Tulane University postponed a discussion on racism after students called it "violent"

Robby Soave published a story about this earlier today at Reason. It’s a pretty remarkable case of campus social justice warriors getting in their own way. In this case their zeal to control speech on campus has essentially silenced an ally.

Earlier this month the school announced that author Edward Ball would be coming to campus for a discussion of his new book “Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy.” The book is in no way celebratory of the Klan. On the contrary, the author is best known for a previous book tracing his own family’s ownership of slaves. The new book is in some sense a continuation of that effort to reckon with the legacy of racism in the author’s own family and has been positively reviewed in the NY Times and elsewhere (“‘Life of a Klansman’ Tells Ugly Truths About America, Past and Present“).

The discussion was to be mediated by a Tulane professor named Lydia Pelot-Hobbs (pictured above next to Ball). But the event was postponed after the student government claimed it was “inappropriate” and “violent.” Here’s the statement they posted on Instagram:

That’s essentially the cover letter for this letter sent by two members of the student government to the school demanding an apology: “In the current political atmosphere, it is imperative that we are all actively anti-racist, and endorsing speakers like these is antithetical to the anti-racist work being done by students, faculty, and staff on our campus.” The letter continues, “Instead of investing in speakers like Edward Ball who are closely related to Klansman, the School of Liberal Arts should prioritize uplifting Black voices and amplify the experiences of Black, Indigenous, people of color.”

There is also a Change.org petition demanding the cancellation of the event which called it a “slap in the face.”

Tulane’s attempt to facilitate a conversation of race is going to consist only of two white soeakers, one of whom is a descendant of a KKK member. This is an act of violence against the Black students of Tulane, and should be cancelled immediately. More details can be found at @tulanesla on Instagram. This is an embarrassment and a slap in the face to the Black Student Union, whose demands have not been acknowledged by the University.

Robby Soave at Reason points out that, at first glance, you might think the students are simply confused about the content of the book but that’s not the case.

The feedback was so unhinged that a casual observer might wonder whether they mistakenly thought the book was written by a Klansman, or endorsed the Klan. The comments on the event’s announcement page—as well as statements by student government officials—make it abundantly clear this is not the case. They know exactly what the book’s point of view is.

“The last thing we need to do is allow someone who is even reflecting on the hatred of their ancestors to speak about white supremacy, even if their efforts come from a place of accountability,” one student wrote on Instagram.

“There is nothing that a book on white supremacy written by the descendant of a Klansman can do to promote or influence an anti-racism atmosphere,” wrote another.

The outrage here isn’t because of the content of the book, it’s because of the skin color of the author (and the professor chosen to moderate the discussion). But as Soave points out in his conclusion, the students aren’t asking for more black voices they are asking to silence the (sympathetic) white voices.

It would be one thing if the students were merely demanding additional speakers of color, but their comments make clear that they do not believe someone like Ball should speak under any circumstances—and that they consider the very suggestion that he be allowed to speak (in a virtual space) an act of violence against marginalized students. They are possessed of a smug certainty that he has nothing of value to say to anyone at Tulane. This view is ridiculous and should be anathema at a university.

And of course the students making these demands have all been educated by Robin DiAngelo that any objection to what they’re doing is “white fragility.” So there’s no way the author or the professor can advocate for a different understanding of why this discussion is worth having. They simply have to agree to fade away and not be heard or else face further accusations about their own privilege and bad intent. I’d love to hear Edward Ball’s honest take on being run off campus as a threat to BIPOC. He must be a bit surprised to find himself a casualty in the revolution.