Salon Writer: Those Raising Free Speech Concerns in Student Protests Want to Assert ‘White Privilege’

Speaking on MSNBC’s All In Thursday night about the ongoing protests on college campuses over race, Salon writer and Rutgers University professor Brittney Cooper asserted that the real focus of the discussion should about how black students supposedly feel “physically and emotionally unsafe on these campuses” and those raising concerns about “the threat to freedom of speech” really just want to assert their “white privilege.”

Cooper debated Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education and largely tried to discredit his points. First, Cooper took issue with how “young black students are saying to us that surveillance is a threat to them and so they’re not talking about trying to limit the press or trying to limit freedom of expression.”

Instead, she declared that “they’re trying to figure out how you have social movements in which black students are hypersurveilled on these campuses and are hypervisible and also where media coverage of these stories is usually quite hostile to these students.”

Cooper then denounced the “ridiculous conversations....about freedom of speech, when these students are really asking us about what it means to be physically and emotionally unsafe on these campuses.” Referring to critics, the lefty blogger maligned them as “extremely intellectually dishonest to assume or act that is the conversation we’re trying to have.”

When Hayes gave Lukianoff a chance to respond, he pointed out to Cooper that he’s been “fighting for campus free speech for my entire career, going back to 2001 and we've been defeating the kind of things that would have made the protests at Missouri and at Yale impossible, including free speech zones.”

Lukianoff also specifically addressed Cooper’s claim that individuals such as him are “intellectually dishonest”: “So, if I think we just say, free speech is a diversion, no, you've been missing the fight that's been going on for decades now.”

As opposed to trying to find common ground, Cooper continued the race baiting and shot back that “[t]he problem is that you're making an argument, sir, that free speech is the most fundamental concern here” as “African-American folks have always had to fight for our rights to enjoy all of these freedoms and so, we value them just like you do.”

Cooper used the rest of her response to highlight the tired liberal line of whining about “white privilege” being the thorn in the side of humanity [emphasis mine]:

[B]ut there is something that is as fundamental to the right to free speech, and that's the right to move through the world unharassed and so, what we have here is a complicated situation in which there's a white privilege in the ability to make this conversation about the threat to freedom of speech and it supplants our ability to have a more robust conversation about the threat to move through the world in an African-American or black body without being harassed and so, that is the conversation I want folks to be having.

The relevant portion of the transcript from MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes on November 12 can be found below.

MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes
November 12, 2015
8:54 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS HAYES: Brittany, that incident that went very viral, it was a student photographer, he was working, I believe, for ESPN, and he was trying to take pictures, and he was blocked and basically, the student protester said, we've created a safe space, free of media here on the public quad. A lot of people took issue with that. I thought it was wrong. What was your sense of it? 

SALON WRITER/RUTGERS UNIVERSITY’s BRITTNEY COOPER: So, one of the things we've got to be thinking about is that these young black students are saying to us that surveillance is a threat to them and so they're not talking about trying to limit the press or trying to limit freedom of expression, they’re trying to figure out how you have social movements in which black students are hypersurveilled on these campuses and are hypervisible and also where media coverage of these stories is usually quite hostile to these students. It is not usually particularly sympathetic, especially when we're having ridiculous conversations as though, for instance, about freedom of speech, when these students are really asking us about what it means to be physically and emotionally unsafe on these campuses. That's the really issue. This is not an issue of black students who are advocating for the right to be in safe places, trying to limit other folks' constitutional rights, and it's extremely intellectually dishonest to assume or act that is the conversation we're trying to have. 

HAYES: Greg, your response to that? 

F.I.R.E’s GREG LUKIANOFF: Well, it's one of those things, I think it's funny that there was an article that ran today called “The Free Speech Diversion,” and it ran maybe yesterday in The New Yorker and to me, I've been fighting for campus free speech for my entire career, going back to 2001 and we've been defeating the kind of things that would have made the protests at Missouri and at Yale impossible, including free speech zones. These ridiculous pins that administrators have set up at colleges across the country that tell students that they can only protest, literally, sometimes, in 20-foot-wide gazebos that they need advance permission to use. So, if I think we just say, free speech is a diversion, no, you've been missing the fight that's been going on for decades now. 

HAYES: Brittany, do you want to respond that? 

COOPER: Sure. The problem is that you're making an argument, sir, that free speech is the most fundamental concern here. Look, African-American folks have always had to fight for our rights to enjoy all of these freedoms and so, we value them just like you do, but there is something that is as fundamental to the right to free speech, and that's the right to move through the world unharassed and so, what we have here is a complicated situation in which there's a white privilege in the ability to make this conversation about the threat to freedom of speech and it supplants our ability to have a more robust conversation about the threat to move through the world in an African-American or black body without being harassed and so, that is the conversation I want folks to be having.

NB Daily Censorship Culture/Society Liberals & Democrats Race Issues Racism Salon MSNBC All In Video Chris Hayes
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