African Americans, Brown Sugar, censorship, entertainment, Federalist Society, higher education, hip hop, Im-Politic, Keith Richards, Layli Maparyan, Native Americans, political correctness, pop culture, Popeye's, progressives, racism, Rolling Stones, speech, The Los Angeles Times, UrbanDictionary.com, Washington Free Beacon, Yale Law School, Yale University
As we’ve all learned in recent years, higher education and the entertainment and pop culture worlds can both spur and mirror major changes in society and politics. So I wasn’t entirely surprised yesterday when two items came to my attention that nicely illustrate much of the hysteria and outright derangement being displayed and spread by self-appointed progressive champions of equity and justice. What did surprise me was the combination of utter incoherence and unmistakable ignorance they displayed.
The first item was an article in the (yes, conservative) Washington Free Beacon about a student at Yale Univeristy’s law school being accused by fellow students and the school itself (including its “diversity dean” – an Obama administration alumnus) of having sent an email to some other students with some racist content.
Of course, students (even at prestigious law schools) do stupid and offensive things all the time. But did this charge hold any water? Only if you believe that phrases like “trap house,” “Popeye’s chicken,” and “basic-bitch” are “triggering” and “oppressive,” and if you think that membership in a conservative political organization qualifies as well.
But if so, you don’t know much about these phrases. Specifically, not only is there no reason to believe that “trap house” “indicates a blackface party,” but the most popular use of the term is clearly in connection with a widely followed podcast described by no less than The New York Times as the “answer to right-wing shock jock radio” in the view of Vermont Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
Especially laughable was the charge that “the word trap connotes” hip hop and that the connotation is therefore negative. Maybe the Yale administrators making this argument are talking about a musical genre other than the one that (African- American) Wellelsey College Africana Studies Professor Layli Maparyan has called part of “an oppositional cultural realm rooted in the socio-political and historical experiences and consciousness of economically disadvantaged urban black youth of the late 20th century”?
As for fried chicken is indeed ” often used to undermine arguments that structural and systemic racism has contributed to racial health disparities in the U.S.” But do, like, thirty seconds of on-line research and you learn that Popeye’s has been a favorite of at least several African-American celebrities (including Beyonce).
Moreover, the student’s use of “basic-bitch” has nothing to do with derogatory slang for African-American women, or even women in general, and everything to do with (according to the authoritative UrbanDictionary.com) “Someone who is unflinchingly upholding of the status quo and stereotypes of their gender without even realizing it.” (P.S. If you think I had to look this up because I had never heard the term before, you’re right.) Moreover, in the email in question, “basic-bitch” was used as an adjective to modify “American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.)”, not the infamous poultry dish.
The conservative political organization in question is the Federalist Society, which the president of Yale’s Black Law Students Association claimed “has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.” This study of a the group – from an outspokenly liberal organization – contains some supporting evidence. But interestingly, these incidents haven’t yet persuaded Yale Law School to ban the Federalist Society, exclude members from admission, or kick them out once discovered. So I haven’t seen Yale apologize to its black students yet – even though the Federalist Society was pretty much founded at Yale Law.
Finally, although you’d expect that the student accused of racist behavior was an exemplar of white privilege, it turns out that’s a long stretch at best. He’s half Native-American.
The second item illustrating the ongoing metastasizing of left-of-center authoritarianism that’s not only dangerous but outright incompetent involves no less than “the world’s greatest rock and roll band.” You got it: the Rolling Stones.
Last week, guitarist Keith Richards confirmed to The Los Angeles Times‘ pop music critic that the group had dropped from its performances on its current tour its 1971 hit “Brown Sugar.” When I first heard it back in the day, I thought it was pretty strange to set lyrics painting an appalling (and accurate) picture to such a rousing beat. And Richards only intimated that it had evoked complaints recently. But as he pointed out far better than I could, “I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery?”
Richards sounded optimistic that “we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.” I’ll defer to him on this particular controversy. But it’s precisely just plain doofy developments like this, and the Yale Law School flap, that keep me doubtful that the current burst of progessive-inspired threats to free speech is anywhere near its end.