Cancel culture: Alabama dean of students out after Breitbart flags his old tweets about race

Cancel culture: Alabama dean of students out after Breitbart flags his old tweets about race

“One of the worst arguments I hear conservatives make in defense of the right de-platforming the left is ‘we are just making the left play by their own rules,'” wrote Reason’s Robby Soave about this story. “They are no longer the left’s rules, if you are enforcing them. Then they are your rules.”

The response would be that de-platforming the left is a form of deterrence. If you want them to stop taking scalps from the right, start taking them from the left until they think better of their tactics. One problem with that logic, though, is that you’ll never deter everyone; another problem is that taking scalps in unjust circumstances could backfire by generating greater enthusiasm on the other side for even more ruthless scalp-taking. Although the stakes are obviously way lower, the conflict considerations here aren’t much different than they’d be for a group that’s trying to decide whether to engage in terrorism to advance its cause. Will you gain more for your cause or lose more by responding to violence perpetrated against you with your own violence? Will that violence frighten the enemy into suing for peace or radicalize him into committing to your destruction? As a moral matter, should you be as bad as your enemy or insist on being better and prove how cutthroat he is by the contrast with your example?

I don’t know that Media Matters, say, would mind if scalp-taking became mainstream partisan practice, to the extent that it isn’t already.

Anyway, there’s a difference between what Breitbart did to (now former) U of A dean of students Jamie Riley in this case and what Bloomberg Law did to Leif Olson earlier this week. The apparent intent was the same — get the target canceled, i.e. fired — but there’s no evidence that Breitbart misrepresented Riley’s actual views. His tweets were public statements which he chose to publish; and as a dean at a public university he’s a public official, accountable not just to his school but to the broader taxpaying public. It’s fair game to scrutinize the writings of a public official.

But no, this guy shouldn’t have been fired. At least not without reason to believe that his views had led him to be ineffective in his job.

“The [American flag emoji] flag represents a systemic history of racism for my people,” Riley wrote in the tweet. “Police are a part of that system. Is it that hard to see the correlation?”

In a separate image of a tweet in October 2017, Riley said white people have “0 opinion” on racism because white people cannot experience racism.

“I’m baffled about how the first thing white people say is, ‘That’s not racist!’ when they can’t even experience racism,” Riley wrote in the tweet. “You have 0 opinion!”

Under the previous tweet, Riley sent a hashtag that read “#missmewithyourprivilege.” Later, an image of a 2016 tweet from Riley shows him questioning the motive of making movies about slavery.

“Are movies about slavery truly about educating the unaware, or to remind Black people of our place in society,” Riley wrote.

If agreeing with the first tweet is a firing offense, every Democrat in the country as well as some Republicans should be fired tomorrow. The third tweet is … odd. If you’re so woke that you think movies like “12 Years a Slave” are actually a tool of The Man to further oppress blacks, you’re too woke. The second tweet is the one that’s a potential issue: If Riley is ignoring white students’ opinions on some subjects like race as a matter of policy, because he thinks whites can’t experience racism or whatever, that’s obviously a problem for a dean whose job is to listen to students.

But was he actually ignoring anyone? Did Alabama take five seconds to ask students how they felt about him before dropping the axe? Was there any sort of boycott threat that might have required fast action? Or was Riley simply guilty of what tens of millions of people are guilty of every day, having a dickish thought and farting it out on Twitter immediately before thinking better of it later, and no one really cared?

I’m going to share a secret here with America’s institutions, left and right: You don’t need to actually give the other side a scalp when they demand it. If the Labor Department hadn’t been so quick to appease Bloomberg Law, they would have read through Olson’s Facebook posts, realized he was being smeared, and spared themselves several days of bad press by telling Bloomberg to go away instead of firing the poor guy. If Alabama hadn’t been so quick to appease Breitbart, they would have sniffed around to see if Riley’s views on race were affecting his work. If there were reports already floating around that he was treating white students unfairly, it shouldn’t have taken some old tweets to get him fired. If there weren’t any such reports, they could have put out a statement saying “his views are his own and don’t represent the university” and left it there. As it is, I wonder if they’re going to end up in the same unfortunate place that the Labor Department ended up, with people who are outraged by the firing giving the institution more grief than it would have gotten if it had just exercised due diligence before leaping to can someone.

Like I say, it’s fair to call attention to someone’s public statements, which is what righty operatives are also doing now with reporters. And it’s also fair not to fire someone just because a political enemy claims to be offended. Exit question: If righties, who claim to despise “cancel culture,” are going to participate in it ostensibly for the purpose of getting the left to cease using the tactic, what would count as evidence that they’d ceased? Does every “watchdog” group like Media Matters need to close down? What if that happens and some lefties start freelancing scalp-taking? “We only do it because the other side does it” is a convenient excuse in some people for “I really enjoy fighting dirty but need a moral fig leaf, like self-defense, to justify it to myself.”

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