‘Antiracism’ At LSU, Part II
It’s Christmas Eve, so I don’t want to focus on bad news here. But I do want to give you a follow-up to a post I wrote the other day, about how my alma mater, Louisiana State University, has plans in the works to go woke. In my post “‘Antiracism’ At LSU,” I talked about how the Faculty Senate, with the support of LSU administration, is attempting to pass a graduation requirement that all LSU students take a class in African and African-American Studies. According to the proposal, the class would do this:
This is not merely a black history class. This is a class in left-wing, Critical Theory propaganda. The tell is how the class intends to help students “begin the process of identifying and combating the many forms of intersecting oppression that characterize 21st-century United States life.” If you don’t know what intersectionality is, click here. It is the idea that all forms of oppression of marginalized peoples are connected. What this course proposes to do is to reveal the magical key to understanding American life as nothing but a cesspool of hatred, in which heterosexual white Christian males have their boots on the necks of everybody else.
I have written in this space about how this kind of thing has manifested at other universities, and corrupted them. Now it is being proposed for my alma mater — a state university in a very red state. If it cannot be stopped here, where can it be stopped? One of my children is at LSU now, and I hope to send the others there. Why would I want to pay for them to be told by the university, as a condition of graduation, that they (or their brothers and father) are oppressors who have constructed a society whose purpose is to keep those not like us down? It’s a lie, and a destructive lie — but LSU is considering forcing every student to sit through a class of this kind of propaganda. And God help the kid who challenges any of these claims in class. He or she will be called out as a bigot, and be graded accordingly.
Well, the Baton Rouge Advocate, our local paper, writes today about the controversy. Here’s how it starts:
LSU’s faculty is considering a resolution asking university officials to require future students, in order to graduate, to successfully complete a course focusing on African American contributions to Louisiana and America.
Faculty wishes are routinely ignored by administrators and supervisors at LSU, but this resolution has the support of the provost and system president. Plus, implementing “diversity and inclusion core requirement for all degrees by March 2021” is a check off in the university’s “Diversity & Inclusion Roadmap, 2020-2022.” The recently published roadmap sets out goals to make Louisiana’s flagship’s university, which has long history of racial intolerance, more welcoming to minorities and women.
This frames the controversy dishonestly in two ways.
First, the controversial part of the proposal is not about black history. It’s about intersectionality, and “combating anti-Blackness.” The black history component — which is generally unobjectionable — is being used to smuggle in radical theories. I explained what “intersectionality” is above. The term “anti-Blackness” (see commentary about it here) is used in a particular way to condemn whites and their identity. Robin DiAngelo, in her wildly popular book White Fragility, says that white identity is founded on “anti-Blackness.” DiAngelo writes:
[T]here was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of Africans. Creating a separate and inferior black race simultaneously created the “superior” white race: one concept could not exist without the other. In this sense, whites need black people; blackness is essential to the creation of white identity.
Here’s a link to a multicultural studies center list of resources to combat anti-Blackness. The thing people who are not aware of this discourse — even journalists — miss is that it is built around an essentially Marxist concept of society as a struggle for power between groups. Critical Race Theory draws the lines between races. And in this radically egalitarian conception, where there are disparities in outcome between races, the only explanation for it is white supremacy. This is the view of Ibram X. Kendi, author of How To Be Antiracist and the most influential public intellectual in the US now, whose theories have been demolished by black scholars like Glenn Loury of Brown, and John McWhorter of Columbia, but who nevertheless goes from triumph to triumph.
This is what they want to bring to LSU, and compel students to study as a requirement for graduation. This is not a class in black history. This is a class meant to radicalize students along racial lines, and, through the theory of intersectionality, along lines of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
The Advocate‘s introduction is also misleading in that it describes LSU as having “a long history of racial intolerance.” That of course is true. The university refused to admit blacks from its founding in 1853 until the 1950s — a shameful fact. But the description in the newspaper makes it sound like little has changed at LSU since the 1950s. What evidence can these people produce that racial intolerance still exists in a meaningful way at LSU, such that all students must be compelled to take a course on antiracism and intersectionality? Or is it more likely that these activist faculty and administrators are using the fact that LSU was antiblack 70 years ago as a justification for radicalizing the students there in 2021?
Journalists — and Louisiana lawmakers — ought to press these antiracism activists to explain why the history of pre-Civil Rights LSU justifies forcing students today to take what sounds like will be a highly ideological course of instruction.
The Advocate piece quotes my blog entry here:
Rod Dreher, an LSU alum, wrote about AAAS2000 earlier this week in The American Conservative: “From the description here, it is not mere history; it is highly ideologized history (“intersecting oppression”). And if this passes the LSU Faculty Senate, taking this course in left-wing racialism would be a requirement of graduating from LSU.
“If this proposal passes the Faculty Senate, the university will have declared that it is more important for LSU graduates to have had instruction in “intersectional oppression” than Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Milton, Locke, or any of the other greats.”
(LSU’s current curriculum doesn’t require studying those philosophers and writers.)
Two very brave math professors also spoke out:
Charles N. Delzell, associate head of the Mathematics Department, noted the resolution pointed out that most students aren’t instructed about the true history of slavery or contributions of African Americans. He pointed out that most high school students don’t take courses on ancient Greece or ancient Rome or ancient Judaism.
Delzell said the definition of institutionalized racism seems to have morphed into requiring courses on the history of certain races but not others. “Students in anti-racism courses and programs may be forced to confess that they are racist or to admit that modern day LSU and America are institutionally racist in order to pass,” he told his colleagues.
Professor Stephen Shipman, of the mathematics department, said he is a faculty member – and he believes there are many – afraid to speak against the resolution for fear being ostracized. “We have to be careful not to demonize one race,” Shipman said.
All of this is true. Why should the experiences of black Americans — whose gifts to American life are unique and irreplaceable (read the black scholar Albert Murray’s The Omni-Americans for more on this) — be pedagogically privileged over Greco-Roman culture, over Shakespeare, over ancient Hebrew culture, and over the Enlightenment philosophers — all of whom were foundational to the culture of the West? I graduated from LSU in 1989 without ever having to take a course in any of those histories or areas of scholarship, because like all students, I was allowed to chart my own academic course. It’s my own fault that I didn’t take those courses, but it really is a scandal that it’s possible for an American student to get a college degree without having studied the Greeks, the Romans, Shakespeare, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, etc., in a systematic way.
But now the university proposes that it is so important that its graduates leave with an understanding not only of the history of a particular race in American life, but of a fashionable political and cultural philosophy that holds the Greeks, the Romans, Shakespeare, and all the rest, in contempt by reducing their thought and their art to nothing more than the product of whiteness, and the manifestations of white supremacy? This is where all this “intersectional oppression” talk goes. This is what is at the root of these academic radicals’ mission: to make students hate their civilizational patrimony.
Is this what Louisiana parents want the state’s flagship university to inculcate in their children’s minds?
To see this controversy as only a matter of reminding white people that blacks have been mistreated in America (especially in states like Louisiana, which had slavery and then segregation), is to fundamentally miss what it’s really about. My new book Live Not By Lies talks about how these contemporary left-wing social justice activists are following a well-established playbook for radicalizing institutions and indeed a generation. It must be resisted! They are attempting to destroy old-fashioned liberalism, particularly on racial matters, and the only way that a pluralist democracy can thrive, with its peoples living in peace. They may not know what they’re doing — I think they do, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt — but they are setting us at each other’s throats.
Do you want to see the outcome of this kind of ideological instruction? Take a look at this video from Yale, in 2015: Prof. Nicholas Christakis, a good and decent liberal, tries to confront a Social Justice student mob, and engage them with reasoned dialogue. They aren’t having it. They screech and sob and curse him, accusing him of disrespecting them. This is the poison the radicals are putting into the minds of the young. At every college where this way of thinking has been mainstreamed, nothing but fear and strife have followed.
We do not need this at LSU. A line in the sand must be drawn. We have to tell the truth about what these activist professors and administrators are trying to bring to the university. I know that Prof. Stephen Shipman of the LSU math department is right when he says that a lot of professors oppose this but are afraid to speak out, because I have been hearing from them privately since I wrote my piece earlier this week. It is time for them to follow the courageous examples of Prof. Shipman and Prof. Delzell, and speak their minds.
I hope too that The Advocate will write more accurately about what’s really going on at LSU, and about the phenomenon of Critical Theory. Ordinary people who don’t follow academic trends have no clue about how toxic, and how powerful, this stuff is. If you present it as simply raising awareness of black history, that is a fundamental mischaracterization designed to disarm opposition. It is not that at all, and people have a right to know.
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R.:
This is all too typical of the bait-and-switch I’ve seen in academia in the past 30 years.
In the 1990s, those who wanted to diversify the canon told us they didn’t intend to remove anything from it, only add things to it. Most of us found that a worthy and sensible pursuit and were okay with it. But within a few years the entire structure of many humanities majors had changed. At my alma mater, the English major now has no required courses. You just have to take a class from one from each of three groups. That’s it. You can take classes on Japanese animation, food writing, Stephen King, and “environmental justice” and graduate with an English degree.
So now these schools, having eliminated most of their previous standards in the name of flexibility, accessibility, and diversity, are building a whole new set of requirements from the ground up. A course on black history in Louisiana at LSU is, on the surface, a nice idea, but in addition to being a way to ram some Critical Race Theory into everyone’s life, it is also, I guarantee, intended to be the beginning of even bigger changes.
I wish I could go into more detail about my personal experiences in the matter, but….when university administrators and academic activists start telling you they want to make just a few modest changes that no reasonable person could find objectionable, be very wary. They are never content; there’s always another beachhead in their sights.