It was ironic that one of the panelists mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” considering he was participating in a speaking tour that was making the same argument against protesting the right or even calling them out at all that prompted King to write that letter in the first place. It didn’t go over this time either. Read on.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Ironically at the end of the first stop of their “Unsafe Space Tour” the panelists felt the need to retreat to a safe space surrounded and guarded by police until the audience left the hall. But despite their concerns and loud shouting during the event, it remained peaceful as they spoke on what they said was an attempt to create a dialogue around identity politics and free speech on campus, particularly what they called a “hypersensitivity” around racial concerns.
However, Monday’s event, sponsored by an online libertarian-leaning British publication called Spiked, had one particularly glaring omission – putting any responsibility on any elements of the right that have similarly – even instigating such “hypersensitivity”. Instead the moderator and panelists, who have called themselves either liberals or libertarians, placed the onus on those particularly on the left who have either responded to hate campaigns and racist practices. This is what prompted a counter-demonstration from Rutgers students, particularly those from Black Lives Matter Rutgers and Rutgers One, who called out the divisive nature of the event held on the Douglas Campus, and noted how it was ultimately a dismissal of concerns of hate politics in today’s society.
“Increasingly, something I think we see is the idea that one’s identity naturally leads to one’s ideology, and anyone that questions that is questioning you as a person, and from all sorts of debates on campuses I think we have seen that bear out,” moderator Tom Slater, the deputy editor of Spiked said. “So the key question the panel here is going to address and we want to hear your thoughts on, is if we are in a climate where we are urging students of different backgrounds to come to the table around each other, if we are telling them that culture divides along these kinds of lines, and if ultimately we’re suggesting that identity really important that we should talk about it all the time, even in the absence of…the explicit racism that we might see, are we getting further away from that position where we all want to be, which is transcending race and differences and identity, altogether?”
The theme of urging society to ignore the concern for hate politics is a regular one for Spiked and Slater who recently attacked ESPN broadcaster Jemele Hill’s remarks on Twitter about how Donald Trump was a White supremacist as “asinine” because “the idea that the Trump phenomenon is all about racism is as lazy as it is insulting”. The panelists furthered this theme during their hour and a half presentation. Kmele Foster, the Black libertarian founder of Freethink Media and former host of the Independents, a show that ran on Fox Business Network for two years, attempted to downplay the severity of police brutality and in particular the killing of innocent African Americans by police officers, by telling the audience that such incidents were not racially charged. “For me it seems impractical to take an issue that we all agree is important and to balkanize it and to make it something that is of unique interest to a particular community; to attach to it a mantra that is narrowly interested in racial outcomes — to make it an issue where if you disagree with me, you don’t disagree on an approach to fixing this problem, you disagree on whether or not my life has value or merit,” he said, ironically ignoring that even an article in the libertarian Reason Magazine, where Foster is a regular contributor, has not only shown where such concerns of racially based policing has been confirmed by Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani but also warned against it.
Foster’s attempt to dismiss concerns was furthered by Bryan Stascavage, the only one who called himself a conservative who saw controversy at Wesleyan Univerity where he is a student when he wrote an article in 2015 arguing that Black Lives Matter might be to blame for then recent tragic incidents such as the shootings by Dylann Roof at a Black church in Charleston, SC and a former news reporter videotaping himself killing a news anchor and a cameraman in Roanoke, VA. On the panel, he attempted to downplay the concerns that neo-Nazis had momentum in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, as well as the events of Charlottesville on April 12, where a rally held by neo-Nazis resulted in them physically attacking those that came out to oppose them that resulted in the death of one local woman who was killed when one drove into the crowd of protesters. He tried to dismiss them as not impacting on society at all, at one point he challenged the audience by noting asking those that have heard hatemongers speak were not being persuaded to join them. “How many people here have either read or listened to or watched an interview with any of these so-called hate groups?” he asked. “How many of you were convinced? How many of you were worried that anybody else might be convinced by those words? How many of you were convinced? That’s the issue. We have a nation that is afraid, we have a nation that is suspicious of each other, but when we actually sit down together and look around and see we can see that these ideologies are not actually propagating, they’re not disseminating.”
Ironically, Statscavage showed himself to be “convinced” in another article written after Trump was elected President where he defended his vote for him as well as the so-called “alt-right” saying most “aren’t fueled by racial resentment but want a technocracy with positions earned through merit, instead of through the nepotism and cronyism that they see in Washington.” The alt-right is in fact a neo-Fascist campaign that calls for the marginalization of persons due to their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, and the term was coined by White supremacist Richard Spencer.
Another ironic note was rung by Sarah Haider, an atheist who co-founded Ex-Muslims of North America, an atheist group that is opposed to the Islamic faith and works to assist those leaving it. Haider took her time to speak to attack Muslims and what said was religious practices that “do not align with human rights, that do not align with modern values with liberal values, but despite this being a forum that was critical of those who openly opposed such practices among conservatives, Haider also complained about being criticized by leftists for singling out Muslims in particular. “I was really disheartened because I thought that the people opposing me would be religious fundamentalists,” she said. “Instead I found that there were far too many people like myself – I’m a liberal, I’m progressive, vote Democrat, I’m a feminist, proud to be one – and I found people like myself who instead were saying ‘Sarah, you’re a hatemonger for saying what you’re saying.’”
Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, was only concerned with achieving political victories for liberals and in particular the Democratic Party, as opposed to what he considered movement and moral victories which do not sell enough for him in Middle America for the Democrats to gain power in the country and were therefore a waste of time engaging in them. He noted how Republicans have used their majorities in states around the country to curtail the rights of people of color, women and the LGBT community, and stressed the need to vote for Democrats to replace those Republicans advancing such efforts. “If I’m thinking politically, and I’m worried about these groups, the first thing I want to do is to help the Democratic Party defeat the Republican Party in all these places, not fighting the good fight in California or Washington, D.C. or New York City, but fighting the good fight in the middle of the country, which is where power gets determined in this country right now with the swing states and all the states that the Republicans control,” he said to an audience of New Jersey students. “To do that, one needs a message as a party that speaks to everyone in the country that lays out basic principles and a vision of the country that everyone can see themselves in.”
During the Q&A that followed, a number of persons spoke up because they did not feel that the panel intentionally did not address the concerns that led to the various protests and anger that the panelists opposed. Often it became raucous, with a point where some began to chant, “Black Lives Matter,” a point where Foster suggested that no one disagrees with that. One spoke to the panel telling them that it is not possible to ignore identity politics when it begins with those on the right that they had chosen to ignore using identity against huge groups of people in the country. “How can you say identity shouldn’t matter when people are treated differently in America based on these identities?” he said. When Tom Slater ignored the question, saying they were running out of time and asked the panel for final thoughts, attendees became even angrier at what they saw was a continued slight. As Lilla took the microphone to maintain his position of gaining political power in red states, many in the audience began to berate not just him for his shallowness, but the other panelists as well. Slater started to demand that people to sit down because, “We are very close to the end of this meeting and I am very desperate for a drink!” His demand was ignored.
“They literally didn’t answer any questions that we asked,” Rutgers junior and secretary of Black Lives Matter Rutgers Bashir Herbert told the Daily Targum, the Rutgers University student newspaper. “They had no idea about the black struggle that we’re dealing with. They were just answering things based on statistics.”
Spiked Online, which is sponsoring this tour is edited by Australian writer Brendan O’Neil. In addition to opposing same-sex marriages in Australia because he felt that “everywhere gay marriage has been introduced it has battered freedom, not boosted it,” he wrote a Huffington Post article in 2012 following media coverage of sexual assault victims, many of them children at the time of the assault, of the late British Radio DJ Jimmy Saville where he argued against such victims coming forward publicly because of a “scandal-hungry media and abuse-obsessed society that are desperate for more episodes of perversion to pore over.”
This speaking tour was supposed to launch at American University on Sept. 28, with a discussion on Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender. The event was canceled at the school because according to university officials, a proper venue wasn’t booked, although there was opposition to the event that preceded it. It was instead held off campus.
So About the Headline…
While giving his remarks, Kmele Foster mentioned the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. famous 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Foster only mentioned to further him and his panels’ position on free speech saying that King was in jail in the first place because he violated the speech codes at the time. He curiously did not talk of why he wrote the letter! While in jail he was able to obtain newspaper from April 12, which contained A Call for Unity, a statement made by eight white liberal Alabama clergymen who had months earlier, right after Gov. George Wallace was inaugurated promising to continue segregation, written and published An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense attempting to encourage people to trust law enforcement and the courts and not to disobey the law. A Call for Unity was directed at the Black residents of Birmingham and against King, whom they considered an outsider, and his tactic of nonviolent protests and sit-ins. “We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham,” the call read. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”
It was exactly the argument that Monday’s panel attempted to make, and it was just as wrongheaded then as it was in 1963.
Martin went on to prove those clergymen wrong, and his letter became one of the most important essays from the Civil Rights Movement. The clergymen’s letters, An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense and A Call for Unity, have been forgotten, with at least one of the signees, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, admitting he was wrong, saying “The real message in the letter didn’t hit home until later.”
Alas, it seems that as the Unsafe Space tour makes its way to yet another campus, they are thriving on the idea that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. So what say we remind people and bring all three letters into the light for all to see, eh? Below are links to them.