President Obama’s timely criticism of the Safe Space Generation of students
It may come as a surprise to his conservative critics, but President Obama’s stance on the creeping authoritarianism and Identity Politics culture infecting American college campuses is very much on the side of free speech and robust debate.
Pressed to discuss his views on “politically biased colleges” at a high school town hall event held late last year, Barack Obama said:
Sometimes, y’know, there are folks on college campuses who are liberal and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side. And that’s a problem too. I was just talking to a friend of mine about this, you know, I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t wanna have a guest speaker who, you know, is too conservative. Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. And you know, I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either.
I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view, y’know? I think that you should be able to – anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ’em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying “you can’t come because, y’know my – I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say”. That’s not the way we learn either.
It is interesting to watch the reaction of the students standing behind Obama while he makes these remarks. Some are clearly bored and not paying close attention, but most clap politely when Obama reaches a natural break in his speech.
However, there is also a significant minority of students in the audience who are giving what can best be described as death stares. Clearly they do not like what they are hearing one bit, because Obama’s pragmatic suggestion that college is place where autonomous adults go to debate sometimes difficult ideas in the pursuit of personal and intellectual growth is contrary to everything that they have been taught is progressive and socially just.
Note in particular the two women on the top right of the screen when Obama says that campus speech restrictions are more suited to the former Soviet Union, approximately 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the video. While the other students seem to have fairly neutral expressions at this point, these two students look angry, sullen and passive-aggressive. The president of the United States has dared to come to their school and blaspheme against the Cult of Identity Politics to which they fully subscribe, and so they sit there, arms crossed and doubtless feeling quite triggered, plotting their revenge.
The point is this: it only takes a few such angry zealots to cow and intimidate an entire student population – and university administrations which should know better – into embracing every corrosive aspect of the Identity Politics culture. Of an entire student body, only a minority will drink deep enough from the well of competitive grievance culture that they turn and become the angry, authoritarian stars of many a YouTube video. But those who do are incapable of leaving everybody else alone. They cannot practice their new secular religion privately; all must share in their beliefs and abide by their behavioural codes, on pain of punishment.
Just seven years ago, the image of an African-American man addressing a group of high school students as President of the United States would have been seen as a powerful display of the social change that is possible when free speech is celebrated, guaranteed and used. Barack Obama, whatever one thinks of his record in office, did not become president by sheltering inside an academic safe space, after all. But Identity Politics does not encourage reflection on progress made; it primarily fosters resentment about the sins and injustices of the past.
Today’s generation of Identity Politics-practising students can talk endlessly about their “pain” and write interminable, barely literate screeds demanding that they be sheltered, acknowledged and validated in everything that they do.
But I doubt that a single one of them could write “Dreams from my Father“.
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