The founding principles of this country and this institution are based upon equality and the common good. Principles, however, are not upheld without dissent. On the national stage, the Civil Rights Movement, Roe v. Wade, and McCarthyism represent ages of social unrest and disunity, wherein certain identities were subjugated to the political goals of the majority. During these periods, rhetoric was weaponized to frame a specific population as the enemy and therefore undeserving of certain rights and privileges. At Colgate, those same struggles have played out to protest antisemitism, rape culture and anti-blackness, among others, often mirroring national political trends. Today the same is true. The modern political climate produces fear-mongering rhetoric on the far-right and the far-left, leading to dehumanizing speech that sows disunity and suspicion into society. This past Thursday, Colgate saw the effects of this kind of speech.
Heather Mac Donald’s speech was partially funded by the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, a campus non-student institution for “intellectual debate” (who also sponsored Alan Dershowitz’s appearance). However, the inflammatory, genocidal nature of Mac Donald’s speech produced not debate, but disaster. A simple search of Mac Donald’s professional work reveals her tendency to use genocidal language that pits minority groups against one another. If the goal was to stimulate bipartisan debate, a moderate conservative would have been exceptional. However, the rhetoric used by Mac Donald, widely considered to be the building block towards genocide, only alienated large student groups who have already felt victimized by recent racist incidents that have taken place on Colgate’s campus.
Mac Donald began by invoking Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois as justification for her views. The irony of invoking prominent black thinkers followed by the claim that POC students were less intellectually capable than their white counterparts was lost on very few. The bizarre nature of the comparison intensified after she claimed women too were not as capable as white men in STEM fields, relegating all but white (likely
socioeconomically privileged) men to an inherently subservient class of society. Such statements were met with protests from the crowd and representative banners, but as she continued to answer questions the environment only became more hostile.
She described rape culture as a myth constructed by the so-called “higher education rape industry” meant to create a “rape Holocaust” for economic gain. The implication here is twofold. She blatantly placed blame on the victim of sexual assault, invalidating the experience of many in the audience who have been assaulted themselves and continue to live with the trauma. She is not only invoking sexist political standpoints here. She is employing genocidal rhetoric that echoes past versions of antisemitism. By comparing rape culture to the Holocaust, she equates the heinous crime of rape with the systematic genocide of six million Jews and other assorted populations, while simultaneously stripping the perpetrators (of rape and genocide) of blame. The implication cannot be overstated and the trend was not unique. Mac Donald deliberately pitted Muslims and Jews against each other in her claim that one wouldn’t look for an Islamist in a synagogue, essentially using antisemitism as a justification for the racial profiling of people of color, particularly Muslims. It is this kind of rhetoric, that creates perceived threats from other identity groups, that allows societies to descend into climates of violent discrimination and polarization.
The intense response to MacDonald’s appearance was not one about party politics, but basic human rights. The rhetoric employed by political extremes can be weaponized to subjugate specific populations. It is important to understand that this is not about PC culture. The rhetoric of Mac Donald and her colleagues is scientifically shown to act as the foundation for genocidal actions. This is not just about politics. This is about recognizing that no one deserves to have the validity of their existence questioned.