I write in reference to the interview The Lamron recently published with the student who made a joking reference to blackface on Snapchat. This was, to my eye, not a genuine interview at all but a forced public confession in which, to its shame, The Lamron was complicit. I have no specific idea how this came about: the decision of the student to request this interview and the agreement of The Lamron to participate. But the result strikes me as a put-up job in which the student mechanically repeats an apparently scripted apology. “Everyone is right to be angry at me,” “This is not about me,” “I was ignorant and privileged” the student said, clearly in order to avoid being suspended or expelled.
Administrators lecture us constantly about the history of blackface as a method of demeaning and intimidating black Americans. So wicked was this practice, we are told, that even joking references to it at nearly a century’s remove present a danger of some sort to non-white students. Sadly, none of these administrators ever mention the history of Stalinist and Maoist show trials, at which abject public confessions were extracted from political offenders desperately hoping that their penalties be lessened and their families spared. This barbaric practice of the purges and Cultural Revolution constituted an explicitly coercive, not a distantly symbolic, means of humiliating transgressors and intimidating anybody who would imitate or publicly support them. In this light, I urge you to reread the entire interview, and particularly to reflect on this one sentence: “The police came to my door, telling me that people didn’t feel safe…” Now ask yourselves, who here is actually safe, and who is not?
Professor of Philosophy