My View: Your Sons and Daughters Are Beyond Your Command, the Times Are Changing

Davis Stands with Ferguson
Protesters in Davis

This morning I caught the headline of an op-ed in the Bee by Ben Boychuk, “Protests by self-absorbed students are out of control.” After reading the op-ed, it is easy to criticize the actions of inexperienced activists who are exerting their voices for the first time, but I disagree with the notion that American university life today “is divorced from real life.”

If anything, these growing campus movements, awkward as they may be at times, are evidence of the contrary. For years, probably dating back to the free speech and Vietnam war protests and increasingly since the abolition of affirmative action and particularly since the great recession has led to an even more expensive college education system, colleges have in a very real way become the last vestiges of privilege and elitism in the country – socioeconomic as much as racial.

What I see are not “self-absorbed” students, but rather a group of young people who, recognizing their own privilege, are actually fighting for others. What sticks out in my mind is the line from Bob Dylan’s “The Times They A-Changing”: “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand…”

The millennials may finally finish what the Baby Boomers started in terms of the path to racial equality.

There is a notion that real racism is gone. And if by “real racism” we mean the old Jim Crow style of segregation and discrimination coupled with the belief of racial inferiority of non-white groups, that is largely true.

On the other hand, there are those like Michelle Alexander that believe that we have simply transformed the racial hierarchical system from one that overtly discriminates to one that discriminates through a series of institutional apparatuses that are just as real as the old Jim Crow system.

What is rather remarkable is that this system is really being attacked on multiple fronts simultaneously. Already we have seen a pushback against mass incarceration, where blacks and Hispanics have become trapped in a system of laws that do not let people out.

The problem is not that we should not incarcerate people who break laws, but rather that we need to differentiate between serious offenses that require removing people from society and other transgressions for which there are alternative forms of treatment, whether it is a restorative approach, as we are starting to see in many locales including Yolo County’s Neighborhood Courts, or substance abuse treatment.

We also need to figure out a way to make a single crime not turn into a lifelong punishment, through exclusion of felons from jobs, voting, public assistance and the like. The problem is once we trap people into this cycle, the 70 percent recidivism rate shows it is extremely difficult to break free.

We also see this problem in the distribution of wealth, vestiges of biased hiring practices, and even school suspension and expulsion rates. None of these practices are overtly intending racial discrimination but they have a discriminatory effect.

This past year we have seen a focus on police-involved shootings and killings, along with traffic stops. The Black Lives Matter movement comes directly out of these series of incidents. There have been some interesting pushbacks here. Some pressure has led to more scrutiny on police, the need for police oversight and body cameras.

On the other hand, there has been a counter-offensive that the scrutiny on police has led to a so-called Ferguson effect, which has led police to back off enforcement in so-called high crime neighborhoods. FBI Director James Comey recently caught the Administration and Justice Department off guard when he said that “additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.”

The administration pushed back, arguing that the existence of a violent crime wave is not supported by statistics, even while acknowledging rates are up in some major cities.

“We can’t have a situation in which a big chunk of the population feels like maybe the system isn’t working as well for them,” President Obama said.

“Most of the time I got a ticket, I deserved it. But there were times when I didn’t,” the President said. “There are a lot of African Americans who have that same kind of story. The data shows this is not an aberration. There’s some racial bias in the system.”

Instead of acknowledging that there is racial bias in the system and understanding that some racial bias undermines the legitimacy of the entire system, we have seen pushback. Those raising the alarm are now being blamed for problems that have existed in the system for some time.

There was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times last week from former NYPD Captain Eric Adams.

He wrote, “Years ago, a group of men walked into a Harlem bar with bats and hatchet handles. Moments later, they’d left their calling card: broken bones and fractured skulls. This wasn’t a robbery, but restitution. Earlier in the day, a young patrol officer had been attacked by unruly patrons of the bar. This cop’s off-duty brothers in arms made sure to give anyone there a strong ‘attitude adjustment.’”

He wrote that, for many years “this was the world in which our nation’s police agencies operated. What happened in the darkness of inner-city streets was between the police and whoever was on the other side of the nightstick and, on occasion, a gun. The police reports all read the same: The suspect had a shiny object, he reached for something, he forced me to act in self-defense.”

This is no longer the world of the police now, where any civilian “with a smartphone can now document a true account of a police encounter. Every time police officers take action, they should assume they’re being recorded.”

He added, “Some officers resent and fear the idea of being second-guessed. But as a former officer myself, I recognize this as discomfort at being scrutinized at all. There is anger in police departments across the country among officers who feel betrayed by a public that gained by the old-school tactics. But the problem is that the profession is not adapting fast enough.”

This is really what is happening across the board. The world is changing, the old ways are not cutting it and, for years and for some time, the universities thought they were immune. The end of affirmative action gave many an excuse to no longer fight for diversity. Budget cuts gave the university officials the excuse to raise tuition, even as top administrators were making mid to high six-figure salaries and there was an assumption that the chickens would never come home to roost.

The students have found that they possess far more power now than they used to. Part of it is their ability to mobilize using modern technology – smartphones, videos, and social media have torn down walls that have separated the elite from the masses for far too long.

Like many with new-found power, some are not wielding it in the best way or attacking the right problem. However, too many are misunderstanding what is actually happening here.

I was reading some of the comments to the Bee article, “These aren’t protests they’re temper-tantrums and the media, driven by a left-wing agenda, are to blame.” And another, “The same people who have been peddling the ridiculous liberal agenda are now being attacked by the little monsters they created. It’s going to be hilarious in a few years when these kids are in the workforce and nobody cares about their feelings.”

But they don’t get it. They don’t see the difference between the college professors and the students. They are criticizing “what they don’t understand.” There is not only a generational difference but also traditional cleavages in the left between those with privilege and those without. This is really no different than the 1960s.

The college professors are not reaping what they sow, so much as realizing that the privileged world that they lived in is starting to crumble. Like the police force, the college university needs to understand that the world is changing and adapt, and the problem is that they are not adapting fast enough.

What I think is baffling to some is that the push is not just coming from the underprivileged. It was Jonathan Butler whose hunger strike at the University of Missouri led to the resignation of both the Chancellor and the President.

“A lot of people know how corrupt the system is, and they thought I was going to die from Day 1. From the moment I made my announcement, people thought I was a dead man walking,” he told CNN.

He said he felt motivated to act because of his experiences at the University of Missouri.

“I felt unsafe since the moment I stepped on this campus,” he told CNN. “My first semester here, I had someone write the n-word on my wall. I’ve been, physically, in altercations with white gentleman on campus.”

As it turned out, Mr. Butler comes from a wealthy family, but as Snopes.com points out, “While it’s true that Butler’s family is wealthy, Butler did not obfuscate that fact by claiming to be ‘just a poor kid,’ nor is that information relevant to the grievances that inspired his hunger strike. Butler was one of a number of students involved in an ongoing racial controversy at Mizzou, which involved open hostility towards black students and not complaints over ‘white privilege.’ The net worth of Butler or his family was largely irrelevant to the issues of race and racism that sparked protests by Butler and others.”

Some people over the last several months have lamented the polarization in American society. I believe that polarization was there all along. When racial issues were kept under wraps, it seemed that things were better than they really were. These issues have been bubbling beneath the surface for some time and we need to be able to have reasoned discussions about ways forward – the status quo is not going to work anymore and the only real question is what will the new world look like.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    “These aren’t protests they’re temper-tantrums and the media, driven by a left-wing agenda, are to blame.” And another, “The same people who have been peddling the ridiculous liberal agenda are now being attacked by the little monsters they created. It’s going to be hilarious in a few years when these kids are in the workforce and nobody cares about their feelings.”
    But they don’t get it.

    For the most part these campus cry bullies (I love that term because it so describes them) are protesting very minor to nonexistent made up controversies.  They come off as entitled spoiled brats.
    Maybe it’s you that doesn’t get it.

    1. David Greenwald

      Part of the point I was trying to make here is that while some of these incidents may or may not be seen as relatively trivial, the larger movements and anger is stemming from a more systemic place which erupts along the lines of seemingly less significant incidents. Without the broader framework, someone yelling the “N-word” isn’t a series offense, but in the context of what is going on now, it takes on greater significance as the embodiment of a much larger issue.

      1. Frankly

        Ironically, I think the “what is going on now” may be resulting in more instances where people yell the “n-word”.  Please tell me where you see signs of any leadership attempting to bring people together.  Just the opposite has occurred.  Democrats and their media puppets have turned up the racial blame game knowing full well they are only a few victim-group epiphanies away from losing their shine.    You reap what you sow.

        Otherwise, assuming you believe that race relations have degraded, what do you say the cause is?

        1. David Greenwald

          I have seen signs at the local level people trying to come together. My view is that race relations haven’t degraded, but rather people who hadn’t thought about issues involving race are being forced to consider them. I think the African-American community has had to deal with this stuff for years in silence and have finally reached the point where they will be silent no more.

          I don’t believe we can deal with this without discussing it. But this is a hard topic for people to discuss and that means we need to think about the means and medium in which the discuss needs to take place. I don’t disagree with BP that some of the incidents are silly and the activists are going to have to learn to pick and choose their battles. I know this process well, after nine years, I still have tough calls to make about what things to write about and what not to.

          On the other hand, why should students of color have to endure racial epithets being directed at them, campus security demanding that they prove they belong on campus, and being the object of inappropriate “jokes” like the African-American student who found a photo of a lynching on her door or the professor of ethnic studies at Woodland CC who had something posted on her door. It’s easy to write this off if you’re not the one having to endure it.

      2. Miwok

        Part of the problem is the students’ parents have not grown up to overcome this problem. In the 80’s and 90’s people at the UC were forced to hire women and minorities. I used to go on “courtesy interviews” to make it look legal and “it would come back to me” later. Yeah right.

        The other initiative, even though where I worked we had many minorities and women, they were encouraged to sublimate themselves and their behavior offensive to others. You could also not “join in”.

        So people l worked with each other but under a threat, instead of encouragement. Now I had bad management, but they were overseen, or should have been, by UC. So they perpetuated the frustration many felt toward each other, maybe passed down to their children? Now the children are expressing that?

  2. Tia Will

    David

    I believe that polarization was there all along”

    This is what I see as the central problem from which most of the disagreement stems. There are some who post here who seem to believe that polarization and leftist brainwashing begins on our college campuses. What they do not seem to appreciate is that a right wing view of our nation as a glorious, exceptional nation made of up brave, compassionate, generous people while whitewashing any balanced narrative of how Americans, while all of these things, are also capable of brutality, greed, and heartlessness….namely, we are human….just like the citizens of other countries.

    The “us” vs “them” narrative does not begin upon entry to University. It is endemic in our adversarial society that vilifies anyone who does not believe the same as we do.

    Think what we might accomplish if our first thought when encountering a different opinion was not how to denigrate it and those espousing it, but rather how we might appreciate its merits and combine it with our own beliefs into a more coherent whole that benefits all ?  Sigh…..clearly not since I was protesting Viet Nam ( which my mother did not understand since surely those in power knew best) …. clearly not in my lifetime… but maybe someday. Imagine….

    1. Barack Palin

      Think what we might accomplish if our first thought when encountering a different opinion was not how to denigrate it and those espousing it, but rather how we might appreciate its merits and combine it with our own beliefs into a more coherent whole that benefits all ? 

      You mean like this?

       Likewise, at Wesleyan, the student newspaper that sparked outrage by publishing the op-ed of a student (cautiously) questioning elements of the Black Lives Matter movement has been harshly sanctioned.

      http://wesleyanargus.com/2015/10/19/wsa-passes-resolution-overhauling-campus-publications/

      1. David Greenwald

        Like everything there is a deeper issue. I agree with the decision to publish the op-ed as I would have done the same. The problem with paper is more their lack of diversity on staff and lack of coverage that they have given to the student community of color. They admitted this in an article. It’s easy to portray this as the lefties trying to mau-mau the paper, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back from their perspective. The article you posted notes that their demand was for structural changes or they would cut funding.

        1. Barack Palin

          Come on now, you can try and justify it all you want, it’s nothing more than shutting down conservative voices on campus.  I can imagine the uproar from the left if liberal opinion pieces or papers were censored in this way by conservatives.

          1. David Greenwald

            Actually the issue is funding them, they aren’t shutting them down, they are cutting the funding.

          1. David Greenwald

            From the description of other articles I’ve read it seems that the problem is the opposite that the newspaper only value conservative voices and ignore those of other voices.

    2. Tia Will

      BP

      You mean like this?”

      I am fairly sure that you know that I was not referencing, nor do I defend censorship on any side of any issue. I am also fairly sure that you chose not to address the point that I was making that censorship is present from both sides of the political spectrum, but conservatives and liberals alike only call it on the other side.

      The way that you would know this, if you cared to be honest about the issue, is that on multiple occasions I have defended the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to have their say, no matter how loathsome I may find it. I am about as far left as you will find, yet I will defend your and their right to speak absolutely. So if freedom of speech in and of itself means so much to you, where is your outrage about the frequent banning of books from the public schools because some parent or other finds a word or concept ( most recently homosexuality) as not appropriate for their child to read about ?

      Neither side has a monopoly on attempts to silence the other. But now, I fully expect the Silence of the Crickets.

  3. sisterhood

    “…your sons and daughters are beyond your command…”

    On Children by Kahlil Gibran

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
     
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

  4. wdf1

    Here’s an interesting piece that might relate to this issue.

    Your School Shapes How You Think About Inequality
    The introductory part of the article:

    Ask yourself this question: Were you aware of inequality growing up?

    Your answer may depend in part on where you went to high school. Students at racially diverse schools, particularly black and Hispanic students, are more tuned in to injustice than students going to school mostly with kids that look like them.

    That’s one of the main threads of a new book by Carla Shedd, an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University. In Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice, Shedd goes straight to the source: the students at four Chicago public high schools. She even let the kids pick their own pseudonyms.

    Two of the schools were largely segregated: one had no white or Asian students. The other two were fairly diverse — by Chicago standards — one with about a third white or Asian students and the other, a magnet school, with more than half.

    Shedd followed the schools from 2001 to 2011, a turbulent decade when the city demolished its infamous high-rise public housing units and began closing public schools in large numbers.

  5. Frankly

    There is a notion that real racism is gone. And if by “real racism” we mean the old Jim Crow style of segregation and discrimination coupled with the belief of racial inferiority of non-white groups, that is largely true.
    On the other hand, there are those like Michelle Alexander that believe that we have simply transformed the racial hierarchical system from one that overtly discriminates to one that discriminates through a series of institutional apparatuses that are just as real as the old Jim Crow system.

    Or…

    Real racism – the kind that civil rights heroes like Rosa Parks fought in the 1950s – is long gone.  What is left is blacks being angry that life isn’t easier.  And it is understandable given the corruption of self-determination caused by years of the failed Affirmative Action experiments combined with the political-correctness machine of the left to set the expectation for young people that they don’t need to every have to cope with conflict and adversity as they can simply claim micro-aggression and that they feel “unsafe”.

    Blacks, and many young people in general, do have a point though about life not being easier.  But they are screaming at the wrong subjects.

    Look to their Ivy-league educated, back-end Baby Boomer president that decries “No challenge–no challenge–poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change!”

    That’s right.  The leader that they overwhelmingly support is eager to pursue a extreme environmental policy agenda – that means a corresponding anti-industrialism policy that results in much slower economic (read: job) growth –  that promises to make things even less easy.

    Also, their President is part of the real growing income divide… the “new upper-class”.  The cognitive-elite that live lifestyles an order of magnitude richer than the true working-class middle class.

    College more expensive and difficult to access today?  Certainly.  The cost of college has significantly exceed the rate of inflation for decades.  Why?

    Three reasons:

    1. More and more employees of the higher learning industry have moved into the new upper class.   And the ratio of employees to students has skyrocketed.   Easy student loan money hasn’t helped as the colleges have generally had little incentive to compete on price.

    2. Aside from tuition costs, the other largest college expense is housing costs for students.   And this too can be laid at the feet of the new upper class and government policy.  The new upper class is wealthy in home equity having replaced what they might have otherwise invested in business endeavors that help share the wealth, to real estate investing which provide tax-sheltered personal wealth that they take loans against to increase their lifestyles while driving up home costs.  The government helps by keeping rates below market, and making other investing that would help share the wealth less and less feasible from taxation and regulation largess.

    3. The access problem.  Homogamy… the tendency for people to marry people more like them and produce offspring that are more like them.   It isn’t that those people unable to get into a good school of their choice are historically less academically accomplished, it is the compounding problem of inbreeding of the new upper class driving up competition within academic achievement.  The growing gap between the haves and have nots is rooted in the transformation from an industrial economy to an information and service economy where academic achievement is better rewarded in higher income.  Higher income then provides advantages to the new upper class to pay for tutors and extra activities that provide advantages in access to more exclusive schools.  Just look at the progression in GPA cutoffs for admission to elite colleges and universities.  Many college-educated people in their 50s and older would not be accepted where they had earned their degrees because their GPAs and SAT scores fell below what would be required today.

    So the kids rail against the wrong machine.   They rail against a virtual boogeyman that is really right behind them egging them on.

    Poor ignorant and idealist kids marching down their own path to ruin.  The only thing they have right is that the adults are responsible.  Unfortunately they are targeting the wrong adults.

    1. Miwok

      I could comment on your well-thought comments, but I will only say to David and you, that I have observed through the years, that yes, Jim Crow is obviously gone, but yet some people have changed their attitudes, the society has changed a bit, it cannot help it.

      The people I worked with at the University HAD to change, they were being ordered to sublimate their prejudice and overt hatred of others, even though that was not overt racism, and the people aggrieved found new power which they promptly  abused by poking the people they needed for acceptance. Just as the students do now, they risk the goodwill others are forced to give them when they have not earned it.

      On the other hand, MY family and the area I grew up in, and the areas I visit away from urban areas are more mixed, less contentious, have mixed race babies and different race family members who are loved and are not criminals. Some are now my cousins, so I get to ask them about their lives, and they grew up much like my families did. Some of my family has adopted little babies who are treasured and raised as special gifts.

      So it runs both ways, and while I see a lot of the hatred and prejudice gone, as in never an issue, there still is some, and it lives on campus as well as locally. Why?

      In my mind it is because some people don’t represent their family or their race well because of their behavior or attitude. This will always be, and race doesn’t matter.

      When David argues for felons to vote and such, this was something that was meant as a deterrent to crime, but it seems not to work now, so many of these deterrents could be looked at again?

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