When I published my diatribe against college outrage culture and the regressive left, I was criticized for being too over-the-top. Many insisted that the incidents I cited were isolated moments of moral failing from an otherwise morally admirable cause. I was told that yes, it was awful when the press was silenced or when property was damaged, but all these demonstrations were in pursuit of a more noble goal of inclusion, respect, and tolerance. To anyone at Bates who still believes this, I encourage you take an hour drive to Brunswick, home of the Bowdoin Polar Bears, to see what has become of our college campuses.
A couple of weeks ago at Bowdoin, students were caught doing something they should not have been doing. They were drinking. And not only were they drinking, they were drinking tequila. And not only were they drinking tequila, they were wearing sombreros. And not only were they wearing sombreros, but many of the students were white. Now, if you ask me, so far, the only crime that has been committed is that no one invited me. I honestly can’t think of anything that sounds more fun than a tequila party in the middle of the Maine winter. But given the national mood on cultural appropriation, it should come as no surprise that students at Bowdoin reacted how all students seem to be reacting now-a-days. They protested. Latino students and their self-hating white allies petitioned the administration and the student government to discipline the partygoers for offending them.
If you support the protests at Bowdoin, you do not know how to live in a civil society. What’s more, you are entirely ignorant about what constitutes a civil society. Equal protection under the law, freedom of speech, cultural pluralism—all these values are an anathema to you. You believe that it’s okay that fashion be limited along racial lines. You think that certain people wearing certain clothing is dangerous, and you advise that students of color be vigilant for acts of appropriation. In this article, I hope to push back on this mindset, which I consider to be the most plausible threat to freedom in our country.
I’m obviously not thrilled that segregationists have taken over the madhouse at Bowdoin, our once proud peer institution. I’m also not entirely sure how the protesters can claim they are advocating anything other than an abject campaign of race hatred and guilt. It seems to me self-evident that allowing racial dress codes is opening up a Pandora’s Box of racial antagonism. I’m sure, however, that supporters of these protests will denounce me for not “framing my analysis with the realities of historical oppression, power dynamics, and the intersectionality of race.” Before we entertain the intersectional philosophies however, I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page.
If you support the protests I would sincerely appreciate public answers to the following questions—and please keep in mind that the definition of “punish” in this context means to impose punitive sanctions: Should white people be punished for wearing sombreros? If they should only be punished in certain circumstances, what are those circumstances? What specific social and economic goals must be achieved for white people to be able to wear sombreros without punishment? Should Hispanics be punished for wearing sombreros? Should Hispanics be punished for wearing waspy or preppy clothing? If not, can you explain why one stylistic stereotype is more harmful than the other?
If, after having gone through each of these questions you found a way to explain why segregating fashion is not racist, you will probably fall back on some intersectional philosophy. It’s possible you might believe that due to centuries of white supremacy, white people have lost the privilege to wear sombreros. Perhaps you don’t believe that minorities can be racist, and thus white people have no basis to criticize what you consider to be a reclaiming of culture. Maybe you think that sombreros demean Latinos, and thus it is out of public interest that white people be banned from using them, lest Latinos separate themselves from society. Whatever your ideology, even if you find your internal logic convincing, all your work is still ahead of you. It is just as important that your answers and reasoning not contradict those of your allies. In other words, if you want your views on justice to be actionable by the administration, there can be no room for ambiguity regarding cultural appropriation. Why? Because if ambiguity exists among intersectional social justice warriors, different administrations could render different verdicts on the same act committed by the same person.
Herein lies the failure with cultural appropriation and social justice rules. They are based on philosophies which leave too much room for disagreement and nuance. Ideally, punitive rules need to be based on some sort of provable harm upon which most people can agree. For example, starting a fire in your dorm. It is hard to philosophize over the benefits of one’s right to arson in a college setting. The problem is, when it comes to social justice, everyone is a philosopher. People disagree on cultural norms, ideas of oppression, and historical outlook. People disagree on what is offensive. People disagree on what should be censored. And no matter what you do, someone is going to be upset.
Look no further than the recent Ghostbusters reboot. The creators of that film sought to specifically pander to the SJW/intersectional movement. But not two minutes after the release of the trailer, they were inundated with criticism for stereotyping black women. They failed to please everyone and in doing so, pleased no one. Within the SJW community, a consensus can’t be reached on how and when to stifle speech, so how can someone implement appropriation rules without drawing friendly fire? The answer is you can’t, not without making enemies. So if you are insistent on rejecting universal rights, only one question remains for you: who do you trust to be the censor?
The students at Bowdoin are catastrophizing this incident. They have started a witch-hunt to find student leaders who attended the party and are serving them up as sacrificial lambs. They are slandering and attainting their peers in front of the world for the crime of stepping into the wrong party. Joseph McCarthy would be proud, but the rest of us should see this inquisition as the farce it is. The protests are underpinned by an intersectional philosophy which arbitrarily condemns practices as culturally appropriative. Let me remind you, that this is the school which, on the same night as the tequila party, held its annual “Cold War” party, in which students “appropriated” Soviet culture and dress. You tell me why one is OK and the other is not. You tell me how the denizens of the Soviet Union were privileged.
The college left has lost all semblance of the moral high ground. How can we denounce the authoritarianism of Donald Drumpf and in the same breath, call for the silencing of our fellow students? We can’t. Not after giving up our allegiance to liberalism in favor of sensitivity. And the tragic irony is, the movement doesn’t even care about diversity. Not in the abstract anyway. Taken to their logical conclusion, these philosophies of intersectionality remove all hope of cultural mixing, understanding, and love. They relegate us to our cultural sect along the cultural hierarchy and demand of us our freedoms in exchange for our obedience. This ideology is a gaping hole ready to take away the things we love unless we fight back. If anyone at Bowdoin is reading this, it’s not too late for the silent majority to take back the narrative. Repudiate the masochists and segregationists among you, and stand unapologetically in defense of free speech and universal human rights. And please, the next time you see someone dressed up like Pancho Villa, tell your friends to take a couple of deep breaths before they ruin America.