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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 53 – Enforcing Social Justice Dogma, From Student Protest To Academic Coercion

Language Police

“Linguistic intervention” is the polite term for coercing students into adopting certain language, phrases and social justice codewords on pain of academic penalty

The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics continues to capture and subvert our academic institutions, but until now the high priests of social justice have generally contented themselves with shouting down opponents, physically suppressing free speech and socially ostracising those who do not enthusiastically buy into their warped worldview.

That was bad enough. But as nervous university administrations seek to stay one step ahead of their restive student bodies, in some cases they are now going further than the activists and seeking to use their power and authority to enforce new speech codes and language guidelines – rules that do not merely govern personal conduct while on campus, but which impose academic penalties on students who hold the wrong beliefs or use the wrong language in their work.

From the Guardian:

Students at Hull University face losing marks on essays unless they employ “gender-sensitive” language.

Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation show undergraduates at the university have been advised that “language is important and highly symbolic” and informed they should be “aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations”, while “failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark”.

The document, obtained by the Sunday Times, related to undergraduates on a religious activism course in the university’s school of social science.

The direction follows moves by a number of universities to promote gender-neutral language.

Cardiff Metropolitan University’s code of practice on language has a “gender-neutral term” checklist, giving alternatives for words or phrases, including using “efficient” for “workmanlike” and “supervisor” for “foreman”. Bath University encourages neutral alternatives to “mankind” such as “humanity”, “humans” or “people”.

Two years ago, the University of North Carolina handed out a gender-inclusive language guide, which encouraged students away from using words such as “mailman” , “policeman”, “man-made” and other terms, giving alternative titles or descriptions, such as “postal carrier”.

The Hull University directive is seen as going further, with some critics describing it as “linguistic policing”.

Frank Furedi, the emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, told the Sunday Times: “Usually such threats are implicit rather than spelt out as in the case of Hull. This linguistic policing is used as a coercive tool to impose a conformist outlook. The alternative is to pay a penalty of being marked down.”

In other words, if you commit a sin such as writing “mankind” rather than “humankind” when submitting an essay at Hull University then you will now be at risk of incurring grade penalties and potentially jeopardising your future. Mastery of the academic principles and subject matter contained within the curriculum are no longer sufficient – now one must also think the “correct” things and use the correct language, unrelated to one’s own subject, in order to maintain an unblemished record.

If you are an English literature student who happens to prefer the cadence and evocations of older language when writing an essay, that’s just tough – every piece of coursework now has to help strike a hammer blow for social justice by drawing from the current leftist lexicon, on pain of penalty.

If you’re a mathematics or engineering geek who deals in empirical data and has little time for the subtleties of the English language, that’s tough too – you’d better learn fast how “words can harm” and ensure that your work meets academic standards while simultaneously avoiding the hair-trigger sensitivities of the most demented leftist professor.

And if you are a conservative religious student who sincerely believes that the new progressive orthodoxies on gender and sexuality are wrong and in conflict with your beliefs, that’s also tough. Now you must continually self-censor, guarding against ever inadvertently expressing what is in your heart, or run the risk that those beliefs might colour your writing, lest a misplaced pronoun or awkward turn of phrase cost you a vital grade.

And all of this shall be done, of course, in the name of creating a safe and inclusive environment for all students and faculty.

We are in new territory here. Most of the social justice outrages covered by this blog have involved cultists enforcing their ideology by either threatening heretics with social stigmatisation or using their power to shout down opponents and bend people to their will. That is bad enough. But this goes to another level – this is a university administration using its power to enforce social justice-compliant language (and thus thinking) among students.

For once, rather than scrambling to keep up with restive campus activists, the university is coming out in front of them, preemptively doing their bidding by forcing every last disinterested student to use the same prissy, stilted language as the most committed social justice zealot.

Fortunately, Hull University’s draconian move has also provoked a measure of dissent within the wider academic ranks:

Prof Judith Baxter, emeritus professor of applied linguistics at Aston University, said: “The principle of gender-neutral language has been around for at least 30 years. Businesses, schools, publishing, academic and educational texts use gender-neutral language now. So there is a total expectation.

“Most universities have just incorporated it in their general way of things. So it is a little bit odd that they have made it regulatory. I just think that is a step too far. Taking this regulatory, punitive attitude to the whole business of gender neutrality is a backward step. What it does is set up resistance. It will make people annoyed, not want to comply, when I think the majority of students would incorporate these sorts of approaches anyway.”

Precisely so. Leaving aside the most extreme linguistic absurdities to emanate from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, most people are happy to use respectful terminology in their public interactions, as a matter of basic politeness. To use the threat of academic penalty to coerce adherence to a speech code – the vast majority of which most students are happy to follow anyway – is a massive overreach.

More than that, it is simply wrong. Academic discovery can only take place when people are free to challenge existing orthodoxies, theories and beliefs. Insulating any worldview – especially such a new and untested one as intersectionalism-soaked social justice – from academic enquiry and criticism goes against the core duty of a university. Whether it is theoretical physics or (as in this case) the social sciences, ideas can only be refined, proven or disproven if people are free to question them. Nobody and no theory should be exempt from such criticism.

With this punative, draconian policy, Hull University is essentially teaching their entire student body that some ideas are above criticism, above reproach. They are functioning not as a university but as a social justice madrassa – because, ultimately, the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is less science, even less objective fact, and far more like a religion.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 52 – Gustavus Adolphus College, Illegal Immigration And A Failure Of Intellectual Curiosity

Illegal Immigration - White Supremacy - Gustavus Adolphus College - Poster

The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics takes a fierce, perverse pride in refusing to understand the arguments of anyone who holds alternative ideas

What genuine attempt at political dialogue begins with a deliberate effort to misunderstand and mischaracterise the opposing side, misrepresent their motives and impugn their morals?

The answer, of course, is none. No respectful or productive discussion is possible when one side deliberately poisons the well in such a manner. Yet this is exactly what the Diversity Leadership Council at Gustavus Adolphus College did when they posted a series of fake, deliberately racist anti-illegal immigration posters around campus to spur a discussion and supposedly “educate” people about racism.

Campus Reform reports:

The “Diversity Leadership Council” at Gustavus Adolphus College has admitted to posting racially offensive posters around campus after the school’s Bias Response Team received multiple reports on the matter.

The signs, which are now being labeled a social experiment, notified “all white Americans” to report “any and all illegal aliens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement” because “they are criminals.”

Provocatively declaring that “America is a white nation,” the flyers assert that it is the “civic duty” of white Americans to turn illegal immigrants in to law enforcement.

Because the only people who could possibly concerned about illegal immigration are white people, right? Nobody of any other skin tone or ethnicity could have a problem with turning a blind eye toward those who either illegally cross the border, overstay their legitimate visa or otherwise flout federal immigration law and then seek to use the length of their lawbreaking as an emotional cudgel to lobby for the normalisation of their status. Only racist white people.

Of course, as the predictable outrage crested and the Bias Response Team’s switchboard melted down under the sheer volume of calls from triggered students, it turned out that the whole thing was a fake. The Diversity Leadership Council coming forward with this smarmy statement:

At approximately 10 a.m. this morning, the Diversity Leadership Council (DLC), a student-run organization that represents 21 student groups on campus, posted signs in Beck and Olin Hall which attacked “Illegal Aliens” by suggesting that “they are criminals.” These posts were quickly torn down and shared with members of the campus community via the Facebook Group, Overheard at Gustavus.

It is the mission of the Diversity Leadership Council to formulate a collective voice when our organization recognizes the need to promote, preserve, and protect on-campus diversity. Thus, a subcommittee of the DLC, in collaboration with social justice theatre troupe I Am We Are, posted these signs and accompanying A-frames with bystander intervention tips in academic buildings on campus in an effort to help educate our peers and campus community about issues of bias, and the importance of being an active bystander.

We want to help put an end to bias-related incidents that happen on our campus, social media, and in our communities by forcing individuals to have dialogues about forms of hate and bias.

Social justice theatre troupe? Kill me now.

And so with a straight face, the Diversity Leadership Council of Gustavus Adolphus College told the student body and the wider public that their little stunt – portraying concern over illegal immigration as the exclusive preserve of white nationalists – was intended to foster “dialogue”.

The National Review’s redoubtable social justice beat reporter, Katherine Timpf, thunders:

Hey, kids? If you want to “help put an end to bias-related incidents that happen on our campus,” how about you address those incidents instead of distracting from them by making up a fake one? Seriously — just what is bringing awareness to a fake issue going to solve? It’s not going to help solve that issue, because — and sorry if I’m blowing your mind here — a problem has to actually exist in order for you to be able to solve it.

Now, I am not sure exactly what kinds of “bias-related incidents” are happening on that campus, but I do know that there being people on campus who felt so strongly that only white people should live in America that they were running around posting “AMERICA IS A WHITE NATION” flyers to help achieve that would be a serious one indeed. Presumably, this fake incident is on a completely different level from anything that is actually happening on that campus, which means that any “dialogues” related to it are on a completely different level, too. No doubt, these flyers must have left a lot of people feeling freaked out and threatened based on a false issue, all for the sake of having a discussion about something that didn’t even exist — and that’s about as disgusting as it gets.

Timpf’s objection is all well and good, but the real problem is not the fact that demented SJWs have now taken to crying “wolf” when starved of more legitimate opportunities for outrage (depressing though that is), but rather the fact that these campus leaders and activists are studying at university yet seemingly totally incapable of understanding the alternative arguments and perspectives which they so vociferously oppose.

One does not need to be a white nationalist to oppose illegal immigration. In fact, the vast majority of those who choose not to celebrate illegal immigration are perfectly welcoming and tolerant of immigrants, provided that they a) settle in America through the proper legal process, and b) assimilate into general society once they arrive. Are there racists and white nationalists as well? Of course there are. But while all white nationalists may object to illegal immigration, not all people who object to illegal immigration are white nationalists. Not even a plurality of them.

And yet rather than encouraging students to deeply understand an issue or argument from all sides, universities today seem to openly encourage an outcome-based approach to thinking about certain issues – for students to start at their desired endpoint (open borders and the normalisation of all current illegal immigrants) and then choose the facts (or Trumpian alternative facts) to back up that position.

I was always taught that in order to properly debate with somebody, let alone stand a chance of winning an argument against them, one must first seek to fully understand and be able to properly articulate the opposing argument, from the opponent’s perspective. Only armed with this knowledge can one properly analyse, refute and undermine the premises of their argument in order to comprehensively attack their conclusion.

By contrast, today’s campus activists – raised on the dogma of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – lack the capacity not only to understand opposing viewpoints in order to argue properly, they also seem unable even to assume the good faith of those who hold alternative views. They are so high on their own sense of self-righteousness that they lack the basic intellectual curiosity to seek to understand why somebody might disagree with their position. Hence objection to illegal immigration is described in the posters at Gustavus Adolphus College as being of concern only to white Americans who believe that “America is a white nation”.

But the truly depressing thing is that while the Social Justice Star Chamber of Gustavus Adolphus College may have gone slightly further than most in terms of fabricating fake racist posters to get outraged about “promote a discussion” about their pet topics, the simplicity of their thinking is mirrored across a vast portion of society and the media.

How harshly can one really criticise the social justice zealots at Gustavus Adolphus College when the American mainstream media is also in the business of deliberately conflating legal and illegal immigration so as to portray opposition to the latter as racist-inspired hostility to the former?

How strongly can one denounce the student activists when the leadership of the Democratic Party sees fit to welcome a succession of illegal immigrants onto the stage at their quadrennial party convention to soak up the admiring applause of party delegates?

What the Diversity Leadership Council did was bad, but in many ways it was no worse than similar insidious efforts made by politicians and the media to normalise illegal immigration and portray anybody with legitimate concerns as either heartless or a dangerous extremist. And at least it is clear – by virtue of their limited intelligence and rank amateurism – what the Gustavus Adolphus activists are up to with their tawdry little campaign. The bias of political officials and supposedly objective journalists is often far more subtle, and therefore harder to detect.

The same cannot be said of the mindless open borders stance of the Gustavo Adolphus activists, and the naked stupidity and bad faith currently on display at that Minnesota college.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 51 – The Social Justice Movement’s Toxic, Self-Defeating ‘Call-Out Culture’

Call-out culture sucks sometimes - social justice - SJWs - identity politics

Self-awareness is a rare, endangered commodity within the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics

This blog has previously written about the ways in which the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is a revolution determined to eat its own – see here, here, here, here, here, and (most recently) here.

Back in December I reported that there have been potential fleeting flashes of self-awareness from within the social justice community, as certain members – typically those who at one time found themselves persecuted and ostracised by their former comrades for having committed some minor act of thought crime – came to realise that the “call-out culture” within the social justice movement is doing far more harm than good.

Today there is another such spark of self-reflection in the pages of Everyday Feminism, as writer Lola Phoenix offers her tribe a few tentative suggestions as to how they might present a slightly less insufferable face to the outside world.

Of course, Phoenix’s testimonial begins with the now-familiar recitation of personal oppressions and “marginalised identities” to serve as mitigation for the harsh truths she is about to deliver:

Six months ago, I really got called out.

And by “called out,” I mean that the person had more interest in collecting me like I was garbage in a very public way and less interest in helping me understand where I was going wrong.

Hmm, sounds familiar.

Despite my willingness to apologize, to try and learn, their attitude pulled me back into that whirlwind of cognitive ability confusion. As a person on the autistic spectrum, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been unsure of what I’ve done wrong and have tried to figure out what I did.

Blah blah, you get the idea. But pre-emptive excuses aside, Phoenix goes on to engage in some fairly accurate self-reflection:

We’re not robots, and when we learn we’ve been oppressive in some way, we’re going to have feelings about that. And sometimes that needs to be expressed, but – as of now – there’s no really appropriate place to do that.

As a white person, I’ve seen myself do this to other white people who haven’t learned better. When they exhibit the attitudes I once held, I become embarrassed, enraged at their ignorance, and treat them accordingly.

But we have to keep in mind that so many of us committed to social justice are living in a culture where we aren’t taught how to handle or process anger effectively, so it comes out in abusive ways even when we don’t mean it to.

More:

There is a “callout culture” where ally theatre happens and people enjoy “calling out,” naming, and shaming, witch hunting, and publicly humiliating people.

I’ve been on the receiving end of that.

I do think there’s a difference between confronting someone about their behavior versus humiliating them.

Wow. This is an astonishingly frank admission. It is perhaps unfortunate that it took being on the receiving end of an SJW witch hunt for Phoenix to realise that enforcing ideological conformity through public shaming and strict social ostracising is a bad thing, but we should take what we are given.

Meanwhile, Sara Lynn Michener – coining the term CSJW, or “Counterproductive Social Justice Warrior – makes some equally valid observations for Empire South Magazine, including advice such as:

Disproportionate Punishment
Someone has made a legitimate mistake, and there are calls by CSJWs to essentially have them drawn and quartered, thereby eclipsing the original offense and opening it up further for ridicule. Example: it is true that the British astrophysicist who wore a shirt covered in B-Grade Vargas Girls to an event of international significance (that would have had impressionable science-loving little girls in its audience) made a poor wardrobe selection that day that also spoke volumes of the negative experiences of women in science and tech. But verbal abuse or calls to have him fired, rather than specifically explaining the harm caused, were counter productive and fuel for the opposition. This rule also applies when the person who erred apologizes, but the apology is deemed insufficient (often not because it was deemed insincere, but because more than a sincere apology is what is being demanded) and calls for the proverbial pound of flesh continue until the vultures move onto another body.

And:

Confusing Preaching to The Choir vs Outreach
Sometimes expressing outrage and drawing support from such a community is wonderful and gives you strength for the fight. I do it all the time, but I do it knowingly. It is not the same thing as outreach and one rarely lives in the same place as the other. When a group (or individual) truly seeks to explain something to a listening audience who are not yet the in-group but are sympathetic, curious, and ripe for conversion; there is no excuse for using the same hostile and demeaning snark that you use in the in-group. So, if you’re about to post about an issue, ask yourself: am I sharing this for the people who already know? Or for the people who don’t? And proceed accordingly, especially in the comments section. Here’s a hint: preaching to the in-group is easy. Outreach is very, very hard work that keeps you honest about why the issue matters.

And:

Not being able to adequately explain the why behind your thesis
This one is practiced so often by college educated CSJWs it makes me wonder how tough their professors were on them. If your argument relies on a label rather than proving it is a correct usage of said term, your argument will only ever make sense among those who already agree with you. Rhetoric is a slogan. A real argument is both more and less work depending on how you look at it, but if you’re accusing someone of something like Ableism and you can’t explain why or back up your argument, you’ve already lost.

And:

Rejecting Imperfect Members of the Resistance
Amy Schumer, Taylor Swift, and Lena Dunham are imperfect members of the resistance. I am an imperfect member of the resistance. So are you. Human beings tend to have faults. Famous people’s faults, whether they are even real or not, get nevertheless amplified all over the world. It’s fine to call out a celeb if they have genuinely said or done something problematic. But if you then never forgive them, bring it up every time they are invited to speak at a rally, and routinely say they have no place in the resistance because of things they have long since apologized for, then you will have a very small and ineffective resistance. I personally only accept flawed people in my resistance, including CSJWs who sound like they’re sitting at a high school cafeteria announcing YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US, when they do this.

The above point is a great observation. But note how the language could almost describe a Christian’s understanding of himself as a sinner, and the Church as a community of sinners. This is the extent to which Social Justice has become a new, secular religion for those involved – that we now see “love the sinner, hate the sin” discussions taking place in SJW Land.

And so from these and a growing number of other articles expressing unease at the way the Social Justice community polices itself and engages with the world, ther is at least a recognition that their own behaviours are making activist communities “toxic” for many people. Will it ultimately change anything? Probably not.

Mea culpas and moment of self-reflection such as this can be likened a man trying to find his way out of a pitch black cave with only a broken cigarette lighter for illumination. Press the button and it may spark briefly, revealing tantalising glimpses of a safe path through the interior, but no sooner does the spark appear than it is extinguished again, and the darkness returns. “Call-out culture” and public shaming is such an inherent part of the Social Justice movement that nobody in the ascendancy within the cult has any incentive to stop using the techniques of free speech suppression and ideological enforcement which they themselves practice and benefit from.

Some time ago, I described the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics as “a constant, bitchy, backbiting game of snakes and ladders, with one insufferable petty tyrant rising to the top of the Moral Virtue Pyramid only to be brought down by their jealous rivals, either for no reason at all, or for having unknowingly violated one of the many red lines that they themselves helped to draw across our political discourse.”

I still think that this is a fair and measured description of the movement as a whole. But if the social justice warriors could get their impulses for virtue signalling and heresy persecution in check – at least within their own tribe, if not to change their sanctimonious attitude toward non believers – then they might at least stop appearing so ridiculous and out of touch to so many outsiders.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 50 – University of Maryland President And Students Vie For Coveted Victim Status

latinx

Waah, waah, waah

What happens when SJW students and their university president become locked in a social justice victimhood showdown, each trying to claim offence and present themselves as having been somehow harmed by the other in a gruesome yet compelling display of whinnying, childish immaturity?

The University of Maryland shows us exactly what happens.

Campus Reform reports:

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh inadvertently outraged liberal students by using Spanish while pledging to protect illegal immigrant students, a move deemed “offensive” to UMD’s immigrant population.

Much of Loh’s annual State of the Campus Address was a “a clear call to embrace diversity,” according to The Diamondback, including a promise to protect illegal immigrant students on campus by barring immigration officials from campus if they don’t have a warrant and refusing to voluntarily share undocumented student information.

“These are the things that we will commit to, that we will do and will not do in order to create a safe and supportive learning environment,” he declared.

His repetition of the same statement in Spanish, however, raised eyebrows among some members of the crowd, even though he had employed a similar tactic in a campus-wide email last month in which he first outlined UMD’s intent to resist federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Student Senator Ashley Vasquez, for instance, complained that Spanish “does not represent the entire immigrant community here” during a post-speech Q&A, asking Loh if he would like to apologize for repeating his promise in Spanish.

Vasquez later told The Diamondback that she found Loh’s use of Spanish offensive because it implied that the only immigrants on campus are “Latinx.”

This is brilliant on so many levels.

Firstly, why make the comment in Spanish at all? Is anybody studying at the University of Maryland incapable of speaking English? (Hint: No) Is this part of a policy of general bilingual communications, signs, written and verbal instructions at the university? (Hint: No again). The only reason for President Wallace Loh to make such a gesture is that it affords him a quick and easy way to signal his own virtue, his acceptance of absolutely all kinds of immigration, legal and illegal, moral and immoral.

To see Wallace Loh then called out by a professional offence-taking student for oppressing immigrant students of other backgrounds by failing to pander obsequiously to their own native languages is in many ways inevitable. Just as straight gay men are often no longer considered sufficiently “oppressed” to warrant full coverage under the Social Justice umbrella, so it may soon come to pass that “Latinx” students, being so plentiful in the United States, find themselves summarily deemed relatively privileged and cut adrift as the SJWs go looking for rarer and more exotic immigrants to defend.

And if one accepts SJW logic, who can argue with the student’s complaint? Hispanic people are a rapidly growing demographic in America. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where I have family, the Hispanic population far exceeds the white and there are some stores and businesses where I am disadvantaged as a non Spanish speaker. But in terms of how much their language is catered for in America, Hispanics are immensely “privileged” compared to, say, German, French or Mandarin speakers. The student is therefore doing what any good SJW student should do – casting aside the interests and concerns of a relatively privileged group and focusing on more “marginalised” ones instead.

But President Loh’s response makes this story even better:

Loh, who is Peruvian and a native Spanish speaker, did not initially address the question, but later responded to the accusations after a second student asked him to apologize, as well.

“I simply said that I completely support—I said in Spanish what I previously said in English,” Loh remarked with surprise. “Are you asking me to apologize because I’m speaking in Spanish, which is the first language I learned?”

Loh probably realises that he actually committed a bit of a culturally imperialistic faux-pas by translating his Ode to Undocumented Immigrants only into Spanish, thus suggesting that immigrants and illegal immigrants can only come from an Hispanic background. But he doesn’t want to back down, so instead he chooses to take public offence at the student for criticising him for speaking in his native language.

In other words, we have here a grown man and somebody who rose to the position of president of a state university flopping around on the floor like a wounded victim and playing the role of a wide-eyed innocent child whose ice cream was just stolen because rather than confess to a mistake, his social justice ideology commands him to always play the victim to get out of a tight spot.

Naturally the student was unimpressed with his deflection:

UMD senior Lauryn Froneberger apparently didn’t find Loh’s response sufficient, mainly because he did not concede that his use of Spanish was offensive.

“As a student you want to know that your university stands by you and won’t use language that sort of offends you,” Froneberger said. “And even if you let them know they offended you, I think it’s important to acknowledge that. I don’t think he acknowledged that at all.”

I’ve said it before and I will no doubt say it many more times on this blog – the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is not about doing good or liberating people from genuine oppression. It is a first world, middle class cult of power, a virtual country club with its own finicky rules and seething, petty power struggles.

And this pathetic little exchange at the University of Maryland’s “State of the Campus” (ha!) address is just one of what will be many more tussles between students and faculty, both of whom drink the identity politics Kool-Aid and both of whom intend to use identity politics principles to bolster their own tawdry arguments and undermine their foes.

The University of Maryland’s own president is apparently unable to think properly in public or respond to a challenge when called out by a student in any way other than curling up into a ball and asserting hurt feewings victim status himself.

Where’s rock bottom again?

 

decolonizing-latinx-feminisms-course

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Virginia Schools Butcher The English Literature Curriculum To Appease Social Justice Zealots

n-word

Humanity’s intellectual and artistic horizons must not be limited by the delicate sensitivities of society’s most easily-offended members

It has happened again – another oversensitive, censorious American school district has suspended the works Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird from their high school curriculum pending a full review of the two novels’ artistic merit versus their supposed offensiveness. And this time, all because of one solitary parental complaint.

The Guardian reports:

To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been suspended from the curriculum in some Virginia schools, after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs.

Harper Lee and Mark Twain’s literary classics were removed from classrooms in Accomack County, in Virginia after a formal complaint was made by the mother of a biracial teenager. At the centre of the complaint was the use of the N-word, which appears frequently in both titles.

The woman who made the complaint said her son struggled to read the racist language, telling the Accomack County public schools board: “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” The challenge also appears to be motivated by the current political landscape in the US, as the mother told the board: “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

What a pathetic person, and what terrible parenting. If her son “struggled to read the racist language”, it is only because he was deliberately made fragile. Made fragile by his own parent(s) and by the society in which he grew up, which constantly, wrongly taught him that sticks and stones may break his bones, but words can kill him stone dead.

The danger is that by bowing to these petty, whinnying requests for censorship, our overall society is dragged down to the level of the weakest and most intolerant members. Little Timmy can’t read this book without weeping and being triggered, so now nobody can read it.

Are we really to shuffle books in and out of the school syllabus according to how sensitive people feel following a presidential election? Is a book’s inherent worth subject to fluctuate according to the changing political fortunes of the Democratic and Republican Parties? This is ludicrous.

As this blog has argued numerous times, the “N-word” has no power to harm beyond that which we give it by pretending that there is no difference between using the word in anger and clinically discussing it in a classroom, court of law or television news broadcast.

And there is a difference. Being called a nigger is not tremendously pleasant. As a mixed race young man (like the child whose insufferable parent demanded the ban), I have had occasional direct experience myself. But this is a world apart from reading or hearing the word in the context of studying a great work of literature. And people who are unable to make this distinction should not be allowed to hold the rest of society back by virtue of their self-inflicted fragility.

 

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