A group of anti-abortion activists were protesting on the campus of a Californian university, with signs that included pictures of dead foetuses. Now, I do not think that adults have a right to be protected from images of abortions, slaughterhouses, research labs and other sites of unpleasant activities that they deem permissible. Others might disagree. That could be discussed. One professor, though, did not discuss it. She stole one of the signs and marched off, screaming, “I may be a thief but you’re a terrorist!” When the activists tried to confront her she pushed and, it’s said, scratched them. They are pressing charges.
The professor teaches gender studies, and two other such academics have defended her on The Feminist Wire. Their piece is a textbook example of the obscurantism that cultural studies can be infamous for. Dry, prolix and crammed with references it is nonetheless founded on a blatant mistruth: that the professor is the innocent victim of racial injustice. See, the activists are white and the professor is not. To these authors, then, the portrayal of the former represents “the fetishization of a pure white femininity” while the latter has been “constructed pejoratively through tropes of racialized criminality and violence”. Their problem is that they have no evidence of ethnicity being the focus of attention. The professor has been accused of crime, because theft is a crime, and violence, because shoving someone is violent, and it is no sin to give an accurate description of the facts.
Our authors attempt to sidle around the truth with a mess of verbiage. The professor was, they state, “challenging anti-abortion violence” and an “anti-feminist and white supremacist barrage”. What this means is that she stole a sign that displayed photos of aborted foetuses. One is entitled to regard such materials as “violent” and “white supremacist” but no one should feel obliged to take such idiosyncratic definitions seriously. (This linguistic flexibility is a feature of the essay. Elsewhere, there is a dark reference to the “neo-conservative media”. Do they know what neoconservative means?) The professor’s act was “criminal”, they continue, inasmuch as ““criminality” has already been hegemonically defined: as any challenge to the protection of property, whiteness, and hierarchal regimes of race, sexuality, gender, and capitalism”. I assume this means that they think stealing from and pushing activists for causes they dislike should be allowed. Fair enough, but they cannot expect other people to agree.
Ask yourself this: if the anti-abortion group’s Latino-American director of campus outreach was stolen from and shoved by a white academic, would Conservatives respond? I think so. The hundreds of words that the authors devote to “radical critique”, as well as hundreds of thousands of others produced by theorists with similar views, evoke a bizarre freedom of inference, in which such authors interpret acts and words according to their ideological preconceptions without the slightest care for whether this reflects the truth; forming worlds that bear resemblances to our own while being strange and superficial on inspection. These are standards they promote to growing minds. This is sad.