Ann Althouse on students subjected to compulsory racial sensitivity training. She’s commenting on an article in the NYT.
The article, by John Eligon, is called “University of Missouri Struggles to Bridge Its Racial Divide.” I was able to tell I was reading about a required “session on diversity” from the caption on the photo at the top of the page: “New students at the University of Missouri must now attend a session on diversity.” I would have had a very hard time figuring out those basic facts from the text of the article, which begins:
Scott N. Brooks, draped in a dapper shawl-collar sweater, looked out on the auditorium of mostly white students in puffy coats and sweats as they silently squirmed at his question.
Did they literally squirm? If they did squirm, how would you know it was at a particular question, rather than at the banal restraint of another required session?
Why, he had asked, does Maria Sharapova, a white Russian tennis player, earn nearly twice as much in endorsements as Serena Williams, an African-American with a much better win-loss record?
“We like to think it’s all about merit,” said Dr. Brooks, a sociology professor at the University of Missouri, speaking in the casual cadence of his days as a nightclub D.J. “It’s sport. Simply, the best should earn the most money.”
It depends on what the meaning of “it” is. We’re comparing money made not in the playing of tennis but in the endorsing of products. What does it mean to be better at endorsing a product? But the students have no motivation to needle Dr. Brooks. They can see what they are expected to do, the coercion and pressure. They know they’re supposed to say: It must be racist.
Maybe tennis is not as popular here as overseas, one student offered. Dr. Brooks countered: Ms. Williams is a global figure. As the room fell silent, the elephant settled in. Most sat still, eyes transfixed on the stage. None of the participants — roughly 70 students new to the University of Missouri — dared to offer the reason for the disparity that seemed most obvious. Race.
Why is it daring to say what it’s obvious the teacher wants you to say? The class was imposed on the students. They’re required to sit through it. What might be daring would be to push the teacher back with the kind of statements that have been upvoted in the NYT comments section: “Sharapova looks like a Victorias secret model while Williams looks more like a NCAA football linebacker and that has NOTHING whatsoever to do with race, so don’t make it about race” or “However, Serena IS muscular and she is not built with the long-legged model body of Maria. It’s a fact that most women would prefer to be tall and thin. It’s not a racist fact, it’s simply a fact.” It would be daring to say that from the classroom (as opposed to the comments section), because you’d risk becoming the lesson, as the teacher uses his superior power and experience to demonstrate why what you just said really is racist, including the part where you engaged in denial that it was racist.
The article continues:
The new frontier in the university’s eternal struggle with race starts here, with blunt conversations that seek to bridge a stark campus divide.
But it’s not a conversation. It’s a leader with a lesson in front of a group that did not choose to engage over this topic