Rush Limbaugh found out what a lot of good, beleaguered individuals on college campuses already know — there’s a new definition of “racism” taking hold, and it comes complete with all the nasty, despicable baggage as the old definition. But the new definition doesn’t bother with the speaker’s intent nor does it require any presence of actual racism (that is, racism under the old definition). Especially because of that, this redefining of racism is itself a great evil.
Racism, under its old definition, was the belief that one’s race should be treated as superior to another’s — or that another’s race should be treated as inferior to others’. Such a dehumanizing concept reduces an individual to a sum of his visible parts. The consequences of such beliefs, when they take hold of a society, are notorious.
The new definition is more difficult to pin down. Basically, it is the act of giving offense to an individual of a different race — or to put it in terms used in academe, to an individual from one of the “protected classes of race or color.” The intent behind the offense doesn’t matter, nor do the offending individual’s actual thoughts regarding the offended individual’s race. Under the new definition, the manifestation of offense proves, post hoc, that the offender is indeed a racist. Which means he is on the same moral plane as white-hooded, cross-burning lynch mob and therefore must be hounded out of the community and sanctioned.
How else do you explain the high dudgeon over Limbaugh’s remark? The topic of conversation was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who in Limbaugh’s estimation enjoys overly favorable press, and Limbaugh argued that the media were treating McNabb differently because of his race. Here were his exact comments, which led to him resigning from ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” and to his being denounced nationally for having uttered “racist” comments:
“I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go,” Limbaugh said. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”
There is nothing in that comment that betrays any actual racism on Limbaugh’s part. Limbaugh’s apparent crime is noting McNabb’s race, which was done in the context of saying the media were treating McNabb differently (more favorably) because they were concerned with his race.
Whether or not the comment is true is beside the point. The point is, under the old definition of racism, Limbaugh’s comment is not racist — and certainly not the sort of racism deserving to create a national uproar. But under the new definition, it apparently is.
This new definition of racism infests academe. Just this year, for example, we have seen many examples. Here are a few:
• In September at Duke, a Mexican-themed fraternity party caused an uproar that led to calls for serious sanctions against the fraternity for being “blatantly prejudiced” against Hispanics, despite the fact that the fraternity’s president is Hispanic, and also to demonstrations and demands that Duke hire more Hispanics and create more programs for Hispanics.
• Also in September, Southern Methodist University shut down conservatives’ “affirmative action bake sale” — a protest against racial preferences in which, according to the Associated Press, “white males had to pay $1 for a cookie [and] the price was 75 cents for women, 50 cents for Hispanics and 25 cents for blacks” — after a black student complained the event was “offensive.” The university said the event created “a hostile environment.”
• In March California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo charged a student with “disruption of a campus event” and threatened him with expulsion for posting a flier in the campus multicultural center advertising a speech by author Mason Weaver, who wrote It’s OK to Leave the Plantation. The book by Weaver, who is black, compares black dependence upon government programs with slavery. The student has since sued the university.
• In February, a white professor of social work was forced to resign from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after recounting to a graduate class how far her discipline had come, because when she was a student, one of her teachers would joke using the “n-word.” She went so far as to relate one of the jokes, so even though her example was to show contrast between then and now, she had to resign for making “racist” comments.
These are just a few examples of a broader, dangerous trend: the redefinition of actual social ills (not just racism, but sexism and a host of others) to encompass well-meaning people who merely offended someone in a protected group. It never matters if the offended person even harbors the offensive mentality (although thought is still not a crime in America — of course, neither is speech). But that’s not where it ends. The next step, as we’ve seen with Limbaugh and as we see on campus all too often, is to denounce the offending individuals and then seek official action against them.
It seems strange that such thinking now extends to ESPN. But why shouldn’t it? If universities, of all places, can’t teach thinking adults how to handle being offended as, well, adults, why should we expect it from anywhere else?