Saturday, February 18, 2017

Geraldo Rivera resigns from Yale University post in protest over Calhoun College being renamed Grace Hopper

The following are links to articles about Geraldo Rivera resigning as a Calhoun associate fellow because of the renaming of Calhoun College as Grace Hopper College.

Rivera tweeted:

"Been an honor but intolerant insistence on political correctness is lame."

In another tweet he said.

"To judge a 200 yr old early 19th century historic figure by standards of the 21st century as #Yale is doing is more Orwellian than inspired."

Let's unpack the meaning of these statements.

The first tweet means that an unreasonably narrow dogmatic view was applied in the renaming of Calhoun college.  Though the term "political correctness" is somewhat meaningless.

It isn't as if Calhoun was a famous scientist, reformer, technologist or a person who contributed to the betterment of humanity, but he wrote one or two minor essays defending slavery or owned a few slaves. He was one of the leading defenders of slavery in the 19th century, if not the leading defender of slavery in the 19th century, and Calhoun is notable in history almost entirely for his defense of slavery and white supremacy.

The first tweet implies that rejecting a figure whose role in history was primarily, if not nearly entirely, to defend slavery and white supremacist is a concern only for those with narrow dogmatic unreasonable views such that they are "intolerant" and this concern is labeled as "political correctness." This I think says something how much Rivera values African Americans as human beings that he would see such a concern as "intolerant."

The second tweet labels the change as "Orwellian" which refers to how history was erased in George Orwell's novel, "1984."

Renaming John C. Calhoun College will not erase Calhoun from the history books. The historical record will still be there. Monuments and the naming of places after persons is to endorse them, but again the historical record of John C. Calhoun will exist as ever.  The use of "Orwellian" would be consistent with a strategy to make a rejection of the name change sound like an educated high minded defense of history rather than panicked white nationalism. Rivera's criticism of the name change is bogus.

Rivera's comment about Calhoun being judged by 21st century standards fails in many ways.

It could be pointed out that Calhoun was negatively judged in the 19th and 20th century also, in particular by those who though African Americans had rights as human beings such as abolitionists and African Americans. Though these can be valid points they miss the primary point.

The primary point is that monuments are erected because a group of people have made a judgment about history or the present and want to communicate that judgment to the public to advance some set of ideas. When Yale University named the college in the 1930s it was judging Calhoun by the white supremacist standards of the early 20th century judging white supremacist Calhoun as a positive person in the history and worthy to be held up as an exemplar to persons. In short the college was named after Calhoun since this white supremacist figure of the early 19th century was judged by the early white supremacist 20th century to be a great person.

In the 21st century white supremacy has finally managed to be discredited enough at Yale University such that Yale no longer wants to judge Calhoun by the white supremacist standards of the early 20th century and instead judge him by standards of racial equality of whatever century.

The naming of buildings, streets, cities, parks, counties, etc. after pro-slavery or Confederate individuals is to racialize the landscape and define the American land as being the white territory of a white nation. With these names being challenged, it means that non-white people are having a say in authoring the landscape and deciding what buildings, streets, cities, parks, counties, etc. are named. It means that America is no longer guaranteed to be a white nation. This has resulted in a panic among many who wonder where will it all end, though not recognizing that they are having a white panic over the landscape.

As for racism or white nationalism we can't read minds. However, from a person's statements we can attempt to reason what might motivate these statements. In my opinion Rivera's statements are the logical result of white panic over a feared loss of an America understood to be a white nation. He very well might not have some reasoned through logic or really be conscious of what motivates his thinking, but his statements and resignation make sense as a manifestation of panicked white banal nationalism.

Of course Rivera I suppose can parade African Americans before the public as his friends and many African Americans probably can be found to declare he is not racist. I think some of this is possible because the public stereotype of racists are people wearing funny clothes and being belligerent and screaming white supremacist statements. The concept of banal white nationalism is largely unknown.

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