On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech before 250,000 civil rights supporters. It would go on to reverberate through the nation, reaching millions more, and through history, inspiring generations and forever changing the course of culture. But how can sixteen minutes of human speech have the power to move millions and steer history?
Duarte notes the Dr. King spoke in short bursts more reminiscent of poetry than of long-winded lecture-speak and highlights his most powerful rhetorical devices — repetition, metaphors, visual words, references to political documents, citations from sacred texts and spiritual songs — in a fascinating visualization of the speech, demonstrating how it embodies the core principles of her book.
Metaphors are a powerful literary device. In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, about 20% of what he said was metaphorical. For example, he likened his lack of freedom to a bad check that America has given the Negro people … a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” King introduced his metaphor three minutes into his 16-minute talk, and it was the first time the audience roared and clapped.
At the Republican National Convention, Senator Lindsey Graham noted the shifting national demographics and commented, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”1
Graham said this at the 2012 convention.
Hundreds of pieces will be published as a postmortem on those Americans, particularly evangelicals, who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Robert P. Jones has recently referred to them as “nostalgia voters . . . culturally and economically disaffected voters that are anxious to hold on to a white conservative Christian culture that’s passing from the scene.”
Rod Dreher says this bloc holds the paradoxical view that the future is rightfully theirs and that the space for them in the United States is shrinking. This “dispossession,” as Dreher calls it, is “psychologically traumatic to certain whites who expected the world to work in a different way—a way that favored them.”2 Trump and his ilk offer a temporary balm to the damaged psyche of the dispossessed by making them feel good about who they are (i.e., real Americans) and what they could be (i.e., great again), all of which is tied directly to who they are not (i.e., immigrants, Muslims, etc.).
Marquez Ball further complicates things by suggesting that the term evangelical evokes racist undertones, saying, “Very few African American Christians would consider themselves to be evangelical, because for many the term often implies a white racist. . . . The 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump is challenging white evangelicals to prove that evangelical is not a code word for ‘white racist.’” As Michael Horton says, “many who call themselves evangelicals today find their ultimate loyalty in preserving or regaining a lost socio-political and cultural, perhaps even racial, hegemony.”3 Both Ball and Horton identify the significant baggage of the term evangelical, now reinforced by those who support Trump’s candidacy, which is simply an undercurrent of what evangelicalism has always been in America. If white evangelicals wish to be reconciled with people of color, then they should confess precisely how they have been possessed by something other than the faith they proclaim, irrespective of the repercussions that will befall the penitent and their structures of power.
An exchange between one professor and one student at Suffolk University has set off a nationwide online discussion over the assumptions faculty members may bring to interactions with minority students.
The student, Tiffany Martínez, shared her story in a blog post — “Academia, Love Me Back” (below)– that went viral on Friday. In the post, she described how a professor (whom she did not name) was handing back papers (in this case a literature review) and told her that “this is not your language.” At the top of the paper, the professor asked her to indicate where she had used “cut and paste.” And in an example of language that the instructor assumed could not have come from Martínez, the instructor circled the word “hence” and wrote, “This is not your word,” with “not” underlined twice.
Martínez wrote that she had not used anyone else’s words, but that she felt humiliated and filled with self-doubt by the professor’s reaction, which Martínez attributed to stereotypes about the words a Latina student would use.
The professor’s “blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to ‘cut and paste.’ I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them,” Martínez wrote.
Added Martínez: “I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a Ph.D. but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase ‘this is not your word,’ I look down at a blue-inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: ‘needs work.’ And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. Academia needs work.”
My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber.
I name these accomplishments because I understand the vitality of credentials in a society where people like me are not set up to succeed. My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student.
Today is different. At eight o’clock this morning, I felt both disrespected and invalidated…
The status of victim has been weaponized at campuses across the nation, but there is at least one encouraging sign.
By Roger Kimball
For more than a week now, the country has been mesmerized, and appalled, by the news emanating from academia. At Yale the insanity began over Halloween costumes. Erika Christakis, associate master of a residential college at Yale, courted outrage by announcing that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society” and it was not her business to police Halloween costumes.
To people unindoctrinated by the sensitivity training that is de rigueur on most campuses today, these sentiments might seem unobjectionable. But to the delicate creatures at Yale’s Silliman College they were an intolerable provocation. What if students dressed as American Indians or Mexican mariachi musicians? Angry, hysterical students confronted Nicholas Christakis, Erika’s husband and the master of Silliman, screaming obscenities and demanding that he step down because he had failed to create “a place of comfort, a home” for students. The episode was captured on video and went viral.
At the University of Missouri, Jonathan Butler, the son of a wealthy railroad executive (2014 compensation: $8.4 million), went on a hunger strike to protest what he called “revolting” acts of racism at Mizzou. Details were scanty. Nevertheless, black members of the university football team threatened to strike for the rest of the season unless Tim Wolfe, Mizzou’s president, stepped down. A day or two later, he did.
I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.
This past week, the news media has energetically discussed student unrest at Yale and at the University of Missouri, where students are protesting administrative insensitivity or inaction in the face of troubled racial climates. At Mizzou, in particular, student activists have demanded safe space. A student journalist, Tim Tai, was denied access to the protesters’ tent city in a public area of the campus. The protesters didn’t want to be photographed or interviewed, possibly not trusting journalists to tell their story accurately.
The next day, they rightly changed their stance, opened their space to the media, and a debate on free speech and safe spaces found new life. Quickly, the student protesters were accused of not tolerating free speech in regard not only to Mr. Tai, but also to those who use racial epithets and otherwise engage in hate speech. They were accused of being weak, of being whiny for having the audacity to expect to attend college without being harassed for their blackness.
As a writer, I believe the First Amendment is sacred. The freedom of speech, however, does not guarantee freedom from consequence. You can speak your mind, but you can also be shunned. You can be criticized. You can be ignored or ridiculed. You can lose your job. The freedom of speech does not exist in a vacuum.
More fundamentally, though, the protests are a result of longer-term frustration and anger over persistent shortcomings in the inclusiveness of the campus culture and of the daily interactions that enable students to feel fully accepted and embraced for who they are. Inclusiveness is an important value, but especially so on a highly residential campus and in a tight-knit campus community like that of Ithaca College.
In the wake of decisions by the president of the University of Missouri system and the chancellor of its Columbia campus to step down in the face of similar protests, many people wonder if such resignations will become a trend. At Ithaca College, as well, the focus of student protest has been on me as president, not because of anything prejudicial I have done but due to a belief that the campus climate is not what it should be and that the buck stops with the president.
It is impossible to know whether the current wave of campus activism will increase leadership turnover. So much depends on institution-specific circumstances such as the extent of board support for a given president and whether there are any hidden issues in play in addition to the public issues that engender the protests.
But it is highly likely that we have entered a new era of student activism focused on inclusivity and bias.
The protest movement that started at the University of Missouri at Columbia has outlasted the president of the University of Missouri System, who resigned on Monday. While Missouri had some unique factors, in particular a boycott started by the black members of the football team, campuses nationwide are seeing protests by students over racial tensions without the benefit of support from football teams. Some of the protests are expressions of solidarity with the black students at Missouri, but many go beyond that to talk about racial conditions on their own campuses, which many describe as poor.
The movement is showing up at large campuses and small, elite and not-so-elite institutions, campuses with strong histories of student activism and not. On some campuses the focus is on issues experienced by black students, while on others the discussion is about many minority groups. More protests are planned for this week.
As the weekend ended, students who had been staging a sit-in in the library at Amherst College, with a long list of demands, agreed to leave, despite not getting their demands met. At the University of Kansas, minority students are demanding the resignation of student government leaders who they say haven’t done enough for all students, and an alumnus has started a hunger strike on campus — all on a campus that last week held a lengthy open forum on race relations (right) with the university president, who on Friday issued a statement of support for minority students.
The protests are also provoking considerable backlash — with online threats appearing at many campuses. While the threats have led to several arrests, without indications that those posting the threats actually intended to carry them out, these actions have caused fear at many campuses.
The lines that divide the religious from the political have always been more porous than Thomas Jefferson’s imagined “wall of separation” between church and state. Black churches exist as simultaneously religious and political institutions, and that has made them targets.
On Monday I searched for a new home in Charleston alongside my wife and young daughter; in the fall I begin my first year teaching religious studies at the College of Charleston. On Wednesday I drafted my African American religions course syllabus, featuring a visit to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—a church affectionately known as “Mother Emanuel” for its centrality in the history of black Charleston and the South. On Thursday morning I awoke to news of immeasurable loss facing the Mother Emanuel and greater Charleston community.
In the immediate aftermath of tragedies on this scale, talk quickly turns to the senselessness of violence. President Obama expressed his “deep sorrow over the senseless murders” and noted that “there is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place a worship.” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley invoked similar terms in a statement that offered prayers for the “victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church.” She continued: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”
The harsh truth is that this act of terrorism was not senseless. The language of “senselessness” implies lack of logic or purpose. The true terror of Dylann Roof’s attack on Emanuel AME is the fact that it fits neatly into an ongoing, blood-soaked history of white violence against black women, men, and children in religious institutions. Roof reportedly told a survivor, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” Do not be mistaken. This attack embodied white supremacy at its most blunt and brutal. And it is neither inexplicable nor a coincidence that it happened in a “place of worship.”
We often imagine religious spaces as set apart from other spheres of life, which makes an attack on a church seem especially abhorrent. But the lines that divide the religious from the political have always been more porous than Thomas Jefferson’s imagined “wall of separation” between church and state. Black churches exist as simultaneously religious and political institutions, and that has made them targets….
Matthew J. Cressler, Ph.D., will be assistant professor of religious studies at the College of Charleston beginning in the fall. He specializes in black Catholic history and is currently at work on a book manuscript titled From Conversion to Revolution: The Rise of Black Catholic Chicago. Connect with him at matthewjcressler.com.