In all the years I taught college English, I had only one experience that unnerved me. It happened Aug. 27, 2003, the first day of class for my American Lit survey, which included an introduction to colonial literature and a poster display of the Mayflower II under full sail. Class response indicated that we were off to a good start — or so I thought.
I discovered my error that afternoon when a student emailed to say she had found my class “offensive” because “to the average African American the Mayflower ship symbolizes slavery” and because the pilgrims are “associated with the history of white Americans.” Before I could craft a gentle reminder that the Mayflower was not a slave ship and note that our syllabus included works by prominent African-Americans from Frederick Douglass through Tony Morrison, a second email popped up — this one charging that my “inability to be open-minded” had fostered “an uncomfortable learning environment” which made her question my fitness to teach “impressionable young women.”
Immobilized by shock, I sat there weighing my options. I could mount a defense — and cite the connection between student attitude and student performance — or I could do what every other prominent person accused of being racist has done lately — apologize — and assure my accusers they’d soon find that I’m flexible, empathic, and fair. And in fairness to the students who’d signed up for English 206 — not Conflict 2.0 — I apologized and managed an uneasy peace with those comrades in arms.
Much later, I learned that they were involved in a movement whose followers “monitor” classroom instruction and “challenge” professors suspected of racism. Being a target of such a movement was especially troubling, because I’d taken great pride in the rate Meredith College graduated minority women who’d stayed in touch to relay news of their successes. But I’d always wondered what becomes of the type that would hold teachers hostage to a jaundiced worldview.
Exactly six years later, newly elected President Obama would address the type, saying out loud what I’d wanted to say to my accusers. In his first speech to the NAACP convention, Obama noted that African-American progress would require “a new mind set, a new set of attitudes — because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve internalized a sense of limitations….Your destiny is in your hands.”
In one fell swoop, Obama had overruled university professors who for two decades had been telling students their destiny was in the hands of a “Ku Klux Kulture” that was hell-bent on blocking their progress. Now that we had a president who was himself a living, breathing rebuttal to that claim and whose message could inspire all hardscrabble youths, I hoped that leftists would stop telling them their shot at success would come only with the dismantling of our Western culture.
Hope died when Al Sharpton gained a revolving-door entrance into the White House, when Obama decided that “you didn’t build that,” and when he seemed to reclaim the position he’d taken in his 1995 memoir — that white people “would always remain menacing, alien, and apart.” But it was Biden who told African-Americans that electing a white guy in 2012 would “put y’all back in chains!”
When race-baiting became a winning strategy during the Obama years, the plot was extended to include all white people — except those who self-identify as penitent oppressors and publicly renounce their racist heritage — think Drew Brees. In short, with another election looming, the race-baiters are having their best year yet.
You may not know that an MIT librarian wants to purge libraries of books that “promote and proliferate whiteness,” that a Carolina professor thinks that “freedom of speech is already implicated in racism,” or that NPR wants you to “decolonize your bookshelves” and unload the “white voices” you’ve allowed “to influence your worldview.”
But no doubt you know that the New York Times-sponsored curriculum titled the “1619 Project” will teach our children that America was founded as a “slavocracy” and that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Remembering my own experience, I suspect that Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize winning “falsification” of history will only embolden students who’re on the lookout for someone to brand with the scarlet R.
It’s been 33 years since Jesse Jackson led Stanford students in a protest chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” In 1987, no one could have predicted that a catchy chant, intended only to reform Stanford’s humanities program, would one day be taken literally by the radical left. Hannah-Jones claims that, “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence,” but unless reason prevails, the Hannah-Jones screed is on track to replace our Western heritage.