On Christmas Eve, as many families were exchanging gifts or enjoying some eggnog, Drexel University assistant professor George Ciccariello-Maher apparently decided to tweet. Forgetting for a moment the fact that there is seldom any good reason to send a tweet, Ciccariello-Maher’s was particularly ill-advised. “All I Want For Christmas is White Genocide,” he wrote. And while it is worth mentioning that white genocide is an impossible myth peddled only by white supremacists as a really dumb argument against multiculturalism, it is still very stupid to tweet that you want anything with the word “genocide” in it for Christmas, especially if you are a college professor.
Ciccariello-Maher’s stupidity was countered by his employer, Drexel University, a college of about 26,000 in Philadelphia (annual tuition: $50,000 without room and board). The next day, the school issued a statement in response to the tweet, which had at that point caused a predictable uproar in right-leaning spaces online. "While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher's comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University," it read.
The statement was pure damage control by the school's public relations team, to be sure. But it warrants mentioning that Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet was weaponized by the far right. The Breitbart trolls looking at this obscure professor's Twitter page surely outnumbered Drexel parents concerned for their children's safety. Drexel's thin-skinned attempt to save face sends a pretty clear message: If speech might stop the flow of dollars the university needs, protection of speech is not a priority. And while this episode of Twitter drama should be nominally surprising, it isn’t. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, there has been a concerted effort on the part of a number of established institutions — tech companies, universities, and newspapers — to artificially “balance” the perspectives of racists as well as vulnerable communities.
Despite what columnists afraid of black kids tell you, it is the far right and its band of insecure white men masquerading as revolutionaries that are to blame for the obsession with political correctness on college campuses. Provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos demand from the schools at which they lecture the protection to do horrible things like openly mock transgender students. The schools, evidently scared of having to make any decisions that protect vulnerable students, almost always oblige. Earlier this month GOP lawmakers threatened to cut off the University of Wisconsin's funding if the school did not axe a course titled "The Problem With Whiteness," in a perfect example of the necessity of such a class. In Texas, history books are being rewritten to appease white people who would rather not face the actual genocidal horror of America's slave trade.
The argument of the anti-PC police is that America’s young people have become softies because they want to have control over what types of ideas are taught to them. They are weak because they use terms like “safe space” and “problematic.” What is missing from that narrative, of course, is how the right keeps a professor watch list in order to police the ideas of those whom it sees as radical leftist educators.
While conversations about college-aged “wimps” tend to center on LGBT students and students of color (who, it should be noted, are harassed at alarming rates around the country), what is seldom mentioned is the growing movement on the right to bully schools into capitulating to its ideas. The professor watch list, which is run by the nonprofit organization Turning Point USA, names roughly 200 academics from schools around the country who it claims “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Such an idea on the left would cause a number of very highly regarded overpaid columnists to have a conniption.
The idea of free speech has been effectively weaponized by the right.
The idea of free speech has been effectively weaponized by the right in both directions. For the past several years, we've heard a chorus of right-leaning thinkers complain about the erosion of this sacred value in our schools, and a few of their colleagues on the left have joined them. What we're seeing now, however, is a militant reversal. Speech that calls out the vitriolic racism of the right and its compatriots is now deemed innapropriate. Anderson Cooper won't call Stephen Bannon a white supremacist; Trump voters who don't mind racism cannot themselves be called racist, and on and on.
Just as Bill O'Reilly accidentally admitted on his show last week, the backlash surrounding PC culture and increased inclusivity has never been about wanting to raise "tougher" young people but about the right, and by extension the white majority, maintaining a system in which it is in control. With Donald Trump as president, this group has become emboldened to pick battles with the institutions it sees as threats to its power, and colleges are easy targets. We'll have to wait and see if our young people will finally be indoctrinated — er, protected — from the very scary ideas they might confront on their journeys of higher learning.