Was Emma Camp allowed to say that?


Alleged groupthink at UVa: Yesterday, we posted Emma Camp's advice concerning racist family and friends when eating Thanksgiving dinner. 

On balance, we wouldn't agree with her advice, but that's neither here nor there. Once again, here's part of what she said:

CAMP (11/18/20): [T]his holiday season, white progressives need to remain consistent with their supposed commitment to social justice—they need to stand up to their racist loved ones.

While the results of the election spurred celebration across the country, white progressives must not be complacent. Yes, a proto-fascist leader has been defeated, but the hateful rhetoric, conspiratorial thinking and virulent racism, xenophobia and sexism he espoused during his tenure remain deeply entrenched in American political discourse...


This holiday season, white progressives should not continue to favor their own comfort and familial peace over the tangible suffering of vulnerable people. In failing to stand up to their families and friends—whether their statements are “meant well” or not—white liberals show a distinct complacency with white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia and the countless other ways in which bigotry rears its ugly head. 

Camp was a junior at UVa when she voiced that view. As Thanksgiving approached, she offered that advice to her fellow Wahoos in an opinion column in The Cavalier Daily.

Personally, we wouldn't recommend that approach, but Camp was, and still is, entitled to her views. Except, it seems, at UVa, where she says free expression is being curtailed through the practice of self-censorship.

What are things like at UVa? We have no idea. This morning, Camp's guest essay on that topic appears in print editions of the New York Times. 

She's now a senior at UVa. She says that she and her fellow Cavaliers are inclined to stifle themselves in class.  We haven't been there to see for ourselves, but here's one striking example:

CAMP (3/9/21): When a class discussion goes poorly for me, I can tell. During a feminist theory class in my sophomore year, I said that non-Indian women can criticize suttee, a historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian widows. This idea seems acceptable for academic discussion, but to many of my classmates, it was objectionable.

The room felt tense. I saw people shift in their seats. Someone got angry, and then everyone seemed to get angry. After the professor tried to move the discussion along, I still felt uneasy. I became a little less likely to speak up again and a little less trusting of my own thoughts.

I was shaken, but also determined to not silence myself. Still, the disdain of my fellow students stuck with me. I was a welcome member of the group—and then I wasn’t.

Throughout that semester, I saw similar reactions in response to other students’ ideas. I heard fewer classmates speak up. Eventually, our discussions became monotonous echo chambers. Absent rich debate and rigor, we became mired in socially safe ideas.

Did some such incident really occur? We weren't there to see for ourselves, but we're prepared to assume that it certainly could have. We'd offer these reactions:

Is it acceptable for non-Indian women to criticize an historical practice of ritual suicide by Indian women? Especially within the context of worldwide practices which may seem misogynistic, it seems to us that it pretty much is!

That said, we're struck by the narrow defense Camp brings to her conduct. 

According to Camp, it "seems acceptable" to offer such thoughts as part of an "academic discussion." (Though perhaps not anywhere else?)

Also, it seems OK for non-Indian women to offer some such thoughts. (Not so for non-Indian men?)

As a college sophomore, Camp thought it was OK to voice some sort of criticism of this particular practice. Stating the obvious, other students should have felt free to state a different view—but Camp describes a reaction which went well beyond that.

Camp describes a reaction in which she was subjected to group anger and disdain. She says the professor "tried to move the discussion along," but it sounds like the professor may not have completely succeeded.

In her essay, Camp says that progressive and conservative students alike are subject to disdainful group attacks when they state unpopular views. We're able to believe that's true, in part because of the silly tsunami we discussed in yesterday's post.

As of yesterday, Camp's guest essay for the Times had already appeared online. In response to this post by Kevin Drum, a mob of braindead "liberal" readers issued a wave of dumb attacks on the ridiculous horrible Camp. (A few body parts were mentioned.)

Amazingly, the commenters had widely concluded that Camp must be a crackpot right-winger. Their reason? Some of the things she had said in her guest essay seemed to offer criticism of our own infallible tribe.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our tribe can be very dumb. We get dumber and angrier all the time—and yes, The Others can see us.

We can't say what actually happened in Camp's feminist theory class. We will offer this:

By the end of her essay, Camp is suggesting that the adult authorities at UVa haven't done enough to create a world in which it's assumed that everyone won't always agree on every single point. She suggests they haven't done enough to create this basic understanding:

People won't always agree with your views. Except in the most egregious cases, you need to show such people a bit of basic respect.

More and more, then more and more, our own infallible liberal tribe has drifted away from such understandings. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and—like every human tribe at a time of ideological war—we are, more and more, more and more hopelessly dumb.

Go ahead! Read the dozens of angry comments to Drum's post, in many of which the commenters assume that Camp is a right-wing crackpot.

The angry commenters who swarmed in that mob hail from our own progressive / liberal tribe. Their comments were dumb, and also this: 

They had behaved in exactly the way Camp's guest essay described!


  1. "Amazingly, the commenters had widely concluded that Camp must be a crackpot right-winger."

    But, dear Bob, being called "crackpot right-winger" by a dembot is the highest praise there is.

    You didn't know that? It's true, dear Bob. It's just like being called 'magnificent' by a normal ordinary humyn being. Same thing.

    1. No doubt, you are probably proud to be called a racist too. Do you accept a fee for keeping an eye on Bob's blog, making sure he never seriously looks at the right end of the media spectrum?

  2. Yesterday Bob highlighted "while Biden's victory signals a return to decency as some basic level...."

    Hmmmm... so Bob has a problem with that? Bob seems to think the Country elected someone he admits is a mental case... you think he ever wonders how that sits with young people, who have to look at their Trump voting elders, people who elected a mental case to lead their country's future, and try to respect them.
    Not so long ago, Bob would look at the media's abuse of left thought and say .... "AND THEY JUST SIT THERE AND TAKE IT!!" In other words, bad behavior on the right is the left's fault for putting up with it.
    The Times has run endless pieces on how we should be understanding with the Trump voter, for one reason or another. Bob has zero empathy for young person sickened by what his favorite mental case. Because, when it comes down to it, he likes the mental case better.

    1. Bob tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe. He was not offended

  3. Eric Alterman's Nation piece "Why Is the Op-Ed Page of "The New York Times" Obsessed with College Kids" reminds us this is hardly a left wing problem. Though we shouldn't have to be reminded.

  4. Bob insists that in 2016 the Republican Party elected a mental case to lead the nation. His approach, just don't talk about it. When legal attempts to reign in his wretched behavior fail, cheer!!
    Bob seems to insist young people adapt this approach as well.

  5. Our brilliant analysts have absorbed all the information and concluded that Camp:

    Was a horrible, racist conservative as a sophomore

    Was a bleeding-heart liberal as a junior

    Was back to being a nasty conservative as a senior

    They'll take a look at her next output after graduation so we all know how to label her and treat her going forward.


    1. I don't know about that, but goddam, the New York Times sure has a way of sniffing out these poor mistreated souls hiding out at one of the most exclusive state institutions of higher learning.

    2. Who gave Camp money recently rationalist? Koch's Reason magazine. What is their agenda? Attack the schools from within. Do her actions support that agenda? Yes.

      Calling that conservative I think doesn't do it justice.

  6. Emma Camp is a political activist masquerading as a college student. She works for Reason and has written and worked previously for other conservative organizations.

    This is a way of drawing attention to the liberal "fault" of being too woke, sounding like a victim of wokeness herself. I am surprised that the New York Times went along with it -- they are being used.

    Somerby's willingness to accept her at complete face value shows a lack of critical thinking on his part. It makes him a poor guide through the tangle of political disinformation on the internet, especially for those who take Somerby himself at face value.

  7. Having worked at the college level and led discussions in the classroom, it seems to me that the professor should have mediated the angry conflict Camp describes. I find myself wondering why he or she was MIA and let things get out of hand.

    Why would someone not say negative things about suttee outside the classroom? Because it is part of another culture's religious beliefs and practices. It has been controversial in India and outlawed by the government there, but portraying it as a common practice there would be a rude generalization about another culture. There is a long history of white anthropologists from Western countries imposing their own embedded cultural judgments on other people in other countries and other cultures. The role of a scholar is to understand other cultures, not to change them or make negative judgments about them. It is also to recognize one's own embededness in one's own culture in order to discount and aside knee-jerk moralizations, of the type that it sounds like Camp expressed. So the negative reactions she received might have taught her how to recognize her own assumptions in order to be a more objective observer of others. A scholar is not an activist and it is not her job to suggest that any practice she studies should be changed. A student's role is to understand what happens and why, not to judge. Camp seems to have missed that point, and that is the fault of her professor if he or she didn't explain it. If the professor did explain, then Camp failed to learn and that is on her.

    Camp does seem oversensitive and she seems to be projecting that onto fellow students, assuming she is writing in good faith. Someone who cannot accept disagree without feeling attacked has missed another important lesson from college -- that such discussions are not personal but exploratory. She has done a poor job of understanding why others were upset about what she said, which suggests she didn't do much listening to them.

    There are professors who are poor teachers, who lack control over their classrooms and do not understand how to conduct discussion that are safe for the participants. This isn't a perfect world. But I think it is wrong for Somerby to use this blog to castigate those he encountered in his own college days -- generalized to all professors, and it is wrong for Camp to call out her classmates and teachers without giving them an opportunity to respond in any way, from the distance of a New York Times editorial, and similarly generalize it to all of academia.

    This is disinformation about what happens in college. It is part of a coordinated attack by the right on higher education. It is anti-intellectual, pro-fascist and not good for the nation's democracy, which relies on an educated voting public. If that's what Kevin Drum's commenters said, they are right. Somerby quotes none of them but uses a bunch of very negative adjectives to describe them. Again, he prejudices his audience before presenting any evidence of what those he attacked did wrong. I suggest judging for yourselves, but notice that Somerby's tactics are dishonest, treating his readers like rubes to be manipulated. And that's on him.

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