Black students at Pomona College and neighboring schools in Claremont, California, have published an open letter declaring their hostility to free speech—other people’s free speech, that is. The letter shows that the faculty of the Claremont colleges are failing in their most basic educational duties.
The manifesto, written by “We, few of the Black students here at Pomona College and the Claremont Colleges,” was triggered by a statement on academic freedom by outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby. Oxtoby’s statement in turn responded to a student blockade that tried to shut down a talk on policing I was supposed to give at Claremont McKenna College on April 6. Leave aside for a moment the signatories’ unblemished ignorance regarding free speech and the role of unfettered discourse in creating their own liberties. Viewed purely formally, the letter is a major embarrassment to the faculty of Pomona and the Claremont colleges.
It is filled with excruciating solecisms (“Though this institution as well as many others including this entire country, have been founded upon the oppression and degradation of marginalized bodies, it has a liability to protect the students that it serves”); garbled regurgitations of High Theory (“The notion of discourse, when it comes to discussions about experiences and identities, deters the ‘Columbusing’ of established realities and truths [coded as ‘intellectual inquiry’] that the institution promotes”); and sheer head-scratchers of incomprehensibility (“To conclude our statement, we invite you to respond to this email by Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 4:07 pm [since we have more energy to expend on the frivolity of this institution and not Black lives].)” (Gnawing question: Why not a 4:08 pm deadline?)
Does this student writing demonstrate the value of a Pomona education? Several of the co-signatories are graduating this year or the next. Are their professors satisfied with their command of the English language? What grade would this incoherent tract receive if turned in as a term paper—a D? Or, more likely, an A? Faculty undoubtedly fear correcting the writing of “marginalized students,” lest they suffer the same scourging as UCLA Education Professor Val Rust did when he tried to induct some of his Critical Race Theory students into the protocols of academic prose.
The content of the letter, such as it is, should alarm the faculty as well (at least those faculty who have not inspired “We, few's’” tortured efforts at Foucauldian post-modernism). The students appear to argue that the ideal of free speech is based on a mystifying and oppressive concept of unitary truth, and that such a concept solidifies white supremacy: “The idea that there is a single truth—‘the Truth’—is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment . . . This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”
“We, few of the Black students here at Pomona, etc.” have it exactly backward. Free speech is the best tool for challenging hegemonic power. Absolute rulers seek to crush non-conforming opinion; the censor is the essential bulwark of tyrants. Without the Enlightenment and its challenge to unquestioned authority, “We, few of the Black students” would not even be at the Claremont colleges, because those secular, independent colleges might not even exist. (It would be interesting to know how many Enlightenment philosophers “We, few” can even name; it is of course virtually certain that they have read none.) Freedom of the press and of speech was essential in the fight against slavery and Jim Crow; how do “We, few of the Black students here at Pomona, etc.” think that those battles could have been waged without the First Amendment rights that the “We, few” now think they despise?
Moreover, “We, few of the Black students” only pretend to be postmodern relativists. They are fully confident that they possess the truth about me and about their oppressed plight at the Claremont schools. An alternative construction of their reality—one, say, that pointed out that as members of fantastically rich, tolerant, and welcoming American colleges, they are among the most privileged human beings in history—would be immediately rejected as contrary to the truth and not worth debating. “We, few” would also reject the alternative truth that far from devaluing Black students, the administrations of the Claremont colleges have undoubtedly admitted many with levels of academic preparation far below that of their white and Asian peers, simply to fulfill the administrators’ own self-righteous desire for “diversity.”
Typical of all such censors and petty tyrants, “We, few of the Black students” now want to crush dissent. They ask the Claremont University Consortium to take action, both disciplinary and legal, against the editors of the conservative student paper, the Claremont Independent, for the open-ended sins of “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” These are the demands not of relativists but of absolutists determined to solidify their power.
As for “We, few’s” gross misreading of my work, it shows that reading skills are in as short supply at the Claremont colleges as writing skills. My entire argument about the necessity of lawful, proactive policing is based on the value of black lives. I have decried the loss of black life to drive-by shootings and other forms of street violence. I have argued that the fact that blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined is a civil rights abomination. And I have tried to give voice to the thousands of law-abiding residents of high-crime areas who are desperate for more police protection so that they can enjoy the same freedom from fear that people in more wealthy areas take for granted.
The ungrammatical list of attributes that “We, few of the Black students” say disqualify me from speaking—“Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live”—unsurprisingly displays the ignorance already familiar from the rest of their letter, since I was an early and documented opponent of the Iraq war and all such efforts at regime change. The other epithets are not worth responding to.
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