Home

04.10.2016 ______________________________________________________

Recent right-wing commentary would have Americans believe that today’s students, sometimes pejoratively referred to as special snowflakes, are entitled, whiny, narcissistic, self-indulgent and oversensitive.

These students, one would believe if we followed right-wing rhetoric, are ungrateful for the freedoms and gifts they’ve received and, whether matriculated at Scripps College, Emory University or the University of Michigan, are simply spoiled brats being coddled in enhanced “politically correct” environments.

While the First Amendment protects anyone’s right to espouse ignorant views – even to have supporters who endorse such views – ignorant speech shouldn’t stand unchallenged. Indeed, one of the reasons some institutions regulate expression is to protect members, often minorities, from being abused by the majority.

As debate centers on First Amendment rights, we’re obliged to remember that it applies specifically to the government. It doesn’t prohibit, for example, schools, universities, places of worship, newspapers, employers, etc., from having speech and behavior codes; nongovernmental organizations are under no obligation to tolerate speech they find offensive.

It’s not about being entitled in Merrillville, Ind., where a Catholic bishop is forced to denounce actions by Catholic high school students who offensively waved a picture of Donald Trump and shouted “Build a Wall” at Hispanic opponents from Hammond, Ind., during a basketball game.

It’s about belonging.

It’s not about being oversensitive at Scripps when a Mexican-American student awakened one morning “to find her whiteboard vandalized with the phrase “#Trump2016” inside her dorm.

It’s about belonging.

While I understand that conservatives prefer to privilege individual incidents rather than confront systemic issues of oppression and injustice, I’m having a hard time understanding why today’s right wing is so outraged over how minorities are responding to off-brand use of “Trump 2016.”

Couldn’t they see it coming?

Trump’s embrace of inflammatory, demagogic “free speech” is well-known, witnessed daily in rallies and public statements, fearlessly articulated by followers from Concord to Cleveland.

Not only do I believe that in-your-face use of “Trump 2016” a racist dog whistle, I believe that many who support its use are too cowardly to acknowledge their prejudices so they cover their biases by falsely claiming they’re being victimized by PC because they’re endorsing “free speech.”

They couldn’t be more wrong; while the limits of political correctness should legitimately be challenged, I find in today’s politically charged environment that such memes as “Build a Wall” or “#StopIslam” have deliberately dark undertones. Trump’s racist, misogynistic, exclusionary rhetoric is not about free speech, though he’s free to say whatever he wants; it’s about targeting anyone not like him, including Mexicans, Muslims, women, handicapped and LGBTs.

It’s hate speech.

His supporters and apologists, and especially the targets of his prejudice, know exactly what he means.

They all know “Make America Great Again” is code for “Make America White Again.”

Trump’s “chalk” talk, “penetrating even between soul and spirit” intimidates the marginalized, those without recourse to safe places.

Today’s chalk is yesterday’s sword, the Klan’s cross.

Do students speak in hyperbole, exaggeration and hysteria? Yes. Are they sometimes whiny, entitled and narcissistic? Yes. Controlling those impulses is part of why they’re in school – to learn to contextualize, to learn what’s worth fighting over and what’s not.

Dog whistles are worth fighting over.

This new generational awakening of activism is not about diversity but about inclusion, for spaces where minorities can feel as safe as white folks on the same campuses.

Not to “be” but to “belong.”

While today’s protests don’t compare with the 1968 Columbia University occupation, where 700 people were arrested protesting the Vietnam War, or the 4 million-student nationwide strike that followed the l970 killings of four Kent State University students protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, the actions are no less valid.

Each generation has its battles and conflicts; today, the battle is about legitimacy and belonging.

It’s not being whiny when Hispanic basketball players at Perry (Iowa) High School protest being met with chants of “USA” and “Trump, Trump, Trump,” from opposing fans during a local game.

It’s about belonging.

Chalked slogans at Emory – “Trump 2016,” “Build a Wall,” “Accept the Inevitable” – were perceived as intimidation in part because most of the messages were scrawled near multicultural spaces like the black student union.

It’s about belonging.

Wisely, in response to chalking at the University of Michigan that included “#StopIslam” next to “Trump2016,” student Tahany Alsabahi told the Michigan Daily: “When speech can incite violence and aggression and hatred towards another group, that’s when it becomes hate speech.”

It’s about belonging.

I get it – I hear the words between the words – and the targeted students all got the message.

They heard the dog whistles. You heard – do you belong?

Yet, arrogantly, part of the GOP continues to insist that they can determine what’s legitimate racism, violence and protest and what’s not – what’s intimidation, what’s not – whether on campuses or not.

What’s free, what’s not.

High school and college are years where academic, political, social and cultural interaction exist in tension – often between students of diverse interests and origins. Within such tension, institutions struggle to balance competing interests, as when Phillips Exeter recently disinvited an alum many on campus rightly perceived to be Islamophobic.

Conversely, Princeton rightly rejected demands to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public affairs school, “while pledg(ing) to provide better context on Wilson’s legacy, which includes racist attitudes and actions.”

Harassment, intimidation and hate speech disguised as free speech is corrosive. Over recent years, issues of birtherism, racism and marginalization have so consumed Republicans that they’ve help create a toxic environment where President Obama has endured three times the threats of previous presidents and where violence against Muslims has tripled.

They’ve created an environment where Donald Trump thrives because of the GOP’s historic failure to confront racism, vio lence and marginalization – and now they own it.

Today, the GOP is being consumed by the very demons it has enabled. It’s there for all to see – in pink, yellow and white chalk.

Advertisements