A destructive person can harm many people. A destructive person who believes – completely – that he or she doing what is best for everyone else can sometimes be even more devastating. Our long struggle against racism and racial prejudice has led many to focus passionately on potential injustice while looking right past the results of our own actions.
Inspired by an unshakable sense of heightened moral clarity, it is easy to understand how, with very good intent, someone can end up causing harm to others and either not realize or think it is justified. Consider someone who might want to protect the rights and dignity of long oppressed African-Americans by pressuring large companies to hire someone with black skin when they otherwise might not. Consider an innocent homosexual couple getting refused service at a business. Without doubt, there is honor and purpose in fighting to protect the oppressed in these situations. It is in these struggles that we eventfully get to see a victim triumph over an oppressor. But, when this mission to protect turns into some level of a crusade or even a personal war the moral imperative most of us feel to fix hundreds of years of oppression can cloud the distinction between necessity and zealous overreach.
An unfortunate and common example that highlights this harmful overreach can be found at many colleges. Zooming in to Chicago’s Northwestern University, we find an example worth noting. Professor and liberal feminist Laura Kipnis wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education that spoke to concerns about a culture of hypersensitivity to offensive words on the campus and “sexual paranoia”. She was the slapped with a Title IX complaint of “harassment” from students as well being the target of protests against her. In trying to fight against a host of awful ideologies, the students are now fighting against anyone speaking freely of their concerns…even someone who cares about what they do. This is far beyond just unfair, it can be career threatening in many cases. Luckily, it did not end the career for Ms. Kipnis, but her good fortune is not guaranteed for everyone. This has been the way many groups of people, especially Conservatives, have been treated for decades. Anyone ruthlessly attacking others for speaking freely is not moving us forward or changing minds, it is just destroying people’s liberty and right to think and speak freely. This is exactly what slave owners, Nazis and Soviets did to scare people into submission. Regardless of the motives, these people are all oppressors. Professor Kipnis says it best:
“What’s the good of having a freedom you’re afraid to use?”
These little micro societies that are university campuses can often act as a magnifying glass for what is happening throughout our society. With that in mind, we can jump to Harvard, though you can pick just about any large school. So many large schools have, for a long time, been using race as a consideration for acceptance. This is open policy that school leadership often defend as a way to promote diversity. Of course, this “diversity”, in their view, comes only from people with specific skin color. In fact, Harvard has even expanded this to purposefully excluding Asians when they can. Yes, they openly admit to excluding a race of people. A piece by Douglas Belkin outlines this in decent depth, but the point is clear: Harvard and many other schools openly deny people access based on race. Racists from the ’60’s would get along great with these people. They might disagree on which skin colors should be allowed, but they could certainly embrace each other when it comes to oppression as a tool to force a world view they believe is correct. Are we good people if we accept racial oppression because we like the affects? No, of course not. We can be better than this.
One troubling example of unintended (I hope unintended, at least) oppression pits homosexual couples against deeply religious people. Certainly, neither homosexual people nor religious people have been treated as bad as African-Americans in this country’s past, but both general groups have been pushing against a tide of anger, misunderstanding and hate for decades. Excluding the few militant people in each group, the well-intentioned rest of the group simply wants to live in public view with everyone respecting what is important to them, even if it is overt and potentially bothersome to others. This could be a teacher wearing a cross necklace in class or a gay couple showing affection in a mall. Both activities are very personal though visible and both have been under attack because it can cause difficult confusion for kids and necessitate conversations their parents feel they are not ready for. These are difficult and delicate issues and trying to solve them with a proverbial hammer is not solving anything. In an attempt to restrict and clarify when government entities can prevent people from practicing their religion, a national law was passed by Bill Clinton and both Democrats and Republicans in congress. As is sometimes done, this law was replicated on a state level to allow the states to handle the violations and insure the law stands even if dropped at the federal level. Nineteen times this was replicated in different states and on its way to the rest of the rest. Suddenly, militant groups called Indiana anti-LGBT, stormed the capital and began a nationwide assault on Indiana and supporters of the “Religious Freedom Act”, simply because Indiana replicated the law. In an article, Joseph Curl encapsulated the situation surrounding this sudden assault. In the push to protect LGBT, deeply religious people and those who oppose government restriction of religion were branded anti-LGBT. This vitriol, outrage and demonization is absolutely divisive, destructive and unnecessary. They law does not allow for religious people to do anything they want free of other laws. If someone is suddenly unhappy with any part of this law, a discussion about the law completely lost now. This can be changed…we have a process for that…but now two groups who both feel that they are being beaten down and pushed out of the public realm have now been further divided by a chasm of name calling and anger. If the law was actually something close to how it was defined on national news outlets, then certainly the uproar could be understandable. But the fact that this law is anti-government, not anti-LGBT, leaves deeply religious people and proponents of a restrained government defensive and resolved to push harder. Those that sought to protect some people (LGBT people, in this case) have attacked others (supporters of religious freedom) who were trying to protect themselves from the government. If one wishes to assume that these religious people secretly all want to crush the LGBT community, the are pre-judging a group based on the actions of a few. If this prejudice helps them justify making it open season on religious people and accept harm to these people, oppression is just being shifted from one group to another. I would think we all want to be better than this.
So, who cares? Who would have a problem with going a little far trying to right hundreds of years of oppression and cruelty? That is certainly a fair perspective. I wonder, though, if an oppression-free society is even possible if racial, sexual or religious prejudice are used, to any degree, to get there? That is unless we believe being born white, Asian or part of a specific religion makes someone automatically guilty of racism, hate and bigotry. If we believe it is acceptable to prejudge those people and hold them to a different standard, we are, in every way, as guilty of prejudice as those we fight against. Again, we are better than this. We should strive to be better than this. We should want to be better than this.
The real core of the problem, in part, might be evident towards the beginning of this article. When I wrote “a victim triumph over the oppressor”, it felt good…really good. It might have felt good to read, or at least felt right. Who is the victim and who is the oppressor if we allow ourselves or others to justify limiting access to college based on race or vilify those that openly disagree with us on social issues? Being a liberator does not mean one can not also be an oppressor. We should want fix the problem, not just alter it. Reginald Denny, an innocent victim of racism, couldn’t understand why we all can’t “get along”. Perhaps the reason is that we don’t really want to get along…we just want to make others think and act how we see fit. I don’t want to be that way and I don’t want that for the society my kids are about to inherit.
Before we elevate our society, we must first elevate ourselves. One victim can not be thought more important than another.
By: Mike Glass