The Personal as Political

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There's a running a parable in black nationalism--and its myriad branches--of the prisoner reformed. The basic notion holds that radical politics transforms  the black criminal, into a black revolutionary. You couldn't grow up in urban black America, in the 1980s, and not know someone who hewed to that path. Malcolm X reps this tradition at its best; Eldridge Cleaver at its worse. For as surely as there were those who were reformed by radical politics, there were others who simply took to radical politics as an outlet for their thuggery.

I thought about that a few months back when a commenter talked about Laura Ingraham sending a reporter to secretly tape-record gay students at Dartmouth. Ingraham has apologize for her past indiscretions, and has now graduated to making rib jokes about Michelle Obama. This is the kind of behavior which, while ostensibly political, is mostly concerned with finding a quasi-respectable venue for inhumanity. I thought about them again with this James O'Keefe episode:


James O'Keefe, unbowed by the CNN sex boat debacle, has since targeted a special education teacher once hailed for saving her students' lives, concerned about her colleague's use of the n-word. Those teacher's unions are out of control! There's video. 

Basically, O'Keefe set an operative to chat up special education teacher Alissa Ploshnick at a conference last summer for a video called "Teacher's Union Gone Wild." Because the teachers are mostly chicks! After the operative bought her drinks, she described a colleague in the Passaic school system who had been demoted, but not fired, for calling a student the n-word. She did not know she was being recorded. Girls, will you never learn not to drink with strange men? 

Later, O'Keefe's goons showed up at Ploshnick's house and shoved a camera and a microphone in her face to ask her to repeat the story. She declined to talk. The school's response? To suspend her for nine days and dock a pay raise. Because she said the word on video, apparently, even though she was criticizing someone else using it. (The superintendent also denied the incident she described took place.) 

What strikes me here is the almost apolitical nature of this stunt. Teacher Unions are obviously despised by the Right. But the damage done here to that institution is minimal, while the damage done to this particular person is maximal--and it's done on the kind of P.C. grounds that conservatives traditionally deplore.

But politics for O'Keefe are really just a veneer for the sociopathic. There are many conservatives (and liberals, frankly) who believe in school choice and think that teacher's unions are a hindrance to reform. Whatever you think of that analysis, this isn't about making that case. This isn't about the horrors of the national drop-out rate, or the state of public schools. It's ideology as a smokescreen, deployed to mask an intrinsic lack of decency.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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