T Nation

White Sh*tbag...

Fascinating post by vroom’s favorite law professor, UCLA’s First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh, on a situation up at Washington State University.

The post is here: http://www.volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_12_17-2006_12_23.shtml#1166639678

The factual background, excerpted from the post (internal links omitted):

[i]The College Republicans organized an anti-illegal-immigration event, featuring a “24-foot, chain-link, cyclone fence, later established as a representation of a ‘Wall of Immigration.’” Professor John Streamas showed up, got into an argument with Dan Ryder, a College Republicans member, and in the process called him a “white shitbag.”

Ryder eventually filed a complaint alleging that Streamas subjected him to discriminatory harassment and intimidation, in violation of a university policy. The WSU report held that Prof. Streamas’s insult didn’t violate the policy, but noneteless condemned Prof. Streamas for “immature, intellectual unsophistiated and thoughtless conduct unbecoming any WSU employee and a member of the WSU faculty, in particular.” The university will apparently officially reprimand Prof. Streamas.[/i]

Now, I’m against speech codes generally – this particular code seems as bad as most, although this particular prosecution likely would fall under the “fighting words” exception of free speech in that it was a personally directed insult, and not a statement of general political belief that someone could find offensive. Given Professor Potty-Mouth would likely endorse speech codes generally, it seems he may be hoist by his own petard on this – though probably not with any lasting penalties.

More to chew on, from the WSU Center for Human Rights’ report on the incident:

http://volokh.com/files/ryder.pdf

The potty-mouthed Professor Steamas claims:

[i]Steamas claims:

that a person of color cannot be racist, by definition, because racism also defines a power differential that is not usually present when a person or color is speaking." [/i]

Professor Volokh’s thoughts on that claim, with which I entirely agree:

Yeah, right. He and others are redefining the term “racism” in a way that’s pretty far removed from its normal meaning – which is racial hostility – so as to give themselves a rhetorical break from the rules they’re imposing on others. And on top of that, he’s applying even his revised definition in a disingenuous way: Whatever may be “usually” so, there surely is a “power differential” between a professor of whatever race and a student of whatever race.

The guy is white and he’s a shitbag.

If he doesn’t want to be called a white shitbag, he can choose not to be white anymore, which is pretty hard to do. Or he can choose not to be a shitbag anymore.

Which, given his character, is probably even harder to achieve. But a couple of swift kicks in da nuts can remedy his condition pretty fast.

I don’t believe this post. These people have been calling others unpatriotic, spreading lies and innuendo.

Now they’re crying for mommy because bad people have been calling them names.

Are these the proud patriots that were going to make the world pay attention?

White shitbags. The lot of them.

The point is more a juxtaposition of Professor Potty-mouth’s tortured logic and the right of free speech than on your perception of the target’s character.

The College Republicans were engaging in political speech – Professor Potty-mouth wasn’t. Their speech is constitutionally protected – Professor Potty-mouth’s, in this instance, isn’t (fighting words exception). Yet this Prof is all about punishing/banning actual protected speech. And goes through some fairly convoluted logic as to why his “white shitbag” comment wasn’t racist and wouldn’t fall under the punishment/ban scheme he favors.

I disagree with most speech restrictions, and I don’t think Professor Potty-mouth deserves to be fired – but he does deserve to be put forth as a hypocrite. And the idea that political speech should be punished because some people find it offensive is a dangerous one.

Is anyone else disturbed that official university correspondence has phrases like “intellectual unsophistiated?” What the hell does “unsophistiated” mean?

If he had been called a “black shitbag”, people would care.

Hell, I don’t even care. Fuck white shitbags.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
Is anyone else disturbed that official university correspondence has phrases like “intellectual unsophistiated?” What the hell does “unsophistiated” mean?[/quote]

It means that the University feels the Professor should insult people using less vulgar terms. So instead of White Shit-bag, he should have stated “Person of less color in a bag-like container of excrement”.

So in other words, the University thinks it was ok for the Professor to insult the protestor, but just do it in a more sophisticated manner.

Other than the fact that Volokh is such a big fav of mine, it sounds like yet another case of much ado about nothing.

Unfortunately, what it really shows is that race is on the mind of everyone, which is a bigger problem than the incident and the tactics of those involved to describe actions.

Power differentials are important in such situations, but it’s not clear that every professor at a school has any type of direct power with respect to every student at the place. However, I wouldn’t want to take a class with said professor after being in such an altercation - nor would I want to be in his department if he was the head.

Regardless, the whole issue dissolves, yet again, into the particulars of language. While racism can certainly be practiced in any direction, it is difficult simply via language to use the term “white” to denigrate a person who happens to be white.

At the same time, in an environment that is non-white in the majority and where white people are in fact discriminated against, I think it would be much easer to both attach racial negatives to the word “white” and to potential inflict trauma on the recipient.

People are people, and if racism is a problem in one direction, if and when it is truly present it will have mostly the same impact in the other.

of course, before I’m attacked, I’d like to point out that there would be a continuum, such that perhaps a majority is not required or such that a racially divided or hostile environment is enough to attach real hatred to the phrase “white” or “black”.

Again, to reiterate, the fact that people are thinking about race so much (basically all the time) and that relations are so racially loaded is the real issue to think about.

Not these two pindicks and their boorish behavior. They could hate each other and insult each other, immigrants, and everyone else without pulling any race cards.

Somehow it seems the race card is always at the top of the deck though…

[quote]Lorisco wrote:
nephorm wrote:
Is anyone else disturbed that official university correspondence has phrases like “intellectual unsophistiated?” What the hell does “unsophistiated” mean?

It means that the University feels the Professor should insult people using less vulgar terms. So instead of White Shit-bag, he should have stated “Person of less color in a bag-like container of excrement”.

So in other words, the University thinks it was ok for the Professor to insult the protestor, but just do it in a more sophisticated manner.
[/quote]

“Unsophisti_ated” means all that?

[quote]vroom wrote:

Regardless, the whole issue dissolves, yet again, into the particulars of language. While racism can certainly be practiced in any direction, it is difficult simply via language to use the term “white” to denigrate a person who happens to be white.

[/quote]

I really don’t think it is as complicated as you make it out to be. The question is why he felt the need to attach “white” to “shit-bag” in the first place? What purpose does that serve? Is the guy a shit-bag? I don’t know–maybe; but what difference does his skin color make?

Unless, of course, he doesn’t like white people in general; in which case, calling someone “white” on top of “shit-bag” adds insult to injury. Are we to assume he didn’t mean to connote anything negative by “white?” Isn’t that racism?–regardless of demographics.

BTW, I don’t really give a shit if he’s racist or not, but the guy is a hypocrite.

It seems to point out the fact that Prof Potty Mouth couldn’t make a compelling argument for unfettered illegal immigration, so he resorted to an ad hominem attack.

[quote]LBRTRN wrote:
vroom wrote:

Regardless, the whole issue dissolves, yet again, into the particulars of language. While racism can certainly be practiced in any direction, it is difficult simply via language to use the term “white” to denigrate a person who happens to be white.

I really don’t think it is as complicated as you make it out to be. The question is why he felt the need to attach “white” to “shit-bag” in the first place? What purpose does that serve? Is the guy a shit-bag? I don’t know–maybe; but what difference does his skin color make?

Unless, of course, he doesn’t like white people in general; in which case, calling someone “white” on top of “shit-bag” adds insult to injury. Are we to assume he didn’t mean to connote anything negative by “white?” Isn’t that racism?–regardless of demographics.

BTW, I don’t really give a shit if he’s racist or not, but the guy is a hypocrite.[/quote]

I agree. I don’t give a shit if he’s racist or not, but he’s definetly a hipocrit.

[quote]vroom wrote:

Regardless, the whole issue dissolves, yet again, into the particulars of language. While racism can certainly be practiced in any direction, it is difficult simply via language to use the term “white” to denigrate a person who happens to be white.[/quote]

I dunno vroom – I think it’s just as clearly racist as if someone called an Asian a “yellow shitbag,” an American Indian a “red shitbag,” an Indian Indian a “brown shitbag” or an African American a “black shitbag.”

The addition of the modifier adds a racial invective to the otherwise racially neutral “shitbag,” which is a perfectly good insult by itself.

[quote]vroom wrote:

Somehow it seems the race card is always at the top of the deck though…[/quote]

That is indeed the problem.

[quote]futuredave wrote:
It seems to point out the fact that Prof Potty Mouth couldn’t make a compelling argument for unfettered illegal immigration, so he resorted to an ad hominem attack.

[/quote]

The combination of that and the grossly inadequate logic of his arguments relating to why his insult couldn’t be racism begs the question as to what the hell is wrong with higher education when people like that are professors?

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:

I dunno vroom – I think it’s just as clearly racist as if someone called an Asian a “yellow shitbag,” an American Indian a “red shitbag,” an Indian Indian a “brown shitbag” or an African American a “black shitbag.”[/quote]

Insulting a gay man by calling him a “flaming shitbag”?

Sigh, I’m operating without enough sleep, so I see on rereading that I wasn’t very clear.

Anyway, I’m not saying the guy isn’t racist. I am trying to point out the issues involved generally with respect to using “white” as a modifier.

It’s “the same”, yet “different”.

People use modifiers all the time, such as a current thread about a fat lady calling someone an asshole. Why is it important that she was fat? Does this imply an anti-fat bias? Should it matter? Which biases are okay?

In the case of “white shitbag”, it’s not exactly clear what the modifier “white” is being used to imply. Perhaps it was used to voice a hatred of white people. Perhaps it was used to voice the feeling that the protestor was perceived to feel he was better than non-whites and immigrants.

Perhaps the protestor also said something racially delineated but we haven’t read that part of the story.

Heh, like it or not I’m just trying to say that these things aren’t always “black and white”, though we may like to box them up into a simple package of that nature.

Sigh again, lol.

Okay, I have no idea what was or wasn’t in the guys mind, but here’s the thing…

When a white guy is denied a job interview, or a job, because he’s white, then he has something to be upset about.

When a white guy gets pulled over while driving a nice car, well, because he’s white and driving a nice car, then he has something to be upset about.

What we have right now is a case of a black person saying something that implies an underlying racism towards a white person. So, we have a bunch of ignorant white people pointing there fingers at the issue like it’s a big deal… in fact, writing whole columns about it and starting threads to highlight the issue.

Am I racist for saying “ignorant white people” now?

Where’s the real issue here? Should the guy be fired for his verbal outburst? Has he done anything towards students that discriminated due to racial issues? Was the reprimand not appropriate for the transgression?

Why is this incident worthy of discussion in the first place? Perhaps because a professor exercised poor judgment? News flash, that happens all the time… and race often has nothing to do with it.

Maybe the next article on Volokh can be about an old black professor sleeping with a young white student or something juicy? Who cares! The focus on this issue is as bad as the fact the guy used “white” in calling the student a shitbag.

Ah well, I’m pretty sure I’m talking to myself on this one… carry on ignorant white guys, spread the gospel.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Anyway, I’m not saying the guy isn’t racist. I am trying to point out the issues involved generally with respect to using “white” as a modifier.

In the case of “white shitbag”, it’s not exactly clear what the modifier “white” is being used to imply. [/quote]

If he had used the modifier “saltine-assed, motherfucking cracker-assed cracker,” then would it have been clear what he was trying to imply?

It’s a good thing that Mr. Ryder did not in return refer to the professor as “articulate” or “eloquent”, or the shit would really have hit the fan.

Now this is a white shitbag.

Finally, I would like to venture a step off topic here to commend Boston on his use of the phrase “hoist by his own petard.”

One so seldom comes across this expression these days, particularly on T-Nation.

[quote]Varqanir wrote:
vroom wrote:
In the case of “white shitbag”, it’s not exactly clear what the modifier “white” is being used to imply. Perhaps it was used to voice a hatred of white people. Perhaps it was used to voice the feeling that the protestor was perceived to feel he was better than non-whites and immigrants.

If he had called him a “saltine-assed, motherfucking cracker-assed cracker shitbag,” then would it have been racist?[/quote]

Don’t you understand that the term “racist” was created to stop white people from discriminating against blacks? It has no power at all over black people who want to discriminate against whites. Or, any societal discrimination against white people.

White people just have to suck it up man…

Either that or move back to Europe. Elect Obama as President and it will get even worse.