If you’ve been paying attention to the talk surrounding college campuses, you’ve probably put together by now that most of the criticism surrounding on-campus activists as whining liberals who have skins too thin to survive the real world. You all also might remember that I recently threw in my two cents in here, where I mentioned that I think the discourse had made my education better, not worse. But today I don’t want to talk specifically about the conversation on college campuses. I want to talk about one of the underlying questions of this entire debate, one I think we haven’t engaged with as much as we should: who is allowed to complain?
This questions is more necessary to engage with than some believe. Especially among the right, there is some kind of expectation that if you haven’t fought for our country or kept it safe, you’re not entitled to point out any of its problems. When a football player knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality, it was a slap in the face to our military. When Native Americans protest the destruction of sacred sites and the pollution of their drinking water, they’re making mountains out of molehills and holding back progress. When college students protested against acts of racism, theyre thin-skinned children. In short, many on the right seem to believe that if you just live in this country, you don’t get to speak out about its problems and should simply be thankful you have the privilege of living here.
What makes this so ironic, though, is how often those on the right - especially in the alt-right or more extreme groups - like to complain themselves. The number of articles I’ve read about how more conservative Ivy League students feel marginalized on campus, for one, strikes me as ridiculous given that, for at least one of the article-writers, I witnessed her eating dinner with a cadre of her friends (many of whom I knew to be remarkably liberal) every night. Alt-right social media accounts will whine about being kicked off of social media sites after they harass and abus other users. And most recently, of course, is their embracing of Trump, who is the perennial whiner, with his canceling of debate appearances because Megyn Kelly called him out on his sexism and tweeting out that Broadway should be a “safe space” for Mike Pence. Perhaps, then, what I said is wrong in the above paragraph. it seems that what the right is actually saying is that if you don't look like the founding fathers, you have no right to complain.
There’s something deeply disturbing about this, as it seems to be claim that the most marginalized can’t speak up about the ways in which they're often marginalized. Even more troubling, though, is that this is reflected in some recent statistics as to the beliefs Americans hold about protestors. A study cited in the Washington Post shows that among white Americans, 67% agree with the phrase “When Americans speak up and protest unfair treatment by the government it always makes out country better,” while only 48% agree with the exact same phrase when the subject is “black Americans.” In other words, there is some serious anxiety among white Americans that black Americans protesting is a bad thing. Perhaps this is because we feel some residual guilt, or believe that the protests of other racial groups constitute an attack on our own, or feel anxiety that this points to an America that is less fair than we like to believe. I don't know. Whatever the reason is, though, we had better get over it quickly, and instead learn to engage with protesters intellectually, thinking about their message rather than who they are. Otherwise we run the risk of having no productive discussion about how we could actually improve our country, stuck quibbling about who is allowed to speak up, when the answer is simple: everyone.
With excitement and optimism,
P.S. for a much longer and deeply engaging dive into this topic, check out this Washington post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/12/07/the-right-has-its-own-version-of-political-correctness-its-just-as-stifling/?utm_term=.f49dead98a3c