Trying to get a figure fired from their job on political grounds is not a new phenomenon; the history of American politics provides ample examples. Unfortunately, the Left and Right in this country are all too prone to silence their opposition by getting activists fired or punished for their views. It just so happens that a friend of mine now finds herself in the crosshairs.
A few months ago, the conservative website Campus Reform published a number of tweets by Zandria Robinson that were critical of the perceived views of white students on her campus in regard to race. Campus Reform’s “revelations” apparently played a role in Zandria leaving the University of Memphis where she had been teaching. Whether she left by her own accord, or was asked to by the university, online conservative activists and Campus Reform had tasted blood and began looking for their next target.
They landed on Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (twitter), a physicists and postdoctoral fellow at MIT. Chanda and I meet when we both attended UC Santa Cruz in the early 2000s. We were active in political circles, and shared a rather large house with a number of other students. Thus, it was a surprise to see a friend publicly attacked for a number of truthful public statements made on Twitter.
Peter Hasson and Campus Reform were outraged that Chanda had referred to Thomas Jefferson as a rapist and for deploring America’s founding on racist principles and ideals. These discernible statements prickle conservatives who cling to the outlandish view that America practiced the glowing egalitarian principles present in the Declaration’s preamble, with the Founding Fathers as beacons for God’s word, acting as stand-ins for Christ’s Apostles. Even when the very facts before them challenge such precepts, conservatives like Hasson are offended when academics state those details. Inconvenient truths must never be uttered; America is the religion and its founders the pantheon. Perhaps it is merely coincidence, but it doesn’t escape me that the two academics targeted by Campus Reform were black and frequently commented on race relations.
What does Campus Reform want from “exposing” Chanda’s public comments? Much like their strategic brethren on the left side of the political isle, they implicitly want figures like her to lose their jobs for stating an opinion. In their worldview, academia is filled to the brim with radicals who are using public funds to brainwash America’s youth and discriminate against traditional citizens through state institutions. This is a puerile belief, but one widely held.
One could defend Chanda on purely free-speech grounds (as many have done via the hashtag #StandWithChanda). There is a fine argument to be made there, but I feel they actually miss the real reason we should want radicals to feel at ease stating their opinions in public. I go further than merely accepting her right to disseminate unpopular ideas: I want those ideas to reach as many minds as possible. The blandness of modern political life is nauseating. Online activists are working tirelessly to create a uniform culture where all diversity is accepted, except in the realm of ideas. We are not living in a more just world, just one with fewer real viewpoints and notions. Other than the few online activists that get their jollies from taking down random figures for perceived intolerance, does anyone actually want to live in the world they are devising for us?
So from this moment on, I want to see a real radical in every institution. Someone who says things that actually challenge dominant norms. A fascists in every university, an anarchist in every government institution. Towards a radical future without fear of reprisal for philosophical deviation.
For these reasons, I #StandWithChanda.
(Image: Isaac Jefferson, enslaved artisan of U.S.A. President Thomas Jefferson.)