Section: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Approaching constant self-censorship

Editors:

   This is how it works. Faculty and students attack a draft of The Good Samaritan, a Kenyon professor’s play about the mistreatment of Hispanic immigrants by listing a series of what one April 5 article in the Collegian (“Baltimore provides a nuanced treatment of discrimination”) calls “multiple insensitivities.” The same article cites Professor Tazewell talking about hurting people “we didn’t intend to hurt,” something I daresay refers to that play. But another April 5 Collegian article (“College hosts 20 small groups”) speaks of “overwhelming criticism that the play’s representation of a Guatemalan character was racist.” 

   So we move in the shortest order from complaints about insensitivity to an “overwhelming” judgment of racism. To be judged racist is about the worst thing that can happen to most decent people. One does anything to avoid that. On a college campus almost no one will risk saying or writing anything that might be understood as insensitive, since that becomes “racist” in the blink of an eye. Hence, there follows constant self-censorship, which gives the correct impression to minorities that their fellow students and professors are insincere. From this they reasonably, but wrongly, tend to draw the conclusion that hostility, not fear, is the cause. And that makes the search for proof of hostility, the insensitive slip that reveals hidden racism, all the more vigilant.

   At the February 1 meeting about The Good Samaritan I said that this was the end of liberal education at Kenyon. Hilarity ensued. But in fact liberal education is impossible under circumstances where one’s reputation can suffer irreparable harm because, among other things, one didn’t give the minority character enough lines, or had him possess a stuffed (stereotypical) donkey. Liberal education means fighting with ideas that are sometimes disagreeable and even offensive. Who will risk engaging them seriously now?

  Sincerely,

Professor of Political Science Fred Baumann

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