The death of civility?

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘White-Informed Civility’ Is the Latest Target in the Campus Wars

The rules of collegiate debate are also coming under attack as racist and patriarchal.

By Steve Salerno | January 2, 2018 | 7:19 p.m. ET

From the land that irony forgot—which earlier gave us microaggressions and trigger warnings—comes a new and surprising movement, this time to combat civility. Civility, you see, is a manifestation of the white patriarchy. Spearheading this campaign are a duo of University of Northern Iowa professors, who assert that “civility within higher education is a racialized, rather than universal, norm.”

Their article in the Howard Journal of Communications, “Civility and White Institutional Presence: An Exploration of White Students’ Understanding of Race-Talk at a Traditionally White Institution,” describes a need to stamp out what they call “whiteness-informed civility,” or WIC. The pervasiveness of WIC, it seems, erases “racial identity” and reinforces “white racial power.”

Their thesis can be a tad hard to follow, unfolding as it does in that dense argot for which academia is universally beloved. But their core contention is twofold: One, that civility, as currently practiced in America, is a white construct. Two, that in a campus setting, the “woke” white student’s endeavor to avoid microaggressions against black peers is itself a microaggression—a form of noblesse oblige whereby white students are in fact patronizing students of color. Not only that, but by treating black students with common courtesy and expecting the same in return, white students elide black grievances, bypassing the “race talk” that is supposed to occur in preamble to all other conversations. Got it?

Something similar is happening in collegiate debate, where historically high standards of decorum are under siege as manifestations of white patriarchal thinking. So are the factual and logical proofs that debaters are normally expected to offer in arguing their case. Some participants are challenging the format, goals and ground rules of debate itself, in some cases refusing even to stick to the topic at hand.

Again the driving theory is that all conversations must begin by addressing race. As one top black debater, Elijah J. Smith, writes, debate must, before all else, “acknowledge the reality of the oppressed.” He resists the attempt on the part of white debaters to “distance the conversation from the material reality that black debaters are forced to deal with every day.”

There’s more at the original, but I’d raise a point the author didn’t include. The author, a journalism professor who lives in Las Vegas, was setting up an argument decrying the loss of civility based on race, on campus, even among black students who are, one supposes, trying to become part of the educated ‘elites’ in our society, but are rejecting the ‘rules’ of the elites in academia.

The most obvious examples of success among black Americans, outside of professional sports and rap ‘music,’ would be former President Barack Obama, entertainer Oprah Winfrey and several Hollywood figures. (There are many successful black businessmen, such as Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., Inc, Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, and Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, but they simply aren’t that widely known about.) These are examples of successful black Americans who fully maintained civil relations with larger society. By rejecting traditional civility, these college students are rejecting the path of most successful people, white or black, in our society. If you happen to be 6’11 and can dominate on the basketball court, you have a different success path ahead of you, but very few people happen to fit that mold.

Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is President Trump. He succeeded, when no one thought he could, by not being civil, by refusing to abide by the norms of political discourse expected of political candidates. He baffled ‘Lying Ted’ Cruz and ‘Little Marco’ Rubio and ‘Crooked Hillary’ Clinton, he attacked Carly Fiorina’s appearance and implied that Megyn Kelly’s hostility was due to “blood coming out of her whatever,” presumably meaning that she was on her period, he survived a tape of him saying that he could just grab women by their genitals, and he still won.

The lesson seems obvious: when you opponents are playing by restrictive rules, and you refuse to go along with those rules, you can gain an advantage that you opponents may not be able to overcome. It worked for President Trump, and, to judge from Dr Salerno’s article, it’s working other places as well.


  1. Elijah J. Smith, writes, debate must, before all else, “acknowledge the reality of the oppressed.”

    Sure. We can point out that another word for “Oppressed” is “Loser”. And, while sitting around feeling sorry for yourself may get you pity, it won’t get you respect.

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