Barnard Professor Triggers Free Speech Controversy After Writing About “Detonating” and Gassing White People

A book by a Barnard College English instructor named Ben Philippe has caused a firestorm due to his depiction of a fantasy of gassing white people.  The book passage has led some to demand review from the college for possible discipline or termination. As will come as no surprise to many on this blog, I believe such writing should be protected as a matter of free speech and academic freedom.  The incident does however raise another case highlighting the uncertain or conflicting treatment given such writings by universities. It is doubtful that even a fictional account discussing the gassing of minorities would have resulted in anything other than a rapid suspension and ultimate termination in many universities. That conflicting standard should also be a concern for free speech and academic freedom.Philippe writes in his book “Sure, I’ll be your Black Friend” about “detonating” white people as nearby air vents spew out noxious gas: “When this race war hits its crescendo, I’ll gather you all into a beautifully decorated room under the pretense of unity,. I’ll give a speech to civility and all the good times we share; I’ll smile as we raise glasses to your good, white health, while the detonator blinks under the table, knowing the exits are locked and the air vents filled with gas. ”So Philippe is describing the genocidal murder against white people. According to a couple conservative sites, he was interviewed about his book on the CBC show “q” by guest host Talia Schlanger who noted that, as a Jewish person whose “grandparents survived the Holocaust,” she was disturbed by the passage.  However, after Philippe said that “it was disturbing to write, too” and that he is not a violent person, Schlanger actually apologized to Philippe: “I wanted to say to you that I’m so sorry that your experience of the world made you feel that way.”There are those will have suggested that declaring a desire or fantasy to explode and gas white people cannot be tolerated in an academic who must be able to teach students of all races.  Moreover, such comments can be cited as creating a sense of a safe environment at Barnard. However, there is no indication that Philippe has engaged in such racist and violent speech in classes or on campuses. Such passages are expressing deep-seated anger from his own experience and perspectives in our society.  I find them disturbing and offensive but authors in fictional accounts have often used such shocking passages to challenge readers.

My concern is the biased or conflicting handling of such cases.  I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments denouncing police, calling for Republicans to sufferstrangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. These comments were not protested as creating an “unsafe environment” and were largely ignored by universities. However, professors and students are routinely investigated, suspended, and sanctioned for countervailing views. There were also controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There was also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.  There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives.  Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.

As we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. A conservative North Carolina professor  faced calls for termination over controversial tweets and was pushed to retire. Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of sociology and criminology, had long been a lightning rod of controversy. In 2014, we discussed his prevailing in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination due to his conservative views.  He was then targeted again after an inflammatory tweet calling North Carolina a “slave state.”  That led to his being pressured to resign with a settlement. He then committed suicide

The efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views on various issues including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. Sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money feature writers like Colorado Law Professor Paul Campus who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself).  Such campaigns have targeted teachers and students who contest the evidence of systemic racism in the use of lethal force by police or offer other opposing views in current debates over the pandemic, reparations, electoral fraud, or other issues.

The issue raised by Philippe is not whether he should be sanctioned but how these other professors have faced investigations, compelled retraining, or other measures for writings that simply disagree on public policy issues or express opposing political viewpoints — far short of discussing the gassing of white people.

University administrators often yield to protests and seek investigations and suspensions as a matter of course for targeted academics. However, when controversies arise on the left, they tend to quickly (and correctly) cite free speech and academic values. The sharp contrast in how controversial speech is handled in these cases raises serious concerns over free speech and academic freedom.

 

101 thoughts on “Barnard Professor Triggers Free Speech Controversy After Writing About “Detonating” and Gassing White People”

  1. I am a first time visitor to this blog. I was told by colleagues that the comments section was much better than, say, YouTube comments section. After being entertained by the back-and-forth regarding “anonymous the stupid”, I am persuaded that my colleagues are wrong and that this is just another grade school playground. That entire rant demonstrates perfectly why we are so divided. (It was a rant since “a the stupid” barely responded.) The entire “debate” was pointless and utterly unpersuasive. You will never get anyone to accommodate, much less, come to understand your point of view by using insults, disrespect, and juvenile language, tactics, and rants. I’ve always found the best way to deal with “radicals bereft of logic” is to disengage, rather like dealing with a bully. All this rant did was draw attention to this person. “A the stupid” is accused of, well, being stupid, yet they played the victum role extraordinarily well and the person ranting walked right into the trap. It looks like a one-sided attack. Well done! And “a the stupid” is supposed to be stupid? Really? “A the stupid” played you like a fiddle. Until intelligent people stop giving a platform to the radicals and illogical by engaging them with the very language, tactics, and rants they employ, not only will we remain divided, we will strain ourselves by granting these people the justification they require: “See?! I even called them delusional and they still kept going, insulting me, disrespecting me. They’re the radicals who incite violence! I was trying to be reasonable but they wouldn’t stop so they should be canceled! Canceled I say!” Better to ignore them, remove their stage, let them rant, say outrageous things, protest, cause violence, destruction etc. It will not be long before reasonable people who are not engaged will step forward and say “enough”. This is already in evidence but then rants like this set that back. If people continue to match insults and disrespect with more insults and disrespect nothing will be accomplished. It will only get worse. Just ask the conservative democrats (small d) in Weimar Germany in 1933 how well matching the Brown Shirts with insults, disrespect and in many cases, violence worked out for them. I know my post will be pilloried. Much like the other schoolyard comments sections in other so-called reasonable blogs function. So, i take my leave, ne’er to return. I’ve had enough of this playground here. Have at it folks. Continue to hide your insult and disrespect behind fancy diction; perhaps that makes you feel superior. I think it makes you look like a fool who is injuring the cause of compromise and dignity. Fare thee well.

  2. Despicable, hateful comments like those while disgusting are speech and as such must be protected. Frankly, I like it when idiot professors make such stupid comments. It lets me know that in fact they are boring, and intellectually deficient and not worthy of respect. It also tells me that unless I want to debate this depraved person in class, I would have no reason to take a course taught by him because I would learn nothing except that as one famous comic said, “you can’t fix stupid.” It is easy to see that parents waste money sending their kids to colleges that are taught by such empty hateful minds. Those are but some reasons why speech must be protected so that people are not afraid to show how ignorant they truly are.

  3. JT, I don’t recall you ever tackling in a serious fashion just where you believe First Amendment protections end, in regards to inciting or fomenting violent attacks, threats of violent attack, or vandalism/sabotage as a less direct way to intentionally injure a person.

    What I’m asking you is: Can you take the rather hackneyed “yelling fire in a theater”, and bring forward into this century other examples where malicious intent combines with injury, and is mediated by communications to incent, direct or encourage infliction of injury? In more analytical terms, actor A harbors animus toward B, or wishes to intimidate or thwart B in some fashion, and using communication incites or provokes actor C to carry out the attack on B (or B’s interest). Add to this the possibility that A seeks to operate from a position of stealth (anonymity, or worse impostering), and thus eschew any responsibility for the injuries fomented.

    It’s easy to be an unqualified advocate for free speech, and engage in jousting with restrictionists. Much harder is it to in your own mind champion both points of view by finding their logical meeting point.

    JT, can you speak to modern examples where the First Amendment does NOT protect communication?

    1. Bravo or brava, as the case may be pbinca! I have made this point in the past that Turley reaches for the low hanging fruit. Of all academics, a law school professor’s stock in trade is posing hypothetical scenarios in order to elucidate the lawful limits of a legal principle! But Turley is not willing to stick his neck out and declare where HE would draw the line “where the First Amendment does NOT protect communication.” Like a politician who attempts straddle the political divide, Turley will not take a definitive stand for fear of alienating any of his readers. After all, he has to hit 60 million views on Res Ipsa Loquitur!

  4. I have to wonder if the book’s publisher helped manufacture this controversy to create awareness for the book and stimulate book sales.

    What better way to goose book sales among his target market than to create buzz about a controversial passage in which a person pretending to be friends with white people lures them into gas chambers so they can be murdered because of their white skin?

    And who is his target market? It ain’t ghetto blacks. It ain’t normal people in middle America – the plumbers, mechanics, carpenters or factory workers. No, it’s the most privilege white people in society.

    It’s the self-hating, elite white liberal snobs. The people whose parents paid $50K a year or more to enroll them in east coast boarding schools to burnish their credentials to improve the chances they’d be accepted in an elite private college. The most privileged white people in society. The ones who have been indoctrinated by two generations of academics to hate their own race.

    You know, the people the author rubbed shoulders with when he was at Columbia.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates has shown the way to status and riches for blacks by appealing to self hating whites. Now this guy is trying to cash in, too.

  5. At what point do we stop seeing speech that incites violence against a particular group as “free speech,” and start seeing it as one element in a race war? That one side is censored while the other side has complete immunity because of their skin color can only lead to open conflict once the inequality is fully grasped.

    1. Especially since Philippe presented the fantasy specifically as a part of a race war, which he apparently thinks is down the pike. I’ve got the book on order from the library, so I can’t say this for sure. I only read the excerpt on Amazon.

  6. Anonymous the Stupid, you keep producing continuous responses that are deleted. I think it’s up to 4 deletions already. They produce no benefit and reflect an ignorant method of discussion. Is it any wonder how you earned your name?

      1. Once again Anonymous the Stupid you are making a statement to blame other people because you are unable to look at yourself in a mirror. The four or five deletions I was talking about had one thing in common. You were the poster that tipped the scales for the deletion. You were the one repeating a senseless link.

        Following this email you posted another again referring to another posting and again an absolute waste of time.

        You are a fool living up to your name while trying to defend what makes you Anonymous the Stupid.

          1. Anonymous the Stupid, it seems that you are unable to provide comments related to the discussion at hand. Probably because you have an overactive defense mechanism that prevents you from looking in the mirror so you could temporize those features you have that make you arrogant and stupid at the same time.

            1. S(tupid) Meyer stayed up most of the night trying to come up with his ridiculous comment @ 9:24.

              1. Anonymous the Stupid, one doesn’t need more than a minute to provide the following answer. I understand that if given a week you are unable to create anything intelligent.

                Anonymous the Stupid, it seems that you are unable to provide comments related to the discussion at hand. Probably because you have an overactive defense mechanism that prevents you from looking in the mirror so you could temporize those features you have that make you arrogant and stupid at the same time.

  7. “in spite of what he believes. He’s accomplishing nothing.

    His comments have zero impact on this writer.”

    Anonymous the Stupid, if you believed either of those statements you made you wouldn’t be responding as such. But you do. You probably are unable to understand the logic.

    1. Truth:

      “S. Meyer/Allan just keep repeating his infantile garbage. It doesn’t find it’s mark and blows back on him, in spite of what he believes. He’s accomplishing nothing.

      “His comments have zero impact on this writer. Never have, never will. Probably true for most people who choose to post anonymously — and S. Meyer/Allan clearly can’t tell the difference.”

      The guy has zero self-awareness.

      1. Anonymous the Stupid, if you believed in what you have written in the last several comments you wouldn’t have responded as you have. As I thought you, are unable to see the logic. You can lie to yourself but you can’t lie to everyone on the blog.

          1. Anonymous the Stupid, what is delusional about pointing out your logical failures in black and white that in your own words prove your deficiencies?

              1. “Anonymous says:April 29, 2021 at 9:33 AM
                Allan comes in hot first thing in the morning.”

                lol

                It won’t be long before he has to take his mid-morning nap.

  8. A comment down thread advocated for the “sticks and stones” response, which is the oldtime response. Appropriate response.

    Today we are ruled by the woke. The only way to remove the woke from power, is to enforce their own standards on them.

    While firing a guy for writing fiction makes no sense, it is exactly what Barnard College English instructor named Ben Philippe would demand of a peer that voted for Trump, writing a piece of fiction he found offensive

  9. OT: Cuomo Aides Spent Months Hiding Nursing Home Death Toll
    Aides to the New York governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, repeatedly prevented state health officials from releasing the number of nursing home deaths in the pandemic.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/28/nyregion/cuomo-aides-nursing-home-deaths.html?campaign_id=60&emc=edit_na_20210428&instance_id=0&nl=breaking-news&ref=headline&regi_id=2585408&segment_id=56739&user_id=99d0bac73a0e0ed40eb421e060769f8d
    ——

    The problem with the blog is that the MSM is very late in accepting the facts being discussed on the blog earlier. Suddenly the politics change so the NYTimes becomes more vocal and more willing to dump Cuomo.

    I guess since this is a recurring theme. Anonymous the Stupid now has to hide his Cuomo doll accepting an Emmy and take a different tune when discussing the pandemic. He will make sure he denies what he said earlier and now will be forced to make up new stories.

  10. In other news …

    The FBI raided the homes of lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing today.

    Giuliani’s lawyer told NPR that the “subpoenas indicate investigators are seeking Giuliani’s communications with a long list of individuals, including Parnas and Fruman, as well as the journalist John Solomon.”

    News reports indicate that it’s related to an investigation of activities with Ukraine. IIRR, Giuliani was doing work for Ukrainians who have since been sanctioned as Russian agents and was an unregistered foreign agent, thus could be prosecuted under FARA. That’s the case for Toensing, who didn’t register work for Firtash in Ukraine.

    Too late for Trump pardons.

      1. When I see you saying the same thing to conservatives who also post some off-topic comments, I’ll take your concern more seriously.

      2. People have been posting OT articles on JT’s blog, since its inception.

        Look at the sidebar and you’ll see a number of tweets, by JT, on this very topic.

      1. Would you prefer 50 shades of East Timorian privilege?

        If Americans enjoy freedom of speech, thought, press, propagation, religion, belief, assembly, segregation and every other conceivable, natural and God-given right and freedom per the 9th Amendment, how in the —- might racism, discrimination, bigotry, etc., be unconstitutional? Shall your morality prevail? Is Playboy magazine immoral and unconstitutional? Would you publish your daughter’s photos in it? Shall Americans hold only your opinions?

        You are the political aberration which would deny constitutional rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities to free Americans.

  11. Turley: “University administrators often yield to protests and seek investigations and suspensions as a matter of course for targeted academics. However, when controversies arise on the left, they tend to quickly (and correctly) cite free speech and academic values. The sharp contrast in how controversial speech is handled in these cases raises serious concerns over free speech and academic freedom.”

    Each time Turley makes this defensive plea which he does repeatedly, I can’t help but thinking that as a professor at GW law school, he may be looking over his shoulder.

  12. If a member of the KKK fantasizes about killing black people we should take him seriously and put precautions in place. If a black Professor fantasizes about killing white people we should take him seriously and take precautions. The KKK guy and Ben Phillipe are cut from exactly the same cloth. Again we are reminded that black people can not be racist.

    1. When did that happen? Anyone can be a racist. Racism is simply defined as someone who feels their race is morally superior to another race. No race is exempt. We all feel that way. We all look at our selves as superior to others on just about every issue. We are all prejudiced. We are in business for ourselves. We are human. We take care of ourselves first. I accept this thinking.

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