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Monday, January 9, 2017

DER SPIEGEL WEIGHS IN ON P.C. IN U.S.A.

An excerpt from 'Has Political Correctness Gone Off the Rails in America?'

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In the last decade, however, the obsession with minorities and their victimhood may have gone overboard. In a much-discussed opinion piece for the New York Times last month, Mark Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, argued that American liberalism in recent years has been seized by hysteria regarding race, gender and sexual identity. Lilla says it was a strategic error on the part of Hillary Clinton to focus her campaign so heavily on African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community and women. "The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups," he wrote.

Even as the white working class and lower class flocked to Trump in droves, students at Oberlin were busy organizing a protest against the food served at the Afrikan Heritage House. A few students had pointed out that the dishes there were at most Westernized interpretations of the original recipes, a state of affairs which showed a lack of respect toward African traditions. This offense, too, has a term: "cultural appropriation."

Meanwhile, Asian students complained that the cafeteria served bánh mì using inauthentic ingredients, prompting accusations of cultural imperialism.

The college took the complaints seriously, as it does with all grievances lodged by students. It has a reputation to protect -- and must also protect itself from the lawsuits that many of its students' parents can easily afford.

The cafeteria had to issue a public apology. But it shouldn't have been only the Vietnamese students who felt insulted -- it should have been everyone. After all, another term often used at Oberlin is "allyship." The theory basically goes like this: Someone who has spent his life as a heterosexual white male will never be able to understand how an incorrectly-made sandwich could trigger a trauma. Nor would he ever truly be able to comprehend the systemic microaggressions that a black woman might be exposed to. But he could make himself her "ally," by taking her experiences seriously and accepting them at face value, whether or not he is able to comprehend them personally.

For some professors, it has gone too far. One of those is Roger Copeland. On a recent Friday afternoon, he made his way to the Slow Train Café, the only place at Oberlin where everybody meets up during the day -- professors, students and activists. He has come to talk about everything he believes has destroyed his profession. He has recently accepted an early-retirement severence package and will be leaving the school in a few weeks. Professor Copeland has taught for over 40 years at Oberlin. He is a theater professor and he looks the part. He arrives wearing a Hawaiian shirt and speaks, even in normal discussion, as if he were reciting Shakespeare from the stage.

Copeland himself took to the streets in protest in the 1970s: against the Vietnam War, against Watergate -- the big things. On two occasions, he was arrested.

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Two years ago, Copeland asked a young student who was editing a video during rehearsals for a stage production if she would manage to finish editing the footage by the end of the week. He didn't get the immediate response and things were hectic. "Yes or no?" he called out in his exalted way. "Yes or no?"

The student, who Copeland says is an Asian-American lesbian woman, stormed out of the rehearsal, not that uncommon of an occurrence in theater. Later, the dean ordered Copeland to his office and accused him of having berated a student and of creating a "hostile and unsafe learning environment." There was that term again: "unsafe learning environment." The dean handed him a document and asked him to sign it. Copeland refused and provided the names of others who had been present and who could attest that he hadn't berated the student. The dean said it didn't matter. What mattered was that the "student felt unsafe."

The matter led to a formal Title IX investigation for sexual misconduct. Copeland hired a lawyer and the probe was dropped after a year. The whole thing cost Copeland thousands of dollars. Worse yet, he says, he lost his ideological compass.

What was going on? Where, if not here, did young men and women have the opportunity to mature into citizens, into people who could also confront unpleasant views?

Copeland self-identifies as a leftist. He's a man who has fought for social justice, for the rights of the weak, for freedom and for free speech. Now students were dismissing him as some old, reactionary grandpa who knew nothing about the vulnerabilities created by identity, skin color and gender, whether it be male, female, gay, lesbian or transgender, the full spectrum of LGBTQ, as people call it today -- or "cisgender."

Copeland isn't the only victim. Across the country, "social justice warriors," as they are disparagingly called, are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, attacking professors, artists, authors and even DJs along the way.

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