Race, Yale, p.c. and a nation spinning apart on Thanksgiving

tags: Yale, racism

Jim Sleeper is the author of Liberal Racism (1997) and The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (1990) Thumbnail Image - "NYC Rise Up and -ShutItDown for Baltimore (17291634126)" by The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA - NYC Rise Up and #ShutItDown for Baltimore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

In the 1980s and ‘90s I witnessed, and in “The Closest of Strangers” I condemned, some of the most counterproductive black American urban protests since the riots of the 1960s. Public paroxysms associated with names such as Bernhard Goetz, Howard Beach, Tawana Brawley, Rodney King, Crown Heights and O.J. Simpson were psychodramas staged to demand “justice” through lies, vilification of innocent parties and intimidation of critics with legitimate differences of opinion.

By comparison, the protests of today’s Black Lives Matter movement and of college students demanding to be kept “safe” and “loved” by liberal educators seem at best plaintive. Even liberal observers, such as Todd Gitlin, a veteran and chronicler of 1960s protests, and Jeannie Suk, a Harvard Law professor, note that today’s demonstrators seem to have missed the freer, wiser parenting and the civic-republican premises, practices and virtues of an earlier time, resources that the civil rights movement summoned to move honorable conservatives in the late 1950s and ‘60s.

But those were also years of unprecedented American civic and civil cohesion and of relatively equitable economic advance. Beyond lamenting today’s precipitous implosion of civic trust, which I described here in Salon on the Fourth of July, 2014, we need to know what’s causing it.

And we need to know what black students, especially, actually encounter and experience in what they rightly discern as a gathering storm. Conservative critics who’ve swooped in on student protesters, picking apart their mistakes sanctimoniously, censoriously and opportunistically, never actually report or convey what these students actually experience.

Let’s call out that strategy’s hypocrisies here. If willful ignorance and malevolence are dangerous to democratic deliberation, let’s worry less about liberals’ supposed “Coddling of the American Mind,” as the political provocateur Greg Lukianoff and business-school social psychologist Jonathan Haidt characterized the aims of liberal pedagogy recently in the Atlantic, and let’s look at their own noise-machining of the American mind. ...

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