During the past week, anyone strolling through Stanford Law School would have encountered a giant sign with the phrase: “Racism Lives Here Too.” As part of a broader campaign to illuminate the supposed racism of SLS students, law school activists have also posted fliers with “racist” statements they have overheard and have written an explanatory op-ed in the Stanford Daily.
Both the fliers and the opinion piece portray Stanford Law School as a racially hostile environment, replete with “micro-aggressions” and disrespect for people of color. However, most of the fliers’ documented offenses are not racist at all. Rather, they are off-handed remarks about race that could only be construed as bigoted in Stanford’s hyper-liberal culture of political correctness. This undeserved outrage undermines what should have been targeted criticism of the few truly abhorrent, racist, documented statements that promote racial tension at Stanford. Instead, by lumping dozens of innocuous statements with these racist ones and promoting the image of a racially hostile campus, the law school activists have nurtured a culture of unjustified victimization that will only encourage currently minimal racial divisions to grow into precisely the resentful, noxious environment they claim to be fighting.
Many of these fliers include reasonable statements for which accusations of “racism” are laughable. For example, “Why should we pay for the education of an illegal’s children?” is a legitimate question that should not have anything to do with race. Questioning the scope of benefits (if any) illegal immigrants receive from a country is first and foremost an issue of rule of law. Even Stanford acknowledges the presence of illegal immigrant students on campus and their eligibility for financial aid. Criticizing subsidies for illegal immigrants’ or their children’s education is not only reasonable, but also not even a racial issue: reserving financial aid for American citizens benefits all US citizen ethnic groups, and the least privileged students disproportionately benefit from the extra funds.
Another flier that displays the statement “Don’t you have something to add to this discussion on racial disparities?” exposes a central hypocrisy in leftist racial ideology. White people are not supposed to presume understanding of racial issues because of their ostensible privilege, but then they are accused of stereotyping, gaslighting, or otherwise marginalizing racial minorities when they directly ask. Perhaps the question could be asked more tactfully, but social ineptitude is a far cry from racism in either intent or effect.
Most ridiculously of all, one poster criticized people who struggle with name pronunciation: “I have trouble with Chinese names. I am much better with German or Italian names.” Ease of pronunciation has much to do with the language(s) one speaks, and little to do with race. For most Stanford students, the languages they speak are Indo-European, so German and Italian names (coming from said languages) are naturally easier than names from Sino-Tibetan languages like Chinese. Of course, one should attempt to pronounce names correctly; it’s just a matter of respect. However, admitting one’s difficulty in doing so isn’t racism, it’s just honesty. And wouldn’t the accuser here be just as offended by repeated mispronunciation?
The final example I’ll offer, “I wish they would focus on the diversity that matters,” hits the heart of the diversity debate. Anti-discrimination is critical to a fair society, but since when did actively prioritizing diversity purely for its own sake make any sense? I presume that viewpoint diversity is what whoever said this meant, and certainly it can be fetishized similarly to racial diversity. While historically, race and gender diversity was certainly lower because of discrimination, time has brought a much fairer campus culture. Fighting discrimination also means refraining from the ham-handed pursuit of forced diversity of any kind for its own sake. The student’s complaint above does hold water in that an antiquated obsession with skin-deep diversity will hardly make Stanford, where charges of large-scale systemic racism are credulous at best, fairer.
The Daily op-ed also is misguided in its premises. The authors lament that Stanford’s law curriculum “doesn’t mandate studying race, class, or gender.” Our legal system is based on equality under the law for all people irrespective of the aforementioned demographic attributes, and while it is hardly perfect, viewing it as inherently racist, sexist, or classist rather than pushing for it to follow its own promises of fairness is antithetical to the very purpose of law school itself. While racism existed de jure for nearly two centuries of our nation’s history and de facto lingers in some contexts, it has mostly been eradicated, and failing to acknowledge that only prevents us from moving past racism. Focusing on equality under the law will improve the legal system’s efficacy for all people. Also, complaints about the burden on law students of color in spending time on racial activism and on “defend[ing] themselves from the racism and bigotry” at Stanford reveal a disconnect with the realities of Stanford. The Stanford community is not attacking them. If their studies and career prospects are being harmed by their insistence on embarking on a quixotic war against the diabolical windmills of Stanford systemic racism, that’s their choice to do so, but perhaps chasing a false threat is not the best use of their time.
Most critically, the various non-racist statements in most of the posters drown out the few racist statements among them, which of course deserve attention and a response. Both the racist hate mail and the statement “Minority students are not as intelligent as white students” were abhorrent, and the latter is additionally false. Including them in a flier campaign belittled by ludicrous claims of racism does a disservice to those actually harmed by racism on campus.. Additionally, the law students themselves referred angrily to white people by their “white skin.” If any other color or race were substituted, a similar statement would rightfully cause a major campus scandal. The law students would be better served fighting the few truly racist incidents they did find with something more acceptable than their own racial hatred.
This so-called “Racism Lives Here, Too” project is riddled with manufactured offense and credulous misrepresentation of many reasonable statements as racist. Its unwarranted conflation of various harmless statements with a few abhorrent and racist actions only increases racial discord on campus and detracts from the gravity of actually racist actions. The resulting spectacle reflects poorly on the SLS students involved, and doesn’t do the topic of race, or the Stanford community, justice.