Note: This post is extremely long, at 108 pages, so be forewarned. However, it’s very good, and I think it’s well worth your time.
There is not a whole lot I can add to this seminal work by a University of Montana Professor of English named Paul Trout. The piece speaks for itself. Here it is, 15 years later, and not a single thing has changed, has it? This means that serious forms of PC insanity have devastated our universities, and from there, spread, virus-like, into society at large for over two decades now. In the meantime, in the past 20-25 years, things have only gotten worse for non-Whites in general, Blacks and Hispanics in particular.
So, while a blatantly White racist politics has held sway over the nation, causing serious harm to various non-Whites as Whites attacked them, at the same time, an idiot PC Idiocracy has held a Dictatorship of the Idiotariot over society as a whole. One wonders what good this PC silliness does, other than just spreading even more stupidity and insanity through a society that has too much of both already.
The PC Idiot Class has not been able to prevent a White racist politics from gripping the nation, yet it has gone on a jihad against a bunch of a nonsense, and its most frequent victims were non-racist and even anti-racist Whites. One wonders how any of the incidents below affected any US Black or Hispanics polities as a whole in any real and meaningful way. They didn’t. So all PC madness is attack innocent Whites, usually, most perversely of all, the liberal ones who are friendliest to non-Whites.
The main conclusion that we liberal Whites draw from all this looniness is that minorities are nothing but trouble. Blacks in particular. Read the article below and I defy you to conclude that modern PC Blacks are anything but a heap of ridiculous problems waiting to blow up on you at any unknown time. The only sensible conclusion Whites, even non-racist ones, draw from PC madness is that minorities, particularly Blacks but to a lesser extent Hispanics, Amerindians and other Professional Victims, are just not worth the trouble and are best avoided.
If you read below, you will notice that the only sane people protesting the PC lunacy are conservatives, particularly White racist conservatives. Great. So White people can either be PC professional flagellants or they can defy it and be White racist jerks. Well! That’s certainly one Hell of a choice!
Conservatives are so crazy and wrong on most everything that anytime the conservatives are right, you know the Left must be catastrophically screwed up. It embarrasses me to no end that the only folks making sense below are the rightwing nasties at US News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal. Where are all the sane liberals? On vacation, I guess. Or, worse, afraid of being called racist.
Cruising around the Black blogosphere, you note that the PC nonsense below is the standard view on race at most intelligent Black blogs. This is a classical, and typical, example. And on many Hispanic blogs too. And, I am sad to say, it’s the standard view on most of the leftwing sites I read.
This piece was originally found on this site here. That’s a White racist site, and so is Nicholas Stix, probably, though I guess Nick has an excuse for being racist (he experienced a lot of terrible treatment by Blacks). One again, we see that the only folks promoting this eminently sane piece are racist Whites. How sad!
(This landmark monograph was originally published in 1995 in Montana Professor Journal.
I can no longer find any working links to the journal, and though I found this article again through a Google search on March 18 and downloaded it, today neither the direct link nor the Google cache works anymore. And so, rather than let this important 13,000-word work be lost in the ether, I am re-publishing it here.
The importance of this work is three-fold: 1. Its factual statements are true; 2. As an historical record; and 3. To show that the morally obscene practices of totalitarian campus multiculturalists, in particular, Black campus racists, have now gone on unopposed, without a break, for over 20 years. N.S.)
“Racist!” as an Epithet of Repression
Dept of English
Montana State U – Bozeman
Montana Professor Journal
About the worst thing you can be called nowadays is “racist.” The word not only brands a person as intellectually and morally inferior but links him or her to hooded sickos who beat and lynch innocent minorities. And the accusation – whether merited or not – often brings stinging penalties, from shunning to firing. Ask Senator Conrad Burns, Andy Rooney, Jimmy the Greek, Marge Schott, or Christina Jeffrey. No wonder people who subscribe to liberal social and intellectual ideals, who abhor race prejudice, fear being branded with the scarlet “R.”
Since the term carries so much social opprobrium and can hurt a person’s private life and public career, it should be defined clearly and used cautiously. This is not the case, however, on today’s college campuses. The examples in this essay suggest that on college campuses across the country, the epithet “racist,” hard enough for dictionaries to define (see “Defining Racism,” Chronicles, August 1994, 46), has become alarmingly unmoored.
We have now reached a point where the term can be used, usually without explanation or justification, to stigmatize any policy, statement, symbol, statistic, outcome, word or expression that any minority member does not like, including all kinds of legitimate, scholarly, and protected material.
As Robert Hughes observes in The Culture of Complaint, the irresponsible and promiscuous use of “racist” has robbed the term of “whatever stable meaning it once had” (19). Even worse, since its use is sanctioned by the subjectivity of the user, there can be no false accusations of “racism.” In short, anyone accused of “racism” is ipso facto guilty.
As a result, the epithet “racist” has become a powerful weapon of intimidation, the contemporary equivalent of the 1950s charge of “communism.” Since nobody on campus wants to be labeled a “racist,” and since nobody knows what the term means, most people stay clear of saying or doing anything that some minority member may label as “racist.” Out of fear, most people – and especially Whites – studiously avoid touchy issues, provocative statements, or ambiguous symbols or behaviors.
Unfortunately, as the examples in this essay show, not everybody succeeds in avoiding trouble. An untoward statement, word, metaphor or observation, even an unpalatable research finding, can catapult a student, faculty member, or administrator, into the category of “racist” with regrettable results.
Of “Racist” Epithets There Is No End
Campus speech codes forbid and provide punishment for certain types of expressive behavior which causes an individual or group to feel demeaned or abused because of their racial or ethnic background (so long as they are non-White). Such codes are often said to be aimed at only the most outrageous ”ethnic slurs” and “racial epithets” (Cass Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, 198).
But anybody staying abreast of this issue knows that speech codes have been invoked to punish all kinds of acts and statements, from quoting upsetting statistics to evincing “disrespect” (see Rauch, Kindly Inquisitors, 26).
Part of the problem with these codes is that they do not emphasize the objective content of the behavior or language, but the subjective response of the self-proclaimed victim. So an “ethnic slur” or “racial epithet” is whatever that person deems it to be. Another problem is that these codes – remarkably – never list the epithets that they forbid.
What words or epithets are “racist”? The only right answer is, more and more of them. Now even the noun “Jew” is “racist,” according to WordPerfect 6.0’s Grammatik, which warns us to “avoid using this offensive term.” So is the verb “to welch,” according to the Welsh-American Legal Defense, Education, and Development Fund. So is “digger pines” (Pinus sabiniana), according to a curator at the California State Indian Museum, who claims it is a slur on Native Americans.
So is “spook,” as in “Spook Hill” (in Mesa, Arizona), according to the NAACP, even though it refers to ghosts who haunt the area (in Phoenix, there was a brouhaha over Squaw Peak).
Given people’s notorious and awe-inspiring linguistic inventiveness (see A. A. Roback’s Dictionary of International Slurs) and their exquisite sensitivity to grievance, the list of offensive epithets will keep going and going…It is already quite long.”
An author who gave a talk at Harvard on why liberals like Jack Kerouac were drawn to Black culture provoked protests by entitling his talk, quoting Kerouac, “Spade Kicks” ( CHE 10 June 1992). The phrase “playing goalie Kamikazestyle” was deleted from a story in a textbook because it was construed to be an ethnic slur (Campus Reports, December 1992).
Even the word “slave” is now dangerous to use. An Education Commission in New York recommended in 1991 that the word “slave” be replaced with “enslaved person” in all school textbooks. Students at historically Black Prairie View Texas A&M University complained that they were offended by the Latin term servitium, in the school’s motto Recercare, Doctrina, Servitium, because in the Middle Ages it allegedly meant slavery. Regents approved the following translation: “Research, Teaching, Service” (CHE, 3 August 1994, A4).
Murray Dolfman was fired for using this word. When no one in his University of Pennsylvania law class knew what the Thirteenth Amendment forbade, he said according to his version), “We have ex-slaves here who should know about the Thirteenth Amendment,” (in Kindly Inquisitors, 148-149). He also referred to himself as an ex-slave (as a Jewish ’slave unto Pharaoh’).
When several Black students complained after class, Dolfman apologized but that did no good. Black students invaded his class and read a list of accusations to Dolfman’s students. News of Dolfman’s amazingly clumsy remark convulsed the campus for weeks, and Houston Baker, the well-known scholar of Black literature, engaged in a little signifying by publicly denouncing Dolfman as an “asshole…unqualified to teach dogs” (Richard Bernstein, Dictatorship of Virtue, 112).
Dolfman’s contract was not renewed. Richard Bernstein draws this moral from the Dolfman affair: “In the era of political correctness and craven university administrations, the charge of racism, unsubstantiated but accompanied by a few demonstrations and angry rhetorical perorations, suffices to paralyze a campus, to destroy a reputation, and to compel an administration into submission,” (Dictatorship of Virtue, 114-115).
Other words one should stay away from include – according to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri – ”shiftless,” “fried chicken” (“a loaded phrase when used carelessly”), and “watermelon.” In 1987 at Harvard, Stephen Thernstrom, a respected historian of race relations, was accused of “racism” by students because he used the words “American Indian” and “Oriental” (Maclean’s, 27 May 1991; Lingua Franca, April 1991, 37).
At the University of Virginia Law School, a hapless White guy got into trouble simply trying to be hip when he shot back at one Black student, “Can you dig it, man?” The next day an anonymous note called the teacher a “racist” and a “White supremacist,” without regard to his pro bono work for the civil rights movement, his membership in Klanwatch, and his work in recruiting minorities to campus (D’Souza, Illiberal Education, 6).
At Antioch, Ralph Luker, an associate professor of History and a civil rights activist, was denounced as a “racist” when he said that in the eyes of the law, slaves in the antebellum South had the same legal status as domestic animals. Students thought that he was comparing Black people to animals and took over his class in protest (CHE, 17 June 1994, 4D; 22 June, A14). Afterward, he was denied tenure.
A political science professor at the University of British Columbia (my alma mater) said, during a discussion of apartheid, that “Blacks were at the bottom of the totem pole in South Africa,” (Globe and Mail, 6 August 1994, D7). One student felt the metaphor to be a “racist” appropriation of the sacred symbols of the Kwakiutl and the Haida.
And everyone in the country now has been alerted not to use “water buffalo” within the hearing of Blacks. One night in January, 1993, a group of Black sorority women were dancing and chanting outside a dormitory window at 3 a.m. Several dorm residents shouted for the women to be quiet, and apparently some racial epithets were exchanged.
One student, Eden Jacobowitz, shouted “Shut up, you water buffalo. If you’re looking for a party there is a zoo a mile from here.” (CHE, July 7, 1993, A32). (The women claimed he said, “Shut up, you Black water buffaloes,” and “Go back to the zoo where you belong!”; see “The Raging Water Buffalo” by John K. Wilson, in The Newsletter of Teachers for a Democratic Culture, 2 , Fall 1993, 11-12).
The five female students charged Jacobowitz with “racial harassment” under the university’s vague hate-speech code (Scott Shepard, “Penn: The Most Poisoned Ivy?” Campus 5 , Fall 1993, 6).
Jacobowitz, an Israel-born Yeshiva student, used the word “water buffalo” because it was the English translation for the Hebrew word “behemah” (there are various spellings for this word), which means “water oxen” and is used as slang to describe an inconsiderate or foolish person. “It was the furthest thing from my mind to call them anything racial,” he said (CHE, 5 May 1993, A39).
During preliminary hearings, Penn Judicial Inquiry Officer Robin Reed asked Jacobowitz if he had been “thinking racial thoughts” on the night his supposed offense took place. She also explained that “water buffalo” could be taken as a racial slur because it “is a dark, primitive animal that lives in Africa” (AP, 14 May 1993). Reed is wrong. The animal is native to southeast Asia.
Although several Black faculty members were asked to testify that “water buffalo” is not a racial slur (until now, at any rate), John Wilson has argued that the fact that the phrase “is not a common racial epithet hardly makes it immune from use in a racist way.” In other words, any word can be used as a “racist” epithet. Charges against Jacobowitz were eventually dropped.
Students and faculty must be especially wary of potentially “racist” color words nowadays. Recently, at Columbia University, “chocolate” and “vanilla” were held to be “racist” after two White students who worked for the escort service were overheard by a Black security guard referring to certain escortees as “chocolate” or “vanilla.” The students explained that chocolate merely meant “attractive” and vanilla “unattractive” or “plain.”
The director of the service, however, summarily fired them for uttering “blatantly racist” remarks (see “Diversity at Columbia U.” by Jeffery M. Duban, the students’ attorney, in Heterodoxy 3 , January 1995). The students were reinstated when they sued.
If “chocolate” is dangerous, “Black” is even more so. A professor at the University of Michigan was condemned as a “racist” in part for using the word “Blacks” with a lower-case “B” rather than the seven-times-as-long “African-Americans.”
Use of the word “Black” is now suspect even in such innocuous words and phrases as “Black magic,” “Blacklisted,” “Blackboard,” and “Black eye.” School kids are encouraged to avoid the inherent offensiveness of the term “Black” by singing, “Baa, Baa, Green Sheep” (Campus Reports, September, 1992). One woman believes that being afraid of the “dark” is subtly “racist” (Parade Magazine 11 June 1995, 15).
And the Reverend Rodney X of the Nation of Islam believes that this country’s inherent “racism” is revealed by its having a “White House” and not a “Black House.” Rodney also thinks that pool is “racist” because “the White ball knocks all the colored balls into holes from which they cannot escape,” (Campus Reports, February 1993). A wag at The Observer of Boston College suggested that the Right Reverend might prefer bowling.
At Camden County College, Black tassels became a racial issue when Black students complained that students who earn the highest grades wear gold or silver tassels, but those with the lower grades wear Black ones. As one African American student complained, “Black does not need to represent the lowest,” (CHE, 15 December 1993, A5).
At a recent conference on college composition, an academic found all kinds of “racist” color-coding in computer icons: the “White pointer hand,” “icons of middle- and upper-class White culture,” etc. (quoted in The American Spectator February 1995, 80). Some American Indians find offensive “racist” meaning is such words as “massacre,” “scalped,” and “warriors” regardless of context (CHE, 14 August 1991, B1).
Last year, a dean at Georgia State University joined the president of the student association in declaring the American Heritage Dictionary to be ”racist” because of its definitions of “ghetto,” “Black,” “White,” “Ku Klux Klan,” and “Black Panther,” and because it included words like “nigger,” “spic,” ”chink,” and “cracker,” words that have no place, the dean said, in reference works on a multicultural campus. They want the dictionary removed from the library and bookstore, or at least stamped with warning labels (Campus Report 9 , March 1994, 1).
Even hitherto neutral and honorific words are being added to the list of “racist” epithets. For example, the word “minority” is now held to be “racist,” according to Black columnist Barbara Reynolds, who regards the term as a “euphemism for ‘nigger’,” (USA Today, 16 August 1994, 10A and D’Souza, Illiberal Education, 156). Another once-neutral word now declared to be “racist” is “subculture” (Ibid., 221).
Even honorific words are taking on “racist” connotations.
When a student at the University of Pennsylvania wrote to diversity education committee about her “deep regard for the individual,” an administrator returned her memo with the word “individual” underlined: “This is a RED FLAG phrase today, which many consider RACIST. Arguments that champion the individual over the group ultimately privilege INDIVIDUALS belonging to the largest or dominant group,” (in “Are You Politically Correct?,” by John Taylor, New York Magazine, 21 January 1991).
Here are other examples of just how unmoored the term “racist” has become in our educational grievance factories. A student filed a complaint against an instructor for saying that the student could “excel” and “receive an A grade.” “The student interpreted this as a racist comment, meaning that despite being Black he could receive an A,” (Jacoby, Dogmatic Wisdom, 84).
In a similar vein, the U. of Missouri stylebook warns writers to stay clear of using the word “articulate” when describing Blacks, saying that it implies that most Blacks are not articulate. In other words, it could be “racist” to say to a minority student, “because you are extremely articulate, you will probably excel in my class.”
Hunting Indians, Minutemen, and other “Racist” Mascots
The Sherlocks of Sensitivity have found “racist” messages not only in the most neutral and honorific expressions but in all kinds of university logos, mascots, and icons.
American Indians have been particularly assiduous in finding “racism” in any and every use of Indian names and images. Over the last ten years or so, their campaign to get colleges to drop team names, logos, and mascots associated with Indian culture has been very successful.
This campaign took a new twist early this year when five students at the University of Illinois filed a complaint with the Illinois’ Human Rights Commission, claiming that the school’s mascot, Chief Illiniwek, causes a “hostile and abusive” environment for American Indians (Campus 6 , Spring 1995, 11).
The Commission noted that if the complaint were successful, it would set a precedent that would enable African-American groups to prevent showings of Birth of a Nation, Jewish groups to repress The Merchant of Venice, and Native Americans to prevent the screening of cowboy movies.
When Native Americans find these logos “offensive” or “insulting,” not much can be said, since these subjective terms are self-validating. But are these logos “racist”? That term should be applied to depictions that imply and promote contempt, even hatred. But the images of logos are honorific, usually connoting power, integrity, honor, and nobility.
The Ute tribe has, I think, understood this distinction. It recognized that the University of Utah, in calling its teams the “Running Utes,” was actually implementing (in a small way) the tribe and the state’s Native-American culture. So instead of campaigning against the name and logo, the tribe attempted to control them. All accouterments had to be authentic, all depictions respectful.
Some measure of just how touchy Indian activists have become is seen in the campaign to change the mascot of Fort Lewis College. The icon/mascot was not a Native American, but a White male, a mounted U. S. cavalryman carrying a sword.
Native Americans found the image offensive (CHE, 13 April 1994, 4A). In an effort to make the graphic palatable, the college first replaced the sword with a military banner (no good), then with an “FLC” pennant (not good enough), and then it removed the horseman’s rife and pistol, describing the figure now as “the Raider” (still no good). Finally it dropped the Raider entirely, replacing him with a golden eagle. The A.S.P.C.A. has not complained – yet.
While animals still seem to be a safe bet as logos and mascots, other images and symbols are sitting ducks for charges of “racism.” Any image of a White man is now automatically “racist,” the very term used to describe “Blaze,” the cartoonish Nordic warrior emblem of the University of Alabama. The logo of the University of Alabama – a White, gentlemanly, Colonel-Sanders type – was attacked as “racist” because it allegedly reminded some minority students of “plantation owners.”
Even the Minuteman mascot of the University of Massachusetts was decried as “racist” (it was also “sexist” for being male and violent for holding a gun). Said Martin Jones, the student who led the attack, “to have a White male represent a student body that is not exclusively White or male is culturally biased, and promotes racism.”
The university chancellor agreed, making the university, according to the president of the Republican Club on campus, look like a “politically correct wasteland” and the “laughingstock of the country” (CHE, 10 November 1993).
But after Jones did “some research” into the historic contributions of the Minutemen, and after the campus library was named for the founder of the NAACP (W. E. B. DuBois), he defended the image and announced his “mistake” in criticizing it. “These men, as the original liberators of America, have earned the right to be honored fully by Americans everywhere…Long live the Minutemen of Massachusetts,” (USA Today, 28 October 1994, 10A).
So far the “leprechauns” of the University of Notre Dame have escaped attack.
In these examples, images and logos are being called “racist” not so much for what they depict as for what they exclude – they don’t depict other races or ethnic groups. The Representation Police want school logos to look like Benetton ads, all cuddly rainbow inclusivity. That’s an awful lot to ask of a college logo. In “Mascot Studies,” a writer for The American Spectator (December 1993, 14) puts this foolishness into perspective:
At our universities, neither professors nor administrators apparently possess the discernment to distinguish between a harmless mascot and, say, a flaming cross on a hill…There is today on campus…an innocent assumption that any protester must have a point.
We have quite forgotten that familiar figure of the past, the malcontent. Past generations recognized these odious cranks when they commenced to bawl and took them cum grano salis. If by accident the malcontent had come upon a legitimate grievance, fine – the Republic initiated a reform and passed on.
Today the country is at the mercy of these disturbed people, and actually raises many to lifelong prominence…Worse, these grumblers have inspired thousands of common malcontents to take up a noble cause. Vexed debate over the campus mascot is but one of the unhappy consequences.
In other words, get a life.
Remove That Tattoo, That T-Shirt, and That Elihu Yale!
Official logos and mascots are not the only images on campus ‘under erasure’ for being “racist.” This section will overview a number of incidents in which harmless and relatively benign images and activities were proclaimed to be “racist” and then almost always punished. These incidents demonstrate once again just how unmoored and repressive the R-word has become on today’s college campuses. Let’s begin in the kitchen.
A dishwasher in a residence hall at Iowa State University got into hot water when students noticed he had a swastika and the letters KKK tattooed on his arms. He had neither said nor done anything “racist,” he just sported some old tatoos left over from when he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (he explained that he repudiated the organization in a letter to the student newspaper).
Still, students demanded his removal. As one of them put it, “I’m for free speech. But…the KKK is wrong and has no place in a university environment.” What’s notable is that he had worked at the university for eighteen years before anybody noticed, or bothered to complain (U. Magazine, February 1994, 10). The university was warned by the state not to fire him.
Now to the infamous “racist” T-shirt at the University of California (Riverside). In 1993, Phi Kappa Sigma advertised its South of the Border Fiesta with a T-shirt featuring a figure in a serape and sombrero sitting on a beach looking at the setting sun and holding a bottle of tequila.
Next to the figure was a set of steel drums and a wooden Tiki head, in which was carved the word “Jamaica.” The lower half of the shirt shows a Rastafarian standing in the doorway of a Mexican cantina with a big smile and a six-pack of brew. This graphic was wrapped in a lyric from Bob Marley: “It doesn’t matter where you come from long as you know where you are going.” The shirt, according to the fraternity, was meant to show the ‘inclusivity’ of booze and partying down.
But campus Hispanic organizations charged the fraternity with “offensive racial stereotypes” and filed a formal complaint. Although the fraternity president, Rich Carrez, apologized to the campus Hispanic organization, the apology did no good. The fraternity was accused of being “racist,” even though it was the most racially diverse fraternity on campus (22 of its 47 members were non-White).
Carrez himself is part Native American, while the fraternity’s Vice President is Latino, and the student who designed the T-shirt is Hispanic. When this was pointed out, the Hispanic organization merely replied, “You should have known better.”
After a series of hearings, in which the fraternity was accused of launching a “racist” attack on the Latino community, the fraternity was forced to destroy all of the offending T-shirts, to write a letter of apology, to do 16 hours of community service, and to attend two sensitivity seminars on multiculturalism. But Hispanic students were still not satisfied, so the fraternity was also barred from intramural sports and rush activities, stripped of its charter and kicked off campus.
When the fraternity’s cause was taken up by the Individual Rights Foundation, the university settled out of court, agreeing to reinstate the fraternity, to drop all charges against it, and, in an unprecedented concession, to require two administrators to undergo sensitivity training in the First Amendment (see “Counter Coup: When Sensitivity Training is a Good Thing,” Heterodoxy 2 , November 1993, 12; “Campus Speech Codes Are Being Shot Down as Opponents Pipe Up,” WSJ, 22 December 1993, A1).
A similar graphic landed a student cartoonist at Portland State University in the gazpacho. In trying to point out that the American Free Trade Agreement was good for corporate America but not for the average Mexican citizen, the student drew a Mexican staring longingly at a display of beans, wondering if he could afford them. One would think that this would be received sympathetically by Hispanic students, but it wasn’t. All they saw in the cartoon was an implicit epithet: ‘beaner.’
The Chronicle of Higher Education sided with the thin-skinned students outraged by this scene, chiding the editors – “none of whom are Hispanic” – for not realizing that the depiction of beans could be construed as a “slur” (CHE, 17 November 1993, A39).
This spring, students at Yale demanded that the university remove a portrait of its founder, Elihu Yale, from its boardroom because it is “racist.” The painting portrays the school’s eighteenth-century founder seated in a chair with a young Black male (some think an Indian servant), perhaps kneeling, handing him a letter (CHE, 28 April 1995, A6).
Not nearly as exciting as the “Hovey murals” at Dartmouth, which feature drunken, scantily clad Native Americans, and which have been covered with panels since the 1970s because of protests that they were ”racist” (USA Today, 18 October 1993, D1).
At the University of Oregon, a banner depicting the faces of Michelangelo, Plato, Jane Austen, and eight other renowned, but White, figures was torn down by a group of students, who scrawled “racism” on it and painted some of the faces brown (CHE, 27 May 1992, A2).
What they did not realize, apparently, was that painting White faces brown was itself gravely “racist.” That was established in 1988, when a White Stanford student, to make a point, colored the face of Beethoven brown. The incident took place at Ujamaa House, Stanford’s “African-theme” dormitory.
One evening, a Black student claimed that Beethoven was Black. Several White students thought not. One of them found a big picture of Beethoven and, using a crayon, gave the composer an Afro and Black features and hung the poster outside the Black student’s room. When the Black student saw it, he was “flabbergasted,” and another was “outraged and sickened,” condemning the poster as “hateful, shocking.”
The White student explained that he did it only because disliked what he called “ethnic aggressivity,” and the campus obsession with race. He was also upset by a Black student who insisted that she would never marry anyone but another Black (a “racist” comment?). So he defaced the Beethoven poster “to show the Black students how ridiculous it was to focus on race.” He said the poster was “satirical humor.”
Threatened by members of an exceedingly hostile crowd of outraged Blacks, the White student apologized, but to no avail. Two days later, all the White students in Ujamaa – about 60 – found anonymous notes under their doors telling them to move out. In the photo display of the freshmen in Ujamaa, all the White faces had holes punched in them. Soon signs appeared that read: “Avenge Ujamaa. Smash the honkie oppressors!” (Chronicles, January 1990, 51-53).
And don’t even think about painting your own face Black! If you think Ted Danson got into trouble for his Friars Club routine, try it on campus. A number of frat boys have, and have been swatted with suspensions and hefty fines. No matter what the intent or context, painting your face Black is always a “racist” act, even when no Black person is present to be offended. The only problem is, that punishing people who do this is unconstitutional, even on campus, as a federal judge ruled in a case involving George Mason University (CHE, 4 September 1991).
At Brown, an art professor had to cancel a long-planned screening of the classic film Birth of a Nation when the local branch of the NAACP denounced it as “racist” (Commentary, September 1989, 22).
At Harvard, a government professor was forced to cancel a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life when Black students protested that its depiction of the household maid, which was both dignified and accurate, was a “racist” stereotype (D’Souza, Illiberal Education, 217).
At the University of Pittsburgh, a professor of public relations scrapped the showing of a Nazi propaganda film, The Eternal Jew, when some Jews called it “racist” and “anti-Semitic,” which it is. But it was to be shown to instruct students about how the mass media could be misused (CHE, 13 November 1991). The logic that prevailed in these cases would forever cut us off from the past to avoid discomfiting the most thin-skinned.
Classroom movies aren’t the only thing that can provoke a charge of “racism.” In 1994, a French professor of psychology was roundly attacked as a “racist” for asking students taking a final exam to give the “clinical reasons” why the majority of Jews saw deportation between 1939 and 1942 as their “inexorable fate” (Chicago Tribune, 28 June 1994, 10).
This year a physics professor at MIT also got into trouble for an exam question: “You are in the forefront of a civil-rights demonstration when the police decide to disperse the crowd using a water cannon. If the cannon they turn on you delivers 1,000 liters of water per minute, what force does the water exert on you?”
After apologizing in print, the teacher explained that the question was intended to make physics come alive and to honor the courage of activists. A Black student responded that the question revealed how badly all faculty members needed sensitivity training (CHE, 3 March 1995, A33).
Another professor was called a “racist” for reading aloud in class from Vachel Lindsay’s “The Congo” (Dictatorship of Virtue, 105).
A professor at the University of Western Ontario was accused of “racial harassment” when she said to an Iranian student: “Condinar means, as you said, ‘in Iran they condemn everybody’.” Although the student eventually reduced the allegation of “racism” to “insensitivity,” the race-relations officer at the school, to the professor’s amazement, initiated a formal complaint against her.
“It was to take two and half years of Ratcliffe’s time, $7,000 of her lawyer’s time, and who knows how much other time, before the case would be dismissed as unfounded,” (John Fekete, Moral Panic, 230). Apparently, David Mamet’s Oleanna is not an exaggeration.
In the censorious climate that prevails today on many campuses, even statements that are supported by observation, common sense, or statistics can be tagged as “racist.” A candidate for a university presidency did not get the job when it was learned that he had once said, perhaps after watching the Tom Brokaw special on “Black Athletes–Fact and Fiction” (1989), that “a Black athlete can actually out-jump a White athlete.” This occurred just before a movie enshrined this truism in its title (White Men Can’t Jump).
As Jared Taylor remarks, “Whites are not supposed to speculate about a possible Black superiority in athletics because to do so could be construed as a suggestion that Blacks may also have a natural inferiority in other areas. The tennis champion Arthur Ashe, however, is allowed to think Blacks may be specially talented at running because he, himself, is Black,” (222).
At Harvard, a memo distributed to students by the instructor was claimed to have created a hostile environment because it reported scholarly findings on negotiating styles that grouped Blacks and women as “low risk-takers.” A Black student said, “Just on the face of it, the memo is offensive,” (The Wall Street Journal, 30 October 1992, B1).
The prevailing assumption is that any generalization – favorable or unfavorable – about any minority that someone does not like is by definition “racist” and deserves to be suppressed – as long as it is said by a White person. Minority diversity consultants, in contrast, can parade, without a shred of empirical evidence, the grossest racial and ethnic stereotypes with virtual impunity.
Even statements about matters that are not directly racial are likely to be denounced as “racist” when they conflict with reigning groupthink. When Yale College dean Donald Kagan urged a group of freshmen to study Western Civilization, arguing that the freedom and civil liberties enjoyed by the West have led to a tolerance and a respect for diversity unknown in most cultures, the student newspaper denounced him as “racist, sexist, and out of touch,” (Campus Report, July/August 1993, 5).
In 1993, students at Cornell managed to free the epithet “racist” from all objective constraints. Someone spray-painted graffiti over an exhibition of art by Hispanic students. Although the graffiti contained not one “racist” slur, the students charged that the act was “racist” anyhow (CHE, 1 December 1993, A4). In short, even what is not “racist” is “racist.”
This perverse logic also governed the handling of a celebrated incident at Bowdoin College involving four fun-loving Asian students. What these students did was to dress themselves in White togas, wear bandannas around their heads, and march around the quad playing mandolins and harmonicas, holding candles and chanting, and throwing Toastee-Os breakfast cereal.
Incredibly, some students alleged that this was a “racist” demonstration. Because the togas were predominantly, but not exclusively, White, these students claimed that this was like having the Ku Klux Klan parading around campus – that they were, you guessed it, “intimidated” and “offended.”
While the Dean of Students conceded that these four festive Asians did not purposely set out to intimidate or offend anyone, nevertheless, the groups was charged with the Orwellian offence of being “grossly insensitive to the implications of their actions.”
The frolicsome foursome had letters of reprimand placed in their files, were forced to write an apology, to hear multicultural lectures on “issues involving racial sensitivities,” and to create an educational program on the conflict of freedom of expression with multicultural sensitivities (Campus, Winter 1992). Who better to speak from experience about the results of such conflicts?
Since anything can now be attacked as “racist,” it should not be surprising that this epithet has been hurled even at posters and exhibitions meant to combat racism. At Pennsylvania State University, a well-intentioned poster that listed almost fifty offensive slurs (“There’s a nasty name for everyone. Including you. Think about it.”) was itself attacked as “racist” (Campus, Fall 1991).
The same fate befell an art exhibit at Passaic County Community College attacking racism by depicting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis and the epithets they hurl. The administration removed the paintings from a campus gallery when some students complained that they were “racist” (CHE, 8 December 1993, A6).
An exhibition at Johns Hopkins meant to honor the abolitionist movement unintentionally committed a ‘hate crime’ when it included material on James and William Birney, White abolitionists who released their slaves to demonstrate their anti-slavery commitment.
Blacks would have none of this sly “racist” endorsement of slavery. “This stuff will not be tolerated,” said Paul Brown, one of the Black students who staged a sit-in. “There are plenty of resources in the library if you just made a half-ass attempt to find something.” The library director who failed to make the half-assed attempt did manage the obligatory abject apology: “Personally, I deeply regret any offense given by the exhibit of abolitionist material,” (Heterodoxy, March 1993, 3).
This incident brings to mind the notorious attack on Jeanne Cannizzo, the University of Toronto anthropologist who curated the Royal Ontario Museum exhibit “Into the Heart of Africa” (1990), a well-meaning indictment of the humiliating way in which colonialists treated Africans.
Although no Whites protested this “insensitive” presentation of their forebears, some Blacks denounced the portrayals of vanquished African warriors as “racist.” According to this logic, any depiction of the victims of oppression must be “racist.” The protesters advised the museum that it should have exhibited only works of great African art.
Protesters mounted demonstrations not only outside the museum, but they invaded Cannizzo’s classroom, hurling insults and epithets at her. On one occasion, according to an eye-witness, “a large Black male chased Cannizzo down the hall.” Administrators and faculty did nothing to stop the defamation and assaults, abjectly afraid to oppose the will or criticize the behavior of campus minorities (“The Silencers,” Maclean’s, 27 May 1991, 63).
Cannizzo, shattered by this experience, left the university and eventually emigrated to England. All this, for organizing an exhibition that attacked racism!
This section ends where it began, in the kitchen. A group of dining-hall workers at Harvard wanted to have a “Back to the Fifties” party. But the Minority Affairs Dean denounced them for being “racist,” arguing that it was wrong to feel nostalgia for a decade that included segregationist sentiments (D’Souza, Illiberal Education, 217; Newsweek , 6 May 1991).
A far more notorious incident occurred at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where the swampy multicultural atmosphere that now chokes ‘cutting-edge’ campuses led to a menu being found “racist.”
Two semi-autonomous colleges on the campus share a kitchen. Merrill College caters to ‘multicultural’ students; Crown appeals to science and economics students, many of whom are Asians. The incident began innocuously enough with the Crown kitchen staff deciding what to serve at a monthly College Night dinner.
Weeks earlier Merrill had chosen an Asian theme, but a Crown staffer, a Japanese-American, noticed that the dinner happened to fall on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Thinking this might appear to be by design and be misinterpreted, she chose a non-ethnic menu instead. While Crown students munched on chicken and spare ribs, a rumor spread at Merrill College that Crown had refused to serve Asian food because it blamed Asians for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Soon fliers littered the campus denouncing the Crown administration as “racist.” Crown staff members were besieged by groups of angry students, angry phone calls, and even death threats. Meanwhile at Merrill, students and faculty, gloating at the troubles of their colleagues, issued a public statement about Crown’s “overt and covert racism” and calling the decision – keep in mind that it was made by a Japanese-American – ”the racist unconscious at work.”
After months of turmoil, the staff at Crown was forced to attend sensitivity workshops, which Crown’s provost, Peggy Musgrave, described as “brainwashing perations…humiliating experiences where people have to bare their souls and expose their innermost thoughts.” Musgrave was forced to resign. Crown’s bursar was so distraught and exhausted by the controversy that he was forced to take extended medical leave. Other Crown staff resigned.
All this bloodletting began, remember, over an allegedly “racist” menu (see Barbara Rhoades Ellis, “A Day of Infamy at UC Santa Cruz,” Heterodoxy 1  June 1992, 6).
Muzzling the “Racist” Student Press
Unmoored charges of “racism” have sanctioned far more serious and repressive attacks on free expression and debate than the ones mentioned so far. The epithet “racist” has been used with particular effectiveness to intimidate and silence the student press. According to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, during the academic year 1992-93 there were 38 “major trashings of publications” on campus.
At the University of Maryland, students stole 10,000 copies of the Diamondback, alleging that it is “racist” for misspelling the title of W. E. B. DuBois’s book The Souls of Black Folk (which came out The Sales of Black Folk; CHE 17 November 1993, A39). Most often, the accusation of “racism” is invoked to discredit opinions that minority members find uncongenial or embarrassing.
At Duke, the Duke Review was denounced as “racist” and summarily trashed by a Black student because it dared to criticize the Black Student Alliance as wasteful and monolithic (Campus 5 , Winter 1994, 13; 5 , Spring 1994, 12).
At the University of Iowa, Black students “filled the offices”– as the Chronicle of Higher Education euphemistically put it – of The Daily Iowan to protest the publication of a political cartoon comparing the Blacks who almost killed Reginald Denny to members of the Ku Klux Klan. Apparently the White editors had not heard that Blacks cannot be “racists” – by definition.
At the University of South Carolina, the student newspaper was threatened with a funding review by administrators when it published a student’s poem satirizing then presidential candidate Jesse Jackson (Illiberal Education, 145).
At Virginia Commonwealth University, Black students stole the entire press run of the student newspaper to punish it for running “racist” editorials charging that Black student groups receive disproportionate funding from the school: “We find you guily [sic] of several counts of vandalist, slanderist, racist, scandalist journalism. Therefore we are shutting you down.” The Black student newspaper complimented the thieves for “staging a courageous and peaceful protest,” (Campus Report, 10 , April 1995).
At Vassar, the student newspaper was called “racist” after it proclaimed Black activist Anthony Grate “hypocrite of the month” for espousing anti-Semitic views while denouncing bigotry against Blacks. The newspaper quoted Grate as saying “dirty Jews” and “I hate Jews.”
When the Spectator publicized the hypocrisy and racism of this Black leader, the Vassar Student Association attempted to suppress the offending issue, and then, when that failed, withdrew its funding. The newspaper had to be punished, according to VSA, for “unnecessarily jeopardiz[ing] an educational community based on mutual understanding,” (D’Souza, Ibid. 10).
On most campuses, it is presumptively “racist” to point out minority “racism.” The editor of the student newspaper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook provoked a tirade of abuse when he wrote that his experiences on this multicultural campus had “taught me to be wary, distrustful, and, at times, downright revolted by African Americans.”
In a column, Stony Brook Teaches Reactive Racism , the student wrote: “In one particular Africana Studies class I was called a ‘kike’ by one Black student, while another yelled out, ‘You! You Jew. You raped my people!’” The student, who is Jewish, said that other White students had told him that they also had been victims of racism by members of minority groups.
After the column was published, Black students didn’t apologize, as so many White students have been coerced into doing, but engineered a boycott against businesses that advertised in the paper. Although the student editor was physically threatened, the president of this “inclusive community” did not denounce Black racism or even investigate the charges – he denounced the column (CHE, 9 March 1994, A33).
At the University of California-Riverside, it is unhealthy even to criticize gangsta rap! The trouble for Mark Hardie, a Black 22-year-old senior, began when he wrote two columns in the student paper, one denouncing ‘gangsta rap’ and the other calling Afrocentrism a “racist” concept. Hardie was forced to resign his position as a staff writer and columnist because retaliation was promised if he stayed on.
Police had to provide Hardie with security escorts on campus because Black students threatened to kill him. One caller to a campus radio program said: “Ya know, he’s a victim here, he’s gonna be a victim. I’m waiting outside. I’m gonna kill him. I swear to God I’m gonna kill his family,” (Campus Reports 9 , April 1994, 3).
At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Black students occupied the offices of, and temporarily closed down, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian when the White staff replaced three minority editors (others still served). Another grievance was that the paper refused to run an editorial condemning the first verdict in the Rodney King case. During the attack on the office, demonstrators broke a plate glass window and a stereo, and ripped up files, photographs, and documents.
When the student editor criticized the demonstrators in the Boston Globe, one Black student protester invaded the student-newspaper office armed with a baseball bat and attacked the newspaper’s photo editor, dragging him out of The Collegian office to the main floor of the Campus Center (CHE, 14 October 1992).
To also show their displeasure, the protesters confiscated or trashed most of the 19,000 copies of the press run. Although the theft of the papers was arguably a crime and certainly a violation of First Amendment rights, the administration refused to condemn, or even comment on, this act.
Throughout the controversy, the administration, as Gary Brasor points out, tacitly approved unlawful acts it deemed compatible with its multicultural agenda (for a blow-by-blow account, see Gary Crosby Brasor, “Weimar in Amherst,” Academic Questions, 8 , Spring 1995, 69-89).
At DePaul University, the DePaulia was recently denounced as “racist” and shut down by Black students who didn’t like the DePaulia correctly reporting that several DePaul students arrested for fighting at a campus “Bootie-Call” party were Black. In the story, the DePaulia quoted the police report, which described those arrested as “M/Bs,” police shorthand for male/Blacks and one of several routine abbreviations used by police to describe people either arrested or victimized.
According to the protesters, however, the abbreviation is “offensive” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12 April 1995, 11). Their leader said that the mention of race was “disrespectful” and contributed to negative stereotyping of Blacks on campus (Chicago Sun-Times, 11 April 1995, 13). In other words, quoting directly, quoting accurately, and having the facts straight are now “racist” if the truth discomfits minorities.
Predictably, DePaulia staffers will receive counseling about “cultural sensitivity” but the Black protesters will not receive tutoring in the First Amendment. And, of course, no reprimands for those who trashed the office and shut down the paper.
Perhaps the most outrageous attacks on a student paper occurred in 1993 at the University of Pennsylvania during the tenure of Sheldon Hackney, the Poster Boy of Invertebrate Administrators.
Gregory Pavlik, a politically incorrect columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian, had criticized Martin Luther King for being a plagiarist and adulterer, Malcolm X for being a pimp, and racial preferences for being “racist.”
Pavlik wrote a column in March of 1993 that criticized university officials for expelling two White freshmen who dumped water on Black members of the Onyx Senior Honor Society who were holding an initiation/hazing ceremony under their dormitory windows at 2:30 a.m. (Maybe Penn’s code should tell students when to go to bed.)
Pavlik provocatively claimed that the two students were suspended because they were White, and that the Onyx Society was the real culprit and should be punished, even though Black.
The column ignited a firestorm. The university’s Judicial Action Office filed 32 charges of “racial harassment” against Pavlik, despite the fact that the newspaper is financially and legally independent of the university. In the most wonderful doublespeak, the Judicial Action Officer said she filed the complaint because she was “afraid for [Pavlik’s] safety” (Campus Report, 8 , May 1993, 4).
To protest the “blatant and voluntary perpetuation of institutional racism” at the newspaper and on campus, a number of Black students removed nearly all 14,000 copies of one edition from campus distribution sites (CHE, 28 April 1993, A33). 202 Penn Blacks signed a letter justifying the act.
A university report on this incident found that the theft of the newspapers was a “form of student protest and not an indicator of criminal behavior,” and that the campus police who arrested demonstrators caught in the act were wrong (see excerpts in WSJ, 26 July 1993, A10, and editorial). They should have contacted “Open Expression Monitors” to study the students actions (I am not making this up).
The police were sent to sensitivity training seminars to have their sense of fair play adjusted. The chief of security for a campus museum, who nabbed two protesters sneaking out with plastic garbage bags, was officially reprimanded for “racial harassment” and suspended. He too had to undergo sensitivity training. The Black students who threw away the entire press run of the newspaper were not punished (see “Penn Report Faults Campus Police for Response to Students’ Taking Papers,” CHE, 4 August 1993, A27, and 22 September 1993, A35).
In July 1988 – before many of these incidents had occurred – Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, issued a prescient statement:
We are extremely concerned about incidents…which we believe reflect a growing wave of campus censorship inflicted under the guise of fighting racism. Faced with a real concern about an important issue, universities appear to be accepting the misguided notion that viewpoint suppression is an appropriate means to their end.
We note with some irony that this same means was used a generation ago against students who were advocating equality and desegregation (in Illiberal Education, 145).
Suppressing Debate about Public Issues
As the previous section makes clear, the term “racism” has been used on campus to squelch debate about a number of crucial social issues. The term has proven particularly effective in silencing debate about racial preferences. “On virtually every campus,” writes Dinesh D’Souza, “there is a de facto taboo against free discussion of affirmative action or minority self-segregation, and efforts to open such discussion are considered presumptively racist,” (Illiberal Education , 238).
Jennifer Imle, a junior at Southwestern University in Texas, displayed in her room a poster attacking admissions policies based on race. She was soon attacked as a “racist” and ridiculed by her professors during class. The Dean of Students took one look at the poster and said “This must go!” circulating a memo that said the poster smacked of White supremacy.
Imle resisted the effort to suspend her First Amendment rights, and arranged to have Dinesh D’Souza and a campus advocate of racial preferences debate the issue before 350 students eager to hear the issue publicly and honestly discussed.
Other stories don’t have such happy outcomes. At one major university, an associate dean was asked to resign because of his candid opposition to affirmative action and multiculturalism (Lingua Franca, April 1991, 37). At another, an assistant vice chancellor of academic personnel was fired, and escorted by police from her office, when she pointed out that a new affirmative-action plan violated the university’s stringent guidelines for faculty search procedures Heterodoxy 2 , October 1993).
At Harvard, a professor got into trouble merely for defining affirmative action as “government enforcement of preferential treatment in hiring, promotion, and college admissions.” Black students denounced the phrase “preferential treatment” as “racist” (D’Souza, Illiberal Education, 199-200).
In 1987, at UCLA, a student editor was suspended for printing a cartoon ridiculing affirmative action. In the “intolerably racist” cartoon, a student stops a rooster on campus and asks how it got into UCLA. The rooster responds, “Affirmative action.” When another editor at a different school wrote a column criticizing UCLA officials for suspending the editor – and reproduced the cartoon to support his argument – he too was suspended.
The newspaper’s adviser, an assistant professor of journalism no less, said that his crime was publishing controversial material “without permission.” Incredibly, other editors agreed with her, clucking that the student journalist had learned “a valuable lesson in common sense,” (Dictatorship of Virtue, 209).
As John Leo put it, “Whenever the curtain parts and the public gets a peek at what is really going on in college admissions…voices are raised to expel the student who released the data, as well as the college editor who printed them. This kind of defense of furtiveness is routine,” (“Endgame for affirmative action,” U. S. News and World Report, 13 March 1995, 18).
The most outrageous example of denouncing a critic of affirmative action as a ”racist” involved Timothy Maguire, a law senior at Georgetown University Law School. After working as a clerk in the admissions office, Maguire wrote an article reporting that Georgetown admits Blacks with lower LSAT scores than Whites (a routine practice throughout the country).
The article provoked outrage, with one White student characterizing it as “assaultive.” “People were injured. I think that kind of speech is outrageous,” (in Hentoff, Free Speech for Me, 219). Black students accused Maguire of being a “racist” and demanded his expulsion (CHE, 29 May 1991).
When the law school prosecuted Maguire for revealing “confidential” admissions data (he named no names), lawyers refused to defend him out of fear of being called “racists” (Jared Taylor, Paved With Good Intentions, 1992, 181). The two who did were not only accused of being “racists” but placed on probation at the D. C. School of Law (Hentoff, 223-27).
Clearly, the safest way to express opinions about affirmative action on campus is anonymously, on the internet. At Yale recently, a posting contended that affirmative action should play no part in the selection of editors for The Yale Law Review, and defended using anonymity because “self-identification could lead to personal harm.” The law school dean determined that this posting had to go (CHE, 7 April 1995, A36).
Strategic interventions of the word “racist” have discouraged debate on other crucial issues as well. The University of Charleston refused to renew the contract of a conservative scholar after he criticized “diversity” standards for accreditation (National Review, 1 February 1993, 14).
At the University of Oregon, faculty members who had raised questions about a proposal to increase the number of required multicultural credits were called “racists” in a full-page ad published in an alternative campus newspaper. The ad listed the professors’ names, class schedules, and office telephone numbers (CHE 30 June 1993, A27).
Diane Ravitch was called a “racist” for criticizing “racial fundamentalism,” the notion that children can learn only from people of the same race. She has also been physically threatened: “‘We’re going to get you, bitch. We’re going to beat your White ass,’” (New York Magazine , 21 January 1991).
At the University of New Mexico, the contract of a part-time instructor was not renewed after she was charged with “racism” by a Hispanic graduate student for saying in class that “there are six generations of South Valley residents who cannot speak English. There’s no excuse for that since they have many opportunities to learn. There’s just no excuse for that if they want to stay in this country, and if that’s the case, as far as I’m concerned, they can go further south.”
Although the professor denied saying these words, no formal hearing was ever held, and she was not interviewed before she was released (NAS Update, 4 ).
At Chico State University, a professor got into hot water when he published a letter in the local newspaper arguing that demands for Indian teachers were unrealistic because there were not enough qualified candidates. He went on to say that Indian students ought to be on campus “to get the best education…not have their sensibilities stroked and grades of ‘A’ doled out on the basis of their race or correct politics.”
Native Americans across the country attacked these comments, and the Chico administration informed the professor that he had violated the school’s racial harassment policy, which calls for expulsion of faculty or students who create “an atmosphere of intimidation and hostility.” When the professor threatened to sue, the university dropped its charges (Heterodoxy 2 , December 1993, 3).
A similar incident occurred at the University of Alaska, when a Harvard-trained expert on Native American education was charged with “racism” and “discrimination” for saying that a teacher-education program at the university was under “equity pressures” to pass Alaskan Natives through the system.
Angry faculty and students organized demonstrations against her, and the Fairbanks Native Association filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The OCR eventually determined that the professor’s remarks did not violate the rights of students (CHE, 23 September 1992; see also Steven Wulf, “Federal Guidelines for Censorship,” Academic Questions, 8 , Spring 1995, 58-68).
To avoid being stigmatized as a “racist,” it is best not to say anything that might disturb a minority member.
At Iowa State University, a White African-American history professor disagreed with a Black student about the role of Afrocentric theories in the course; the student, a member of the Nation of Islam, called her a “racist liar” and threatened her with a “jihad” (CHE, 20 October 1993, A5; 1 December).
At the University of Illinois a feminist scholar was removed from her course in women’s studies when she said of one Black student who “snickered” and trivialized rape that he fit the profile of a Black male rapist – a remark he found “racist.” She, of course, condemned the university for being “sexist,” (CHE, 7 October 1992).
At the University of Michigan, a White professor of sociology and the nation’s leading expert on the demography of Black Americans was denounced as a “racist” after he read a passage from the Autobiography of Malcolm X in which the author describes himself as a pimp and a thief. Black students called for a person of color to teach the course (and perhaps to re-write the Autobiography).
The professor stopped teaching the class and observed that several of his colleagues intended to drop any discussion of various important race-related issues from their courses, for fear of being accused of “racism” (Chester Finn, “The Campus: An Island of Repression is a Sea of Freedom,” Commentary, September 1989, 19).
One of the most notorious instances of intimidation was directed at two eminent, and exceedingly liberal, Harvard professors who co-taught a course on American history and demography. In 1987, both were attacked in the Harvard Crimson for being “racially insensitive.”
Bernard Bailyn’s crime was reading an exculpatory passage about slavery from the diary of a southern planter without giving equal time to the recollections of a slave.
Richard Thernstrom’s crime was assigning a book that defined affirmative action as “the government enforcement of preferential treatment in hiring, promotion and college admissions,” and endorsing Patrick Moynihan’s thesis that the breakup of the Black family is an important cause of persistent Black poverty (John Taylor, New York Magazine, 21 January 1991, 33-34).
As a Black student put it, “I am also left to question his sensitivity when I hear that Black men get feelings of inadequacy, beat their wives, and take off” (in Illiberal Education , 195-96). Thernstrom’s defense, that he “presented factual information in an objective and dispassionate way,” is beside the point; the facts hurt the feelings of Black students, and that, by definition, proves “racial insensitivity.” Thernstrom wrote:
Teaching in a university in which a handful of disaffected students can all too easily launch a smear campaign…one must think about how many times one wants to be a martyr. I love to debate historical interpretations, but what I experienced…was not public discussion of the validity of my ideas but an indictment of my character and motives. I am not alone in deciding to avoid yet another irrational and vicious personal attack like this…
I know of other scholars who have censored their courses by dropping any treatment of touchy topics such as the disintegration of the Black family. When I was an undergraduate in the 1950s, the menace to academic freedom in America came from the right.
Academic freedom is again under attack today, this time from leftist students…who believe in “no free speech for fascists” and think mistakenly that all the fascists are on the right ( Harper’s, February 1992, “Letters”).
Given this repressive climate on campus, it is now dangerous even to report widely accepted facts, if those facts are unwelcomed by, or embarrassing to, minorities and their protectors. At the University of Michigan, a professor of statistics (for 37 years) was accused of “promoting racism” and temporarily suspended after he noted in class that minorities average 55 points lower on the SAT than Whites (Campus 5 , Winter 1994, 12).
As Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer points out, “We have to deal with some very bad news when we talk about Blacks…We have to talk about unpleasant matters, matters that Blacks will find upsetting and depressing, and that can only make them unhappy.” If universities choose to have a curriculum that includes African-American Studies and courses on race, then universities, as Dinesh D’Souza argues, have a responsibility to make sure that professors and students are free to talk about these issues without intimidation (Illiberal Education, 201).
Suppressing “Racist” Research
The effort to discourage and suppress ’social risk’ research has a long and ignoble history (recall Bruno and Galileo). During the 1960s and early 70s, this urge took on a ‘humanitarian’ guise. The goal was to protect minorities from “racist” research that might harm the interests or psyches of minorities.
Why is it “ignoble” to suppress allegedly “racist” research? Jonathan Rauch provides an elegant answer in Kindly Inquisitors (1993). Rauch argues that the only way that liberal science can effectively work to find truth and establish consensus is to presume that any and all subjects are open to competent investigation.
To do otherwise would require authoritarian control of vast proportions, and countries that have tried to exert such control have suffered grievous social, political and economic deprivations as a result. The knowledge-making enterprise itself, with its checks and balances, is the only agent that can fittingly determine who and what is competent and when a case has been “proved.”
Liberal science, according to Rauch, “declares that the issue of race and intelligence should be explored by any researcher who cares to explore it and who will follow the rules,” (144). Whatever one thinks about this research, amateurs must leave it to experts and the processes of free intellectual debate to determine if and when it can be added to our body of knowledge.
Research that cannot withstand the vigorous fact-checking and error-finding that drives our knowledge-making enterprise will eventually be discredited and marginalized. Research that can withstand such scrutiny will be incorporated into the mass of data, findings, theories, etc. that we call knowledge. Once there, other agencies and forums can debate and deal with its political and social implications.
This crucial processes of testing can only occur, obviously, on research that has already been done and made public. To prevent research from being done, no matter how risky it may seem at the time or to some members of society, could rob society of potentially useful insights, and would likely, in the long run, lead to the undermining of the most successful and beneficial collaborative and international enterprise in the history of humanity.
Let me illustrate the truth of this observation. Back in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan broke the silence on the problems facing Black culture with his book, The Black Family: The Case for National Action. Noting a sharp rise in the number of single-parent Black families, he forewarned that this trend posed a threat to Blacks’ social progress and to society at large.
For his efforts, he was vilified for “blaming the victim” and accused of “crypto-racism” (Joseph G. Conti and Brad Stetson, “The New Black Vanguard,” Intercollegiate Review , Spring 1993, 34). But as Adam Walinsky has recently pointed out, Moynihan’s dire predictions have come true; vilifying his “racist” research only served to blind people to the “long descending night” of violence which he foresaw and which is now upon us (“The Crisis of Public Order,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1995, 48-49).
As Rauch has shown, humanitarians continue to attack scientific and social research that threatens to lead to findings that some minorities, and indeed some Whites, might find disturbing, especially if true. At the University of Michigan, for example, an administrator called for the suppression of “theories” that might conflict with a multicultural agenda, since “harassment in classrooms is based on theories held by teachers,” (Kindly Inquisitors, 136).
The notion that some credible scientific theories and findings are, in and of themselves, “racist” has spread to undergraduates, with dangerous implications for academic freedom. “An amazing 38 percent” of students evaluating a teacher’s lecture on the genetic contribution to intelligence felt that this was not an appropriate topic for a psychology course.
When these students were asked about the professor’s motives for presenting this material, “24 percent specifically mentioned ‘racist,’ ‘racism,’ or notions of ‘racial superiority’” (Stanley Coren, “When Teaching Is Evaluated on Political Grounds,” Academic Questions , Summer 1993, 77; reprinted in The Montana Professor, 5 , Winter 1995, 12-14). Clearly, scholars working on touchy subjects – and the list of these keeps growing and growing too – run their own risk of being label “racists,” no matter how valid their findings.
At the University of California-Berkeley, a professor of physical anthropology who argues that crime, intelligence, and other human behaviors are influenced by genetic factors and that there is a relationship between race and innate abilities, was prevented from teaching his class when 75 students marched into his anthropology class and drowned out his lecture (CHE, 4 March 1992; Russell Jacoby, Dogmatic Wisdom, 137).
Trouble befell a similar course taught at the University of Denver. Charles Murray, of Bell Curve fame, who studies the relation between race and IQ and how intelligence traits can be inherited and measured, was to lecture for half the course on intelligence and public policy with the other half reserved for his critics.
Not good enough. His critics at DU think his “racist” ideas were not worthy of any discussion and demanded that the course be canceled (Campus Report, June 1991; CHE, 16 January 1991). Fortunately for academic freedom, the university disagreed.
At the University of Maryland, a “thoughtfully organized” conference on genetic components in criminal behavior, which reviewers said did “a superb job of assessing the underlying scientific, legal, ethical, and public policy issues,” was canceled by the National Institutes of Health when Blacks said it would promote “racism.” The Committee to Stop the Violence Initiative, formed at Howard University, said of the conference, “It is clear racism. It is an effort to use public money for a genocidal effort against African Americans,” (CHE, 2 September 1992).
At the University of Delaware, two researchers were prevented from accepting funds from a private foundation some administrators deemed “racist.” The campus African-American Coalition claimed that the research threatened “the very survival of African-Americans,” (Campus Report, May 1992). An arbitrator, saying that the university based its decision on perceptions rather than on facts, overturned the ban (CHE, 4 September 1991).
Both researchers had already endured years of institutional harassment and character assassination for publishing the results of their research on race-norming (As a result of this work, race-norming was banned in 1991). After the Department of Educational Studies denied major credits for their courses and defined their publications and investigations as “non-research,” they filed a federal lawsuit to gain relief from the persecution and won an out-of-court settlement in 1992 (Campus Report 9  February 1994, 6).
This humanitarian effort to restrict “racist” research can wind up inhibiting research by Blacks that could help the Black community! At the University of Chicago, a Black sociologist encountered all kinds of opposition to his research on racial integration, especially when he found that Black schoolteachers were less prepared than their White counterparts (Lingua Franca, April 1991, 37; CHE , 21 November 1990).
Other Blacks at the same school have also complained about the pressures they face to avoid research that might reflect badly on Blacks or bring unwelcome news. Professor William Julius Wilson observed, “There has been a tendency in our field not to discuss issues that are unflattering,” (CHE, 30 October 1991).
Personally, I very uncomfortable with the theories of Philippe Rushton and Michael Levin, who argue, as I understand them, that on average Blacks score lower than Whites and Asians on intelligence and most other tests, and that these results may have something to do with genetic endowment (see Jared Taylor, Paved with Good Intentions, 123-182 for an overview of comparative test results in many fields).
I am also offended by the notion that Whites may be, on average, less intelligent than Asians, or that, as Leonard Jeffries incredibly argues (he is not a researcher), Whites, as “ice people,” are not as nice as Blacks, who are “sun people.”
I, like many others, worry about how any of this information may affect immediate human behavior and long-term social policy. But I first want to know if it is true, as truth is consensually defined by the experts in the appropriate fields. If it is not true, then I can dismiss it as I dismiss horoscopes no matter how flattering. If it is true, then we have to determine how this information bears upon the way we live together.
We must allow social-risk research to be done because we cannot know beforehand if the risks will materialize or not, or if the research will benefit some of us in unexpected ways. After all, most knowledge entails social “risks” for some group or other. The only way to avoid such risks would be to profoundly curtail through authoritarian fiat the knowledge-making enterprise of Western civilization. This program of repression, however, would entail the gravest risks of all.
I have tried to show that the epithet “racist” is often used irresponsibly to punish and suppress a wide range of words, images, statements and findings – from innocuous metaphors to unwelcome facts and theories. I am not arguing, of course, that the term “racist” is only or always used this way, but I do contend that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish legitimate uses of the term from exaggerated, promiscuous, and repressive ones.
It is time for responsible students, academics, and administrators to discountenance all heedless, negligent, and intolerant invocations of this word. The use of repressive and stigmatizing epithets has no place in a community of fact-gatherers, truth-sorters, knowledge-makers, and opinion-shapers.
How did campuses get into this fix? Why do so many students, teachers and administrators make, or treat seriously, patently preposterous accusations of “racism”? To understand this phenomenon, let me invoke a concept recently used by John Fekete in another context: the concept of “moral panic.” A moral panic emerges from the impulse to root out all moral evil and to prevent its germination.
Driven by a “zero-toleration” mentality, a campaign of moral panic feeds on itself, always expanding its boundaries (and thus enemies) and intimidating its adherents into ever more fervent demonstrations of compliance and support.
Many on campus – both minorities and non-minorities – apparently believe that such a panic is good for the “racist” souls of White folks. In Paved With Good Intentions, Jared Taylor explains why:
It is widely assumed that if the struggle against racism is not maintained at fever pitch, White people will promptly relapse into bigotry. Thus a great deal of the criticism of Whites is justified on the grounds that it will forestall potential racism…The process becomes circular.
Since Whites are thought likely to turn racist if not constantly policed, it is legitimate to denounce acts of racism they might commit as if they had already done so. In this climate, all charges of racism must be taken seriously because they are potentially true (107).
A couple of years ago, a Black student at Emory reported being racially harassed, eventually falling into silence and curling up into a fetal position. Emory’s president solemnly denounced “renascent bigotry” and imposed new speech-code rules. An investigation proved, however, that it was all a hoax concocted by the student to divert attention from her cheating on a chemistry test.
But today, even hoaxes are defended as being morally true, given the assumption of rampant White “racism.” What does it matter if Twana Brawley was really raped or not by five White New York politicos? The truth is that every once and a while a White man does rape a Black woman. Of the Emory hoax, the head of the Atlanta NAACP said, “‘It does not matter whether she did it or not, because of all the pressure these Black students are under at these predominantly White schools,” (Campus Report, July/August 1993, 5).
In the perfectionist and puritanical climate of a moral panic, even trivial, trumped-up, or absurd charges of “racism” can have valuable political and therapeutic effects. Since racism is a bad thing, the more opportunities to condemn it the better. As a result of this deranged view, “charges of racism can be made with the same reckless impunity as were charges of communism at the height of the McCarthy era,” (Taylor, 23). To ask for the facts supporting the charge is to expose one’s own “racism” and to invite more accusations.
Campus culture provides a fertile field for the flowering of moral panic. The campus equity bureaucracy plays a crucial role in fomenting baseless and capricious charges of “racism.” The income and careers of these people depend on the discovery and extirpation of White“racism.”
Each accusation, no matter how idiotic, is interpreted as evidence of the increased racial tensions on campus; increased “racism” justifies the existence of – and the increased power of – the race-relations experts who must spring into action to avert campus race war.
This readiness to believe any accusation colludes insidiously with the desire of activist minority groups to “mau-mau,” as the insightful Tom Wolfe phrased it, campus flak catchers. “Blacks learned long ago that Whites can be silenced and intimidated by accusing them of racism. White acquiescence has made the charge of racism into such a powerful weapon that it should be no surprise to find that a great many Blacks cannot resist the temptation to wield it,” (Taylor 61).
In short, minorities enjoy assaulting the dignity of ‘Whitey.’ To push an absurd accusation to a successful conclusion is the perfect way to do it and to demonstrate, and thus increase, one’s clout. The equity bureaucracy doesn’t oppose such shenanigans because almost every successfully prosecuted accusation of “racism” results in the hiring of more minorities and equity-specialists, thus driving up their price and increasing their clout.
Even White adminstrators are seduced into this game. By responding to all minority complaints, White administrators, most of whom seem riddled with guilt, can demonstrate their oneness with oppressed peoples, salve their conscience, and placate menacing groups of minority students (with their sun glasses, hooded parkas and military fatigues). Lending credence to every accusation also serves to strengthen the hand of administration.
Administrators like stringent speech codes not only because they testify to the purity of their motives but because these codes generate accusations that help intimidate the majority of students and faculty on campus, making them more dependent upon the intercessory goodwill and power of administrators.
Meanwhile, administrators, being insulated from classroom teaching and most direct interaction with students, are usually able to escape the pernicious effects of the repressive codes they champion. When they can’t, as in the case of Francis Lawrence, they call in their chits and hang on until the tempest blows over.
Countenancing trivial, baseless, and absurd charges of “racism” carries a terrible price.
First of all, it trivializes real racist incidents, which get lost in the moral panic over innocent logos, innocuous words, and legitimate research data.
Second, it sours even good-willed Whites on tolerance and diversity. If they are “racist” by virtue of their skin color, and if almost anything they do can get them into trouble anyhow, why try?
Third, it creates for Whites an intimidating and hostile educational environment. Those in favor of prohibiting the use of words that demean and victimize members of the campus community might want to consider adding “racist!” to their hit list.
Fourth, trivial and baseless charges of “racism” inevitably embitter many Whites, more and more of whom are sick and tired of their ritual role as “racists.” Even the Washington Generals got tired of being programmed losers, and they got paid for it.
And fifth, the moral panic over “racism” has led to outrageous double standards harmful to both Whites and Blacks. As Jared Taylor points out, “Whites are held to a system of ’sensitivity’ requirements that do not apply to Blacks,” (Taylor 217).
Whites are monitored, pestered, and punished for preposterous reasons – for a look, for an innocent word, for wearing a T-shirt, for expressing a plausible argument – but Blacks can say almost anything with perfect impunity. The wording of many speech- and conduct-codes explicitly sanctions such double standards, protecting only certain, privileged minority groups, not all students.
Taking the hint, many minorities advance the absurd but self-exonerating claim that they cannot be “racists,” and then feel free to expound the most absurd and vilificatory racist nonsense ever heard on campuses.
No doubt some Whites, angered by this punitive duplicity, are provoked into “racist” thoughts and acts that would not have occurred to them in a more tolerant and even-handed environment. Moral panic over “racism” may create racists, not eliminate them.
Nor is the moral panic surrounding “racism” good for Blacks and other minorities. The climate of moral panic generated by exaggerated and unfounded accusations of “racism” only serves to dangerously reinforce “an already exaggerated sense of grievance in Blacks,” (Taylor, 87). This is not good for race relations. It encourages Blacks to mistrust all Whites and to see themselves as saintly victims of a system in which they cannot prosper.
Phony or trivial charges of “racism” may seem harmless enough in their particular contexts, but cumulatively they gnaw away at freedom. The argument Catharine R. Stimpson made to defend art is relevant here: “Higher education cannot delude itself into thinking that the arts can lose a little freedom here, the humanities a little freedom there, and everything will still be manageable…For academic and cultural freedom is like air: Pollution in one zone spreads to another,” (CHE, 26 September 1990).
In Fahrenheit 451, that remarkably prescient book, censorship does not come from the top down, but from the bottom up, and it comes through a thousand ostensibly minor restrictions on freedom in the name of humanitarian good will.
There was no dictum, no declaration,
no censorship to start with, no!
Technology, mass exploitation,
and minority pressure carried the trick…
You must understand that our
civilization is so vast that we can’t have our
minorities upset and stirred…
Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo.
White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin .
Burn it (Valentine, 53-4).
There are many ways to deal with false and trivial accusations of “racism,” but the one that seems most effective is to sue.
When something Eric Shane, the art historian, had written was said by another scholar to be open to a “racist construction,” Shane threatened to sue for defamation of character and libel.
The chastened critic, and her publisher, took out an ad in several major literary periodicals saying that the “slur” was “wholly unwarranted and [that they] deeply regret[ed] that the suggestion was made.” The ad went on to say that they were “pleased to have this opportunity to withdraw unreservedly this unfounded suggestion and to apologise most sincerely to Mr. Shane for the considerable distress and embarrassment which he has been caused,” (The Times Literary Supplement, 18 November 1994).
Given the moral panic that prevails on many campuses today, threatening to sue may be a more effective way of discouraging the irresponsible use of intimidating epithets than, say, appeals to this country’s principles of due process and free expression that still remain the envy and goal of so many people throughout the world.
More articles by Trout: Disengaged Students and the Decline in Academic Standards & Flunking the Test: The Dismal Record of Student Evaluations.