The Commissar At RIT
Rochester Institute of Technology is launching a social media campaign to urge members of the RIT community to take a stand against racism, demonstrate ways to be antiracist, or explain what steps they will take to become antiracist. The campaign, devised by RIT Director of Diversity Education Taj Smith, launched on Monday with the hashtag #AntiracismatRIT.
The campaign will include a series of statements by white men faculty and staff committing to be antiracist. Smith said there are several important reasons for asking white men on campus to make this pledge. He said that white men tend to participate less frequently in diversity and inclusion training and education opportunities on campus. He also said it is important for RIT to continue to demonstrate our institutional and individual commitments to diversity for the long haul in concrete ways and to provide more positive antiracist white men role models for our undergraduate population.
“The events of this spring and summer have shown it’s not enough for white people, especially white men, to just claim they are not racist,” said Smith. “To eradicate racism, we need to take a stand, to be actively antiracist. So the campaign is simple. We have reached out to people who we consider allies and asked them to publicly demonstrate that they are or plan to be antiracists.”
All members of the RIT community who are sincere in their commitment can join the campaign with a special Facebook frame. When updating your Facebook profile picture, click “Add Frame” and search for “antiracism” and “RIT.”
So, if you are white, and do not wish to take this pledge, does that make you racist? Hey, nobody is forcing you to take the pledge, right? If you want your colleagues to think that you are a racist, that’s on you, professor.
Imagine it is 1955. You are a professor at RIT. The RIT Director Of Civic Responsibility launches a campaign to encourage people — especially foreign-born professors and staff — to endorse 100 percent Americanism™, to demonstrate RIT’s commitment to patriotism and the American way of life in the face of the worldwide Communist menace. What do you do? You could not sign it, but what signal would that send to your colleagues? That you are not trustworthy? That you might be a communist sympathizer? Good luck with that tenure application, comrade.
It is vitally important to understand how the woke commissars are redefining language in their crusade. All decent people are against racism, right? I believe so. But to be “antiracist” is to endorse specific ideological commitments. Here, from Education Next, is a link to the black linguist John McWhorter’s review of Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling book How To Be Antiracist:
Kendi began with an affection of Bill Cosby-style scolding of black people as a teen but feels that he found his true and useful self in his current battle against “white supremacy,” and a looming implication in his book is that the rest of America can complete themselves in internalizing his antiracist positions. Kendi, like Hume, would seem to have it all figured out: We are divided simply between racists and antiracists. Racists are bigots and allow a status quo under which black people are not doing as well as whites. Antiracists are committed to working against that imbalance. For reasons Kendi seems to think obvious but are not, there is nothing in between these two categories—not to be actively working, or at least speaking, against the imbalance leaves one in the racist class. There is no such thing as someone simply “not racist.”
Got it? You either endorse Kendi’s simplistic view, or you are racist. More McWhorter:
This is especially dire in a foundational assumption that Kendi lays out explicitly: that all racial disparities are due to racism. That so very many have pushed back against this way of viewing a complex society with a four-century history figures for Kendi as mere “racists” having their say. There is a general air in his text suggesting that the basic wisdom of “unequal outcomes signal unequal opportunity” is beyond question by any moral person, such that we might think it a courtesy that he makes his case without raising his voice.
But in the end, as much as thinkers like him bristle to hear it, culture matters as well as society in how groups fare over time, and the history of black Americans does not somehow exempt us from this basic aspect of humanity. That is, cultural factors can live beyond what conditioned them, as in Albanian blood feuds. Ordinary people tend to understand this spontaneously, and on black America it has been clear to legions of people—many of them black, although to Kendi this makes them “racists”—since a generation past the Great Society efforts of the 1960s. Kendi instead operates upon the idea that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has memorably put it, “There’s nothing wrong with black people that the complete and total elimination of white supremacy would not fix.” Cue the applause again, but reality suggests otherwise.
McWhorter cites two examples to prove his point. Here is one of them:
In 1987, a rich donor in Philadelphia “adopted” 112 black 6th graders, few of whom had grown up with fathers in their home. He guaranteed them a fully funded education through college as long as they did not do drugs, have children before getting married, or commit crimes. He also gave them tutors, workshops, after-school programs, kept them busy in summer programs, and provided them with counselors for when they had any kind of problem. Yes, this really happened.
The result? 45 never made it through high school. Of the 67 boys, 19 became felons. Twelve years later, the 45 girls had had 63 children, and more than half had become mothers before the age of 18. Part of what makes How to Be an Antiracist a simple book is its neglect of cases like this, or the assumption that they easily trace to “racism.” What held those poor kids back was that they had been raised amidst a different sense of what is normal than white kids in the ‘burbs. That is, yes, another way of saying “culture,” and it means that through no fault of their own, it was not resources, but those unconsciously internalized norms, that kept them from being able to take advantage of what they were being offered.
Kendi’s taxonomy would classify what I just wrote as “racist,” but to qualify as coherent, this charge would have to come with a more careful defense than Kendi seems accustomed to engaging.
Exactly. A university that adopts “antiracism” as a policy agenda, complete with a request that its teachers — especially the white male ones — pledge their antiracist bona fides, is one in which no one can ask these difficult questions.
RIT has embraced Woke McCarthyism. I hope professors refuse to participate in this charade, to protect their dignity and the dignity of their colleagues, who do not deserve to be forced to swear allegiance to an ideology, or be thought of as bigots.
UPDATE: An e-mail from an RIT professor, who asked me to withhold his name:
First, in line with what one of your commenters mentioned (an RIT professor), in my time at RIT (last 10+ years), I have found the university to be largely apolitical. While we’re not perfect, I have always been proud that we do pluralism pretty well. That is to say, on any given matter, you’d hear a variety of viewpoints and these were generally conveyed with respect and no sense of aggression.This feeling has shifted in the last 1-2 years. It’s not overt. I have never been required or even encouraged to participate in anything I feel uncomfortable with. Not once. But what has changed is a noticeable uptick in the amount of more-or-less woke communication and increased visibility of D&I staff. What really struck me most was a presentation I attended last year in which a member of the D&I office noted that the department had only two people when she started there (maybe a decade ago? maybe more). There are now 24. Twenty-four! To be fair, some of those positions are grant-funded from external grants. But still – a 12-fold increase! Meanwhile, we have to fight and beg to have new faculty positions added, or to get adequate graduate student help.So what I’ve come to realize is that there is a big and growing disconnect between the academic side and the administrative / student life side of the campus. The academic side remains largely apolitical and focused on teaching and research. The administration and student life side is increasingly focused on social justice issues – and this focus is applauded, if not directed, by the university president.The current anti-racism “white men speak” campaign appears to be an outgrowth of this focus. I have a few observations about it. First, as your commentator stated, the person featured in the first post (and featured on your blog post) is a good guy. I have no idea about his politics or personal beliefs, but I have worked with him for years (he leads instructional designers). It makes the impact so subtle: “hey, if a good guy like Jeremiah is speaking out, maybe we should, too”.Second, this campaign is being criticized here on campus for various reasons. Some are along the lines of what you presented. Other criticisms are more of the “This is RIT’s first major anti-racism initiative…and they choose to feature a bunch of white men? Really?” variety.Third, I find it interesting that we are in the middle of the biggest crisis and challenge of our generation, yet we can still find time to launch a controversial anti-racism campaign.