[Cobb] writes as if unaware that millions of Americans believe the defense of free speech and the fight against racism to be complementary causes, and not at odds with each other. The false premises underpinning his analysis exacerbate a persistent, counterproductive gulf between the majority of those struggling against racism in the United States, who believe that First Amendment protections, rigorous public discourse, and efforts to educate empowered, resilient young people are the surest ways to a more just future, and a much smaller group that subscribes to a strain of thought most popular on college campuses.
Conor concludes, “Defenders of the First Amendment aren’t distracting from attention from racism—they’re preserving the tools necessary to struggle against it.” Then Sally Kohn wrote a piece for us diametrically opposed to that view:
[W]hat students from Yale to the University of Missouri and beyond are protesting is a pervasively one-sided definition of offensive behavior that these colleges and society in general still propagate. To this point, as [Cobb noted], “the student’s reaction elicited consternation in certain quarters where the precipitating incident did not.”
Consider, for instance, those in the chattering class who have readily bought into the idea that police feel under attack (as the result of the Black Lives Movement) and at the same time express deep skepticism—if not outright mockery—of people of color who feel under attack by police and by society. This divergent tendency isn’t about evidentiary standards. It’s about race—and the inclination to believe in the righteousness and inherent goodness of white people while perpetually doubting and demeaning people of color. As Roxane Gay wrote for The New Republic:
We cannot ignore what is truly being said by both groups of protesters: That not all students experience Yale equally, and not all students experience Mizzou equally. These conversations were happening well before these protests, and they will continue to happen until students are guaranteed equality of experience. They are still being forced, however, to first prove that it is worth opening a conversation about either.
Greg Lukianoff, who co-authored our cover story on campus PC and coincidentally found himself at the center of the uproar at Yale, takes stock of the tumultuous week. Greg is heartened that most Yale students “have answered speech with more speech”:
There’s been a lot of discussion about how the issues at Yale are much bigger than Erika and Nicholas Christakis, and that’s certainly the opinion of many students. Earlier this week, Yale students refocused the narrative and engaged in a thoughtful, powerful demonstration of student activism through a “March of Resilience” to express solidarity for students of color, and a forum to discuss race and diversity on campus. [...] On Tuesday, Yale’s president and the dean of Yale College issued a welcome reaffirmation of the necessity of freedom of expression at the institution. Now, the institution must make clear that Yale supports Erika and Nicholas Christakis and they will not face punishment or termination for their role in starting a national conversation about the importance of free speech on campus.
Absorbing the events at Yale, Mizzou, and elsewhere, Nicholas Kristof, the liberal New York Times columnist, worries about the state of the political left right now:
We’ve also seen Wesleyan students debate cutting funding for the student newspaper after it ran an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. At Mount Holyoke, students canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues” because they felt it excluded transgender women. Protests led to the withdrawal of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde at Smith.
This is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left.