Readers are no doubt aware of the spreading contagion of public demonstrations—largely under the rubric of “Black Lives Matter”—that has agitated campuses from coast to coast. Thanks to modern electronic technology, the spectacle of a Yale college master being cursed to his face (“Who the f— hired you?”), students in the Dartmouth library confronted by screaming radicals (“Filthy white bitch!”), and vandals occupying the Princeton president’s office (“All of this is mine!”) have gone viral on the Internet, as they should.
Anyone tempted to underestimate the bullying character of the movement, or to overestimate the moral courage of academic administrators, should watch the videos—and more than once.
On the one hand, The Scrapbook is horrified by the hysteria and sheer philistine fury of the demonstrators. Those of us old enough to remember scenes from China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s half-expect these hapless deans and vice-chancellors for diversity to be pinioned and wrapped in Maoist placards before confessing their sins and being beaten.
On the other hand, The Scrapbook cannot think of a class of scholars and pedagogues who more richly deserve to reap what they have sown. As might be expected, no amount of groveling has spared them—bullies are expert at recognizing weakness, after all—and some of the groveling has been especially impressive. Dartmouth’s vice provost for student affairs, one Inge-Lise Ameer, apologized profusely to Dartmouth’s library mob, and then—mindful, perhaps, of public perceptions—added this: “There’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not being very nice.”
In that sense, of course, Ameer may well be right: Just as, a generation ago, campus violence and radical insurrection turned America rightward, it could happen again. The Republican presidential candidate who points to this disruption of higher learning, and the feckless behavior of faculties and deans, may find a potent issue. Which makes a recent front-page story in the Washington Post more mysterious than usual.
Headlined “How Black Lives Matter became a campus force” (Nov. 18), and written by reporter Sandhya Somashekhar, it can only be described as a long-form version of a Black Lives Matter press release. For, according to the Post, screaming racial epithets and intimidating students in libraries is the work not of a mob but of committed “activists” who are “clamoring for an overhaul of the nation’s criminal-justice system and other social changes aimed at bettering the lives of African Americans.”
The casual reader might believe that bullying tactics, physical assaults, and blackmail demands are inimical to the life of the mind; but according to the Post, the casual reader would be wrong. “Campus activists,” it explains, “tend to have more nuanced and even symbolic concerns”—which might surprise students in college to learn, who might also wish to study unmolested by “nuanced and even symbolic” violence.
So The Scrapbook is left with one technical question: In a business environment increasingly hostile to newspapers like the Post, what were Sandhya Somashekhar and her editors thinking? If there is one movement in America that daily demonstrates its contempt for a free press, not to say free speech itself, as well as its commitment to coercion, it is the campus division of Black Lives Matter. And yet the Washington Post casts a wholly uncritical eye in its direction, and in propagandistic language—on the front page of an organ it expects to sell to people who must wonder what they’re buying.