There is a race in our society to see who can be most “sensitive.”
A few days ago a Kansas State University pre-med student Snapchatted this photo and social media came unglued.
One guy even posted “…I’m supposed to walk into my classes feeling completely comfortable with people on our campus who think like this?”
Then the “Campus Climate Response Team” (this is a thing now?) sprang into action. They “met to address this recent social media posting” and concluded “This racially offensive photo with a derogatory message has upset the K-State family.”
It has been reported that the student was expelled for the “racist” post, with some reporting “Kansas State student is kicked out of school after sending Snapchat wearing black clay mask with caption ‘Feels good to finally be a n****r’” (note the letter ‘r’ at the end). But there’s no reliable report from the University, and the Student Conduct Code states no grounds for discipline of racially-motivated jokes (even dumb ones).
So let’s unpack what’s going on here, but let’s do it responsibly, without emotional knee-jerk reactions. The student made a bad decision. Whites in blackface conjure up days when blacks were considered by many whites to be members of an inferior race. That was a racist belief under the actual definition of racism. So it’s understandable that some don’t want to be reminded of that ignorance with vestiges of a time when racist beliefs were widely acceptable. The student’s snapchat was unfunny, and she should have known some would bristle, especially when people these days are eager to be offended, but was it “racist” and was it harmful?
The “political correctness” police say ‘nigga’ is more acceptable than ‘nigger,’ and that “nigga” is one of the most popular slang words used today, “among African American groups predominately and hip hop musicians.” They add that “[t]he term has become so popular that it is now a part of culture and many other groups, considerably; non-African American people are now using the word as well.” I don’t call people either, “nigga” or “nigger,” but I think it’s silly when people can’t utter or even write the words (unless they are black).
But let’s just say, for discussion purposes, that the student’s post was “racist.” We’ll pretend that donning blackface and typing, “Feels good to finally be a nigga” means she hates all blacks or thinks blacks are inherently inferior to whites. Should she be expelled for her beliefs or for offending people by expressing them? How, exactly, is someone harmed by ignorant ideas or the expression of them? Isn’t college a place to experience people who think differently? Is pretending that real racism doesn’t exist so precious as to be “hurtful” when reminded there are some unenlightened people in the world who are haters or who think some races are inherently inferior or superior? Doesn’t freedom come with the price of hearing things we don’t necessarily want to hear?
People rushed to the defense of Colin Kaepernick when he boycotted the National Anthem on racial grounds, saying he should not be punished for exercising his First Amendment right to Free Speech. First of all, lots of people misunderstand Freedom of Speech as protected by our Constitution. It prevents the government from inhibiting freedom of expression, it does not say that people can’t be held accountable for what they express by private entities or by individual persons. Freedom of Speech was meant to prevent those in power from stifling criticism or the free exchange of ideas (i.e., making people behave as the ruling-class wants them to). So Kaepernick and the student were engaging in expression, but neither invoke constitutional issues (however, KSU being a state institution, there is more of an argument that an expulsion would be government violating the student’s rights). So why isn’t social media blowing up with posts saying the student has a right to express her ignorance?
Racist beliefs and racist expressions are stupid, but how are they harmful without action? People are fond of saying, “Racism still exists.” I’m sure it’s intended either to show they are victims of racism or sensitive to the fact that others are. But because racism will always exist, it’s about as helpful as saying, “Severe weather still exists.” Sure it does, and it sucks, but so what? No reasonable person believes racism (or severe weather) doesn’t exist. But talking about flooding, hurricanes, or tornadoes does not ruin houses or kill people. So even those who’ve suffered devastating loss as a result of severe weather cannot reasonably expect people to avoid talking about severe weather or using the word “tornado” (or “tornada”).
The Holocaust was one of many horrible chapters in human history, but we don’t stop talking about religion or Jews. And even when people use negative stereotypes about Jews (usually relating to money), no reasonable persons assume it means they hate Jews or find them inferior. And no one thinks it’s harmful to Jews or upsetting to a college “family.” So why do people think like that when people talk about blacks? Do they think blacks can’t handle it as well as other races? Do they secretly think blacks are inferior and they want to protect them, or at least appear sensitive to their plight because they are less thick-skinned?
It’s in vogue these days to be offended by anything even remotely a stereotype of blacks or offended by race-based joking or pointing out black cultural differences. The reason seems to be that people know blacks are treated differently, so they sympathize. But isn’t applying a different standard to blacks further treating them differently? At least 11 black celebrities wear whiteface and no one thinks it’s “hurtful.” Why do people think they have to treat black people with kid gloves? Treating blacks differently, is “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Hypersensitivity does no one any favors. Let’s treat everyone the same.