For example, current ideological fashions call for telling whites to “acknowledge” their “privilege.” This paradigm has no place in a university environment: It assumes a truth at the outset and allows no room for genuine exploration. (“It’s Not About You!” is a common mantra.) Another central part of the New Indoctrination is the battle against “microaggressions.” An advanced society benefits from understanding that racism isn’t always blunt or overt and that “little things” can hurt. However, too often, the definition of microaggressions is so broad as to condemn almost anything a white person says or does. It is forbidden to associate someone’s color with any particular trait because it is stereotyping, but then it is also forbidden to say that one doesn’t see color at all—and to question a person of color’s claim of being discriminated against. What begins as a plea for compassion becomes a kind of bullying.
These protesters appear to miss how Orwellian their terms often sound; the enraged indoctrination sounds like something out of “1984,” not enlightenment. Then again, one can almost hear the protesters responding, “Well, yeah, but we really are right!” They assume that their perspective is a truth that brooks no morally conceivable objection.
The question for today’s campuses has become: What is considered unspeakable? Where do we draw the line? There are indeed some truths that civilized people would not dispute: that women should have the right to vote, that genocide is wrong. Critics who pretend university culture is open to “free speech” about all ideas are being disingenuous. These students aren’t so much trying to shut down free inquiry as they are assuming that, on this topic, it has already happened. “Racism is wrong,” they know—and we all agree. “Therefore, when it comes to that which I find offensive as a person of color, civility and discussion are beside the point.”
That second part is where these earnest students go wrong. The idea that only the naive or the immoral would question issues connected to something as broad and protean as race and racism is hasty at best and anti-intellectual at worst. What qualifies as discrimination?