Yes "Hate Crime" Is Unacceptable
Some weeks ago I suggested that "hate speech" and "hate crime" as legal categories usher in the concept of political crime-as un-American a proposition as there can be. Here follows "A Tale of Two Mr. Washingtons" to illustrate why hate ought not to be treated as a crime.
The first Mr. Washington, (George of cherry-tree fame) has had his name removed from an elementary school in New Orleans. That, as we shall see, could be characterized as a "hate crime" committed against past, present and future students of that school.
The second Mr. Washington (Linn Jr.) wrote a column, distributed on November 19th by Knight/Ridder Tribune Services. He recounts how, "during [his] freshman year at a mid-western university, an anthropology professor in her first lecture declared that black people have the remnants of monkey-like tails."
"The professor," Linn Washington Jr. writes, "matter-of-factly told the class that she would have ordered me to drop my pants to display my anthropoid anatomy, but she felt such a 'show-and-tail' might make some of the white-female students uncomfortable." And later: "I earned the top scores on both the midterm and the final, but the professor failed me in the course."
"The head of the anthropology department, a Kenyan," declined to act on young Linn's appeal to have the failing grade reversed, so as to avoid the appearance of "siding with me because we both were black."
Linn Washington Jr. teaches journalism at Temple University. I wrote to him asking for the names of the university, the offending professor, the Kenyan department head, and the title of the course.
After nearly three weeks a response arrived, but not before two follow-up e-mail messages, as well as requests for help made to the current head of his department, the managing editor of Knight-Ridder/Tribune, and The Progressive Media Project in Madison, Wisconsin, where the column originated.
Professor Washington did not provide any details. He wrote that the offending professor would be very old, the Kenyan department head's name he did not remember, and both the "Midwestern University" and his grade were "moot."
How moot are these points if they lay the foundation for statements intended very much for the present? "I got an F because a professor couldn't hide her racism," concludes Professor Washington. "Many of today's affirmative-action opponents cloak their racism behind the rhetoric of blacks being unable to compete academically. Now they are giving us F's even before we enroll."
(Opponents of affirmative action actually advocate that black students can and should compete.)
In any event, questions arise. Was a professor likely to teach outright anatomical nonsense? Can anyone receive an "F" after not one but two test scores of "100 percent"? And how did a head of department from Kenya work with a faculty member who showed a pathological aversion toward blacks?
According to current legislative initiatives, Professor Washington could soon find himself accused of hate speech directed at white Americans. Along with him, prosecutors would have to examine the complicity of "The Progressive Media Project" and of Knight-Ridder/Tribune in publishing hate-based information. They might have to question the trustees of Temple University who countenance hate-based instruction taking place under their roof.
Do we really want to see this wondrous land transformed into one in which prosecutors could do all of that?
America's best died on the battlefield for Linn Washington Jr.'s right to write. America's best died on the battlefield for our right to ask questions. They died to keep such discussions free from interference by the courts. They died to keep America free from the disease of political "crime."
Slowly but surely, the court of public opinion will render a verdict. Knight-Ridder/Tribune will no doubt apply additional caution. The students at Temple will be exposed to different views-so long as such views are not stifled by those who seek control of our vocabulary.
And what of the school board of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, which removed the name of "that great Virginia slaveholder, George Washington," to quote the wording of columnist Clarence Page? The tomatoes they hurled flew in the wrong direction. Greatness of the George Washington variety is not susceptible to passing fads. They branded innocent children henceforth to be known as the ones whose alma mater had declared the first president of our nation unworthy.
And, since the school board's action was prompted by hate, it, too, would have to face prosecution under the law now proposed by President Clinton and two members of the United States Senate.
In contemplating the future of the school, now renamed for Charles Drew, Clarence Page speculates: "Someday, who knows? The Charles Drew school could become the Benito Juarez School or the Roberto Clemente School or something else that honors the ancestry of whatever ethnic group happens to be gaining."
The practice of constantly renaming places and institutions was a creation of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. Unlike Mr. Page's notion that it results from changing the interpretation of history, it reflects the constant changes applied to the facts of history. That practice, too, was a creation of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich.
Both of them depended for survival on the persecution of political crime. America's survival depends on the unequivocal rejection of political crime.