Halloran: Concerns about ‘PC culture’ unfounded


Sara Halloran, Columnist

When I heard about the protests at Emory University in response to chalk drawings of “Trump 2016” appearing around the school’s campus, I groaned — not because of the protests themselves, but rather the wholly predictable backlash that accompanied the news. No sooner had I been briefed on the story than I heard Bill Maher declare he wanted to “dropkick” the protesters and read a column in USA Today by Glenn Reynolds decrying this generation of coddled college students, almost as if they had been waiting for precisely this type of issue to give their two cents. That is not to say only public figures have taken this approach. Northwestern’s Yik Yak feed, for example, was littered with posts making fun of the protesters after the news broke.

Be advised, future pundits: Maher’s and Reynolds’ opinions are neither revolutionary nor even interesting. This condemnation of “sensitivity” has existed under the guise of rationality and moderation ever since the advent of social progress. No matter how serious the issue — and, admittedly, the Emory incident ranks fairly low on the outrage scale — this stance is always there to trot out and to dismiss primarily the concerns of students of color. Think of how many times we’ve seen and read the same sort of dreck from the same brand of white men in just the past few years — with the incidents at the University of Missouri and Yale University and with countless other student activists taking a stand. No matter how reasonable Maher and Reynolds may sound right now, we must resist condoning this type of stale, condescending analysis.

Like it or not, Donald Trump has come to symbolize a number of specific hateful stances, thanks to his unapologetic racism and sexism. During his relatively short campaign, Trump has earned the ire of Muslims, Mexicans and women, to name a few. The original perpetrators of these stances, whether legitimate Trump supporters or simply bored trolls, knew exactly what sort of reaction they would spark. In fact, Trump support has become a clever way to express racism without inciting the kind of universal hate that, say, chalking a swastika would. I can’t say that had I been a student at Emory, I would have attended those protests. In fact, I have to admit that I found the protests a bit much. However, to pretend that we have no idea why the Emory students are upset or that the scale of the backlash fits the protests is to feign ignorance.

I have noticed NU students discussing what happened at Emory have almost uniformly turned to our own non-reaction to the Alice Millar spray-painting incident to mock Emory’s sensitivity. There is really no need to compare the two, considering the nearly unanimous disgust for NU’s duo of aspiring graffiti artists negated the need for any sort of protest. In fact, when we compare the two we invalidate almost any other hate-speech incident — not every case will be a clear-cut chapel vandalism. Regardless of how you personally feel about the seriousness of the Trump chalk, as NU students we should stand against the Mahers and Reynoldses of the world, not only because of their ad nauseam insistence that our generation is coddled, but also for their altogether boring hate-speech apologism.  

The “Trump 2016” chalking is not explicit hate speech, yet the message it carries is clear. In positioning themselves as enemies of progress, Maher and Reynolds have in effect allied themselves with the chalkers, normalizing hateful behavior by extension. If we are to deem this generation of college students “coddled,” it should not be on the basis of them finding their voice through protest. The amount of vitriol the Emory protesters have faced for a simple demonstration should show us the real problem: those who rush to defend bigots, yet display no sympathy for the wronged.

Sara Halloran is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.