Jason Riley, a prominent black conservative, spoke at the College of the Holy Cross (my campus) earlier this week. The heart of his speech was an appeal to reduce the number of dead black people in America. He contested that cops aren't the primary problem within the African American community, arguing instead that homicide, perpetrated by people of all colors, disproportionately affects Blacks. In other words, if we care about black lives, then prosecuting crooked cops within crooked departments is important, but more important is an examination of the socio-economic and socio-cultural factors which cause high crime rates. He argued that the reconstruction of the black family, an emphasis on self-actualization, and a willingness to confront media portrayals were key to ending violent crime.
His talk was attended predominantly by student activists holding signs such as: “White Silence = Violence,” “A police badge is not license to kill,” and “I have seen more police execution videos than ISIS execution videos in the last year.” Most of these signs, of course, had almost nothing to do with the actual topic of his talk.
The problems began during the Q&A portion of his highly-researched, statistically-based talk. Some of the students asked very respectful and reasonable questions (“how do media portrayals affect Blacks, and shouldn’t the effects of the white media be taken seriously?” and “can we not place an emphasis on both police violence and non-police violence?” etc.). Some students attacked Mr. Riley for being married to a white woman, questioning whether or not he can or should identify as a black man, and making what bordered on anti-Semitic comments. One student even berated Mr. Riley and then left, claiming he didn’t have time to stay for the response.
Now, Mr. Riley is a black man whose experiences include growing up among other African Americans in the inner city. His experiences are just as valid as those of any other person of color. In fact, to silence him is to silence and marginalize a black voice, which is supposedly the very thing these protesters wanted to prevent.
I left the talk with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am happy that Mr. Riley was allowed to speak. I am happy that students were able to peacefully protest a speaker with whom they disagreed. But my happiness is undermined by the fact that the administration, some of whose top members were present, has done nothing to condemn the actions of those students (and faculty) who insulted Mr. Riley. Had he been any other speaker, had he been anything but a black conservative, I can't imagine heads not rolling.
The problem is the double standard existing within the administration. Student anger should equal student protest, not ad homines; dissatisfaction should be voiced in dialogue, not screamed over the speaker while he answers questions. I left Riley's talk feeling deeply dissatisfied, and believing that this school (like so many others) is not actually committed to justice or equality.
I may not agree with everything Mr. Riley said, but he did not deserve the treatment he received at the hands of some of my peers. No one does.