You can’t ban racism

Alex Kasnetz

Topics Free Speech

If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, it may seem (even more so than usual) that American campuses have gone mad. There is an uprising of screeching teachers at the University of Missouri, and Yale seems to be full of equally shrill students.

Here at spiked, we are the first to admonish coddled students for censoring opposing viewpoints, policing ‘microagressions’, banning Halloween costumes or creating Safe Spaces where students won’t be troubled by worrisome ideas. The campus quote of the year surely goes to Yale student Jerelyn Luther, addressing the head of her residential college: ‘ [Your job is] not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!‘ Worst of all, campus ‘radicals’ now call on administrations to re-impose the shackles of in loco parentis that student protesters of the Sixties rightfully broke.

In such an atmosphere, it’s all too easy to be dismissive. Indeed, students’ focus on trivial or even false incidents of hatred distracts from real acts of hatred. But they happen. At Missouri, the main site of campus kerfuffle this week, someone smeared faeces shaped into a swastika in a campus dorm (seriously) following incidents of reported racial harassment. At Duke, my university, someone recently spraypainted a death threat directed at a gay student in his dormitory, and a Black Lives Matter poster was defaced with racial epithets. Such acts are unequivocally despicable, and we must condemn them harshly.

But what is to be done? How can colleges prevent such acts? Students have some ideas: here at Duke, the student whose room was defaced has asked for mandatory ‘cultural competency’ training and the introduction of a ‘sexuality studies’ major. The Missouri students’ demands followed similar lines (though some were utterly fatuous – requiring the ex-president to ‘admit his white male privilege’ – and some were plain unconstitutional – demanding racial quotas).

If universities fulfil these demands, will instances of hatred stop? Of course not. The man who writes ‘God Hates Fags’ on someone’s door will not be discouraged by some freshman seminar on ‘systemic oppression’. I’m not sure what could deter the swastika-poop perpetrator.

The truth is, proclaiming your white guilt or censoring social media won’t stop racism or help minorities. Instead, we must promote moral strength, fortitude and personal autonomy, while expressing solidarity with, and support for, victims. No doubt this is not fair. But – here’s the hard part – life isn’t always fair.

Alex Kasnetz is a law student at Duke University.

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Topics Free Speech


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