Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Janelle Moss, an African American issues columnist, presented an aggressive, dishonest and insulting justification for the destructive black student protests at the University of Missouri. In an earlier essay, I described them as an “I’m mad at the world and somebody has to pay for it” tantrum. I’m sticking by that description, despite the ennobling spin being put on it by apologists, many of whom are trying to blunt the damage being done to civil rights advocacy by the events of the last several days.
[N]owhere in this still-young week has there been a better example of the tension between the conservative and liberal views of race and the politics around it than behind the podium where University of Missouri President Timothy M. Wolfe stood and resigned Monday,” she wrote. This is setting up Wolfe’s speech as a straw man. He was forced to resign, and ordered to do it without making matters worse. He was also protecting himself, and, I believe, was a weak and inept leader. How nice to be able to take a hastily written statement by such a dubious representative of any group and declare it the exemplar of “conservative views on race.”
Moss’s introduction was smoking gun proof that this was an example of an advocate picking out evidence to support what she already was committed to supporting, and atrocious evidence at that.
“The Fix is aware that some Americans are inclined to reject, outright, the idea that some words — those that we choose to express our ideas, what we say at critical moments and that which we do not mention — have deeper, often multi-layered meaning, ” she writes. I don’t know what she thinks she is saying. “Many Americans” reject the idea that words have meaning? “Multi-layered” meanings? Who? Who believes that? What she is trying to do is to justify her next “proof,” which is junk science.
She consulted two minority social scientists, who have clear biases of their own (but coincidentally aligned with hers) to psychoanalyze what Wolfe said in resigning, and allowing her to use their self-serving diagnosis (one has a book out about “dog-whistle” racism; the other makes his living writing and teaching about how racist the U.S. is) of a short and quickly composed speech to read not just Wolfe’s thoughts but to attribute them to all “conservatives.” The result is, or should be embarrassing.
One of her hand-picked experts says,
“You know what I thought here? I thought about the quote the football players used — what they said in explaining why they felt they could not play. I think they referenced a line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, when he wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality…” I think those students meant that. I wish that the president had read that letter at some point — or certainly today before he resigned.”
In this context, that analysis is ridiculous. King had a specific goal and cause. The students were striking because the president was supposed to “do something” to make them feel safe on campus from the random racism in the world. Not only do I doubt that most of the football players striking knew the King quote—I doubt they can read above a 7th grade level, too—it isn’t a quote meant to be taken literally, nor does it make sense except in the context of outrageous, wide-ranging injustice. But Moss and her race-industry profiting professors are attempting to imbue a silly and excessive protest with dignity and courage by associating it with a historically heroic one. The implication of their context is also sinister. Because a few students may have used “nigger” in two random incidents (and we don’t even know they are students), the hunger striking, grand-standing grad student and the extortionist football players are taking a stand against injustice “everywhere” that can only be remedied by speech suppression and other authoritarian means.
The rest of the analysis follows in kind. Read it all, as an impressive example of journalistic left-wing bias and academic left-wing bias teaming up to make a weak argument look…well, even weaker.
The cultural anthropologist makes this discovery about Wolfe’s speech: “That last part comes pretty close to confirming that those who protested are not his friends.” Then he goes on to show that this betrays Wolf’s misunderstanding of his role :
“The reality is that you can, very much, support a president or a leader and still encourage or demand that he or she move swiftly in a different direction, take different actions than they have before. That’s the essence of an open environment — certainly a welcoming one. That friendship and support to him seem to be consistent with silence or at least private conversations is telling. As a cultural anthropologist, this is what stood out.”
By speaking so abstractly, the professor is trying to make us forget that the resignation was in response to a specific set of facts. This wasn’t about voting rights or not being able to use public bathrooms. Wolfe was resigning because he couldn’t magically make black students “safe” from random bigots who might insult them. Take what “different actions”? A group of students demanded that Wolfe be fired or resign, and used excessive and extortive tactics—a threatened suicide and defaulting on a football game the school was obligated to play—to make him the convenient scapegoat for “injustice everywhere”… and the professor thinks it’s “telling” that Wolfe does not think of the students who lost him his job as his “friends” ?
In the excellent debate in the comments to my previous post on this topic, urbanregor, who is a respected friend and who contributes greatly to Ethics Alarms by being willing to talk openly and directly about race, agreed that the two incidents of verbal abuse would not have justified the student reaction. He wrote, in part, that “The racial issues at Mizzou appear to go far beyond ‘two unrelated instances of unidentified people using racial epithets, and what may be a hoax…’ I read it more as a tipping point, and why I’m still not convinced it was mob rule.”
UR, I read it as a tipping point as well, but not as far as the university goes. Is it too much to expect of putative adults to require them to be able to address clearly and substantively why they are protesting? I don’t think so. When the movement, mob, whatever you want to call it, starts defaulting to grad student insurance plans when you ask “what?” I can only conclude: “They got nothing!” When the first thing the hunger-striker alludes to is “Mike Brown’s murder,” when he was not murdered, I fairly conclude, “Well, this is all based on lies, distortions and political narratives devised to cause exactly these kinds of emotions.”
That’s MY tipping point, UR. I’m a lawyer: I do not respect “my truth/ your truth” tricks. If the strike is about the racial injustice in Ferguson, which there was and is; if it is about systemic injustice, that’s important and fair—but don’t start with Mike Brown and his hands up. If the protest is really about the daily stresses and indignities of black life, don’t scapegoat Mizzou and its administrators, saying they should “do something,” when the only demands the protesters can come up with are boilerplate and eyewash that will do nothing.
Protests are powerful weapons. I have written about that in many contexts. Protesters have an ethical obligation to be fair, clear, focused, and have an immediate purpose in mind. Otherwise they can be exactly like a child with a gun, power without responsibility. Can unfocused, unfair, emotional and excessive protests “do something”? Sure, and so can an angry kid with a gun.
It’s a tipping point, I believe absolutely, because supporters of President Obama, primed by Obama himself since before he was even elected (“Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. “You know, he’s not patriotic enough, he’s got a funny name, you know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”) , cynically agreed that they would consistently attempt to increase his power and muzzle his critics by characterizing them as racially motivated. (And, critically, his supporters include most journalists.) If he had been even a barely competent leader, and he has not, by any fair assessment, this would not have mattered. But a group whose admiration, loyalty and identification with the first black President—and I understand that, because it is natural and human—have been told by that individual,because of his office and the history behind it, who symbolizes everything that white America is hostile to him…and thus THEM…based on color alone. After 8 years of this, no wonder they are angry and alienated. I would be, if, as Clarence Darrow in 1925 urged an all-white jury passing judgment on a black man, if I “made myself black for a moment.” Back in 2008, I predicted exactly this result, if the sick and cynical use of race-baiting didn’t stop…and here we are.
A whole generation has been convinced by a political strategy that whites are hostile to them, hence an ignorant racist insult from some asshole is a stand in, according to a Missouri student leader, for society itself. He believes all whites are like that. If I blame anything on the university, it is being so ideologically imbalanced that he wasn’t taught otherwise.
The tipping point is the product of Barack Obama poisoning race relations, maybe for decades, maybe forever, by being incompetent and arrogant, and for not having the character to accept accountability, hiding behind his race instead.
When one’s hypothesis and analysis predicts a result, and that result occurs, one tends, legitimately, to see that hypothesis confirmed.
Yes, its a tipping point, and has little to do with what happened or didn’t happen at Mizzou. A white university President, a Chancellor and two professors so far have lost their jobs because a far more competent President, or his supporters with his approval, decided to seed racial division and distrust for political gain.
If the reflex defenders of the indefensible at the University of Missouri want to exonerate the students, this gives them a solid argument.
I doubt they are ready to make it, however. It’s so much easier to blame powerless white university officials.