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April 16 2019

"Radical Kitsch" at Columbia University: Fun and Games for Privileged Kids

by Charlotte Hays

In 1968 Columbia University's radicals erupted in riots and seized control of the campus.

History, it has been said (first by Marx), repeats itself, "the first [time] as tragedy, then as farce."

At Columbia, the 1968 riots seem to be repeating themselves as "radical kitsch."

That's not even up to the standards of radical chic.

Elliot Kaufman describes Columbia's most recent stab at radical protest in today's Wall Street Journal:

Columbia senior Alexander McNab, who is black, entered Barnard late Thursday night, according to a report in the Columbia Daily Spectator. Barnard is a women’s college affiliated with Columbia, whose students are required to show ID to enter the closed campus after 11 p.m. .

Mr. McNab refused. He strode past security and ignored them on the winding path to the university’s crowded Milstein Center, where five officers cornered him as other students recorded soon-to-be-viral videos.

At first, the videos showed, officers held Mr. McNab by the arms. After he protested loudly, two of them lightly pinned him to a cafe counter. He screamed: “Take your hands off me!” The officers released Mr. McNab after 20 seconds, at which point he finally showed his student ID. An officer verified it, and the confrontation ended.

The officers were white and the student was black—and that was enough to cue the Ferguson script. On Friday the Barnard student-government executive board issued a statement: “This incident reflects systemic racism and police brutality against Black people throughout our nation.” Protesters took to campus to chant: “No justice, no peace / F— these racist police!”

This isn’t radical chic; it’s radical kitsch—“vicarious experience and faked sensations,” as the critic Clement Greenberg put it.

McNab later admitted that he knew the ID rule (which is built on public safety needs, which is quite different from oppression). So he was punished and things returned to normal, right?

Sane administrators explained to young Mr. McNab that he had treated working people badly in an abominable and snobbish way unbecoming to a young 'varsity man. Nope.

Instead the security officers, people doing their job to protect the student body, were accused of racism and suspended from their jobs.

A cowardly dead put out a statement implying that the incident was the result of racism. The president of Barnard announced that the training of security officers would be thoroughly reviewed. Similar cowards at some Barnard entity have proclaimed that "blame is necessary for community healing."

Nobody, apparently, has the decency to stand up for working people who were just doing their job. The Wall Street Journal concludes:

Barnard and Columbia are playing it safe, not challenging campus leftists’ reading of events. Their story has no characters, reducing people to their plot function: The security officers can’t be doing an unglamorous job the best they can in a difficult situation, they’re a racist menace; Mr. McNab can’t be privileged to study at an Ivy League university (but perhaps having a bad day); he’s an oppressed victim, “assaulted” for walking while black.

That way, for a day or two, the students could imagine they fought the power.

Of course, the power is with the students like Mr. McNab. They have the power is accusing hardworking individuals who are working at protecting students of being racists.

The power is so thoroughly with McNab and privileged students like him that administrators punish security guards rather than confront the students' fantasies. (Or more frightening, maybe there are adult administrators who actually believe the security guards were oppressing Mr. McNab.)

And these privileged "radicals" aren't even real radicals. But the people they harmed are real security guards with families to support. 

What was just a game for a faux radical had real consequences for real people.

 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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