Fair and Balanced Social Activism

I have read Sara del Nido ’08’s last two op-eds in the Dartmouth with growing dismay. Last week’s op-ed detailed the insufficient consciousness of class disparities at Dartmouth (“Our classless campus,” Nov. 1); this week’s bemoans the inadequacy of the fraternity system’s response to an ill-behaved pledge (“Speaking out, standing alone,” Nov. 7). Both, however, attempt to impose a repressive intellectual orthodoxy upon society, and to castigate those whom del Nido views as insufficiently reverent of diversity in one of its myriad manifestations. In her subtly totalitarian outlook, del Nido resembles many of the social activists whose positions she tacitly represents.

Last week’s op-ed used a “white trash” frat party as a springboard for a discussion of how Dartmouth students do not think enough about each other’s different socioeconomic backgrounds. Sara del Nido complains that, while we have already dissected ourselves by race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religious affiliation and more, we pay too little attention to whether or not we were raised poor.

Unfortunately, by turning people into bundles of oppression credentials in the name of “respecting diversity” and then attacking ferociously any time someone does not appear to have the proper reverence for those credentials, del Nido and those who share her worldview only foster discomfort, alienation, and the brittleness and hypersensitivity that del Nido evinces in her columns. More perversely, in attempting to win full recognition of the humanity of the traditionally oppressed — a lofty goal — her movement relies so heavily on labels that it actually loses the person behind them. People’s minority labels become more important than the people themselves, which, of course, is the very problem del Nido’s movement is attempting to combat. The result is dehumanization, not only of the oppressive majority (straight white males, who have not a label to their name, are cast as stereotyped ignorant oppressors unless they display the terrified reverence for minority status that del Nido’s movement is attempting to instill), but of the minorities for whom del Nido claims to speak.

Del Nido’s brutally ironic worldview is matched by her brutally ironic politics. When someone says or does something del Nido dislikes, she instinctually ascribes to that person a deep-seated prejudice, on the basis of which she attacks full force. This is why she thinks a frat pledge writing a crude and immature blitz justifies a long column in The Dartmouth: in her narrative, he was not just being incendiary, unthinking and idiotic; he was betraying a latent bigotry that del Nido arrogantly and unfairly presumes many people like him share. Having turned her target from an immature person into a symbol of widespread bigotry and oppression (the dehumanization mentioned above), she then calls for a public denunciation.

The ironies in del Nido’s position are profound and disturbing. She begins from supposedly egalitarian principles and ends up calling for punishment by an intellectual tyranny. She uses “respect” like a club. She uses the principle that people should not be ashamed of what they are to advocate publicly humiliating people for what she presumes them to be.

Unbeknownst to del Nido, there is a happy medium in social activism. We will reach that happy medium when we can accept each other’s differences without keeping them strenuously and paranoically in mind. No one should ever look down upon or insult another person based on things that person cannot change, but neither should it be our life’s work to prove our diversity-respecting credentials lest we be branded bigots.

A “white trash” frat party is based on a humorous and clearly ridiculous stereotype. It is not denigrating anybody but those who, like del Nido, are eager to feel denigrated. And while the fraternity brother Sara del Nido writes about in this week’s column is clearly immature and insensitive, the world is full of immature and insensitive people, with whom we all must put up. That del Nido should call for the Dartmouth community to publicly ostracize him evinces a tyrannical bent that is one of the most disturbing qualities of the movement she represents.

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