly liberal, meaning that it is within the ability of us campus leftists to end this sordid tradition of stunting rather than encouraging the public discourse. Liberals need to understand that when Bernie Sanders criticizes modern identity politics, he is not being sexist, classist, ableist, or racist. He is recognizing that liberals have made their cause unattractive by changing its focus from helping the underprivileged to spitting vituperatively at those who have done nothing wrong. Think of the Black Lives Matter protestors who demanded that students in the Dartmouth library stop studying and stand up to show solidarity with the movement. Think of the girl who was called a “white bitch” and chased out by the protestors. She may have believed wholeheartedly in the fight against systemic oppression and police brutality beforehand, but it is probable that the encounter made her reconsider what BLM’s priorities are. The far-left must stop declaring that those who are not with them are against them. Until they do, they should not be surprised when students choose to stay seated, and to continue studying.


Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at alex.klein@uconn.edu.