I’m about to describe a pivotal moment in my own intellectual development. If it seems that sometimes I’m harder on progressives than right wingers it’s because I expect more from the former. I expect lib/rad types to constantly re-examine even their most basic assumptions, because anything that’s worth believing in can stand up to the scrutiny, and anything that’s pure hypocrisy or dead wrong should be attacked no matter how convenient it is to short term political gain or ideological consistency.

This piece was written in response to an actual break-dancing event by a thoughtful student during my time at UC Santa Cruz in the spring of 1984. It didn’t go over well. The provost shut the newsletter down, and Mr. Brauner was vilified as evil personified. There were anti-racism rallies and pushes for mandatory racism awareness curriculum, and workshop after workshop. There was also plenty of venom reserved for those of us who tried to point out that it was satire.

Brauner did go overboard, and the words are indisputably offensive. But what amazed me was how many people took the piece in earnest, and one individual who identified himself as a grad-student referred to “this Rudyard Kipling of Stevenson College,” not even recognizing the author’s name. How does one get to grad-school without learning who Rudyard Kipling was, let alone without having read at least one or two of his works? And what about the professors who should have recognized the writer’s intent? Surely they knew who Kipling was? Obviously they never exposed themselves to Ibsen either (I promise, that’s my last reference for awhile).

More importantly, how was it that virtually nobody on campus recognized that the author was actually trying to make a point about more subtle forms of racism? He was particularly targeting the patronizing even if well-intentioned liberal versions of the “white man’s burden,” and also certain stereotypes of black sexual prowess which are actually promoted and perpetuated by political correctness itself? None of the angry letters to the campus paper’s editor even acknowledged the intent, whether the omission was by ignorance or willful disregard.

A Wonderful Event

By Rudyard Kipling

Stevenson College has taken on the white man’s burden. Gail Heit, our faculty director, was able to bring to our higher facility some of the native break dancers. These strapping young bucks are able to able to undulate and twist their bodies in ways that we never imagined possible. Besides being paid real American dollars, there is a rumor going around that they were receiving hot meals and a copy of the UCSC brochure, which contains many pretty pictures.

This reporter was able to learn much about the black and Hispanic ethnicities of the local outlying regions. Who knows, perhaps this event will help relations and ensure that there is less crime and upstart activities by these peoples. Perhaps they will learn to admire our way of life and in the future will work willingly for us in such responsible positions as dishwashing, carparking, and as doormen.

Next week, provost David Kaun will lecture in a local ghetto on “Economics and the market. What does it mean to you?”

From Doublespeak (Stevenson College – UCSC – Newsletter, 1984), actually by Asher Brauner

Brauner rebounded and was actually elected Student Body President a few years later, during my senior year. After he was elected, somebody remembered and wrote another rather stupid letter to the paper condemning him and everybody who voted for him as racists. I was a few years older by then and had a little more fortitude for battle. It’s a rare opportunity that one has after replaying events for long periods of time rolling over in bed saying to yourself “I should have said…” and I took full advantage of it. A woman whom I unfortunately never had chance to meet wrote an even more blistering letter making the same points. Unfortunately, I can’t find my copy of the City on a Hill edition containing the letters. And I waited that week for the next issue hoping the first letter writer or somebody else had something to say, ready to tear somebody a new hole, but alas, there were no responses and none of the expected calls for Brauner’s removal. No apologies from any professors for their prior silence either unfortunately. Brauner had also written an apologetic letter that clarified his intentions as a younger man made older overnight.

And don’t get me wrong. The words are insensitive, even in satire. That much should have been said, and could have been said in constructively worded letters. The vitriol was unnecessary.

And since then I feel almost compelled to buck anything resembling a party line. Attacking stupidity on the right is easy – I’ve been doing it all my life. But I feel even more compelled to challenge stupidity in my own ranks. And if I’m playing the pack animal – it’s very easy to fall into – I hope somebody will call me on it. The theme of my radio show All Things Reconsidered is constant scrutiny. It’s not your imagination – I really do take on leftists more often that right wingers. It’s because I’m frustrated quite frankly. In some ways we can be the worst in terms of tolerance. And it’s part of the reason we’re politically marginalized.

Update: Hmmm. I think Brauner went on to become a novelist.