Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Race Lessons From a White Conservative Professor

[TW: Racism]

Conservative commentator and professor of political science Mike Adams is whinging about criticism aimed at him again.

What started this round was a column he wrote saying that if he were president of University of North Carolina, he would abolish the African American Center (and the LGBT Center, and the Women's Center, and well, you get the point). He then wrote another column after having an interaction with a black female graduate who was upset by his remarks, using the trusty standby "These days, college graduates are not well-versed in satire" because, AHAHAHA, he was just kidding!

That particular canard is a favorite of mine. The "humorist" blames his audience for being too dim to recognize satire, rather than blaming his own failed, incompetent, and offensive attempt at the genre. For instance, his HILARIOUS justification for "satirically" saying he'd shut down the LGBT Center? Because we need to stop "encouraging unhealthy behavior." Because, oh, oh wait! I get it! Gays get AIDS!! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Yep, that rhetorical device comes from the same mastermind who brought us the one about all the persecuted Christians who committed suicide because gays were bullying them, only to tell us that, oh wait, those suicide didn't actually happen HAHAHAHAHAHA JUST KIDDING!!

And here, let's note that when you, the reader, express your lack of enthusiasm for said sucky "satire," the "satirist" will allude Jonathan Swift, as though the offensive "satire" attempt even remotely comes close to Swiftian levels satirical skill and you are just too stupid to get it. Adams doesn't let us down, explaining:

"As an art form, [satire] is swiftly becoming extinct."

Oooh, did you catch that allusion?

Literary genius right there.

Moving on to his substantive argument, Adams begins his attempted smackdown thusly:

"Many African American Cultural Centers actually impede diversity by turning black students into racists and segregationists. And most of them make black students less tolerant by convincing them that they are somehow more enlightened and have special 'perspective' simply because of their race.'"

So, you know right away how the whole article is going to go down.

Aside from the fact that our entire society is seeped in the oh-so-special perspective of the heterosexual white dude, I've actually found that it's often such men who think they have the unique gift of Just Telling It Like It Is, perched as they are on their purported thrones of complete and total objectivity, deeming everybody else's perspective to be "special" or biased and themselves grand victims of having to live in a society where everyone gets to have their own special groups except for them.

Here, Adams does something a little different. He Tells It Like It Is, oh yes he certainly does, but he also claims it was these special groups and centers, rather than the experience of living in a racist society, that has indoctrinated blacks into believing they have a unique perspective and, furthermore, that this perspective has made blacks racist against whites. It's as though, in Adams' parallel universe, these "special" groups have sprung forth from the aether into a society that had no pre-existing race, gender, or sexual orientation issues or problems whatsoever.

Indeed, these special groups are probably the cause of all such problems, burdening the honest straight white man with accusations and feelings of guilt. In fact, Adams feels compelled to share with us an extra special glimpse into his familial pedigree:

"Things went downhill in our conversation when this college graduate told me that she became upset with my remarks about getting rid of the African American Center after she 'saw that I was white'. My seventh Great Grandfather fought in the American Revolution in order to preserve our basic God-given rights. But this college graduate seemed to suggest that the expression of basic human rights is contingent upon race."

Adams doesn't mention whether the black female college graduate said what her "seventh Great Grandfather" was doing during the Revolution, but it's hardly a tangential detail. For, isn't it interesting that Adams says his grandfather fought to preserve "our" rights? With all due respect to his grandfather, it's almost as though Adams has forgotten that after "we" won that particular war, "the expression of basic human rights" certainly was contingent upon race (and gender).

Adams then discusses how the media came to his school in response to this incident and how a local TV station ran a poll about the incident, which he boasts of having "won by a ration of eight-to-one." I give him some props for at least linking to the poll so readers could read the question themselves, but it bears mentioning that he dishonestly implies that poll respondents agreed with the content of his speech when in reality respondents were merely agreeing that his university should support his statements as "free speech." He writes:

"That [eight-to-one ratio] is significant because my percentage of support greatly outnumbers the local and national white population. Yet this young diversity expert [interviewed by the TV station] will probably never acknowledge that his own views are seen by most as 'incredible, to say the least' and 'inappropriate' at an institution of higher learning."

There is an important distinction between agreeing with the content of someone's message and agreeing that they have the right to say it, yet Adams muddles the two by suggesting that the poll respondents see the diversity expert's substantive views as "incredible" and "inappropriate." Not that that detail stops him from doing a little touchdown dance as though he won a substantive debate between himself and the diversity expert.

He ends by taking note of the college graduate's sorority jacket. Or, as Adams puts it, she was "touting her membership in an organization that limits its membership to blacks and women. The hypocrisy of asking the public to fund 'solutions' to the 'problems' she is exacerbating is simply staggering."

So, despite his previous claim that he was Just Being Satirical about wanting to abolish the African American Center, he does indicate that he does actually have a really big issue with such clubs because he sees them as "exacerbating" racism and sexism. And here, I'd like to note how cowardly the "I was just kidding" position ultimately is. Mike Adams seems to want it both ways. On the one hand, he seems to sincerely argue that African American centers are wrong but then, when he takes heat for that position, he backs up with his hands in the air saying that it's too bad the kids these days don't get his awesome satire. So, just to be clear, he seems to think African American groups are sucky and racist, but he wouldn't actually ban them from his university. Or something.

For such a fierce advocate of free speech, he seems reluctant to fully stand behind his own words and positions. And before that Christian Persecution Complex fully kicks into high histrionic gear, I don't support censoring Mike Adams, not that I believe criticism is censorship. Indeed, I think speech like his reveals the depths of insecurity among dominant classes that is alwaus revealed whenever minorities have the audacity to claim their own space and refuse to let dominant groups set their agenda. I think Adam's speech further reveals the ignorance that results when the white hetero male experience in life is centered. For, at no point does Adams reveal an interest in understanding why such "special" groups might have been created or might exist, instead viewing it only from a limited, myopic perspective of What About How The White/Straight/Male People Feel About These Groups?!

I also think it's important to watch how the messaging in Adams' article gives cover to those who are more overtly racist within his comment section. For instance, one commenter opines:

"You are saying it's not my fault when a 'poor' black kid (who probably earns as much or more than my rural white red neck *ss) robs somebody else? Who would have thunk. When my forefathers were busy getting killed at Gettysburg, Antietam et al guess they never had a dream (pun intended) than their offspring would be held hostage for ransome(reparations) in a couple of hundred yrs."

Riffing off Adams' "seventh Great Grandfather" story, this commenter erases the fact that while his "forefathers were busy getting killed," black people were busy being slaves or being excluded from the military. The commenter then compares reparations to a violent hostage situation, as though reparations are being requested For No Reason At All.

Another one adds:

"If they want to ensure diversity, build the Black Student Center midway between KFC and Popeye's ;)."

Notice the little smiley at the end, which totally erases anything offensive that might have preceded it. When another commenter replies that the above comment is "tacky" (but oddly, not racist), the original commenter clarifies, taking a cue from Mike Adams' genius comedic talent, that it was just "sarcasm" (but oddly, not racist). Another commenter continues the "satire" party:

"Jes keeps giben me dat 'free' guvment cheese & doan be axten me no hard questions!!"

Keep up the race lessons, Professor Adams. You're doing a swell job of teaching your students in the townhall.

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