On Tuesday morning, I joined Mashable's Juana Summers, Slate's Jamelle Bouie, and The Atlantic's Krishnadev Calamur on NPR's Diane Rehm show for a discussion about what's happening at the University of Missouri. You can listen here.
I opined that while students were certainly free to publicize genuine instances of racial animus on campus and advocate for administrative change, it was not clear to me that President Tim Wolfe's resignation was wholly justified. I also suggested that refusing to become offended is an underrated anti-harassment strategy. I even referenced the old adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
The other panelists vehemently disagreed. The callers did, too. And so did many of my critics on Twitter:
— Leslie Beliveau (@LeslieBeliveau) November 10, 2015
— Norwood Holland (@Norwood22) November 10, 2015
— Korla Masters (@korlaporlapaz) November 10, 2015
I was not suggesting that racial slurs are a trivial matter—they are incredibly evil, hateful, and sometimes genuinely traumatizing for persons of color. Nor was I suggesting that black people need to "just get over it." They have every right to publicize their emotional turmoil and demand action. I wish we lived in a world where no one aspired to demean them.
But I suspect the people who shout despicable things at black people on the street have much in common with schoolyard bullies: they are looking for a reaction. And one way to deprive bullies of their power to inflict pain—not just on people of color, but on everyone—is to ignore them.
Another way, I suppose, is to identify the bullies and run them out of town with pitchforks. But when we live in fear of bad words, we give agency to the people who use them. That's something for everyone to keep in mind, especially now that Mizzou cops have announced their intention to literally police speech on campus.