Destiny Salter, Princeton, the N-Word and How Safe Spaces Are the Death of Liberal Arts

You can’t have a site dedicated to the premise that an increasing number of  Americans are too infantile to handle adult conversations and not cover the curious case of Destiny Salter. Salter is the Princeton student who walked out of her college class and into the arms of reporters after her college professors used the word “nigger” in class repeatedly. That the class is entitled  “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy and Pornography” and explores the outer limits of First Amendment protections is beside the point. Or precisely the point if you’re interested in facts versus cheap opportunities for outrage. Our nation is currently divided fifty-fifty on this proposition; it’s unsafe to assume you know somebody’s preference. Destiny Salter excluded, obviously, she’s made her designation well known.

By way of background, AOL news insists Salter identifies as black. Which only sounds weird because the last person to make the very same claim was Rachel Dolezal, the defrocked NAACP regional chapter President who turned out to be a white woman from Idaho. If given the choice to identify yourself in only one word, consider “smart”, “kind”, or “giving” as more noble options. I’m guessing MLK, Jr. did not identify as black.

It’s worth facing the gut reaction that comes with the use of racial and ethnic slurs head on. Nigger is a charge word that carries a legacy of hate-filled context. As does mick, kike, spic, sandnigger, towelhead, gook, wetback, polack, wop, and a bunch of other vile bits of ignorance uttered in anger across this nation daily by somebody somewhere. Though nigger and slurs against African-Americans have produced the most destruction and subjugation in this nation through the years. Slavery and the aftermath of intense and widespread racism were something simply not experienced in the U.S. by other minorities, as plagued as they may have been in other manners by a teenaged Mark Wahlberg in Boston.

Lawrence Rosen is a legal anthropologist, a title so obscure it must be held safe on a college campus.

The most liberal of Liberal Arts classes at Princeton, the Hate Speech class is taught by renown professor, Lawrence Rosen. Consider him a hippy holdover from the 60’s. He’s been at Princeton since before you were born begging young people to smoke the wampum and open their minds. These guys make their bones by publishing books and being controversial. So consider some of his n-bomb droppings in his legal limits of Free Speech class to be clearly intended for promotional value. While at the same time, there’s no denying that trying to make your students feel incredibly uncomfortable in class is a core lesson the old man’s trying to convey about Hate Speech.

According to Salter, on the very first day of class, Professor Rosen confronted the class with the  proposition that speech is often more violent than physical confrontation with the example:

“Which is more provocative: A white man walks up to a black man and punches him in the nose, or a white man walks up to a black man and calls him a nigger?”

I actually wrote the word out. The news journalists are too frightened to share the word in a story about the word. Go figure what happened to intellectual honesty. It’s certainly not alive in the heart of Destiny Salter who took note of how uncomfortable she and a few other minority students were in the classroom with Rosen’s spoken slur. Sure you’ve never heard it uttered aloud in the context of a learning environment. That’s why you’re at Princeton. New experiences. New ideas. New arguments to agree or refute. Though that’s not why Salter’s at Princeton, as she noted:

“I did not come to this school to hear my professor spout the N-word in class. Period.”

Though he’s known for dropping racial and ethnic slurs in his class for many years now to intentionally make students feel uncomfortable. Or to feel something other than every other adult in their life has attempted to make them feel in their cocoon of safe spaces in the 18 years prior to their arrival on a college campus purportedly there to encourage thought.

Salter conceded that the Trump Presidency has made she and her fellow identified as black students feel more sensitive about racial slurs, because that’s a solid thing to say in a college environment if you’re looking to score points for otherwise looking intolerant and unable to discuss painful or ugly ideas in our world in a manner consistent with factual learning.

Albert Einstein famously taught at Princeton. Did he realize the potential for emotional hurt over his Theory of Relativity? (credit: Kean College, YouTube)

There’s no doubt that black students feel the sting of “nigger” in that classroom more than the vast majority of non-black students in the class. The Jews probably the same when the same professor starts uttering anti-Semitic slurs as he does each semester for the same purpose. If this were math class or Women’s Studies, you might have some prima facie evidence of intent to injure. Though in a class designed to explore Hate Speech, you have to anticipate Hate Speech. You’d think? Salter claims saying “n-word” would be more appropriate and less offensive. So she’s entirely missing the point of the class, an emptiness to her understanding which wasn’t improved by her marching out to complain and quit.

Princeton is obviously no janky local state college subject to the whim of politicized overloads and administrations. It’s one of the nation’s leading private universities with hundreds of years of history of building bright and open minds. Like most collegiate institutions, it leans heavily toward progressive politics in its day to day guise. And like most collegiate institutions of late, it’s worst fear is being labeled politically incorrect, intolerant, or racist. The school is actively bending to numerous groups seeing to wipe oppression in all its many and often completely undetectable forms from the university grounds. It’s also promoting and encouraging black history projects such as the Princeton & Slavery video documentary series featuring the very same, Destiny Salter.

Yet on this specific Hate Speech class matter, the department and the school sided with the professor. Perhaps the last feeble finger in the dike holding back the inevitable onslaught of the supremacy of feelings, esteem and emotional comfort in an environment designed to challenge blind majority thinking.

It’s easy to pretend these people-for-a-perfect-world so consumed by the desire to never offend another living soul represent a minority of dunces viewpoint across the land. It’s less easy to accept that they dominate the entertainment media, academia, the bulk of the widely distributed press both traditional and digital. In short, the persons with the greatest cultural force multipliers in our land. Some blogger on HuffPo pens a piece on victimization completely unchallenged and it’s supported, liked, promoted and picked up across million of monitors across the country within hours. In contrast, some shmoe attempts to write a meaningful defense of presenting evidence, assessing positions, and mature debate and it’s an uphill battle to spread it beyond your adoring five fans. I speak from experience. Like, right now.

Destiny Salter, Princeton Class of 2020.

We live in a society where a growing number of VIPs and gatekeepers would rather squelch the truth that even dare say its name. This ranges from the silly and emasculating episodes of the Prime Minister of Canada to downright end of Free and balanced speech in leading papers and news outlets. Even the social media companies so dominating the current public square are designating more and more influence to small number of the offended and uncomfortable. This used to be twenty women in bonnets in Nebraska writing letters to Procter & Gamble to keep gay characters off network television. Now it’s bloggers desperate to put a victim context to every uncomfortable speech moment in order to clicks and likes and feed into trending hashtags. So, the same as those ladies in Nebraska, only for a different small-minded cause.

We’re not doomed. Not yet. Destiny Salter is but one horseman, err, horse-person, of the apocalypse. A college student probably fairly well equipped for intellectual rigor and debate, but told by every body in her sphere how that concept is trumped by feelings of hurt. The book burners have changed sides, but trust that they have the precisely same outlook on who ought control the world.

Photo credit: Facebook / Princeton