There are too many white musicians in the Oberlin College jazz band. This was among the numerous complaints — “concrete and unmalleable demands” — in a 14-page manifesto issued last week by the Black Students Union (BSU) at the elite private liberal arts college in Ohio. The second item on their list of demands was “a concerted effort to increase the percentage of Black students and specifically Black female identifying instrumentalists in the Jazz department. We would like to reiterate the demand for a 4% annual increase in the enrollment of Black students in the Jazz Department starting in 2016 to accumulate to 40% increase by the year 2022.”
Underrepresentation of “Black female identifying instrumentalists in the Jazz department” might seem a rather odd choice of student grievances to those of us old enough to remember when campus radicals focused their attention on serious issues like the Vietnam War. The seemingly trivial nature of the Oberlin BSU complaints contrasts starkly with the group’s dramatic denunciation of the college as an institution that “functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.”
That last bit of academic jargon is derived from Third Wave feminist theory — the social construction of the gender binary within the heterosexual matrix, to summarize the thesis of Judith Butler’s 1990 book Gender Trouble, now commonly assigned as required reading in programs like Oberlin’s department of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. To decode a jargon phrase like “cissexist heteropatriarchy,” one must know that the prefix “cis-” is the opposite of “trans-” and thus “cissexist” means not only discrimination against women, but also against “transgender” persons. Likewise, the familiar feminist denunciation of “patriarchy” (i.e., the social system of male supremacy) has been updated with the prefix “hetero-” to imply that homosexuals in particular are oppressed by such a system. These linguistic modifications have the effect of allowing men to abjure their identification with “male privilege” either by declaring their homosexuality or “transgender” status, and thereby including themselves among the oppressed members of the LGBT coalition.
Determining one’s position in the scale of privilege and oppression is necessary to the progressive project of “social justice” of which the Oberlin BSU’s list of demands is an example. This is how and why a seemingly trivial matter — too many white people in the jazz band — gets transmogrified into a major grievance at Oberlin College (annual tuition of $50,586) where students bemoan their plight as victims of “imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.” Social justice is a sort of cult religion, and elite college campuses function as temples of this postmodern faith, where the saintly Victims of Oppression are taught to hate the demonized Forces of Privilege.
Of course, the demon figure in the white student’s social justice drama is Daddy, who is paying $50,586 a year to send his kid to Oberlin. Anyone familiar with Freudian theory could understand the psychological appeal of social justice rhetoric to affluent white teenagers whose resentment of their humiliating dependency on paternal support manifests itself as an Oedipal impulse to denounce Daddy. Whereas black students at a posh school like Oberlin have a rather obvious outlet for their juvenile rage — making “white supremacy” the scapegoat for their dissatisfaction — white radicals require elaborate theories to justify their own protest tantrums. This explains why campus “activism” is so common at elite schools, but is seldom found at less prestigious institutions. Certainly there must be students at my own alma mater, Jacksonville (Ala.) State University, who care about social justice, but they are much more interested in practical matters like getting their diplomas and finding a job after they graduate. Campus radicalism is a luxury most students at JSU (annual tuition $8,790) probably can’t afford.
Faculty of elite schools where rich kids learn to view themselves as Victims of Oppression (and to hate their own parents, who are footing the bill) are invariably surprised to find themselves the targets of student outrage. At Yale University (annual tuition,$47,600), a faculty member named Nicholas Christakis was surrounded by an angry mob that included Jerelyn Luther, a Yale junior who screamed at him, “Who the f—k hired you?” Ms. Luther, it turned out, is from affluent Fairfield, Conn., where the value of her family’s home is reportedly appraised at $760,000. The student protest that led to Ms. Luther’s obscenity-spewing tantrum arose from concerns about Halloween celebrations at Yale. It was claimed (in a Facebook post by sophomore Neema Githere) that a fraternity had held a “white girls only” party Oct. 31. Although this claim was evidently false, Yale students worked themselves into an emotional frenzy culminating in a Nov. 10 “March of Resilience.” One of the participants in that protest told the Yale Daily News that campus life is “emotionally draining and traumatic for many people of color.”
Emotional trauma is a common symptom among the young disciples of the Cult of Social Justice, occasionally inspiring them to proclaim visions of their own suffering that are either hallucinations or lies. At the University of Virginia, for example, a young woman claimed to have been gang-raped at a fraternity party; after her story made worldwide headlines in November 2014, however, an investigation found that the fraternity had not even held a party on the night in question, and it seems the alleged ringleader of the gang-rape, “Haven Monahan,” was a fictitious invention of the self-declared “survivor” of a crime that never happened.
The Cult of Social Justice requires occasional proof of its quasi-religious worldview, and if not enough genuine oppression can be found, the disciples are always willing to invent evidence of their victimhood. Students at Oberlin have proven remarkably creative in this regard. In 2013, the campus erupted in fury over graffiti and other alleged evidence of racism and homophobia that attracted nationwide media attention. (“Oberlin College Cancels Classes Amid String of Racial Incidents” was the headline at Slate.com, which illustrated the story with a photo of a Ku Klux Klan robe.) It turned out the whole thing was a hoax, and that the alleged “racial incidents” had been manufactured by “progressive” students, including a member of Oberlin College Democrats. Police quickly identified the perpetrators of the hoax and informed Oberlin officials, who “remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real.”
Phony victimhood and fake hate hoaxes are not limited to elite campuses, as the same mentality typifies the progressive online activists known as “social justice warriors” (SJWs). Their deliberate dishonesty is sufficiently notorious that Vox Day wrote a popular book about them entitled SJWs Always Lie. Seven years into the Obama presidency, many Americans seem willing to believe whatever the liberal media want them to believe. If it suits the political interests of the Democratic Party for people to believe that Oberlin College students are victims of “white supremacy,” then the liberal media will report this as a fact.
How to rid the Oberlin campus of “cissexist heteropatriarchy” and increase the number of black musicians in the college’s jazz program? Perhaps someone should ask Hillary Clinton. The Cult of Social Justice predictably offers the same solution to every problem: Vote Democrat!