From around the country, we are hearing stories about companies, schools, universities, and others that are making public confessions and flagellating themselves for America’s supposed “systemic racism.”
What is most concerning about that is not only the falsehood of their claims and the denial of history that’s required to make those claims (such as Princeton University’s statement that “anti-Blackness is foundational to America”), but the denial of free speech that ensues.
Not only are they preempting any meaningful debate, they are punishing those who dare to dissent.
Earlier this summer, a theatrical producer named Marie Cisco published a list of “Theaters Not Speaking Out,” and she asked people to add names of those who had not made a statement “against injustices toward black people.”
So, at a time when theaters across the country were struggling to stay alive amid canceled seasons, they also had to face this public hanging.
Given such pressures, it’s likely that more institutions, fearful of being singled out, are going to join the trend and make public confessions about their “racism.”
That makes it all the more important that those who remain committed to free speech find ways to defend it.
Among the most eloquent and noteworthy examples of courage in the face of this censorious fire are Glenn Loury and Joshua Katz.
Brown University in Rhode Island issued a letter on June 1, signed by its senior leadership, painting a picture of endemic racism in America:
The sadness comes from knowing that this is not a mere moment for our country. This is historical, lasting, and persistent. Structures of power, deep-rooted histories of oppression, as well as prejudice, outright bigotry and hate, directly and personally affect the lives of millions of people in this nation every minute and every hour.
Loury, a professor of social sciences in the economics department at Brown University and who is black, bravely spoke out:
I deeply resented the letter. First of all, what makes an administrator (even a highly paid one, with an exalted title) a “leader” of this university?
We, the faculty, are the only “leaders” worthy of mention when it comes to the realm of ideas. Who cares what some paper-pushing apparatchik thinks?
It’s all a bit creepy and unsettling. Why must this university’s senior administration declare, on behalf of the institution as a whole and with one voice, that they unanimously—without any subtle differences of emphasis or nuance—interpret contentious current events through a single lens?
In like fashion, Princeton University in New Jersey issued a Faculty Letter on July 4 in which it declared, “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America.”
The letter requested that faculty give priority to a list of demands, some of which are reasonable, but many of which are absurd. Among the latter were a call for rewarding “the invisible work done by faculty of color with course relief and summer salary” and to “[c]ontinue to actively confront Princeton’s ties to and culpability in slavery and white supremacy.”
Katz, a professor of humanities and classics at Princeton, issued a “Declaration of Independence” in response to the Faculty Letter. He rightly argues that many of the demands “would lead to civil war on campus.”
For the vast majority of people, speaking out in such a bold way is unimaginable. Simply put, many fear for their livelihoods, and with good reason.
John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University who is black, has been tracking on his Twitter account professors and graduate students who have conveyed to him their concern about their jobs and careers amid the current culture of dogmatic thinking. As of July 16, he says, he is up to 102 cases.
Hopefully, intellectuals and leaders from both the left and the right will stand up for the inviolability of free speech. But there are also important steps that the rest of us can take.
As Mark Glennon writes in Wirepoints, New Trier Neighbors, a parents’ group in the northern suburbs of Chicago, has submitted to New Trier High School’s board a “Freedom of Expression Resolution for the New Trier Community.”
They have asked that the following resolution be officially adopted. It reads, in part:
Because New Trier High School is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the New Trier High School community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.
Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of New Trier High School, New Trier High School fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the New Trier High School community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”
Parents and students across the country should look at this resolution as a model they can introduce in their own schools and universities.
As the New Trier statement points out, “Only when the minds of our students are committed to free and open inquiry in an environment that welcomes diverse viewpoints will they become the kind of citizens needed to strengthen our republic and solve complex problems.”
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal