Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Susannah Bartlow: Doubling Down on Assata Shakur

When we first discovered that a wall of Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center was decorated with a large mural of convicted cop killer Assata Shakur, we thought that perhaps somebody simply didn’t know who she really was. Maybe somebody found some quote from her that they liked without bothering to learn anything about her. Otherwise, who would honor a cop killer?

We quickly discovered that the Director of the Center, one Susannah Bartlow, knew exactly who Shakur was, having signed a petition demanding that she be taken off the FBI’s list of the Ten Most Wanted Terrorists.

Bartlow was sacked, but she has a blog, and she has not backed down at all from her support for Shakur.

Here is one of her posts on the issue, and here is the other.

The posts are a window into the insular bubble that is political correctness at contemporary universities. It’s not just Bartlow. It’s at least several dozen professors at Marquette, and a fair number of administrators too.

Some examples:
This disrespect for the work of women of color is another astonishing example of how racism works. It is hard to imagine another mural, whatever its subject, being removed without even an attempt to understand the subject or the students’ perspective.
So it is hard to imagine that a mural of a Klansman would be removed without even an attempt to understand the subject or the students’ perspective?

No, if such a mural appeared, it would be summarily painted over, and the “students’ perspective” would be roundly condemned with no “discussion” necessary. But in the world of the politically correct, violent black terrorists are somehow heroes.

Further, the official statement of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the black sorority whose members painted the mural, claims that the members simply did not know who Shakur was, and if they had, they would not have painted the mural.

Assuming that’s true, what we have here is what happens so often on college campuses: white leftists using minorities as human shields.
. . . right now, a national movement is mobilizing in support of black and brown people who have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement! It should be more clear than ever that something is wrong with our system and how people of color fare within it.
In the first place, Bartlow doesn’t seem to notice that the “hands up don’t shoot” nonsense from Ferguson, MO has been thoroughly debunked, and debunked by the Eric Holder Justice Department. And the six officers changed in the Baltimore case of Freddie Gray include three blacks, making the simple racial narrative difficult to sustain.

Racial Grievance

Worse, just how is it that honoring a cop killer addresses any legitimate grievance about policing in the black community? In fact, it only poisons the atmosphere, and does so to the detriment of black citizens. Is the assumption here that black people approve of cop killers? A few do, but they should not be appeased or pandered to.
Although it feels good, “appropriate” doesn’t have much to do with the discomfort it takes to learn new things, especially about volatile political issues. It usually backfires, making people who are already threatened feel less safe, and enabling people who typically feel pretty safe in any environment to keep on keeping on. Educationally, this is counterproductive.
So, in the politically correct bubble, the world is divided into people who feel “safe” and need to be made to feel less safe, and those who feel “unsafe” and need to be made to feel safe.

This is typical of campus political correctness, where favored and petted victim groups are allowed to shut up speech they claim makes them feel “unsafe” (no matter how ridiculous such claims are) but whites, males, Christians, conservatives and so on must put up with whatever demeaning comments anybody chooses to make.
More importantly, though, Marquette students were protesting all year, mostly related to racism on campus. Many of the students I worked with were tired, sad, angry, energized, inspired, and motivated to claim some space where they could feel like their experiences and histories were affirmed.
Very few Marquette students (indeed the number is vanishingly small) are racists, that is unless any politically incorrect opinion on racial matters, or any innocent “microaggression” somehow counts as racism.

But students in the orbit of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center have been taught to collect and nurse grievances.


. . . why is Assata Shakur “inappropriate for a mural”? Because her story is more contemporary? Because she lives in Cuba? Because she is still alive? Who decides what is appropriate? What is a university for if not to explore these questions?
Unfortunately, the mural was not “exploration,” it was glorification. Had Bartlow’s center sponsored a debate on Shakur, that would have been exploration. Instead, debate was summarily bypassed and a mural painted.

It’s odd for Bartlow, who didn’t feel discussion was needed before the mural was painted, to now tout “exploration.”
In my first post, I used the phrase “regardless of the mural’s content” to argue that the GSRC (and all campus educational/resource centers) should be able to support students’ interests and expressions without censorship or controlling influence.
Of course, this is flatly disingenuous. If some bunch of students wanted to honor a Klansman, Bartlow would not think of making this sort of argument. Indeed, a mural honoring a prominent opponent of gay marriage would be doubtless denounced by campus leftists.
I supported the student-led mural project because my job as an educator is to provide space, resources, and opportunities without censorship or condescension. In an environment of daily racism, the students wanted to research and offer up images of powerful black women leadersboth as a way to brighten up the GSRC as a hangout space and as a way to support identities and experiences that were on the margins at Marquette.
Of course, Shakur is not a “powerful black woman leader.” Condoleezza Rice is.

Again, either Bartlow is a white woman using black women as human shields, or the national spokeswoman for Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority is lying (or at least badly mistaken) about what happened.

The argument seems to be that since black women deserve a “voice,” whatever they choose to say must be supinely accepted, since they are, after all, an oppressed minority group. Ironically, Bartlow adds:
Effective learning happens with healthy discomfort and sometimes with controversy.
But somehow, pampered minority groups should be spared discomfort and controversy. All the while, less favored groups should be made to feel uncomfortable about their “white privilege” in a “racist society” and have their political and social views challenged.

Somebody should have asked the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha “do you know who this woman is?” And if the answer was “yes,” “why in the world do you think she is some sort of role model?”

As is usually the case, politically correct people end up demeaning the victim groups they claim to champion. The implication here is that blacks and other minorities have fragile egos that cannot stand an intellectual challenge. Further, if having one’s views challenged is part of a good education, what does it say if one wants to dispense with that for minority students?


Bartlow’s essays are important as a window into the world of politically correct thinking in academia. It’s the sort of thinking that is increasingly dominant in academia, and part of the general corruption of college life.

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Blogger BuckeyeCat said...

The "window into politically correct thinking on campus" dwarfs whatever other windows there are on campus. As I tell my own philosophy students, we all go to Sophist U. now. The term "truth" is inevitably in scare quotes, since to claim to know objective truth is an act of epistemological imperialism. As the Sophists knew, when reason and truth are discredited, power always fills the vacuum. Truth about reality has fragmented into "stories" or "narratives" about various identity groups. Reason is no longer allowed to evaluate competing "stories." As Protagoras said, "man is the measure of all things..." As our group perceives the world, so is it. Others have different perceptions, so that one the one hand we deny one is better than another, and on the other hand, we wish to impose our group's story on others. The narrative of the evil "dominant society" has to be taken down. Thus, by means of political power, those group narratives the left finds currently fashionable are imposed in classrooms and around campuses.

The Sophists knew that in times like theirs (and now ours), "might makes right" when it comes to colonizing the academy with group-think, "multicultural" endeavors to throw off the oppression caused by..., well, whoever disagrees with their pet advocacy concerns. The social-political narrative that triumphs will do so by means of power.
The mural, in the eyes of those defending it, is symbolic of a non-white narrative told by the voices of the downtrodden marginalized people of color. It can't be easy being a downtrodden student victim at a fairly expensive private university. It's a good gig for "educators" in the diversity industry. This "academic" area feeds off of perceived injustices to race-class-gender junkies. If the kindling gets low, and grievance fires can no longer be stoked, perhaps the blight of critical race studies, etc., will finally die out. Who knows, the university might have to return to non-politicized, substantive education one day. I hope someone will remember what a genuine liberal education is all about.

9:51 PM  
Blogger John Pack Lambert said...

Bartkow would probably making a mural of Condolezza Rice would be racist.

10:12 PM  

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