Bryn Mawr: “The world’s most expensive anti-racism YouTube training program”

January 6, 2021 • 12:30 pm

We now have a female version of George Bridges (the spineless President of Evergreen State): she is Kim Cassidy, President of the ritzy Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. At that school, tuition, room and board will run you a cool $74,000 a year. (I just found out that Bridges has resigned and will be gone by June.)

As I reported in early December, there was a strike among students at nearby Haverford College after an October police shooting in Philadelphia of a black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., that led to demonstrations and riots in the city (see my reports on Haverford here and here). The student strike was inevitably accompanied by a laundry list of demands, to which Haverford caved (granted, some demands were reasonable, but most weren’t given that the institution was not racist).

There’s no evidence that Bryn Mawr was racist, either. Until the killing of George Floyd, the Philadelphia shooting, and then the strike at nearby Haverford, there were no accusations of “systemic racism” at Bryn Mawr or demands for institutional change. In solidarity with Haverford, most Bryn Mawr students also went on strike on October 28, not attending classes and shaming or bullying those students who wanted to go to class and those professors who still held them.

The story of this strike and its sequelae is recounted by the mother of a Bryn Mawr student, who understandably used the pseudonym “Minnie Doe” when she wrote the piece for Quillette below (click on screenshot). It is the usual story, but related eloquently, of entitled students using racial unrest to leverage power, turning a non-racist school into a Critical-Theory-oriented antiracist school in which dissent is brutally suppressed. Doe says her child will be leaving Bryn Mawr now that it’s become toxic. The title of my own piece above comes from Minnie’s angry characterization of the school (see below).

Just a brief summary.  At first, President Cassidy showed some spine, announcing that classes would resume quickly and that students were expected to attend them. She also decried the “shaming” and “acts of intimidation” against faculty and staff by the student strikers. But she later apologized for those words when she and her administration completely capitulated to the student demonstrators.

The students produced a 23-page list of demands (it took over an hour to read them to the President), and then had a Zoom meeting with administrators in which the students’ faces didn’t appear but the administrators’ did.  As you can see from the video below, President Cassidy, faced with a bunch of angry students, simply crumpled and said she’d meet all their demands. She added that she would resign, along with the Provost and another dean, if they didn’t meet the demands to the students’ satisfaction.

Do listen to this:


Below are the University’s response to the student demands (click on screenshot to see full document), listing each demand, how Bryn Mawr would meet it, when it would be met, and how much it would cost. Some of the demands aren’t totally wacko, like removing the picture of a former President who was indeed a racist and anti-Semite, but most of the others are an incursion of critical theory into a University, stifling the spirit of inquiry of once-admired institution.

I’ll highlight some of the demands as well as the timeline and budget allocated by Bryn Mawr to meet them.

First, the customary requirement for courses in diversity and equity:



These “reparations” may be illegal, as they bestow preferential resources on black and indigenous students:


Labor acknowledgments. But how does the college determine whose labor is “unseen”, and isn’t there labor of non-black people that’s also unseen?

The striking students who abandoned their paid jobs at the college nevertheless demanded to get paid. The school agreed:

There were the usual calls to abolish the police, which the university is studying. Further, those students who do community work on racism as part of their studies will now get paid for it, though presumably “outreach” students who don’t work on racial justice don’t get paid:

There’s other stuff that I won’t list, but the final one is a demand for “grade protection”: that is, students didn’t want to get lower grades if they didn’t do their classwork during the strike. And yes, the administration caved on this one, too. Minnie Doe said this about the demand below:

Far from facing consequences for ruining the fall, 2020 semester, strikers have been lavishly praised by the school’s president and continually assured that their grades won’t be impacted. Some professors have even agreed to accept what they call “strike work”—conversations with friends and family about racism, diary entries, time spent watching anti-racism documentaries, and so forth—in lieu of actual course work, even in math and science programs. Additionally, the college has instituted a credit/no-credit policy that will allow all students to choose up to four courses this year that won’t factor into their GPA.


The strike lasted 16 days. In its aftermath, and amidst the wreckage that is now Bryn Mawr College, “Minnie Doe” wrote this assessment:

As for the majority of students who came to Bryn Mawr to actually receive an education that goes beyond anti-racist bromides, they’re out of luck. The same goes for parents who ante up $54,000 a year for tuition (and another $20,000 for room and board). Kim Cassidy now presides over what is essentially the world’s most expensive anti-racism YouTube training program. Putting aside the disgrace associated with her cowardice, not to mention the outright abdication of her educational mandate, this also happens to be a massive rip-off for families, many of whom are spending their life savings so that a child can attend this once-esteemed institution.

What these students have learned—at a Quaker-founded institution no less—is that might makes right, that discussion and debate are for racists, and that the middle-aged elites who run society’s most prestigious institutions will sell them out for their own public-relations convenience, all the while publicly thanking the social-justice shakedown artists who engineered their own humiliation, thus incentivizing more tantrums in the future.

“We’re all gonna be here for only four, maybe five years, so nobody really gives a damn about Bryn Mawr in the long run,” said one anonymous strike leader at a November 9th sit-in event. It’s an appalling sentiment. But unlike President Kim Cassidy’s groveling communiqués, it at least has the benefit of being honest.

Here’s a sign, which I’ve shown before, pasted on the entrance to Bryn Mawr’s Park Science Building in November. Cultural revolution, anyone?

Taibbi’s woke news from 2020

January 5, 2021 • 9:15 am

Matt Taibbi, a former writer for Rolling Stone, where he published on a variety of stuff (including sports), has now moved his writing to Substack, along with many journalists who can’t find a comfortable home in the woke mainstream media. His penultimate piece at his TK News site is a funny but scary guide to, well, see the headline below. You can read the piece for free by clicking on the screenshot below:

These ludicrous woke attacks on nearly everything are funny—or would be if they didn’t bespeak a fundamental change in our culture. Granted, that change may be engineered by a minority of chowderheads, but they’re loud and they’re powerful. Taibbi presents what he sees as the 16 wokest stories of last year. I’ve written about a few, and will put asterisks next to those. Many I missed, so I’ve given Taibbi’s links to them along with my own brief summary of what the stories claimed.

First, though, a few words from Matt:

The year 2020 will be remembered in the real world for a terrifying pandemic, mass unemployment, a nationwide protest movement, and a historically uninspiring presidential race. The year in media, meanwhile, was marked by grotesque factual scandals, journalist-cheered censorship, and an accelerating newsroom mania for political groupthink that was equal parts frightening and ridiculous.

The tiniest violations of perceived orthodoxies cost jobs. Reporters and editors were whacked en masse in uprisings at the New York Timesthe Philadelphia Inquirerthe Wall Street JournalVox, the Miami Heraldand countless other places.

Some of the purges were themselves amazing news stories. A contractor named Sue Schafer was fired after the Washington Post published a 3,000-word expose about a two-year-old incident in which she attended a Halloween party dressed as Megyn Kelly, who herself had been fired from NBC for defending blackface costumes. Schafer, in other words, was fired for dressing in blackface as a satire of blackface costumes, in an incident no one heard of until the Post decided to make an issue of it. This was one example of what the New Yorker recently exulted as the “expensive and laborious” process of investigative journalism, as practiced in 2020.

Raymond Chandler once said that when he ran out of ideas, he just had a character burst into a room with a gun. 2020 op-ed writers in the same predicament could insert random nouns into a MadLibs template: “Is _____ Racist?” Everything from knitting to Jesus to women to botanical gardens to dieting to mermaids to  Scrabble and perhaps a hundred other things made the cut, to the point where it became a bottomless running gag for inevitable cancel targets like the satirical Twitter personality, “Titania McGrath.”

And the stories are below. Taibbi gives them in reverse order from #16 to #1, but I’ve given them in the opposite direction. The summaries are mine unless they’re in quotes or indented.

*1.) The Guardian, July 6: “Upward-thrusting buildings ejaculating into the sky’ – do cities have to be so sexist?”   Besides those phallic skyscrapers thrusting up as if to penetrate the heavens, the author sees the cities as places of inequity and violence, particularly against women. (My take is here).

2.) (Story uncovered) Here Taibbi faults the media for hypocrisy, covering stories with a Woke ideology but not covering similar stories that are unwoke. One example: decrying anti-lockdown protests as dangerous sources of infection, but not mentioning that the same thing was likely with anti-racist protests.

*3.) Huffington Post, April 23:  “I teach at Oxford, but I don’t want it to win the coronavirus vaccine race.” A student and teacher of women’s studies at Oxford doesn’t want her school to create the vaccine first because, after all, Britain is white and colonialist, and an Oxford vaccine would just be a “white savior” story. Curiously, though, the head of the Oxford vaccine-development team was a woman. (My take is here.)

4.) NPR, June 6th: “Your Bookshelf May Be Part Of The Problem.” If your bookshelf contains almost no books by nonwhite authors, then you’re buying into white supremacy. Or, if you have books by people of color, you better be ready to accept them whole hog. As the author says, “Anti-racist books will only do a person good if they silence themselves first and enter into the reading — provided they care enough to do so.”  Oy! SHUT UP AND READ—no thinking for yourself!

5.) Globe and Mail, September 5: “Is it time to decolonize your lawn?(You’ll have to create free account.) Lawns symbolize not only control over nature, but the dispossession of indigenous people. They’re also an ecologically unfriendly monoculture and take too much resources to manage (I agree with this bit).

6.), July 1: “America’s national parks face existential crisis over race.” The workforce and visitors of parks are too white, creating an “existential race crisis.” The demeanor of rangers makes others feel “unsafe,” and there aren’t enough signs in Spanish. But as the author notes later in the piece, the implied racism may be something not invoving racism in the Park Service:

Lack of transportation to national parks and the cost of visiting were cited as the top reasons people — especially Black and Hispanic Americans — don’t visit them more often, according to the study. Twice as many black and Hispanic Americans said they don’t know what to do in national parks than whites. When asked if they share the same interests as people who visit national parks, 34% of Black respondents and 27% of Hispanics said no, compared with only 11% of whites.

7.) Yahoo! News, December 26: Pixar’s ‘Soul’ is getting rave reviews, but it left me cringing up until the very last minute.” The “soul” of a Pixar character played by Jamie Foxx (black) is voiced by Tina Fey (white). That’s about it.

8.) The Conversation, August 16: “How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism.” I’ll quote Taibbi here:

The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).

9.) New York Times, June 29: “A White Gatekeeper of Southern Food Faces Calls to Resign.” A man in charge of a food organization that promoted southern food was white, despite his constant promotion of African-American food and help to African-American chefs and restaurants. His pigmentation seems to be the main problem.

*10.) Vice, August 13: “Dear White Vegans: Stop Appropriating Food.”  First of all, cultural appropriation: “They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes. . “.  There are also misconceptions that don’t seem to involve racism:

Black vegan influencer Tabitha Brown previously told VICE that before she cut out meat and dairy she thought vegans were “white ladies who do yoga.” White people and their blogs dominate the results when key terms like “vegans,” “vegetarians,” or “vegan recipes” are plugged into Google. Nital Jethalal, a board member for Toronto Vegetarians Association, told VICE News he has been putting together a conference for vegans and it has been a lot easier to find prominent panellists online who are white. “The problem is few people think to go to the second page of Google results,” Jethalal said.

My take is here. VICE is heinous.

11.) Time, December 15: “Co-Founding the ACLU, Fighting for Labor Rights and Other Helen Keller Accomplishments Students Don’t Learn in School.” Helen Keller was just “another privileged white person.”

12.) Refinery29, January 21, “The Dangerous Rise Of Men Who Won’t Date ‘Woke’ Women.” This all comes from one comment by Laurence Fox, which triggers author Vicky Spratt into a long tirade. But he’s only one guy! And of course there are lots of Republicans who won’t be happy with “woke” women, but they’re dangerous for other reasons. A quote:

So it is fitting that white man of the moment, Laurence Fox – who appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme and told a BAME audience member that Meghan Markle has not been on the receiving end of racism before subsequently appearing on the cover of The Sunday Times to tell the world that he does not “date woke women” and then displaying an appalling understanding of history by calling the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ film 1917 “incongruous” – has “irrespective” tattooed on his arm.
Did you hear that at the back, ladies? Laurence Fox – who you perhaps only knew as Billie Piper’s ex-husband because you’ve never seen Lewis (what?) – does not date “woke” women who he believes are being taught that they are “victims”, irrespective of whether they are right or not. He thinks that it’s “institutionally racist” to tell the story of the First World War in a racially diverse way, irrespective of the fact that Sikh soldiers absolutely fought for Britain. And he also doesn’t believe in white privilege, irrespective of the fact that he works in a painfully undiverse industry, was privately educated and comes from a wealthy acting family which is nothing short of a dynasty.
There’s nothing funny about the things Fox – or Wokey McWokeface as he now wants to be known – is saying. It’s also not particularly sad. It’s dangerous. He is just one very privileged man, and as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day in less public corners of the internet.

*13.) Vox, September 16: “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.” We’ve discussed it and its sequelae before (see here and here). No need to reprise the discussion about whether the “pale, male, and stale” Ludwig is elbowing out more diverse composers from the pantheon.

14.) San Francisco Chronicle, September 8: “Wine’s diversity starts with the way we talk about the taste of wine.” This is paywalled, so I can’t see it, but Ann Althouse summarizes the thesis with a quote:

“. . . .it’s becoming clearer than ever that the conventional language used to describe wine isn’t merely intimidating and opaque. It’s also inextricable from racism and sexism, excluding dimensions of flavor that are unfamiliar to the white, Western cultures that dominate the world of fine wine and reinforcing retrograde notions of gender.”

Yes, but they are familiar to people who drink wine, although one of the biggest consumers of fine with are the Chinese, who don’t seem to be excluded from this “white Western culture.”

15.) Deadspin, June 22: “We’ve Lived with ‘The Masters’ Name Long Enough.” The golf tournament needs to be renamed because “at, one of the definitions you get for ‘master’ is ‘owner of a slave.’  But the first definition (I looked it up) is “a person with the ability or power to use, control, or dispose of something: a master of six languages; to be master of one’s fate.”

16.) Fast Company, June 15: “5 thoughtful ways to approach discussing racism at work.”  Some of the tips are okay, but the entire article assumes that black people are uber-fragile and must be catered to in meetings at every turn, not treated as equals. It’s a prime example of “soft bigotry.” And here’s one invidious tip that Taibbi singles out:


Recognize that by doing so, you can potentially be re-triggering what your Black colleagues are experiencing or dismissing their experience by pretending all is normal. It’s not and hasn’t been for a long time.

This I don’t get. Is the assumption here that one’s black colleagues have very different kinds of weekends than we do? And this “re-triggering” trope is arrant nonsense.

So that’s it, and I should have kept a list like Taibbi’s. These are all articles that espouse a woke point of view, but there are many more articles about the dangers of Wokeitude than these, including the many I’ve written about “progressive”, authoritarian Leftism in colleges and the media.


It’s the end of the world as we know it: More tribalism at The University of Chicago

January 4, 2021 • 2:15 pm

For decades, the University of Chicago has prided itself as a unified community of scholars whose members were encouraged to (and were free to) debate the big questions. Now, apparently, the big questions have been settled by the uncritical adoption of Critical Theory, as evidenced by what our school is doing to its alumni (see below):

I am now in the sad position of watching my own school slowly go woke, fracturing along lines identified by Critical Theory as separating “homogenous” groups of people residing on a hierarchy of privilege. With the exception of “military alumni”, I hate to see our alumni tribalized in this way, and, truly, don’t see the sense in it..

An alum sent me links to this page, where events for alumni are divided up by race, sex, sexual orientation, and even military service. I’m not sure exactly why they are doing this (click on each screenshot to go to the page and read more). I suppose you could confect a reason, but in truth I think it reflects recent subservience to Wokeness, Critical Theory, and a tribalism once seen as exclusionary but now extolled as a sign of “inclusivity.”

I note with special sadness that one of the Association of Black Alumni events deals with the extremely controversial notion of “implicit bias”. Implicit bias is an important buttress of Critical Theory, asserting that that all white people are racist, whether or not they know it. (See Robin DiAngelo for a popular exposition.) This also holds for all men, who are said to be implicitly sexist.

As far as I know, most scholars without an agenda have abandoned it as a useful notion, along with “implicit bias training”, deep-sixed as a serious and useful endeavor to rid institutions of bias and bigotry (see, for example, here, here, here, here and here). But of course there will be no debate about this at the University of Chicago, where all were once free to question ideas like that. It’s simply presented as a given:

This is not to say, of course, that racism is gone, or that there aren’t bigots peppered through society. Of course there are! But the notion that all people are bigots, whether they know it or not, is an unfalsifiable assumption of Critical Theory, and used solely to gain power over others and advance one’s own power. If you’re racist and don’t know it, there’s nothing you can say, do, or evince to defend yourself—much less change the mind of your interlocutor.

A while back, the University suggested that members of our community might be required to undergo training to eliminate racism and other forms of “bias and exclusion”.  If the University of Chicago does this, it’s finished as the gold standard school for freedom of inquiry.

I may live to see the day that I simply have to accept my school as the midwestern version of The Evergreen State College. We’ll all have to get in the canoe! But for now I’ll continue objecting to such a change. After all, the U of C has encouraged its community to be critical.

Final exchanges between Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Will Wokeism die?

January 3, 2021 • 2:00 pm

I should be paying more attention to the Letter site, in which two people go back and forth, debating and discussing a single issue in a series of short exhanges. Have a look: there’s some good stuff on there. In fact, I’m likely to do one in the near future, but more on that as plans proceed.

It appears that Sarah Haider and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after five letters (three by Haider), have wound up their conversation, which you can read at the link below. I’ve already posted twice about their earlier exchanges (here and here), but in the future will wait until a series is done before summarizing and evaluating it.

In the first two letters, we learned that Sarah was pessimistic: she thought the culture war was lost and the Woke had won. Ayaan, on the other hand, was more optimistic. Did either of them change their mind?

Yes, I think Sarah did, becoming more optimistic about Wokeism’s end than she was at the outset. And I think the telling part was when Hirsi Ali told her that, ultimately, any ideology which rejects the facts and embraces its own “false facts”, as does Wokeism, is doomed. I agree.

At any rate, I think that when discussing the origins of Wokeism, Haider might have cited the analysis of where Critical Theory originates outlined in Pluckrose’s and Lindsay’s recent book Cynical Theories. So while Haider is close to being correct in what she says below, it’s not true that Wokeism seeks only to destroy. It also wants to create an authoritarian and Orwellian society that ultimately rests on postmodern tenets:

Wokeism is, perhaps, an anti-ideology—a will to power that can be identified not by what it values or the future it envisions, but by what it seeks to destroy and the power it demands. This makes it especially disastrous. For, when an existing organizing structure is destroyed with no replacement, a more brutal force can exploit the resulting power vacuum. In Iraq, the defeat of Saddam paved the way for ISIS. In Iran, naive socialists helped overthrow the authoritarian power, hoping to create a more just world—instead, the Ayatollah took charge and promptly executed and jailed his former allies. Once liberal institutions have been delegitimized by the woke, what will replace them?

But while its philosophy is empty, the psychology of wokeism is deeply satisfying to our baser instincts. For the vicious, there is a thrill in playing the righteous inquisitor, in mobbing heretics and demanding deference—brutal tactics that keep the rest of us in line, lest we be targeted next. Meanwhile, the strict social hierarchies of the woke are reassuringly simple to navigate: one always knows one’s place.

Certainly Wokeism is driven by thirst for power, but its philosophy isn’t really empty, just repugnant. And I don’t fully agree with Haider that “liberalism flies in the face of human nature”. (She says this to account for the displacement of liberalism by Wokeism.) In fact, as Pinker points out, liberalism has slowly been making inroads over much of the world, and that’s because human nature is attracted by science and empirical success, repelled by oppression and mistreatment.

But the important issue is whether Wokeism is on the wane. At the end of this letter, Haider bends a little and suggests that, as she has done in her work with ex-Muslims, the death of Wokeism lies in appealing to the youngest rational folks you can find—those who can think but are still on the fence. She gives an interesting example of someone who, she thinks, has the right approach:

Instead of aiming our efforts on those already captured by wokeism, perhaps we should focus on the next generation, whose values are still in active formation, who will relish standing up to the empire of the woke as a function of youthful idealism.

In my work with ex-Muslims, we persuade curious, intelligent young people to stand up against the religious totalism that has destroyed so much of the Muslim world.

. . . Jordan Peterson’s approach provides a good model. Though I have reservations about his specific message, he addressed the anxieties of young people and guided them through the culture war skirmishes. We must do the same.

We shall see how big Peterson’s influence in destroying Wokeism will be, but at least the man has the guts to push back against the Woke. He’s not afraid of being called a racist or a misogynist. Conquering the fear of disapprobation is, to be sure, the first thing we have to do.

But, says Hirsi Ali—and I now think she’s right—Wokeism will die from its own petard, for it ultimately rests on assertions that are either wrong or untestable, and so, like Communism, is doomed. I may not be around to see it, but I think Hirsi Ali’s most important point is this:

What is baked into modernity is self-perpetuating, not self-destructive. Many young people may have their hearts and minds captured for now, but the facts of physics and mathematics will remain what they are even if their detractors insist these fields must go “woke” (the controversy surrounding mathematician Abigail Thompson shows these fields are not immune from ideological pressures). Sooner or later, these young revolutionaries do have to realize that, for real progress to be made, they will need to base policies on objective realities. If they want to go to Mars one day, it is not the theories of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi that are going to get them there.

You don’t even have to aspire to go to Mars: the same can be said if you aspire to equal opportunity for people of all groups. Critical Race Theory won’t create that.

And, as Ayaan notes, the failure of the “blue wave” to appear in November suggests that, as she says, “[Americans] retaliated against the woke.” Perhaps the dissolution is on its way.

At the end of her last letter, Haider entertains the notion that yes, Wokeism may disappear. But she thinks the cause won’t be the intellectual vacuity of a fact-free ideology, but simply Wokeism’s hegemony, which quashes criticism:

So I wonder if perhaps what we are seeing is not an outright rejection of liberal, Enlightenment values, but a symptom of deep ignorance and privilege—an inability to comprehend the value of something many here have never lived without.

As John Stuart Mill explained, when a doctrine has been accepted so widely that the people have generally inherited, rather than adopted it, it begins an inevitable decline. Converts bring with them a zeal, but also an intimate understanding of the merits and pitfalls of both the ideology they left behind and that which they have adopted. Their beliefs were formed actively, by wrestling with objections and rebuttals. Those who have inherited the values that shape their lives may never have done this work, and thus may be far more susceptible to the simplest persuasion and emotional appeals.

“The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors,” wrote Mill. But if our success really is to blame, then we have cause for hope. It is possible that the challenge posed by the woke will serve to invigorate us, to wake us out of what Mill calls “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.” And that awakening—or shall I say awokening?—cannot happen a moment too soon.

If there is an “inevitable decline” of Wokeness, I think it will represent more than just the unavoidable death of ideas not questioned.  After all, Wokeism by its very nature precludes questioning, and that’s one reason it’s so successful. The reason Communism declined (and this is just my amateur’s take) is that it didn’t work—it did not produce a society palpably superior to ones based on at least some capitalism and freedom of speech and thought. Wokism won’t work because its tactics aren’t based on empirical data, and it rejects any data that contradicts its ideology. Ultimately, I think, that will bring it down. And it can’t come soon enough for me.

So in this exchange of letters between two very thoughtful (and civil) people, we have seen some movement. Sarah started out beefing about how Wokeness was here to stay, and in the discussion she wound up becoming not only more optimistic, but musing about what we can do to rid our house of ideological termites.


Some lagniappe: an article tweeted recently by Ayaan about the intellectual vacuity of critical gender theory:

Is Beethoven too “pale, male, and stale” for these times, oppressing more diverse composers?

December 29, 2020 • 10:45 am

In September I reported on the movement to disenfranchise Beethoven, trying to reduce his hegemony in classical music because he’s white and dominant and that in itself is oppressive. This was expressed most invidiously in a Vox piece by two chowderheads, “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.” It’s pretty predictable, containing stuff like this:

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts with an anguished opening theme — dun dun dun DUNNNN — and ends with a glorious, major-key melody. Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted that progression from struggle to victory as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.

Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among those in power, especially the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.

It might be, but I doubt it. These people surely have more important things to worry about. What’s being done to Beethoven by this clowder of chowderheads is symptomatic of the disdain for merit that is part of Wokeness. But don’t get me started.

Since it’s the 250th anniversary of Ludwig’s birth, these “cancel Beethoven” pieces have become more numerous. They complain not only about his dominance in the concert hall, but about how “policing” of classical music in general has led to rules like not clapping between movements. Such practices are said to be elitist and exclusionary, though I’m not sure who’s excluded. And in these times, the fact that Beethoven is seen as the brightest star in the musical galaxy, combined with the fact that he was white, old, and a male, is reason enough to go after him. (He was only 38 when he wrote the Fifth, but that was old then!)

Now the question of Beethoven Oppression arises again, this time at Varsity, the independent student newspaper of the University of Cambridge. The author, James Mitchell, is much concerned with diversity, and has also challenged chapel choirs and church music in general for not being sufficiently diverse.

Surprisingly, the answer to Mitchell’s title question below is “no,” but not for the reasons you think (i.e., that maybe Beethoven wrote good music). Click screenshot to read:

First, Mitchell poses the question, reprising a few licks that the Woke have given Ludwig lately:

In light of the recent #MeToo and BLM movements, Beethoven’s symbolic nature as the potentially prototypical ‘pale, male and stale’ composer has become ever more prominent. The feminist musicologist Susan McClary infamously compared the recapitulation in his Ninth Symphony to “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release”. Is it therefore time to throw the whole man out? If we ‘cancelled’ Beethoven, wouldn’t that eventually result in a more diverse, inclusive and accessible classical music scene?

(Do have a look at that link to the “Beethoven rape controversy”.) At any rate, the appeal of Beethoven is imputed to critics who touted his music in the twentieth century, not to the ears of concertgoers, and yet, says Mitchell, that appeal itself reduces diversity:

Beethoven’s central musical status has grown even into the 21st century. The question of “Was Beethoven Black?” keeps resurfacing over 100 years after being first proposed. He was the most performed composer in America in 2019-20, with over double the number of performances of Mozart (the second most performed). Being a guaranteed ticket-seller and donor pleaser, he keeps reappearing in concert programmes to the exclusion of other, more diverse composers. In the neo-liberal world, where audiences prefer the familiar, such attitudes to programming are unlikely to change unless there is a mass cultural boycott (i.e. ‘cancelling’) of composers like Beethoven.

Mitchell doesn’t explain what he means by “other, more diverse composers”, but you can bet he doesn’t mean French or Finnish ones.  In fact, Mitchell doesn’t favor a boycott of Beethoven, though he seems surprised that some people like his music:

Is this therefore the way forward? Well, not really. Notwithstanding that some people actually like Beethoven’s music, the problems classical music faces are more deeply rooted than just a single composer. The nationalist and colonialist appropriation of classical music by Wagner and others, with its attached racism and sexism, is part of its history. More problematic is the argument posed by musicologist Anna Bull: “Classical music requires the exclusionary practices described earlier [in her chapter] in order to demonstrate how it is different from other genres”.

According to Bull’s theory, removing Beethoven from the scene would only result in a different ‘pale, male and stale’ composer (e.g. Mozart) taking his symbolic place. Sustaining these exclusions, Bull argues, protects “classical music’s special status as ‘legitimate’ and its concomitant high levels of public investment”. Removing Beethoven would therefore not fundamentally change this situation.

In fact, it could make it worse. Music, particularly classical music, is fundamentally intertwined with politics as the recent Rule, Britannia row shows. Such an overtly political move as cancelling Beethoven would generate tension and a possible loss in ticket revenue from the right-wing audience (which has happened before with Beethoven). In a world of limited arts funding, with coronavirus having hit classical music hard, any drop in revenue could lead to organisations relying even more on other bankable hits, leading to a greater exclusion of more diverse composers. To cancel Beethoven could potentially work against its intended goal; while this view may be slightly speculative, it must at least be taken into account.

Read the second link about the loss in ticket revenue “which has happened before with Beethoven”. That link is intellectually dishonest, because the loss in ticket sales is very likely due to factors other than politics and Brexiteers boycotting a German composer. But the upshot of Mitchell’s argument is that canceling Beethoven might cause everybody to stay away from the concert halls, leading to even more exclusion of “diverse composers.”

Mitchell concludes that “every way forward is problematic”. If you cancel Beethoven, you cancel more “diverse” composers. At least he has the sense to realize that there are side effects of cancelling stuff that people like.

Now I’m not a classical music expert, but it’s possible that Beethoven’s hegemony is due not to his promotion by influential critics in the 20th century, nor to aversion to “diverse” composers, but rather aversion to modern classical music.  I’m not your average concert goer, but I do listen to classic music on occasion, and I have to say that my own personal liking—the music that moves me emotionally—ends with people like Ravel. The modern stuff leaves me cold. I guess it does to other people too, which is why it’s leavened in concerts with older and more familiar pieces. Yes, I’m a philistine, and I’m sure some readers will say that there are a lot of good classical musicians out there as good as Beethoven, but they’re simply not appreciated.  There are modern Beethovens, they’ll say, but they haven’t yet found their feet due to the “shock of the new.”

I can speak only for me, but I’ll suggest, as I have before, that, like rock and roll, classical music has had a good run, but it’s producing works that no longer appeal. And it’s not just because people haven’t learned to appreciate it.  But much of the old stuff is still good, and, like jazz buffs who return to Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, the new stuff doesn’t swing. It’s not a diversity problem, but a modernity problem.

Now have at me!

Haverford publicly caves in to its entitled students

December 21, 2020 • 1:30 pm

On December 5 I described the meltdown happening at ritzy Haverford College (tuition: $57,000 per year, total expenses $76,000 per year) following a police shooting of a black man in nearby Philadelphia. The students went on strike and issued a long series of demands to the College, as outlined in my article and in an informative piece in Quillette by Jonathan Kay.

What was remarkable about the Haverford protests was how readily the administration caved in to the student demands, which comprised the usual laundry list of no punishments for strikers, more money for diversity initiatives, defunding the police, changing the curriculum, the institution of pass-fail grades, the creation of ethnically segregated spaces, and getting rid of the President (he’s now resigned). It seems that the students suddenly discovered the university’s “systemic racism”, which wasn’t a problem before the shooting (see Kay’s article about the harmony that used to reign at Haverford), and used this discovery to try getting everything they wanted.

The response of Haverford administratores, who cringingly abased themselves online, was in strong contrast to the response of nearby Swarthmore College (equally ritzy), whose black President, Valerie Smith, basically told the students to bugger off and stop making anonymous demands instead of engaging in civil discourse.

And, by and large, the Haverford students won. An article at the Haverford Clerk, the College’s independent student newspaper (click on screenshot below) recounts the administration’s surrender and links to a list of the students’ demands and the administration’s item-by-item responses, with the vast majority of those responses being “yes, we will.”

I’ll give only one excerpt from the newspaper piece, which saddens me since it’s about the Biology Department. Heretofore science departments have been resistant to or not interested in changing themselves to fit student demands for a social-justice curriculum, but that’s changing (it’s also changing at the University of Chicago). The excerpt:

Without any overarching guidance from the administration, faculty members took a number of different approaches to respond to the two-week interruption in classes caused by the strike and finish the semester.

One notable response came from the Biology department. Before the strike had even ended, the department had discontinued classes for the remainder of the semester in order to focus on redesigning the curriculum with equity and inclusion in mind. All classes, including thesis sections, were canceled outright. The department adjusted thesis requirements and deadlines to reflect this change.

Yet students in most biology classes still completed the entirety of their coursework for credit—just without traditional in-class hours. Instead, students learned from classes recorded in-person last year. Students requiring in-class hours for visas, alongside all students interested in participating, were able to participate in a credit-bearing seminar entitled “Crafting an Inclusive Biology Curriculum”.

No in person biology classes at all! You can get credit for last year’s classes, but they’re old ones, and online. Instead, the biology department retreated to develop a curriculum centered on “equity and inclusion”. And, for students who needed in-person classes to meet visa requirements, they could take—no, not evolution or genetics or physiology or molecular biology—but “a credit-bearing seminar entitled ‘Crafting an Inclusive Biology Curriculum’”.  What a waste of a chance to learn biology! The purpose of a biology department, which I shouldn’t need to recount here, is to teach students biology, not inculcate them with the tenets of Critical Race Theory. And you just know what that new curriculum will be like!

Oh, one more excerpt, which involves those professors who decided to keep having classes and giving assignments during the strike:

On the other hand, some professors never canceled class during the course of the strike and pushed ahead as they originally planned. If and how students were allowed to make up work varied from class to class.

“There was no guidance and no support,” said one student, who found themself [JAC: is that an error or a new pronoun? I suspect the latter, but shouldn’t it be “themselves”?] weeks behind their classmates who didn’t participate in the strike after their professor chose not to cancel class and move deadlines for assignments. “I felt that not only had I missed materials presented in lectures, but in independently making up materials, I was unable to analyze it at the same level,” they explained. “The quality of education that I received drastically fell because of the professor’s unwillingness to support the strike.”

That last sentence would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. If the professor supported the strike by canceling classes and exams, the plural student would also have a lower quality of education, for there would be nothing to learn! As it is, there were classes, the student decided not to attend, and the student is beefing because of their own decision. At least there was a chance to learn something!

Anyway, it’s useful to read the list of student demands and the administration’s responses. Here’s the first one—one of the few the administration refused (click to enlarge):

Below are the demands I find especially scary, for they involves ideological policing of the faculty by the students, who get paid to monitor the faculty’s ideological purity:

The demands (note the claim that “this body will not be punitive”):

The administration’s response (white background for white-background demand above, grey response for grey-background demand. “FAPC” is the “Faculty Affairs and Planning Committee”.

Good Lord! If I were looking for a job as a biology professor now, I sure as heck wouldn’t consider Haverford—knowing that the students would constantly be watching me to ensure that I wasn’t an ideologically “problematic professor.”  Nor would I want to have to center my class around “inclusivity”: I’d just teach evolutionary biology the way I’ve always taught it, giving the best view of current knowledge I could.  If that’s not inclusive enough, I’m not sure what would be. But maybe that already makes me “problematic”. I teach everyone the same, and I treat all my students the same. To me, that’s the best I can do to adhere to inclusivity and equality.

But do parents really want to fork out nearly a third of a million dollars to buy this kind of “education” for their students?


h/t: Luana

Swarthmore College’s president has the moxie to resist ridiculous student demands

December 20, 2020 • 1:15 pm

In early November I reported on the meltdown at ritzy Haverford College in Pennsylvania in response to an October 16th police shooting of a black man in Philadelphia. From then on the scenario is familiar: the Haverford administration responded with a message of solidarity and social justice, but they didn’t phrase it exactly as the disaffected students wanted (they told the students to “stay safe” and not venture into Philly). The students protested, accused Haverford of structural racism, and issued a list of demands. They then went on strike. The Haverford administration immediately folded, abasing themselves in a cringeworthy way and promising to accede to all the students’ demands.

In solidarity with Haverford, other nearby schools, also ritzy ones, also went on strike, including Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore.  Swarthmore students also issued a long list of demands (I’ll quote a few below), which included another familiar one: that students who didn’t go to class and missed their academic assignments because of the strike were not to be penalized in any way. Unfortunately, Swarthmore didn’t agree to that, and students began failing assignments. At that point they stopped their strike.

You can read the list of demands by clicking on the screenshot below:

The demands begin with the familiar land acknowledgment, but with a twist: the students want to give the land back! I still maintain that these are examples of moral preening with no salutary effects:

We would like to first acknowledge that Swarthmore College resides and operates on stolen land from the Lenni Lenape. With this acknowledgement of the stolen Lenni Lenape land, we also bear witness to Swarthmore College’s longstanding history of racism, violence and continual oppression of Indigenous people. We recognize that our fight for Black wellness and safety at Swarthmore is happening on desecrated land, which means we are also implicated in the violence that the College enacts against Indigenous peoples. It is not acceptable to offer empty condolences without a concrete plan for reparations. Let us be clear: we are fully committed to creating a future where Native people everywhere get their Land Back.

That would, I suppose, mean the end of Swarthmore. But no matter. Here are a few of the many student demands (indents are direct quotes, emphases are as in the original)

We demand that there be no punitive actions and/or repercussions for the students involved, whatsoever. This includes BiCo students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr currently taking Swarthmore courses. This includes the guarantee that no student will fail this semester, fail to receive credit, or be hindered from completing their degree plan in any way, as a result of any involvement with this organizing.

And this is rich: the students who wrote the demands want to be paid for it!

In alignment with the demands of Bi-Co students, we demand that Swarthmore recognize, credit, and financially compensate the Black and Brown, gender-oppressed, and FLI people involved in the creation of this open letter and demands. 

Here’s a good way to kill a liberal education and chill speech at the same time:

We demand that Swarthmore faculty across every department incorporate and center the work of Black, Indigenous, Disabled, and Queer writers, scientists, and activists beginning with the 2021-2022 Academic year. 

  •  For too long, the syllabi of Swarthmore faculty have been Eurocentric, and have erased the contributions of disabled, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities. We demand that the revised syllabi of Swarthmore faculty be looked over by a committee of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and disabled students who will be financially compensated for their labor. 

How are you going to do that in a chemistry class? And, of course, there must be no dissent in these courses, for they’re structured around Critical Theory.

Naturally, the campus police have to be defunded in favor of social workers and therapists:

We demand that Swarthmore College reduces its Public Safety officer workforce over the next two years. We demand that funding from those vacated positions be re-allocated to CAPS for the hiring of new counselors as aforementioned. 

Public Safety is not in the service of protecting Black students, who are frequently stopped and asked what their business is on campus. Pubsafe is not an essential service. Counseling for Black students, for whom this political and historical moment is incredibly traumatic, is essential and funds should be reallocated accordingly.

There is the request for lowering academic standards, but only for students of color:

We demand that all academic expectations are significantly modified to meet the needs of the most marginalized students. Beginning with the Spring of 2021, all coursework deadlines should be adjusted to prioritize student wellness. This will require professors to rework their syllabi in order to meet the needs of the students that are struggling the most in their courses. It is violent to expect students to disregard their well being in order to meet academic expectations.

Finally, there’s the call for mandatory brainwashing, clearly is not an opportunity for discussion, but for the authoritarians to instill RightThink in the students:

We demand that Swarthmore fully fund workshops on cultural competency and intersectionality that are mandatory for all first-year and transfer students beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. These workshops should be taught by marginalized people. Too many of our peers are able to graduate without having to reflect on systems of oppression and how they are implicated within them.

On November 19, two weeks into the strike, Swarthmore’s President, Valerie Smith, wrote to the protestors and the whole college. Her letter is remarkable in both its civility but also its flat-out rejection of the students’ petulant demands. Click on the screenshot:

A few excerpts.

The civil opening:

I am grateful to be part of a community united in its commitment to make the institution we share a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming place. While I’m proud of the work we’ve achieved together, that work is far from complete; in fact, it may never truly be “finished.” But I want to reiterate that I am eager to engage with students as we continue to build a more diverse and just community together.

The hammer falls:

In my experience, however, the type of large gathering you’ve described, particularly one organized by an anonymous group that requires attendance of certain individuals to discuss the specific demands you’ve put forth, isn’t conducive to meaningful and productive dialogue. I am thus declining the invitation, because I believe that to bring about enduring change, we must engage in a more genuine, focused, nuanced, and sustained interaction and exploration of the issues at stake. My colleagues in the administration and I welcome engagement with any members of our community who are willing and able to participate in this difficult and necessary work.

The spanking of the striking students for not behaving well:

But while we share some of the same aspirations, our vision for the path toward achieving them differs. Some of your demands and aspects of your latest response take liberty with the facts. Students and faculty alike have raised serious concerns about feeling pressured into supporting the strike. And there is an undercurrent emerging that those who do not fully subscribe to your demands or your approach somehow fail to support the Black Lives Matter movement, which would be, of course, a false equivalency. I am sure that you do not intend for others to feel this way, but it is, nevertheless, the way that some in our community — who are deeply committed to racial justice — are feeling.

Smith’s polite rejection of further dialogue with the letter writers, who were of course anonymous:

At this point, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I see further engagement with an anonymous group and a set of demands that do not reflect the serious and ongoing efforts of those in our community as the most effective way of addressing issues critical to the entire College community. As I said before, I greatly appreciate that you have highlighted the need for me and members of the administration to find new and more effective ways of communicating, connecting, and working with students, in the service of meaningful change. I am committed to doing so and am even now working to develop new structures and strategies for conflict resolution, change, collaboration, and communication.

And lest you think President Smith is an old white racist woman, no she’s not. Her photo is below; she’s also described as “a distinguished scholar of African-American literature” and an advocate of social justice:

Smith’s significant priorities at Swarthmore include attracting more low-income and first-generation students, innovating the curriculum, increasing diversity, and strengthening relationships between the College and the region.

But she’s going to do it her way, not at the point of a gun held by a bunch of entitled students. I can’t say she has “cojones,” for she’s a woman, but she’s surely, as the kids say, “badass.” Kudos to her.  She knows how to walk the line in these troubled times, and that doesn’t mean truckling to the students. It means being a leader, not a craven follower.

President Valerie Smith

Critical Theory and its Jewish dilemma

December 17, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I haven’t been a big booster of of James Lindsay since he announced he was voting for Trump, but since he’s done good work before (his book with Helen Pluckrose on the intellectual origins of critical theory is a must-read), and because I don’t erase people just because they vote for morons, I want to highlight his latest essay on his New Discourses website (click on screenshot to read). It is in fact a good analysis of the dilemma Wokesters face when confronted with “the Jewish question”, though, unfortunately, the essay is more than twice as long as it needs to be.

What is the problem? It’s how to regard the Jews if you’re Woke. Are they white? Where do they fit in the hierarchy of oppression that’s a leading tenet of Critical Theory? After all, Jews have been historically oppressed, and even today are demonized not just in the Middle East, but are the most frequent victims of ethnic or religious group “hate crimes” (on a per capita basis) in America. They get attacked regularly in France. And many Jews aren’t even “white”, whether you go by genetics, pigmentation, or historical victimization.

So we have a group of high achievers, who were historically oppressed and are still marginalized by many, but who are also seen by the woke and many on the Left as oppressors, and de facto as white people who must check their privilege since they’ve benefitted from their “white privilege”. (Some chowderheads have tried to classify Ashkenazi Jews as “white” and Sephardic Jews as “people of color”, but that’s a ridiculous exercise that will go nowhere).

The dilemma of how to regard Jews been resolved by ignoring their historical oppression and the attacks on them that still occur in the West, and considering them identical to whites regarded as universal oppressors. In fact, it’s even worse because Jews are associated with Israel, which itself is seen as “colonialist”, so all Jews carry the taint of that as well. The upshot is that Jews appear to have risen to the top of the oppression scale (i.e., the least oppressed), despite the undeniable fact of their oppression for two millennia.  The problem that Lindsay outlines that it’s hard to justify this placement using Critical Race Theory itself.

A few quotes from Lindsay:

Under Critical Race Theory, many Jews are Theorized as having been granted and to some degree embraced—as a matter of effectively indisputable fact if not explicitly in both cases—the status of “whiteness” in contemporary American (and sometimes European) society. This would imply that under Critical Race Theory, Jews have an intolerable privilege they need to check. So demands the new “successor” ideology Weiss warns about in her Tablet piece.

Placing aside the obvious complication that not all Jews are white by any reasonable definition (which therefore may not have anything to do with Critical Race Theory’s definitions), there’s a huge problem with this formulation that every Jewish reader of this essay will immediately realize. Jews have quite the incredible history of incredible oppression, including imperial destruction, diaspora, enslavement, and a literal genocide in the Holocaust. This set of horrors tended to follow a familiar pattern as well, which we now name “anti-Semitism.” That pattern is that Jews are made out to be a group that stands by its own claim as separate from broader society in some significant way and yet finds a way to gain significant privilege, eventually to the point of usurping control of the institutions that shape society. We would be remiss to avoid pointing out that assigning “whiteness” to Jews repeats the opening act of this tragic play.


The uniquely Jewish combination of a long history of terrible oppression of a people that isn’t just (at least partly) fair-skinned but also highly successful in what the Theorists would deem a “white” milieu is, in fact, completely intolerable to Critical Race Theory. The Theory distrusts Jewish success as such and, as with everything it analyzes, believes it must have something to do with having been granted access to the privileges of whiteness—illegitimately, by betrayal, and at the expense of blacks. It would then, in due course, demand that (“white”) Jews accept and atone of their whiteness by the familiar process: recognize it in themselves, acknowledge their de facto complicity in “white supremacy,” critique their own unwitting participation therein, and then submit to and promote the Critical Race Theory worldview in both ideology and deed, which takes the form of their brand of “anti-racist” social activism—for life. This, however, requires asking Jews to deny both their history and what makes them Jews in the first place.

The crux of the problem:

Adherents to Critical Race Theory, for all their claims upon sophistication in analyzing group standing in society and its subtle meanings in terms of power, do not possess the conceptual resources needed to deal with historically oppressed white people—unless they’re fat, disabled, maybe gay (that’s complicated now), or trans, none of which would have anything to do with them being Jewish in any case. Critical Race Theory therefore places Jewish people into a very dangerous spot within their Theory: they are a group that has tremendous privilege they don’t deserve who also have an apparently ironclad excuse not to “do the work” of dismantling their own whiteness.

Below: its effect on college students. Many Jewish students have experienced pretty severe opprobrium, always accused of being boosters of Israel, even when they aren’t or don’t think about it. The inevitable association with “colonialist” Israel (anti-Zionism) is one way that Woke anti-Semites use to alleviate their cognitive dissonance. Here’s a quote from a Tablet essay by Bari Weiss:

“It’s hard to overstate how suffocating this worldview is to specifically Jewish college students,” Blake Flayton, a progressive Jewish student at GW, wrote me recently. “We don’t fit into ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’ categories. We are both privileged and marginalized, protected by those in power and yet targeted by the same racist lunatics as those who target people of color. The hatred we experience on campus has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s because Jews defy anti-racist ideology simply by existing. So it’s not so much that Zionism is racism. It’s that Jewishness is.”

Let me pull that out for you. This isn’t about Zionism or landlords or capitalism or AIPAC. We live in a world in which everyone is being told to side either with the “racists” or the “anti-racists.” Jews who refuse to erase what makes us different will increasingly be defined as racists, often with the help of other Jews desperate to be accepted by the cool kids.

One more note on the ludicrous lengths that the Woke go to ignore the historical oppression of the Jews. This comes, unsurprisingly, from the anti-Semitic Linda Sarsour, and the quote is from an academic paper, “Critical Whiteness Studies and the ‘Jewish Problem’ by Balázs Berkovits:

Linda Sarsour, the “new face of intersectional feminism,” who had also been invited to the “Jews of color” gathering before she participated in the panel on antisemitism at the New School for Social Research, was very clear on the subject. Speaking in a video published by the Jewish Voice for Peace, she said: “I want to make the distinction that while anti-Semitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans, it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic. […] Of course, you may experience vandalism or an attack on a synagogue, or maybe on an individual level… but it’s not systemic, and we need to make that distinction.” Here, Sarsour implies that first, it is not a collective or structural phenomenon, but the sum of scattered individual acts, and second, and more importantly, that antisemitic attacks carried out by other minorities (which is most often the case) cannot be significant, for those are not the actions of the dominant (white) groups, who determine the permanence of structural racism. The theoretical underpinning of this view, besides “intersectionality,” comes from a theory of structural racism. (pp. 88–89)

Critical Theory has other problems, too, for Muslims are seen on the one hand as people of color, but on the other can be seen as oppressors—especially in Muslim countries that oppress gays, women, apostates, atheists, and, of course, the rare Jews who still live in such countries.


“We’re located on Dakota land”

December 7, 2020 • 11:30 am

When I was shopping on Sunday morning, I listened to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show on NPR—the station permanently fixed on my car radio. Mercifully, I was shopping later than usual and just caught the tail end of the show, which, aired on Sunday morning, forms a kind of radio church for non-religious lefties.

Among the credits I heard Tippett say this, “The On Being Project is located on Dakota land.” No, she didn’t mean North or South Dakota, as the show comes from Minnesota. Rather, she was referring to the Dakota group of Native Americans, a subset of the familiar Sioux nation. (They’re also known as the Lakota People.)

My first thought when Tippett said that was to yell at the radio—I do a lot of that when I listen to her—”WELL, WHY THE HELL DON’T YOU GIVE IT BACK TO THEM, THEN?” That’s not a fatuous question, for if you acknowledge that you’re occupying land stolen from others, shouldn’t you return it to them? (Of course, Native Americans were always taking over each other’s land, so this gets into an infinite regress of reparations. Who should be paid or get the land back?)

I then went over to the On Being Project website and found a whole page with that “land acknowledgment” and an explanation (click on screenshot)

Part of their land acknowledgment is this:

Bdote [the area around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers] is a place that carries a complicated and layered history, in the thousands of years the Dakota people have been in relationship and kinship with the land here, and in the several hundred years since European settlers colonized the land that the state of Minnesota now occupies. The United States’ land seizures were a project of spiritual destruction that denied the Dakota free and unhindered access to the land that fundamentally shapes their identity and spirituality.

Today, 11 reservations are located within the state of Minnesota: four Dakota communities in the southern portion of the state and seven Ojibwe communities in the north. The On Being Project pays tribute to the Dakota and Ojibwe.

Yes, they pay verbal tribute to these peoples, and give a lot of historical links, but those links don’t include a single one about how you could actually help the Dakota or Ojibwe, or how you could make reparations to them—if you’re serious. The only “help” offered is a guide about how to construct your own land acknowledgment.  Would that make you feel better if you were a member of the Dakota nation? I doubt it.

In fact, in about two minutes of Googling, I found several organizations that help the Dakota people, for example here, here, here, here, and here.  None of these, or anything related, can be found on that On Being page.

Although land acknowledgments are becoming increasingly common, they make me cringe for two reasons. The first I mentioned above: they’re an easy way to parade your own virtue while not having to actually do anything. They accomplish nothing—except to remind us of who had the land before others did, and perhaps of the sad history of American colonial genocide. Is that enough? I don’t think so, for I think these acknowledgments are mainly a form of moral preening.

The second thing is that if you feel strongly enough to pay money to construct a page on Dakota land acknowledgment, and thank five Native Americans and five others for their assistance, and if you acknowledge that you’re making money while sitting on stolen land, then you’d damn well better do something about it. It’s a good thing for me that my own ancestors were living in Eastern Europe (soon to be driven out) while settlers were stealing land in America.

Maybe I’m being uncharitable here, but I really do see land acknowledgments as a cringeworthy form of moral preening. When Grania was alive and we had our frequent discussions abut this kind of thing, she always told me, “When you evaluate stuff like this, ask yourself whether these acts really improve the situation they highlight.” In this case, I think the answer is clearly “no.”

You’re welcome to weigh in below.

Social-justice turbulence at Haverford, self-abasing administrators, and some lessons

December 5, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I see that Quillette is now being demonized by many Leftists as some sort of “alt-right” or conservative website. And although some of their articles are indeed too Right-wing for me, most of the articles seem to be doing what I do—calling out the excesses of the Left, the same excesses that, I suspect, held back the predicted Blue Wave in November’s election. Further, it’s not a good idea to denigrate an entire website as a way of avoiding—or urging others to avoid—reading anything published there. Regardless of what you see as Quillette‘s overall ideology, you will benefit from reading some of its pieces, if for no other reason than some of the follies of the Left, which threaten a liberal government, simply can’t be found in mainstream media.

Here is one piece that will repay reading, although it’s long (my printout, in 9-point type, occupies 14 pages). This should keep you occupied on a cold December Saturday:

In some ways it’s nothing really new: the piece describes a meltdown at Haverford College, a posh and expensive school near Philadelphia. What’s unusual about this is that the students went on strike for several weeks, refusing to go to classes or, indeed, do anything college-related. What’s not new is that they issued a set of demands to the administration: the usual mix of the ridiculous to the tame. And the administration, to placate the outraged students, accepted nearly every one of those demands.

To me it’s a scary harbinger of my own school which, despite holding the line on some aspects of free speech, is showing worrying signs of encroaching wokeness. I’m worried that the University of Chicago will go the way of Yale, Middlebury College, Harvard, and now Haverford. But more on that in weeks to come.

The author of the piece, Jonathan Kay, is the Canadian editor of Quillette, and has cobbled together a thorough and engrossing summary of Haverford’s meltdown.  I’ll try to be brief, as I want to discuss his views on the future of fulminating college wokeness.

Earlier this year, before the death of George Floyd on May 25, Haverford was pretty much a school of comity. While there was discussion about various issues, there was not much about race, and a college committee in 2019 noted that there was, as Kay says, “little indication of mass discontent or ideological conflict.” This contrasts markedly with the many statements in the next few months, including some by administrators admitting that Haverford had long been a bastion of systemic racism.

All that changed with the death of Floyd and then the police shooting in Philadelphia on October 26 of another black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was bipolar and carrying a knife.  Because it wasn’t clear that the cops had a good reason to fire on Wallace, this predictably led to rioting in Philadelphia. Earlier, the racial unrest of the summer had led the College’s President, Wendy Raymond, to issue a statement of support for the black protestors, and the students began protesting the alleged racism of Haverford and issuing lists of demands.

After Wallace’s death, President Raymond and Interim Dean Joyce Bylander (the latter a black woman) issued a joint letter of anti-racism, but made the mistake of saying that students shouldn’t go to Philadelphia to protest because they could get infected with Covid-19 or “play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” (It’s not clear whom they meant.)

This statement (like others, reproduced in the article), urging students not to put themselves in “harm’s way”, enraged those students, who saw in it a line drawn between the poor black residents of Philadelphia and the entitled bubble of Haverford students.  A Zoom call ensued on November 5 in which the President, the black Interim Dean, and the black Provost, Linda Strong-Lee, talked to many of Haverford’s 1350 students. The students proceeded to revile the administrators in the call, as usual, but did so anonymously.

And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:

The President:

Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”

Not only did Raymond announce that she would be acceding to many of the students’ previously listed demands, she also reacted positively to the new requests that students put forward during the call. “All of the recommendations you’ve made here sound spot on and are excellent,” she said. “We can do those—and go beyond them.”

The Provost:

“I’ll just share that I hear your pain, and I know that this is something that rings hollow for you, but I am a black woman who has lived in a black body for 56 years,” responded Strong-Leek, in carefully measured tones that, among all the responses from administrators, seemed closest to escalating into something approaching candor. “My husband is black. My children are black. Every day, I worry about them and myself. Every day, I confront racism. [I’m] Looking forward to working with you and looking forward to making Haverford a better place.” She seemed to be fighting back her own emotions, but ultimately kept her composure.

The Interim Dean:

“I continue to listen and learn, and try to understand the ways in which the college has failed you and how I have failed you,” Dean Bylander calmly responds, ticking off seemingly well-rehearsed talking points. “[I] continue to be committed to trying to work to change and improve the experience of BIPOC students at Haverford.” Her face is a mask of deadpan professionalism. Or maybe she’d simply gone numb.

Eventually, the College acceded to virtually all the students’ demands. But by then the students had gone on strike, refusing to attend classes or extracurricular activities, with the intent being to disrupt the college, make them see how valuable people of color were in running the College, and to spend their time doing teach-ins and reading anti-racist literature. The strike lasted three weeks.

It wasn’t enough that there was a strike, for the striking students tried to punish those “scab” professors who insisted on holding classes during the strike as well as those students who opposed the strike, the latter keeping quiet lest they be forever demonized. Alumni banded together threatening to withhold donations to Haverford unless the students’ demands were met (this is a particularly effective way to effect college change: smack them in the pocketbook).

Social-media statements like this circulated (“Peanuts” is President Raymond’s dog, for crying out loud, and the poor mutt was threatened multiple times with death):

They threatened the President’s dog, for chrissake!

All of a sudden, where comity had reigned, the students, administration, and alumni discovered that all along the school had been a bastion of racism and bigotry:

The students appeared on Zoom under pseudonyms plucked from a list of past Haverford presidents and benefactors. The idea, a strike organizer self-identifying as “Henry Drinker” is heard to say at the 12:20 mark, was to co-opt the names “of the old white men who have made Haverford the racist institution that it is today.”

. . . These details help contextualize the mass email that Dean Bylander and President Raymond sent to the school community on October 28th, a six-paragraph message that student strikers would cite in the days that followed as proof of the “long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”

From an article in the college newspaper by a student named Soha Saghir:

This campus has failed its Black students (especially Black women and Black nonbinary people), its students of color, and its FGLI [first-generation low-income] students—the very people whose labor is the backbone of this campus. These emails [from the administration] were just one more way in which you and this institution neither feel nor understand how tired, angry, and ready for change we are… In this pandemic, that labor has intensified in unimaginable ways… We are no longer asking for inclusion or diversity since that gives more power to the institution. Instead, we will disrupt that order. We will be going on a strike from our classes, our jobs (which we need), and any extracurricular activities. This campus can’t run without BIPOC. This is not just a reminder that we are valuable to you on campus, but that our lives, minds, and bodies matter.

There’s more, but what’s clear is that all of a sudden students discovered that the school, once peaceful and inclusive, was really a hotbed of racism. Did the school change in such a short period of time, or did outraged students confect a “structural racism” that didn’t exist.

I opt for the latter, having long lived on a liberal campus where such recent accusations fly in the face of the facts.

What bothers me about Kay’s piece is what looks like a correct diagnosis of why the administration caved completely to the students, abasing themselves, losing their dignity, and admitting to an institutional bigotry which didn’t exist. It’s because the administration has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by standing up to the students. If true, that doesn’t give me much hope:

When campus meltdowns of this type occur, you often see conservative culture warriors demand that administrators take a hard line, demonstrate backbone, “grow a spine,” and so forth. But what is their incentive for doing so? It was once the case that a university president was able to balance different constituencies against one another as a means to achieve some kind of policy equilibrium—liberal students versus more conservative professors, administrators against alumni, this department versus that. But that doesn’t happen anymore: Thanks to the homogenizing effects of social media, all of these constituencies tend to be drinking the same bathwater from the same troughs, and so get caught up in the same social panics at the same time.

And Kay’s solution seems lame: “eventually the trend will reverse itself, and that will be prompted by the students themselves.”  Dream on, Mr. Kay: I don’t see this happening:

The process of sifting through these events at Haverford has convinced me that the ideological crisis on American campuses can’t be solved by administrators—not because they are beholden to critical race theory, intersectionality, gender ideology, postmodernism, or any of the other bugbears of conservative culture critics, but because they simply have no practical inducements for doing so. Ultimately, this is a crisis that is going to have to be addressed, if at all, by students themselves. And in this regard, I do see some green shoots of hope. Nick Lasinsky, a white undergraduate student at Haverford, wrote a beautiful and thoughtful piece called Why I’ve Chosen Not to Strike. And a black student named Khalil Walker wrote an amazing series of comments in which he demolishes the idea that Haverford is a hive of systematic racism. Our culture moves in cycles, and I predict that you will see more of these brave voices in months to come.

I predict otherwise. These woke and outraged students will, since they come from elite colleges, get positions of leadership in the media as well as in other colleges, for many of them will go on to become academics and administrators. And that will make colleges even more woke, and so on. There’s nothing on the horizon to break that cycle.

As I worry about this fate for my own university (our hard-line President, Bob Zimmer, will resign at the end of this academic year), I spend too much time—especially for an emeritus professor—fretting about the University of Chicago. For decades, we were the beacon of freedom of speech and academic freedom among American colleges. This uniqueness was in fact a selling point of the University, who advertised it to potential students and their parents. But it’s crumbling.

Now we stand on an equipoise that could easily turn us into Haverford, especially because many of our students are just as woke as theirs. While I still fight for freedom of speech here, it’s getting harder and harder, and the opposition gets louder and louder. What’s freedom of speech compared to the “harm” you cause by speaking your mind?

Before too long, we may see the time when the University of Chicago is no longer the model for colleges that want to encourage all sorts of discussion and discourage none. And I find that prospect discouraging.