An Urgent Revolution
I cannot tell if this revolution sweeping through our country’s colleges is a legitimate revolution or merely a strange version of a limbo contest. The limbo contest was my first and immediate choice, but all things deserve more than a cursory glance. What I mean by ‘limbo contest’ is the definition of racism seems to be changing even more rapidly with cultural shifts in our country. Racism used to be a withholding of rights under the constitution, but then laws changed and the bar was lowered to the more nebulous but legitimate “denial of access”, and now we have lowered the bar to awkward social situations in which nobody has been directly verbally attacked. If you want to take a step up from that, then we can include poop swastikas that had no accompanying letter to explain who exactly the fecal feature was attacking. My first guess would have been that the Jews should be the most offended people at Mizzou, but hey what do I know?
Hunger strikes have been undertaken and the evil purveyors of institutional racism thrown out at a few institutions, and there has been a good amount of general back-slapping and feel-goodery. (Unless you’re white and trying to study.) Then a student journalist was roughed up and the media went from bemusedly pro-revolution to bat-shit because one of their own was muscled around. Hint: If you want any kind of media exposure, then commit some injustice to a journalist. Eventually the battle line formed between freedom of speech and freedom from speech, and it has essentially become a shouting match from that point on. I do not want to talk about that dichotomy, since it has been done to death. I want to talk about the bizarre thinking that led to the ‘safe spaces’ concept in the first place.
A Sudden Dissimilarity of Being
After the addition of the fifteenth amendment and subsequent victories of the civil rights movement over segregation and bringing on the creation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there was a fair bit of optimism in America that we are all equal and could all get along and regard one another in a manner free from the heavy weight of past horrors. There was a hope for a degree of sameness. To use the words of Maya Angelou: “Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.” Martin Luther King Jr. spoke similarly on the subject of community and equality: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Their words evince a desire for common ground, and an existence free from the burdens of history. There is no forgetting past atrocities, but there is a purposeful moving forward as a community. I think this hopeful thinking was based rather firmly on the concept of the human soul, and that in a community of eternal soul there is an innate sameness between people. According to the bible: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I think this is an important point to consider, since it was very much where Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights champions found vindication.
So what of this new revolution then? On what does it build the structure of its moral calling? In my opinion, the message is quite the opposite of the civil rights movement. This new revolution does not point out the sameness of people but revels in the infinite multitude of differences. There is an assumption that people of different racial life experiences need to be heard primarily because they are so different from what would be considered the mainstream American experience. There has arisen an infinite division among people, since experience is of the most importance, now that most people do not give credence to the equalizing concept of a gender and race neutral soul. This is where we get terms such as “whitesplaining”. To parse it out, the concept behind “whitesplaining” is that whites think differently than blacks, due to disparity in experience, so a white person cannot expect their manner of speech and amalgamation of philosophical ideas to transfer to a black experience. In a sense we have a new form of segregation. There is “black thought” and there is “white thought”. This is why free speech is a non-issue. Why should a person’s “white speech” brought on by “white thinking” be applied to the world of a person using “black thinking”?
Not convinced? Look at the term “ally”. This word is used to describe people of a different race, gender identity or what-have-you, that rallies around the cause of another. They can never be truly part of that specifically diverse collective, because there is no hope of their experience-thought-nexus giving them actual insight into the other’s human experience. Thus they are called allies. The term is traditionally used in compacts between sovereign states, the implication being that there is a common cause but an uncommon culture or set of laws or collective ethos.
You Cannot Fix What is not Broken
So what is the problem with this? The way I see it there are two problems. The first is that this divisive way of thinking is not conducive to bringing about collective solutions. It widens the gaps in the ability of different groups of people to take seriously what another is saying. If non-agreement can merely be attributed to an irreconcilable difference in a mode of thinking, then there emerges a hopelessness for accord. How can “white thinking” and “black thinking” ever reach an agreement when there is an assumption of little commonality in the experience-language? The differences are emphasized more than the similarities and can likely lead to further entrenchment in what is the expected norm of a cultural mode of thought. This form of sociology only increases alienation between people, allowing groups to revel in their impenetrable complexity.
Secondly, without the ability to have common human insight, we must assume that empathy suffers a blow as well. The inability to have interchangeable thought processes or modes of cultural communication pushes away people who would tend to be sympathetic under less radically divisive conditions. Empathy hinges on the ability to understand another person’s position by catching a glimpse of their perspective. How then is empathy possible on any level when we erode the similarities between groups of people in the name of emphasizing the diversity of experience? We reach the point where saying “I understand where you’re coming from” is a laughable and pointless exercise.
You cannot fix what is not broken. If we are willing to accept that each person-group has an infinitely indiscernible quality of mind, then what room is there for compromise? If racial strife comes from a fundamental inability to understand the experiential reality of another group of people, then all may be lost. In my more cynical moments I wonder if the students at Mizzou and other universities are subconsciously widening the gap through this new form of sociology to increase the perceived distance between groups. How do you expect someone to empathize when they have become illiterate to your thinking and speaking? Perhaps that is only half of the issue, and perhaps many of these students have decided that they do not need brothers and sisters when they can have allies and adversaries.