The Ben Shapiro Performance: Why It Was Shameful

Yesterday, a much hyped appearance of Ben Shapiro at BU came and went, and we are all left to puzzle what this performance was all about. By performance I mean everything that came before and the event itself. By the time I was thinking of attending the event had sold out. Sold out lectures are a rarity here at BU. Name recognition helps, as apparently does notoriety. But let me get to the main point.

Black BU folks demonstrated against the lecture because of its title. The title of the talk suggested that Shapiro was going to argue that “America was not built on slavery but on freedom.” But if the reports on his lecture are accurate, that’s not what he said. In his lecture he allegedly acknowledged the evil of slavery and acknowledged the ills of Jim Crow segregation. From what I gather where he differs is that he wants people to distinguish the present from the past and recognize that America has changed to be a more inclusive and post-racial society than people sometimes want to believe. In other words, Shapiro came across as a liberal rather than a conservative. But the title was formulated to provoke a strong reaction and it did, because it is offensive. What I don’t understand, if Shapiro is not a racist or a white supremacist, who acknowledges the evils of slavery and argues for freedom for all, and if this represents the views of the student group that invited him, then why the offensive title? Bait and switch? Signaling to the alt-right while appearing as a mere conservative?

To say that America was not built on slavery but on freedom is an absurd statement because it was built on slavery and freedom, namely freedom for slavers and others who benefited from the economic wealth created by the enslavement of Africans who were deprived of their basic rights. And to say that this is a matter of the past willfully ignores the lasting and ongoing effects of slavery and segregation. The Elie Wiesel Center held a series of events on economic racism and we clearly need to educate our students and the public further on this subject.  We cannot speak of freedom as a fact either. Freedom is an aspiration, not a fact. Economic racism is.

You can read Joel Brown and Amy Laskowsky’s report on the event HERE.

UPDATE: On December 9, the Elie Wiesel Center, along with the BU African American Studies Program and the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies program, organized a response to Ben Shapiro. You can read about it HERE.

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