Social justice warrior complains about muzzling of dissenting opinions
- A high school senior from Minnesota complains that his support for civil liberties put him at odds with social justice groups
- Some schools are belatedly responding in defense of free speech, but Olad is concerned that social justice activists on college campuses are still to hostile to dissenting viewpoints
Even some supporters of social justice are becoming disillusioned with the movement’s “pro-censorship tendencies” involving concepts like trigger warnings and microaggressions.
“Their pro-censorship tendencies, fixation with intersectionality, and constant uproar over seemingly trivial and innocuous matters like ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘microaggressions’ went against my civil-libertarian sensibilities,” high school senior Mahad Olad told The Atlantic Monday in an email explaining his disillusionment with the social justice movement.
Olad, who was born in Kenya, became involved with the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at an early age, and was profiled in the organization’s Fall 2014 newsletter for his work on issues related to “reproductive freedom and LGBT rights.”
“I genuinely cared about these causes—still do,” Olad explained, but “at the same time, a large part of me was not quite in agreement with some of the views and concepts espoused by social-justice groups,” particularly those composed of high school and college students.
“I never voiced my personal disagreements because having dissenting views is strictly forbidden in the activist circles I was a part of,” he remarked, saying that doing so would expose one to charges of “being a ‘bad ally’,” if one is white, or, “if you’re a person of color, your arguments will usually be dismissed as some form of ‘internalized racism,’ ‘internalized sexism,’ or ‘respectability politics,’ among many other activist jargon's thrown at individuals who do not conform the groups views.”
Despite those risks, Olad said he eventually began to question some of those concepts on social media—suggesting, for instance, that trigger warnings have been “rendered useless” by overuse, and that the appropriate response to a controversial speaker is debate, not disruption—only to have his predictions confirmed as his former fellows accused him of “being a ‘respectable negro,’ ‘uncle tom,’ [and] ‘local coon’.”
Olad expressed concern that the same issues would follow him to college, saying, “I honestly don't know where I'm going to fit in... The only political/social group accepting of my views [is] normally libertarians,” but adding that his real preference would be to join “campus activism groups” that share his ideals, if only “they didn't have such a hostile attitude towards free speech and didn’t dismiss opposing viewpoints based on the person’s identity.”
The Chicago Tribune addressed the same issue in an editorial earlier this month, observing that “free expression is not faring well on American college campuses these days,” but suggesting that there have been some encouraging signals of late that administrators are belatedly beginning to take a stand in defense of free speech.
At the highest levels, the editorial points out that the University of California system’s Board of Regents recently added anti-Semitism to the school’s definition of discrimination, and that the University of Chicago has been touted as a national example for its “Chicago Statement” articulating a broad view of academic freedom.
The Tribune also highlighted incidents on individual campuses, notably Emory University, where the president responded to students who complained that pro-Trump chalkings had caused them “genuine concern and pain” by chalking his own statement declaring that “Emory stands for free expression!”
Olad mentioned still another example, saying, “I was initially very supportive of the nationwide protests that sparked across college campuses against racial insensitivity,” but that “Yale made me take a different look not just at just at these protests, but some of the core concepts these student activists (and the groups I was involved in) take almost too seriously.”
“I believed, and still do, that student activists have every right to hold demonstrations, push for robust changes and confront their respective administrations if they truly suspect that they are being treated unfairly or feel threatened,” he said. “Nonetheless, I believe Erika and Nicholas Christakis were wronged on many levels.”
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