Earlier this month “Black Lives Matter” protestors prevented a conservative speaker, Heather MacDonald, from delivering a lecture at Claremont McKenna College. She was forced to make her presentation via web streaming instead. Sadly, this was nothing new. The Radical Left has made it a habit of stopping free speech on college campuses.
To its credit, the administration vigorously defended the right of free speech and academic freedom in an email sent out to students and faculty. But the Radical Left was unmoved. In a letter sent to the administration in response, the protestors claimed:
Your statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny.
So the quest for the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) is merely a construct of white supremacist culture.
My immediate question for these students is, Is that claim the “Truth”?
If this claim is the “Truth,” then aren’t these students propagating the legacy of oppression and injustice inextricably linked to such truth claims? And if so, shouldn’t someone shut them down for this exercise in Euro-West cultural hegemony? And if this statement is not the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!), why should I care?
Many profound injustices have been done in the name of the “Truth.” And many of these injustices have been perpetrated by whites against people of color. But the problem here is not the “Truth” per se, but the perversion of the truth in the quest for power and exploitation. To attack the concept of “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) with claims that you expect to be taken as the truth is the very definition of self-refutation.
But the inherent and obvious self-contradictions are lost on these students. Later in the letter they claim:
The idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald’s hate speech is illogical.
“Illogical”? That sounds an awful lot like someone is interested in “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!)!
Nor is this the only example of incoherence in the statement. The letter further asserts:
Non-Black individuals do not have the right to prescribe how Black people respond to anti-Blackness.
To these students, the cultural experiences of non-blacks are so different from blacks that non-blacks have no place to tell black students how they should act. But if there is such a great gulf between the black and non-black experience, then why would these students believe those who are not black would even understand their objections? Why bother writing such a letter?
This letter perfectly captures the two-fold catastrophe of identity politics. In the first place, it represents a grave challenge to freedom. By labeling those who disagree as “fascists” or worse, groups like “Black Lives Matter” can simply declare any opponent as unworthy of freedom of speech by definition and preempt the free exchange of ideas. In civil society, people can understand one another, and even feel for each other, but still disagree. But in the worldview of identity politics, disagreement itself is a form of oppression, and must be stopped by any means necessary, including violence. This is what is happening on college campuses around the country, and only the most courageous administrations will stand up to it. Otherwise, the mob rules.
In the second place, identity politics strikes at the common grace of our shared humanity. It reduces human beings to interest groups, to “tribes” that are incapable of understanding one another, much less pursuing mutually beneficial solutions. And of course, this means that no one from one “tribe” has the right to say anything critical about someone from a different “tribe.” Last summer during a Facebook exchange I was pilloried by a friend for daring to suggest that I could deeply empathize with African-Americans while at the same time condemning certain forms of protest. “I doubt you are racist, but….”
Even if I had never personally known someone of another race, is it not possible by virtue of the universal human endowments of imagination and conscience to nevertheless understand and feel for someone else? In my own experience, I have black members in my family. I had many non-white students when I taught in college. For many years as a preacher of the gospel I have ministered to non-white members of the churches I have served. If it is not possible for a person with these experiences to know, to feel, and to empathize with the concerns of people other than those of his or her own race, then how would it ever be possible for any of us to deeply feel for one another?
Sadly, I think there are many people on the Radical Left and on the Alt-Right who don’t believe it is possible – or desirable. I believe we are entering a very ugly time in our culture when the fabric of the “more perfect union” will unravel into frayed threads of racial and ethnic division and hostility. I hope I am wrong.
The ancient Christian writer Tertullian said that the pagans of his time hated Christians because – paradoxically – Christians loved each other irrespective of social standing.
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. They are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren… (The Apology, 39.7-8).
As we enter a period that resembles the pagan culture of Tertullian’s day, Christians must stand in defiant protest against all forms of tribal hatred. We cannot allow the racial or ethnic animosities of the world to seep into our thinking.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).
Christ is in all of His people, and Christ is the only identity that counts.