P.J. O’ROURKE FEATURE
You’ve embraced the generations. Men and women. young and old. Of all races. from all nations. And your glory will be told
Lest any nations or races of young/old men/women feel the previous verses implied they were twinky- hearted or had spiritual natures cut with baking soda. The Student Handbook was printed on recycled paper. And I was. as I said. lost.
I was supposed to be going to the president of the university‘s house for dinner. I can’t imagine why. I wasn‘t a distinguished student. I‘m not a prize graduate. And. as for an alumnus revisiting the halls of academe to flick the Zippo of learning with a thumb callused by reality’s hard strife — I don't think they wanted that from me unless Miami has a Chair in Troglodyte Dyspepsia I don’t know about.
I puttered to the curb in front of the presidential residence. which I ﬁnally recognized because I was chased off its lawn for protesting the war in Vietnam by burning a copy of the Norton Anthology of English Literature or something like that. The president was a terrifically nice guy. He‘d gathered some folks from the university — wonderful people. We were served an excellent dinner. And the next thing I knew I was on my third bottle of wine expressing my disagreement with a dean over her support for the Clinton administration health-care reform plan by yelling that she was a political criminal. ‘Advocating the expansion of the powers of the state is treason to mankind. goddamnit."
Miami University hasn’t changed. The students haven’t changed. And (ls there such a thing as ex post factor expulsion? Can one get retroactively drafted?) neither have I.
But maybe there’s been a change in the intellectual atmosphere of academia, an ideological metamorphosis. an evolution in the moral concepts which fire the imaginations ofquesting young minds. Nope. ln I968 the members ofthe faculty and student body who were sensitive and caring (called idealistic and committed in those days) were upset about the Miami sports teams’ ‘Redskin’ nickname. Twenty- ﬁve years later Miami was still debating the matter. Seventy-two speakers had signed up to argue pro or con at an open forum held in the school‘s largest venue. the Miami Redskins basketball arena.
The actual Indian tribe. long ago kicked out of the region. was neutral. According to the Dayton Daily News, ‘Chief Floyd Leonard of the Miami Tribe in Oklahoma said he is not making any public comments about the issue.’ The Miamis probably guessed that, whether varsity squads are called Redskins or Dust Kittens. Miamis themselves would not be welcome to roam southwestern Ohio again — pitching their wigwams beside calm blue backyard swimming-pool waters. hunting and gathering midst the rich bounty of Safeway aisles. and occasionally descending upon lonely condominiums and undoing the work of Hair Club for Men.
The people arguing against Redskin looked like my friends and I used to look. Which seemed normal, until I thought the thing over. It was a generation ago we were dressed that way. What if I’d arrived on campus in 1965 and found the up-to-the-minute kids swooning over Bix Beiderbecke and wearing zoot suits with key chains hanging down to the ground. yard-wide fedoras. and two-toned shoes?
A perky blonde stepped to the microphone and worked herself into a pep-filled rage. ‘Redskin makes me cringe!‘ She meant the name. of course, and was denouncing racism, not confessing to it. ‘Just the fact that we‘re here to discuss this today shows that there’s something wrong with the word.‘ she piped. The hepcats in the audience greeted her logic with enthusiasm. Indeed. through the long afternoon. they greeted every aspect of their own point of view with enthusiasm. clapping and whistling. often from a standing position. They responded to the other point of view with a recently invented little noise, something between tsk-tsk-tsk and hissing. It’s the noise the kind of people who own more than one cat make when the kind of people who own more than one gun light
A nonperky blonde in a sweater which I hope was handmade because something should be done about the machine if it wasn’t said. ‘Tltis country is out of control with racial unrest. and the buck stops here at Miami University.‘ Which it doesn‘t much. Miami is not a hotbed of racial tension. because it‘s about as diverse as a Bing Crosby concert.
Only 2.6 percent of Miami‘s undergraduates are African-American. The school has always been stocked with the pink and well-fed progeny of Ohio osteopaths and car dealers. Not that it means to be this way. Miami welcomes minorities. Miami recruits minorities. Miami has a Department of Diversity Affairs. at Student Senate vice president of same. a Voluntary Action Plan for Black and Other Minority Faculty and offers twenty-one courses in Black Studies and a degree in that subject. But the place is way the hell out in Rube Junction surrounded by peckenvoods and briar-hoppers. and you're not allowed to have a car at school. and the nearest city is Cincin-Marge-Schott-nati. and some members of minority groups lind Bing Crosby hard to dance to.
A third speaker was dressed like the young lady on the Land O Lakes butter package. although she looked about as Indian as. say. Bing Crosby. She condemned injustices committed against Native Americans — deportation. exploitation. enslavement. disenfranchisement. genocide — and. pausing for emphasis. added what she seemed to feel was the crowning outrage. ‘assimilationl‘
A man who was definitely an Indian. with long Indian hair. a broad lndian hat. a large Indian belt buckle. who was a member of the Lakota tribe and who came from. as it turned out. Dayton. but who was very angry anyway. said. ‘Go out on the reservation and see it —— as much as ninety-two percent unemployment. as much as forty-seven percent alcoholism rate. Why? Because white Americans think it‘s good to call us “Redskins.” ‘
The people arguing in favor of Redskin looked a bit hurt. They were stuffed suits and squares. dorks and joiners. clunks. duds. and suckers of the regular Jim and Sue type. Here they were pledging their sororities and frats. keeping their grades up, working for the old man during the summer. getting pinned and engaged. paying their taxes. lugging their way through a work- a-daddy. mind-your-Inommy world. They didn‘t quite understand how they‘d caused 92 percent unemployment and 47 percent alcoholism by rooting for the old school team.
‘lt‘s a school tradition.‘ they said.
‘We've always used Redskin in a
‘The Miami tribe hasn‘t objected.‘
‘lt‘s a school tradition.‘ '
The clunks were insensitive. A young man (in a T- shitt bearing the name of a rock band that is very moral) presented the clunks with an admonitory scenario. He asked them to suppose a certain rival college had a hockey team named the ‘Englishmen.’ A large and exaggerated profile of Queen Elizabeth ll would decorate the center ice. At halftime (something hockey games don‘t have. but the young man didn’t look like a real hockey fan. so never mind) clownish skaters would come out wearing enormous bowler hats and carrying ridiculous. oversized umbrellas. They‘d skate right across the queen and do pratfalls on her face. Then the school band would strike up a bawdy parody of ‘Rule. Britannia’ while spectators wore fake monocles and cheered in plumy accents.
This seemed like a great idea to me. But I‘m a Mick. Which brings us to the ugly. pugnacious. and probably inebriated lrishtnan used as a mascot by Notre Dame University. It looks exactly like my Uncle Mike.
One argument not put forth at the Redskin forum was: Resolved. spending a perfectly good Friday afternoon calibrating ethnic slurs is a huge waste of time. Though. in fact. the case was being made with some force. Miami has sixteen thousand students. About three hundred people showed up at the debate, if you count the radio. newspaper. and television reporters. And you‘d better count them because the next day. when I opened the Dayton Daily News. there was no story headed 15.700 MIAMI STUDENTS DRINK BEER, ORDER PIZZA. PUT THE MAKE ON EACH OTHER. AND WAIT UNTIL THE LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE TO WRITE TERM
PAPERS. That‘s not the story I‘m writing either. Journalism tries to have as little as possible to do with ordinary life.
Ditto for college. I was reading the Student Handbook again. The authors of this document seem to be deeply concerned about . . . everything. The ‘University Statement Asserting Respect for Human Diversity.‘ which is printed on the inside cover where the campus map should be. says. in part:
We will strive to educate each other on the existence and effects of racism. sexism. ageism. homophobia. religious intolerance. and other forms of invidious prejudice. When such prejudice results in physical or psychological abuse. harassment. intimidation. or violence against persons or property. we will not tolerate such behavior nor will we accept jest. ignorance. or substance abuse as an excuse. reason. or rationale for it.
Jest. ignorance. or substance abuse have been the excuse. reason. or rationale for my entire existence. That aside. we have. in this oddly titled ‘assertion of respect‘ a dog's breakfast of sanctimoniousness — intellectual offal mixed into virtue stew. lnvidious prejudice results from categorizing people rather than treating them as individuals. But here people are categorized exhaustively. And all categories are prejudged to be equivalent. Racism — even the vestigial. unintended. silly racism of calling a Polish linebacker a Redskin — is unpleasant because people do not differ according to race. not in any way that matters unless they‘re buying Pan-Cake makeup. But people do differ slightly — and in a way I think is swell — according to sex. This difference is necessarily important sometimes. when making babies. and not necessarily important other times. when making bond trades or dinner.
Thus. racism and sexism are not identical evils. And ageism is often not an evil at all. People differ vastly according to age. A person who failed to discriminate between a six-year-old and twenty-six-year-old would be insane in all circumstances and jailed in some.
Homophobia (which would seem to mean, in Greek. ‘fear ofhaving the same fear over again‘) is yet another matter. What we do when we make love is. no matter how much we want to do it. voluntary behavior. It is hard to imagine a free society that considered voluntary behaviour involuntary. Therefore few systems ofethics or law — other than Miami University Student Handbook — lump voluntary behavior together with such involuntary matters as race. gender and religion.
And Miami isn't going to put up with any intolerance of religion either, even though all tolerance of all religions would mean picking on women and persecuting gays. these being items of faith in certain creeds.
The ‘University Statement Asserting Respect for Human Diversity’ should read:
Civilized behavior is expected of all Miami students. or we‘ll tell the police or your mother.
I went on a search for other evidence of lousy thinking. The bookstores in the town were much larger than they used to be, though practically bookless. Floor space was mostly given over to T-shirts, sweat suits. collegiate knickknacks. and greeting cards. I don’t know if this was an intellectual minus. The books for sale were few in number but frantically multiple in point of view. A volume on the papacy seemed sure to be accompanied on its shelf by copies of Disabled Popes. Minority Popes. and Single Mothers in the College of Cardinals.
I wandered into the textbook department. Some prof had put Invasion of the Body Snatchers on his required reading list. Nice that the university is sensitive to the needs of every group of students. including the very stupid. In the English lOl section were heaps of an unpleasantly green-coloured $22.75 paperback. Reading Culture by Diana George and John Trimbur. A blurb on the back cover said the authors were ‘leading figures in the move to introduce students to multicultural thought and cultural criticism.‘ and. ‘The text encourages students to recognize that different experiences of American culture depend to a large extent on class, race. ethnicity, and gender.‘ So the
The List 2—15 December 199419