My personal opinion is that this piece from the Atlantic is deeply ignorant. This article focuses on a few very specific incident and largely ignores the fact that students in minority groups are exposed to racism every day of their lives. I disagree that it is “valuable” or intellectually beneficial in any way for them to be exposed to more of it.
I don’t think we’re losing anything if explicitly racist costumes are banned from campuses (or public spaces in general) outright. In my opinion, they should be banned, period. People who disagree with this misunderstand what free speech is. Free speech is fine until you use it to undermine the humanity of other people around you — to undermine other human rights (also in fact granted by the constitution, if you’re getting really technical with this). This is what racism, homophobia, and sexism are. It is not ‘intellectually valuable’ for a woman to experience sexism firsthand, just as it is not intellectually valuable for a black person to experience racism.
People who are explicitly sexist, racist, transphobic, or homophobic, etc. should be punished/need to understand that they are wrong, because they are taking away other’s rights. Doing any less is “coddling” them, and condoning white fragility in its worst form. Free speech, in my opinion, does not and cannot hold any kind of primacy above the fundamental right to equality.
The people who are truly ‘oversensitive’ are those who panic about “free speech” being under attack, and publish columns in the Atlantic about it. Free speech is not under attack. Homophobia, trahsphobia, sexism, and racism, etc. are. I see those all as indefensible.
To quote the article:
“This notion that one’s existence can be invalidated by a fellow 18-year-old donning an offensive costume is perhaps the most disempowering notion aired at Yale.” – but, properly understood, that is exactly what openly racist behavior is about. It is about making someone feel ‘less than’.
The intentions of the wearer don’t really matter here. As a minority student, this kind of behavior confirms all your fears. You face down constant stereotypes that you are there due to affirmative action. That majoring in Black Studies, or Gender and Sexuality, etc. –your own history— is ‘a joke’. You feel like an outsider, and that no one understands you. Even if the intention is not to be racist, an offensive costume still awakens all of these fears, ones people are forced to confront every day. Systemic racism is this kind of subtle, creeping terror. Every time you see a black person shot by police, every time you hear something called “ghetto”. These small slights, “microagressions”, when added together, are not small at all. They seem like an insurmountable obstacle because they happen THAT often. To describe a black student reacting to open racism as “making mountains out of molehills” in the case of the Yale student screaming at the administrator, is frankly absurd. I would be more surprised if she weren’t screaming.
Who is really being coddled here? the students protesting, or people who believe they have a right to be racist? I think it’s very clear.