McCarthyism reincarnated at Skidmore: Ancient American Traditions

Posted by Brian Connor

The 1950s was a frightening time in American history. The Soviets had recently acquired the atom bomb and what was thought of as a global communist conspiracy for world domination was thought to have infiltrated the United States. A climate of fear engulfed American society, reason was abandoned and the word "Communist" evolved into a generic term for evil, shedding all the political and philosophical nuances that Communism entails. These were the circumstances that allowed Joseph McCarthy to rise to power.

Skidmore has an unhealthy fear of racism. Back at school in Brooklyn, when the odd swastika or racial slur was found drawn or written here and there, it was disposed of, not even briefly legitimized by discussion, given no more thought than excrement waiting to be flushed. When I got to Skidmore, and our entire dorm was gathered to discuss a "bias incident," I was introduced to a system that treats every offensive doodle as a profound social phenomenon indicative of deep-seated "biases."

Racism, and all other forms of bias, have become to Skidmore what Communism was to 1950s America: a grave concern, of course, but also an obsession that borders on mania. There is an enormous specter that Skidmore believes is looming right over North Broadway, threatening to encroach at any time, to sweep in and shatter its dream of harmonious diversity. And now, from this atmosphere of fear, a movement has begun which has abandoned reason in favor of ideological conformity, taking a form that eerily resembles McCarthyism.

McCarthyism at the College

In the aftermath of the Compton's incident, the lines of ideological conflict were drawn. Supporters of the allegedly criminal students were quick to demand total allegiance to the cause of absolving the students of guilt. Yet there remained a silent majority of students and faculty, myself included, who, though fully aware of and disgusted by the obvious signs of institutionalized racism, were not willing to throw caution to the wind and condone violence.

As I attempted to convey in my column, "Quiet the commentators," (which was an inappropriately authoritarian title thought up by one of my editors) the incident was much more complicated than the diametrically opposed narratives offered by the two emerging camps. I pleaded for the bickering between town and gown commentators to cease, I urged the community to abandon ideological warfare and embrace reason and tempered analysis. I also mentioned Danny Pforte in passing.

The very next week, Danny's entire column was addressed to me! Somehow he had misconstrued my words to suggest that I was advocating apathy, and rebuked everything I'd written.

To what did I owe the honor of having an entire article addressed solely to me? It was because I offered a perspective that demonstrated a slightly different understanding of the situation, and I questioned the approach that commentators such as Danny were taking. Apparently, I had broken party line. I was disturbed by the us-and-them mentality that I saw emerging at that moment.

I felt no need to respond—to engage in polemics over the barely coherent argument Danny posed to me would constitute hypocrisy given the fact that I had, a week earlier, criticized this approach to the issue. I watched the situation develop with distanced curiosity, ever open-minded and never quick to dismiss others and their opinions before reflecting on the worth of my own. I can now, however, say with confidence that Danny's writing is detrimental to our community and its discourse, and that many of his critics are completely justified in their infuriation.

Each week Danny has written slightly different versions of the same column and each has garnered the same vitriolic responses on The Skidmore News commenting boards. Danny has taken the exceptionally vicious comments and cited them as evidence of oppression and discrimination.

In some cases students may actually be racist or unwilling to accept the reality of their white privilege. But in most cases, at least in mine, people do not want to be pidgeon-holed and generalized, their myriad experiences and realities reduced to one monolithic "white majority." Offense to these articles is even more justified, when the majority of students are characterized as wealthy white oppressors.

Skidmore has long been stereotyped, had generalizations thrust upon it by outside entities. The 420 media escapade two years ago reminded us of our susceptibility to this. But, never before, at least not in my time at Skidmore, has one of our own made such malicious generalizations about the student body.

I couldn't have imagined up until now that we would ever be generalized as rich, white, able-bodied perpetrators of discrimination and oppression. Danny wrote that Skidmore has a "conservative student body." This certainly is a radical suggestion, though it is also highly dubitable, and, in my opinion, patently false.

Danny's articles have in no way contributed to campus dialogue. Danny had the opportunity to bring the community together to discuss ways in which we can improve the social atmosphere at Skidmore, which many, as Danny has repeatedly stated, have testified is unwelcoming. This is a cause that, as members of this community whose comfort here is inextricably intertwined with our peers', is dear to nearly all of us (I can't speak for the students who draw swastikas and other "biased" words and symbols around campus or just generally project ignorance).

All Danny has done, however, is inspire resentment from many students, whom he has been continually disparaging and marginalizing through his highly polemical columns each week. We need to be brought together, but instead we are being torn apart, lines are being drawn, and blame is being recklessly cast in a situation that has descended into near McCarthyism.

When one student anonymously posted a veiled threat to Danny on one of his articles, Acting President Susan Kress issued a statement, and The Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work wrote a letter to The Skidmore News, defending Danny and condemning the paper for its anonymous commenting policy, and commenters for their incivility.

The Department of Sociology framed the issue as "A question of Skidmore identity." What the letter essentially boils down to is the question, "are you with us or against us? Are you for what's right or what's wrong?" This letter displays a frightening demand for ideological purity, a demand for rigidity of thought.

The Sociology faculty gave us two options of who we, members of the Skidmore community, can be, of where we can stand. We can either be, "individually and collectively, open-minded and capable of addressing questions that make us uncomfortable." Or, we can "shutter our minds, our classrooms, and our institution from the challenging questions concerning race, class, gender, and other points of difference among us."

The letter concludes that The Skidmore News currently practices the latter and asks readers if they will "call out those who privately embrace intolerance." To criticize a publication's online commenting policy is one thing. But to suggest that its editors "privately embrace intolerance" is another, frighteningly McCarthyistic, thing all together. The faculty even deigned to equate allowing anonymous commenting with supporting "terrorism," the 21st century's version of "communism," a catch-all term for evil.

It is now open-season for racists at Skidmore, for calling out "shutter-minded" lovers of ignorance, and apparently no individual or organization is immune to those charges. The comment boards now indicate that our Student Government Association is being accused of racism. Teshika wrote, "SGA: you are completely perpetuating the system of white power."

And Danny, our own Joseph McCarthy, has free reign, with full administrative and faculty support, to spearhead these outrageous charges, to use extremely isolated incidences of racism to draw broad conclusions about his fellow students and their organizations, implicating anyone and anything he likes as perpetuating racism and oppression. Have you no decency, Danny? Have you no shame?

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