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Of Wheat, Chaff, And Walt Whitman

Francis Beckwith has a great response to the black Northwestern University student who refused to sing a choral piece based on Walt Whitman’s poetry because, in his view, Whitman was a racist:

You do yourself no good by not seeing the greatness even in people who have held disreputable ideas. To look at Walt Whitman and just see a racist is precisely what makes racism wrong: you don’t see the entire person–in all his complexities, virtues, and foibles–you just see the race. By doing this, you artificially flatten the person, and thus you literally lie to yourself, for you intentionally deny the truth that a great man can have within him both grandeur and vice. If you want to be better than Whitman, rid yourself of the habits of mind that in him resulted in the beliefs that you now find offensive. The ability to separate the wheat from the chaff is a sign of intellectual maturity. Thus, discarding the wheat because you can’t bear the chaff does not punish Mr. Whitman; it punishes you.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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