Gee, thanks, guys. Your campus craziness has well and truly crossed the Atlantic. Last week, it was reported in the United Kingdom that 100 Cambridge University students had written to the authorities demanding that the English syllabus be “decolonized.”
“For too long, teaching English at Cambridge has encouraged a ‘traditional’ and ‘canonical’ approach that elevates white male authors at the expense of all others,” they averred. “What we can no longer ignore, however, is the fact that the curriculum, taken as a whole, risks perpetuating institutional racism.”
It is true that a disproportionate number of “canonical” (note the scare-quotes) authors are white and male, and it’s easy enough to see why. If you’re studying English, you’re studying people who could read and write in English. For most of its history, English was disproportionately spoken by white people, among whom men were disproportionately literate. The same is true of many written languages. There is no Zulu counterpart to Émile Zola.
Instead of telling the kids to grow up, Cambridge is sympathetically reviewing their complaint. It would be bad enough if the teachers were cringing before their students, as during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But the reality is even more depressing: Many professors agree with this nonsense.
The first rule of modern academic life is that everything is about race. Admissions policy is racist; English is racist; history is racist; even math is racist. Seriously. The Washington Examiner reported last week that a professor of education at the University of Illinois was upset because “on many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White”.
Reporting on anti-racism, as I’m doing here, is naturally also racist. Sexist, too, according to Cambridge’s network for women and non-binary people of color, who put out an angry statement when the decolonizers’ letter was picked up by national newspapers: “This reporting cannot be construed as anything but a blatant instance of misogynoir and a strategic targeting of a visible a black student activist, opening her up to racial and gendered attacks, harassment as well as national scrutiny.”
Racism used to mean formalized state discrimination, as in apartheid-era South Africa. Then, it meant policies or attitudes that might incidentally advantage one group over another. Now, it means anything that anyone anywhere considers offensive.
Consider some of the things now labeled racist:
Airport expansion. The British version of Black Lives Matter recently caused traffic jams protesting against a new runway, on the grounds that climate change is racist.
Letting your little girl dress up as Moana. “There's no better time than when a kid is in their formative years to teach them that it's not OK to mock other people's cultures,” apparently.
Grits. British conductor Matthew Halls was dismissed as director of the Oregon Bach festival after a dimwitted white woman complained that he had said, “Want some grits?” in a Southern accent.
Using recherché vocabulary. On at least four occasions, there have been complaints or lawsuits because someone used the word “niggardly” in its correct sense, to mean “stingy.”
White turkey meat. According to Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum, “Despite its superior taste, dark meat has dark undertones for some. Dark meat seems to summon up ancient fears of contamination and miscegenation as opposed to the supposed superior purity of white meat.”
Supporting a multiracial America. Among the phrases listed as potential micro-aggressions by the University of California are “America is the land of opportunity,” and “America is a melting pot.”
These things are happening when, on any normal definition, America is less racist than ever. There are more mixed neighborhoods, more interracial marriages, and fewer instances of racial violence. You need to go further and further out of your way to find things to be angry about.
Bizarrely, the “decolonizers” are completing the circle, bringing back racism in its old sense of official discrimination. During the 1920s and 1930s, most fascist states sought, both through admissions policy and through changes to the syllabus, to make their universities less Jewish. Their argument was, when you strip it down, precisely the same as the one being used now. Fascists claimed that their universities were discriminating against an under-represented group, namely non-Jews (under-represented, naturally, as a proportion of the overall population, not of the educated urban population). They introduced quotas to, as they saw it, even things up, and altered the syllabus on the same grounds.
I doubt today’s campus radicals would approve. But, when you think about it, what’s the difference?