Notes & Comments November 2017
Devouring its own
On internal censure within the Left.
It is a pity that the flow chart published last month by a student magazine at The Ohio State University was not available in October 2015, when Professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis faced the soul-wrenching issue of what counts as an offensive Halloween costume at Yale. Poor Erika! She sympathized with the students, affirmed their politically correct instincts, but declined to police their Halloween costumes. The resulting meltdown by campus crybullies made national headlines and, eventually, resulted in the Christakises’ being rusticated from Yale College. If only they had had access to “Is Your Costume Racist?” the chart published by 1870 Magazine. This handy guide offers aspiring nitwits a plethora of easy-to-digest practical advice. Were you thinking of gallivanting about on Halloween as the black guitarist Prince? Are you white? If yes, “Try a new costume idea.” Are you black? If yes, “You’re good.” “Does your costume include traditional head wear from other cultures?” White? No good. No? Probably OK. With respect to politically charged costumes, the governing question was “Does it make fun of Donald Trump?” Here we had an equal opportunity opening regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation(s): “Do it.”
A hierarchy of victimhood.
It is part of what Anthony Trollope called “the way we live now” that one cannot immediately tell whether this chart is offered with tongue in cheek. Satire is a casualty of political correctness. And then there is the inanity of ideological purity, what Sigmund Freud called the narcissism of small differences. Item: as the invaluable website Legal Insurrection reported, a student group at Cornell called Black Students United confronted the administration with a list of demands that included the demand that the university pay more attention to “Black Americans who have several generations (more than two) in this country,” as distinct from first-generation students from Africa or the Caribbean. Although the bsu later apologized for this demand, the implication was clear and persists: in the world of identity politics, white is white and always oppressive, but black comes in a hierarchy of victimhood.
We saw something similar at Rutgers University when the black libertarian entrepreneur and commentator Kmele Foster dared to defend protections for free speech in the face of Black Lives Matter protestors. Martin Luther King, Jr., Foster noted, depended on such protections to advance his civil rights agenda in the 1960s. For many years in this country, Foster continued, “speech protections were used by minority groups who were fighting for civil rights, and it was essential for them to be able to secure those rights, in order to advocate. The reason why Martin Luther King, for example, wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail from a Birmingham jail was because he was imprisoned for effectively violating speech codes.” “I don’t need no facts,” shouted one interlocutor, inadvertently articulating a central tenet of her entire movement. He was promptly joined by others shouting “Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” Foster was eventually allowed to make his point, but the central message of mlk—that what matters is not the color of our skin but the content of our character—had been left far behind, a casualty of the lumpen idiocy of identity politics.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 36 Number 3, on page 3
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