Bobby Hahn does something remarkable in his Feb. 12 letter to the editor in the Minnesota Daily. He asks whether it makes sense for University of Minnesota students to protest Ben Shapiro’s Feb. 26 visit to campus without actually mentioning the substance of Shapiro’s views. The omission is particularly galling given Hahn’s advice for concerned students like myself: “Draw [conclusions] by listening to Shapiro firsthand. Make sure you have evidence to leverage any accusations. Consider that civil discourse may convince others more effectively.”
I don’t know whether Ben Shapiro is a white supremacist, but his inability to empathize with the pain and suffering of black and brown people has been well-documented. Let’s start, as Current Affairs Magazine does, with Shapiro’s surprisingly little-known hatred of Arabs. Shapiro once said “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” In Shapiro's eyes, “the Palestinian Arab population is rotten to the core” – a disgustingly heinous and demonstrably false belief that seems to comport nicely with the textbook definition of racism. If you don’t believe me, swap out the word ‘Arabs’ for ‘Jews,’ ‘blacks,’ or any other group of people who are routinely subject to gross generalizations about their culture or entire way of life.
Actually, there’s no need for you to even do that because Shapiro has already done it for us. And his favorite target for condescending lectures about personal responsibility is black people. To Shapiro, blacks’ individual choices are to blame for everything wrong with our lives. It’s “our culture” he says — the ways we move, the ways we dance, the ways we respond to injustice — that causes African Americans in this country to be worse off on virtually all major objective measures of well-being than the average American. As far as Shapiro is concerned, the plight of black America isn’t enduring social inequalities as a result of state-sponsored segregation, but “the culture of single-motherhood [that] breeds violence.”
Shapiro’s arguments defy logic, common sense and mounds of anthropological research. Though they are old, his views about blacks remain as dangerous as they are dehumanizing because they’ve become the rhetorical Trojan horse through which white supremacy has re-entered the political mainstream. Assuming, then, that the inherent worth of my existence is not — and should never again be — up for public debate, what is the point of listening to a racist give a talk about nonsense?
I will not be among the UMN students protesting Shapiro’s appearance later this month even though his views are worthy of widespread moral condemnation. I’ll be leading an anti-racist teach-in instead for those of us curious and convinced of the imperative of racial justice.
Perhaps Mr. Hahn will join us there.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Noël Gordon Jr. is a first-year graduate student dual enrolled in the Carlson School of Management and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.