A Letter to David

Your recent pieces in The Clerk have, as I’m sure you’re aware, caused no end of frustration in certain leftist circles on this campus. Whether this was your intent or not, I can’t be sure, but you’ve certainly had that effect. I’m not here to try to “take you down” or “destroy your argument” or anything like that; I’d just like to explore a couple key ideas that caught my eye in your arguments.

First, can we lay off the comparisons of a tame anti-discrimination clause in a liberal arts college’s honor code to literal examples of real-world genocide? I’d love to be proven wrong someday, but I’ve yet to find an argument that evokes the Holocaust without making me want to tear my hair out, regardless of its (questionable, in this case) applicability. Your shock value is granted; readers of your article stood up and took notice of the logical athleticism it took to leap that far from historical atrocity to Honor Code violation.  In the case of “Muppets,” for example, comparing a “punishment” of writing a paper and self-education designed to restore trust in the Haverford community to historically horrific mass murder is a few degrees beyond tasteless, as well as not even similar in kind. One example actively sought to restore these individuals to the community; the genocidal examples you cite did not seek to restore these groups to their national community.

Simply, conservatives on Haverford’s campus are not a historically persecuted group in the context of the groups you reference. They are not held accountable for crimes they did not commit. They are not forced to join a registry so that the government can keep better track of their whereabouts. There is not centuries of libel and hate speech against conservative thought at Haverford. Most importantly, they are not victims of mass murder and violence. To draw this comparison is dangerously self-important at best, and incredibly disrespectful to victims of genocide at worst. Although, it must be said, I appreciate the nuanced history lesson on each example of genocide you cite in your initial piece. Comparing an anti-discrimination clause to genocide is unnecessarily inflammatory. Let’s try to avoid that particular nuclear option.

Also, let’s leave Martin Luther King out of this. Dr. King did not write against viewpoint discrimination. Dr. King wrote against racial oppression. Dr. King fought for the interests of the poor. Dr. King spent his life fighting not for some nebulous concept of free speech, but for the liberation of oppressed folk in the United States. These interests are not the same, nor are they comparable. Co-opting his words for what amounts to a defence of racist action is not historically consistent or at all respectful to his legacy. Using the most impactful civil-rights icon in American history to defend the legitimacy of white supremacy is farcical.

Make no mistake, your thesis is one that defends white supremacy as a legitimate statement. The Supreme Court case you center your argument on upheld the rights of white supremacists to terrorize black folk in their neighborhood. The “Muppets” trial you find a way to take issue with dealt with an incident that perpetuated white supremacy in humor. The Honor Code clause you object to was crafted to help community members combat systemized oppression including, but not limited to, white supremacist structures. However you choose to personally identify, by taking this rhetorical path, you align yourself with white supremacy and its defense. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here; you are defending the legitimacy of white supremacist speech, which has been determined by the Haverford College community time and again to be detrimental to the Code we seek to uphold. If you defend the legitimacy of these actions, you defend the legitimacy of white supremacy.

You seem to be a fan of historical argumentation; you will be well aware, then, that there is a long history of evocation of states’ rights and individual liberty to defend racist action. The ownership of slaves, the right to segregate schools, and Jim Crow laws have all been defended in varying capacity by individual liberties guaranteed.

As self-evident as this seems, defending the rights of white supremacists does not put your argument in the liberationist tradition of Martin Luther King. If this language feels strong, remember your initial article explicitly defends the right of an individual to place a burning cross on the lawn of an African-American family.

I, too, value free speech. Haverford’s campus values free speech. It’s an essential right that makes the liberal arts work. However, I also believe, along with many at Haverford, that speech that threatens or questions the humanity of another (cross burning, blackface, etc.) is not legitimate expression of free speech. Moderating speech to some extent—which, it bears repeating, is merely the rejection of blatant hate speech—is necessary to ensure that viewpoints that are actively predicated upon the dehumanization of entire identities are not welcome at Haverford.

On that note, I direct your attention to the 2003 Supreme Court case Virginia v. Black, which defends the government’s limited capacity to reject hate speech that actively intimidates marginalized citizens in a tradition. Think of the Honor Code anti-discrimination clause, or the “Muppets” trial, in this tradition; speech that actively intimidates or exists within an oppressive tradition of white supremacy or similar discrimination is not welcome at Haverford College.

Perhaps, in your eyes, this constitutes viewpoint discrimination. So be it. You are free to think this. However, it is not the duty of the College, or the Honor Code, to defend your viewpoint. It is the duty of the College, and the Honor Code, to defend the humanity and safety of its students. The Code is phrased the way it is because the concept that freedom to say whatever you want without consequence has the potential to compromise a safe, inclusive community, as was seen in “Muppets.”At Haverford, we value safety above the right of the individual to burn crosses if they so choose.

From your lines of argumentation, I assume that you identify somewhere to the right of where you presume the rest of Haverford’s campus is aligned. I do not pretend to claim that it is “easy” being right-wing on Haverford’s campus, or that identification with that side of the political spectrum doesn’t carry a certain stigma. However, that must not be equated with the notion your article puts forward that suggests that it is the obligation of the Haverford community to tolerate hate speech. I, for one, am thankful that Haverford College chooses to place the value of human dignity above free speech without standard. The devil has enough advocates as it is.

With an Appropriate Amount of Trust, Concern, and Respect,

Andy

4 Responses

  1. Anonymous Haverfordian says:

    Thank you for writing an article that was more respectful than your initial response on Facebook.

  2. Andy says:

    Thank you? Let’s try to focus more on the “what can we do to dismantle and disavow white supremacy” rather than the “why is this boy making fun of somebody who just actively, literally defended cross burning as free speech”, though.

  3. anonymous says:

    No one is burning crosses on Haverford’s campus. False dichotomy.

    • Andy says:

      it’s not a false dichotomy. that is *literally* the court case cited in the original article. the defense of total free speech relies on the supreme court’s defense of a man that burned a cross on the lawn of a black family.

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