Statistics compiled by the Justice Department show hate crimes in this country are on the rise. Here in Hawai‘i, some faculty members at UH Mānoa are experiencing bias, threats, and a deterioration of classroom civility. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.
On this Martin Luther King Day weekend, events begin Friday, January 12, 2018 and include a celebration with gospel, poetry and dance at Chaminade University on Sunday, 1/14. The annual parade begins at Magic Island at 9 Monday morning and ends at the Unity Rally in Kapi‘olani Park.
Jairus Grove is director of the Hawai‘i Research Center for Futures Studies and Associate Professor of International Relations at UH Mānoa. He doesn’t like to name groups involved, claiming they thrive on attention, but says they’re national and international.
Grove: We are actually seeing organized hate groups which are establishing themselves on campus. Not for the first time, but in a way that is much more aggressive and for which there is overt recruitment of the student body. With one of the groups in question for which we actually intercepted a number of death threats including the posting of faculty home addresses, office information, on hate websites.
Grove: We started to put pieces together. We’re finding swastikas that are spray painted on things here at UH. Reports of students being targeted with swastikas off campus. These kinds of things are starting to bubble up to the surface, we didn’t think they were connected but they actually quite are.
Earlier this week, HPR reported on a stair well at the UH Mānoa art department that is being repainted after a swastika was found there.
Grove: It’s happening in an environment where hostile, often aggressive speech is becoming vastly more common in the classroom. We’re seeing more students being disruptive in the classroom, asking purposely offensive questions about the inferiority of minorities, about needing to kill all Muslims, can we really trust any of them? We’re hearing more hateful speech in the classroom.
University of Hawai‘i spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl says he knows of only one hate incident on the Mānoa campus and a Campus Climate Committee has been formed to support diverse and inclusive dialogue.
Grove: What was surprising was finding out that many of these complaints we were hearing from faculty about students were not the same students who are the members of these hate groups. There’s some overlap but it’s not full overlap. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been talking to more faculty members and have had more faculty speaking to me, there’s a real pattern. The faculty that are being targeted by the hate group and the faculty who are facing more disruptions are pretty uniformly women faculty, they tend to be women of color overwhelmingly. The one male faculty member who has had this as a recurrent problem also happens to be Jewish. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. There also seems to be this normalization of discussing racism as if it’s another legitimate position politically, as being a libertarian, or a liberal or a conservative. As if racism was just this rational, debatable option.
Based on what?
Grove: On nothing, on just wanting to voice how angry you are that you feel silenced or your position isn’t taken seriously or you’ve been ignored.
Grove: There’s a right wing fascist philosopher who was influential on Steve Bannon during the campaign, his pen name is Mendicius Moldbug. He had a website called the Red Pill, a reference to the movie, The Matrix. (The red pill allows Neo to see the truth behind everything.) He (Moldbug) sold his philosophy as the Red Pill. His red pill was that everything was controlled by what he called the Cathedral: basically liberal elites, the media, and universities.
Grove: They really see the universities as this constricting influence on public debate because we’ve made things impossible to say through the violence of political correctness so they can’t talk about these really important ideas. Their duty is to bring these important ideas back. So you ask what these important ideas are and they’re like, that black people are prone to violence, that women actually are physically inferior, that traditional families where men are dominant of their wives are happier families. You’re like, Oh, the same retrograde ideas that have been disproved through rigorous research, and they’re convinced all the research is fabricated or that there is no basis for egalitarianism.
Grove: One of the contradictions of free speech in some ways is that we kind of think that all speech should be equal, but the reality is it can’t be. Speech that directly threatens people, that says we should have a political institution that murders people, those ideas do not have the same character and quality to being civic and being civil that ideas like including everyone irrespective of race, color, creed, religion.
Grove: We’re in a position where it was easy to say we’ll let all speech go, because we lived in a nice quiet liberal society., now we’re in a place where it’s going to be more and more important Americans use not just this universal rule, but political judgment. Is this a good politics? Should this politics thrive? And I think the answer to this right wing violence is no, it shouldn’t thrive, it should feel ashamed.
Grove: I think that as academics, as activists, as citizens, we shouldn’t think that shaming people for immoral behavior and action is the same as the state restricting what can be said. We’ve tried to make some false equivalents there, that if we’re critical of the right we’re silencing them. If we have this overly broad interpretation of free speech that says everyone has a right to their opinion, then you take away the expertise, the years of training to say, No, no one has the right to an opinion in a classroom. You have the right to an argument, but an argument requires a clear claim, it requires a warrant or logic for that claim, and it requires evidence of some kind to back that up. If it doesn’t have all three of those three components, we can’t debate about it.
Grove says he is in futures studies because history should not dictate our future, it offers an understanding of privilege that can be applied to action.
Grove: That’s also what education is for. Education is to learn uncomfortable histories, to take responsibility for where we came from, to suffer through and find a way to take ownership of history rather than to disavow it.
Grove: It’s not surprising then that some people are going to feel a little depressed when they first find out their great great great grandfather who they have a picture of serving in the Union army so they thought of him as quite a hero because he defeated the South, went on to hunt down people who were Lakota Sioux.
How do people make peace with that ultimately?
Grove: We make peace with the fact that history isn’t fate. History is just where we start, it’s not where we end up. part of the reason I’m in futures is I think it’s important that history not be in any way a constraint on how much we can accomplish in the not-yet. I bear the responsibility of that history, but I’m not constrained by that history. It means I can understand the privileges I gained from that history and I can do something valuable, constructive, productive, and more importantly in many cases, it means I can listen to the voices of people who survived those things. I think I bear a responsibility as someone who’s been quite advantaged by a history slavery by a history of genocide to just understand and know where that history came from.
Groves says wrestling with social complexity informs the ethical foundation for any profession.
Grove: I think that’s what makes us better people. That’s what liberal arts education is about, it’s about having to wrestle with all those complexities. If we go off to be engineers, if we go off to be people in the tech world, when were faced as an engineer with making a new weapon or we’re faced as an engineer with whether we should have public transportation or self-driving cars, or if we’re in the tech world and we want to ask questions about whether we just designed a new app that makes surveillance easier on groups that are already targeted, we might stop for a second and think about the kind of ethical questions behind the technological and scientific work we do.
Grove: I want to hold onto those things, I want those uncomfortable conversations. We want people to be able to present uncomfortable ideas, we want people to be able to be disruptive when we’re being silent about the wrong things, being silent about slavery was a wrong thing. But the content of those ideas actually matters.
Grove: We have to defend democracy again. We can’t take it for granted we all believe in democracy. I think we have to build it again. It’s a responsibility and every generation has to repeat that responsibility or it disappears.
Martin Luther King said "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
According to some, that time is now.