The past few days have seen some increasingly absurd events on campuses across the United States; while many may have heard of the events in question I have not seen much meaningful (or helpful) discussion on the topic. My aim here will be to provide one concrete example—from the sports world—in order to underline the degree of absurdity.

A writer for the New York Times (State Media) in the United States, Anemona Hartocollis, wrote a seemingly innocuous piece (at least judging by the headline) entitled “Colleges Celebrate Diversity With Separate Commencements” on 2 June 2017. In the article the author seems to—perhaps unwittingly—support racial segregation, an entirely unjust system that divided black and white citizens of the United States into “separate but equal” schools and public spaces; it was a system that was defeated by the Civil Rights Movement and activists like the late Martin Luther King, Jr. Hartocollis celebrates (among others) the separate graduation ceremonies held by Black students at Harvard University, the separate “lavender” (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students) graduation at the University of Delaware, and the separate graduation for first generation college students and New York’s Columbia University. Apparently, the “separate” graduation at Harvard took place before the main graduation ceremony (the two were not mutually exclusive, students could attend both judging by reports) where famous Harvard dropout and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that the struggle of our times was “against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism”. As a scholar of nationalism myself, I will not bore you with an eloquent retort to Mr. Zuckerberg’s grossly misinformed comments. Rather, I will outline why things like “separate” graduations are quite simply absurd.

There is a form of segregation going on across campuses in the United States, that much is certain. It is also certain that this type of division goes against the very ethos of what the college experience should be. Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute, is quoted in Hartocollis’ piece saying “[c]ollege is the place where we should be teaching and preaching the view that you’re an individual, and choose your associates to be based on other factors rather than skin color”. Mr. Connerly believes that events like “separate” graduations simply serve to amplify racial divisions. Judging by the present—as well as the past—he seems to be correct in his assessment of the situation despite state media’s celebration of “separate” graduations as a positive development!

In the present the case of Evergreen State College in Washington State, where the campus had to be shut down due to violence, serves as a perfect example. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bert Weinstein

 

a professor of biology, objected to a proposed “Day of Absence” that encouraged white students, staff, and faculty members to leave campus in order to “explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion and privilege.” He wrote that “on a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” The request, he argued, was “an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Since then Mr. Weinstein, who considers himself “deeply progressive,” has been called a racist, and a group of Evergreen students have demanded that the professor be “suspended immediately without pay.” What’s more, dozens of his fellow professors signed a letter last week calling for the university to investigate him, complaining that his speaking out had turned the campus into a target of white supremacists.

 

To a marginal sociologist like myself, this is absurd. A professor is being challenged for his opposition to what amounts to fascistic mobs (fascism in the United States is something I have written about before) and he is also being criticized by his fellow professors! The New York Times gives more detail regarding the content of Mr. Weinstein’s email:

 

 “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” In other words, what purported to be a request for white students and professors to leave campus was something more than that. It was an act of moral bullying — to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.

 

For me, “moral bullying” is a kind term to employ describing this kind of behavior, but that is normal coming from State Media; a simple Google search of “Evergreen College” brings up just one story from State Media (The Washington Post)—the rest are not from “well-respected” and “mainstream” American news sources. Unfortunately, this leads the public to believe that this is not a real threat to their very lives and livelihoods in the United States of America. Just because Breitbart reported that protestors were “roaming [Evergreen’s] campus with baseball bats” and CNN didn’t doesn’t make it any less of a real threat to dialogue, communication, and—most of all—student safety! Unfortunately, this kind of intolerance is rooted in the indoctrination—that passes for education—in many American Universities. It is a reason that I myself do not always feel comfortable (intellectually speaking) on American college campuses. Sociologist C. Wright Mills said it best in The Sociological Imagination when he compared the Soviet Union and the United States, pointing out that while in the former intellectuals were “physically crushed”, in the latter they are “morally crushed” (Mills, 1959: 191). This is a fascistic form of divide and conquer and it needs to stop.

 

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When I attended the University of Texas, the bats we talked about on campus were winged mammals living under the Congress Avenue bridge. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/06/06/report-evergreen-protesters-roaming-campus-with-baseball-bats/

 

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Very Few Mainstream Media Outlets Reported on the Situation at Evergreen College. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

The “Social Justice Warriors” on American campuses would be well served to also take a look at history in order to understand why segregation was unjust and was—rightly—overturned in Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954. Sports provides a great example of why segregation, the division of people based on race (or any other characteristic for that matter), is a policy destined for failure (for instance, Tamir Sorek’s eminently readable Arab Soccer in a Jewish State contains an interesting chapter on separate Muslim soccer leagues in Israel). In America the national pastime is baseball, a sport that—like football in Turkey (and perhaps Israel)—both reflects and shapes the national consciousness. That is why baseball—like so many social and cultural institutions in the United States—has been affected by the issue of racial divisions; the most prominent example is Negro League Baseball. According to a cursory look at the Wikipedia page, 1888 was the last year blacks were allowed in either the major or minor leagues of American Baseball; 1887 was when the first “negro league” was founded: The National Colored Baseball League. It was not until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier”, that a black player appeared in the top tier of American Baseball. Was it good for American baseball that—for almost sixty years—blacks and whites played in different leagues, apart from one another? Of course it wasn’t. Like intellectual environments, sports competition also thrives when diverse people come together. So why would anyone want to re-create such a separation on college campuses?

 

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Jackie Robinson (Displaying the Proper Use of a Baseball Bat) Did Not Fight for Equality so that Self-Proclaimed “Social Justice Warriors” Could Fight For Division.  Image Courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Robinson

 

It might be because many people just cannot see what they are doing. Despite the “intelligence” one might think they possess by virtue of a Harvard degree, they also show a distinct lack of historical knowledge by thinking that “separate” graduations are a good thing. This might be because they did not learn history in school; it was indoctrination and not education. I paraphrase one of my former students who asked, rhetorically, whether “critical thinking” was not just a way to tell people how to think.

Indeed, this lack of self knowledge is widely manifested by those who think that being “progressive” absolves them of all ability to be fascistic, totalitarian, or bigoted. For example, a black baseball player—Adam Jones—donated twenty thousand dollars to the Negro Leagues Museum after he was reportedly racially taunted by fans at a game. Where were these racist fans, you might ask? In the same city that Harvard’s “separate” graduations—based on racial difference—took place in: Boston, Massachussetts. Ironically, Massachusetts is also one of the most “progressive” states in the country, home to much of America’s so-called “elite”. Indeed, Massachussetts’ election map shows the large margin (almost double the votes) by which the liberal candidate Hillary Clinton defeated the conservative candidate Donald Trump.

 

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“A Reliably Blue State Is an Understatement. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/massachusetts

 

I am lucky enough to have lived all over the United States, and have learned that talk is cheap. No education can teach “diversity” or “tolerance”, and it certainly can teach nothing if it is merely a form of indoctrination: One must travel and meet people different  than themselves in order to grow. We must learn from history—and sports is a part of it—in order to stand up to the absurdities of our time.

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