10 November 2015
What's the matter with Missouri?
Expect a backlash, if you can't already see it and hear it on the Internet or the radio, following the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri under mounting pressure from black students and sympathizers culminating in a threatened strike by the Columbia campus's SEC football team. Expect anger from whites, since the president was targeted not for sins of commission but sins of omission: an inadequate and purportedly insensitive response to a sequence of racist or racially-charged incidents on campus and in the state dating back to the Ferguson incident. What I hear already is that those uppity black bastards are forcing their will on the rest of us again, that the football players should have had their scholarships revoked, etc. Beneath all of this is the fearful question: what do they really want? What do they want from us? The answers should be obvious. They want zero tolerance of race hatred. It appears also that they want indoctrination (though we probably can just call it "education") against racism. More controversially, they seem to want some indoctrination/education on the concept of "systemic racism," towards which the university president, in the closest he came to a sin of commission, appeared to express some skepticism. "Systemic racism" is the current label for the argument that racism is something different from race hatred, that racism requires power, and that ending racism requires some redistribution of power to an extent that remains unclear. Putting it another way, the "systemic racism" argument is an argument for collective responsibility, refusing to the majority of whites the privilege of blaming racism, and placing the burden of ending it, exclusively on the most blatant rednecks of the old confederacy. No one has accused the university president of making cruel jokes or even of condoning the fecal swastika that seems to have been the final straw for black activists who take for granted that the symbolism was directed primarily at them rather than Jewish students. But those activists and their supporters in the athletic program believe that nothing short of radical change can end racism as they perceive it, and radical change in this case means a change at the top. Tell them that they're just too thin skinned for their own good and you'll probably be told that that's your privilege talking. They're asserting a right to be thin skinned, a right not to tolerate slurs or the supremacist attitudes behind them. Like it or not, whites aren't the only ones who get to be angry in this country. Black people (and a lot of their friends) are as mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. You can still look at it as an overreaction, as it objectively is. You can still believe that the president didn't deserve to lose his job over it, though that's a question of accountability. You can look for some proof of black hypocrisy to crow over or make excuses with. But that leaves it up to you to explain what can be done to end racism to everyone's satisfaction, unless you'd rather explain why no one should demand its end.