Be careful what you read

When I last traveled, I bought Larry Elders’ superb book Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card–and Lose. I promptly took the cover off, worried that I would be subject to harassment as a white woman reading a book entitled “Stupid Black Men” — never mind that the book was written by a black man, nor that it was a trenchant analysis of a political and social system that victimizes blacks — and that, sadly, blacks have bought into.

I thought that maybe I was being a little bit silly and paranoid, but I clearly wasn’t, if this story is anything to go by:

IN November, I was found guilty of “racial harassment” for reading a public-library book on a university campus.

The book was Todd Tucker’s “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan”; I was reading it on break from my campus job as a janitor. The same book is in the university library.

[snip]

But that didn’t stop the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from branding me as a detestable Klansman.

They didn’t want to hear the truth. The office ruled that my “repeatedly reading the book . . . constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers.”

[snip]

[T]he $106,000-a-year affirmative-action officer who declared me guilty of “racial harassment” never spoke to me or examined the book. My own union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – sent an obtuse shop steward to stifle my freedom to read. He told me, “You could be fired,” that reading the book was “like bringing pornography to work.”

[snip]

After months of stonewalling, the university withdrew the charge, thanks to pressure from the press, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.

At American Thinker, where I first saw the story, Selwyn Duke adds a little more:

What Sampson fails to point out is that the affirmative-action officer is a black woman named Lillian Charleston. Oh, that’s not relevant? Sorry, but this is all about race. Mr. Sampson would never have been charged with racial harassment for reading a history book relating to the Klan were he not white; in fact, it’s hard to imagine such a charge being leveled against a black person for any reason, given the double standards in the academy’s politically correct environment.In case you’re considering a career in the vital and growing field of affirmative action and are wondering what credentials one must possess to become one of its storm troopers, here is Charleston’s bio:

Lillian Charleston is nationally recognized for her expertise and knowledge of Affirmative Action and related issues. In addition to serving as the Affirmative Action Officer for IUPUI for the past 16 years, she previously worked as a desegregation specialist for the Indianapolis Public Schools. She has been an officer and board member of the American Association for Affirmative Action and the Indiana Industry Liaison Group. She also supports her community through active board service with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission, the Indianapolis Urban League, the Indianapolis Chapter of Big Sisters, and the Association for Loan Free Education. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana University in Urban Studies, Counseling and College Student Personnel.

In other words, she specializes in grievance, social engineering, victimology and in what Rush Limbaugh has labeled get-even-with-‘em-ism. To gain a little more insight into the mindset of this woman, read the letter she sent to Sampson about the charge:

Upon review of this matter, we conclude that your conduct constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence. You contend that you weren’t aware of the offensive nature of the topic and were reading the book about the KKK to better understand discrimination. However you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers. Furthermore, employing the legal “reasonable person standard,” a majority of adults are aware of and understand how repugnant the KKK is to African Americans, their reactions to the Klan, and the reasonableness of the request that you not read the book in their presence.

During your meeting with Marguerite Watkins, Assistant Affirmative Action Officer [sic] you were instructed to stop reading the book in the immediate presence of your co-workers and when reading the book to sit apart from the immediate proximity of these co-workers. Please be advised, any future substantiated conduct of a similar nature could result in serious disciplinary action.

The thought police are out there, and they are educating your kids.  More than that, while you and I would have the maturity and savvy to counter this bullying insanity, our kids don’t.  They’re young, malleable and they want their degrees.  They are intellectual hostages to these thought tyrants and it’s utterly shameful.

The letter reveals something else that should be obvious, which is that the individual filing the complaint against Sampson was also black. And this is another example of the relativistic standard that is applied in these matters. In other words, in judging the case, the affirmative-action office didn’t analyze the action under the light of objective truth, but based on the feelings of a politically-favored individual, in this case an irrational one. That Sampson’s black co-worker felt aggrieved was justification enough to send out a lynching party.

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  • Mike Devx

    This is a strange and difficult case for me…

    The problem – if I am reading the story correctly – is that this guy is employed at Indiana U, and a fellow employee brought the harassment complaint to an Indiana U office. That office investigated and agreed with the complaint. They demanded that the guy modify his behavior, and he refused.

    He said that they accused him of being a Klansman. I don’t find that the affirmative action officers did anything of the sort. They simply said he was being offensive and demanded that he read the book elsewhere, not in front of them.

    Everywhere I’ve worked for the last fifteen years, if I tell off-color jokes in a coworker’s cube, I’m elegible for the same complaint he received, and I’m likely to get the same punishment: Your behavior is offensive and you need to tell those jokes elsewhere. Otherwise, goodbye. And don’t we tend, here, to give employers a great deal of leeway about what is acceptable and what isn’t?

    Let’s be clear: This is not the government thought police at work. This is an employer (Indiana U) instituting a grievance policy and following it. The officers in question screwed up, for sure, and so did this guy’s fellow (and black) employees. (I can assume he’s on poor relations with those employees, or this never would have happened?) It’s good that FIRE got them all to see reason.

    In the end, Book, you WOULD have been at risk, I suspect, of being misinterpreted for your book as well. I suppose any fellow passenger on a train or bus or plane could complain bitterly enough about you to get YOU in trouble because of your book, and then your at the mercy of the policies of the company, just as this guy was. But again I’d like to remind everyone that this was not the government at work. This is not – to me – anywhere near as bad as that travesty to our north called the Canadian Human Rights Commission, that is using the power of the government itself to oppress its citizens. Same as Europe. Outrageous employer controls are nowhere near as serious as outrageous GOVERNMENT controls.

  • oceanguy

    in judging the case, the affirmative-action office didn’t analyze the action under the light of objective truth, but based on the feelings of a politically-favored individual, in this case an irrational one.

    Remember the case of David Howard(white man), Assistant to the Mayor of D.C. Anthony Williams (black man) who was forced to resign because he used the word “niggardly” in describing how he would handle the city’s tightening budget. Yes, city workers were offended and the action had nothing to do with the objective truth of the word’s meaning, but on the feelings of ‘politically-favored individuals’ also irrational in that case.

    It seems a right has been granted to the politically-protected people… the right to be not offended. Yes, the thoght police are everywhere.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I remember that case vividly, OC. That made the press — but this kind of vindictive ignorance was already normal in San Francisco when I was growing up there in the late 70s. My father, an English teacher and a purist, went ballistic when “niggardly” became a banned word back then.

  • http://www.writingenglish.wordpress.com judyrose

    I haven’t read the book, so I could be all wet here, but doesn’t it seem possible that a book entitled “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan” could be about DEFEATING the Klan, which if you are a black person, might be considered a good thing? Is the word KLAN now to be off-limits because any reference to the KKK, no matter how unsympathetic, brings up bad feelings? How are we ever going to talk about anything? Soon the word SLAVERY will be banned. How about WHITE? I’m going crazy thinking about this.

  • http://www.writingenglish.wordpress.com judyrose

    The fact that my comment No. 4 is in moderation is making me think we’re already way too far down the path toward prohibited speech and prohibited thoughts.

  • David Foster

    This is directly analogous to forbidding the reading (at work) of books about the Holocaust on the grounds that they might be offensive to Jews, Russians, Frenchmen, or even Germans.

    Mike…”Let’s be clear: This is not the government thought police at work”…isn’t this a state university? If it is, then its actions are effectively government actions, and court decisions have found that it is bound by the First Amendment.

  • jj

    Ah, ah – Judy, you’re THINKING again!

  • http://www.writingenglish.wordpress.com judyrose

    Yeah, jj. I’ll have to cut that out.

  • Ymarsakar

    The fact that my comment No. 4 is in moderation is making me think we’re already way too far down the path toward prohibited speech and prohibited thoughts.

    If the internet was that way, Book wouldn’t need Akismet for spam.

  • Ymarsakar

    But that didn’t stop the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from branding me as a detestable Klansman.

    They didn’t want to hear the truth. The office ruled that my “repeatedly reading the book . . . constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers.”

    I kept hearing that the Patriot Act would gang up on library readers. Where are these crickets now? Chirp chirping? No.

  • Ymarsakar

    Everywhere I’ve worked for the last fifteen years, if I tell off-color jokes in a coworker’s cube, I’m elegible for the same complaint he received, and I’m likely to get the same punishment: Your behavior is offensive and you need to tell those jokes elsewhere. Otherwise, goodbye.

    I didn’t know that reading a book was the same as telling a joke in social circles, Mike.

    Otherwise, goodbye. And don’t we tend, here, to give employers a great deal of leeway about what is acceptable and what isn’t?

    The universities don’t employ anyone. They are parasitic organisms based upon grant money and federal largesse, which constitutes most of their expenses, rather than tuition.

  • Ymarsakar

    This is a strange and difficult case for me…

    To put things in an even simpler fashion, a university not allowing people working or studying there to read its library books is a like a company, which universities are not classified as in the private economic industry, not allowing its employees to read manuals on skills, technology, machines, and company policy.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Three excellent points, YM. You really put the issue in a nutshell. When universities ban books….

  • Mike Devx

    Judyrose, you’re absolutely right, Indiana U is a lot closer in nature to a government office than it is to a private workplace. I hadn’t considered that.

    I am still more concerned about government interference than private interference. I hate private interference (ie, no Christmas decorations at your desk in December please, or you will be reported! No food carts that play Christmas jingles!). But you *can* leave your job, whereas you cannot leave your government. And we grant government power and force over our lives to maintain civilization.

    In the end, I’m still hoping for a national movement against all this government and corporate thought-policing. A movement whose catchphrase might very well be “Stop Being So Super-Sensitive!” There’s still enough basic American pragmatism and reasonableness around that I remain hopeful.