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Day march in Everett that same year. It was in that filmmaker Michael Lienau and his family first joined Lifeline Expedition, an England-based organization dedicated, for the past seven years, to traveling the world and apologizing for the part of white Europeans and Americans in the African slave trade. The expedition has attracted a loyal group concerned with the long-term effects of slavery on relations among whites and blacks. In historic slave ports in the United States, South America, Caribbean islands, Great Britain and Africa, members of the group, including several Lienau children, allow themselves to be chained and yoked together in a jarring acknowledgment of the practice of human trade.
Sorry is often said to be the hardest word but Andrew Hawkins felt compelled to apologise to a crowd of thousands of Africans. His regret was not for his own actions but offered on behalf of his ancestor, who traded in African slaves years ago. Sir John Hawkins was a 16th Century English shipbuilder, merchant, pirate and slave trader.
He first captured natives of Sierra Leone in and sold them in the Caribbean. His cousin was Sir Francis Drake, who joined him on expeditions. Hawkins is famed for reconstructing the design of English ships in the s and commanded part of the fleet which repelled the Spanish Armada in As a boy I used to be pleased to see it and to think I was related to him.
This event, which runs for several weeks, encourages Africans to discover their ancestral identity. They made their way to the stadium by walking through the streets laden in yokes and chains, before eventually speaking their words of atonement. Andrew estimates the 25,capacity stadium was about two-thirds full, with delegates from African nations, Gambian vice-president, Isatou Njie-Saidy, and Rita Marley, widow of reggae legend Bob Marley, among the crowd. Some were looking at us, others were reading through their programmes to work out what we were doing. The group apologised in French, German and English — the languages of the nations responsible for much of the African slave trade.
Andrew Hawkins The apology had not been rehearsed. I did say that as a member of the Hawkins family I did not accept what had happened was right. But does Andrew really believe it was worth apologising for events that happened more than four centuries ago, on behalf of a relative who is so very distant? The March of the Abolitionists Can reconciliation and forgiveness be achieved by wearing the yokes and chains of imprisonment? The abolition marchers believe their mile walk will go at least some way toward promoting a greater understanding of our role in the slave trade.
Image: Lifeline Expedition website Beginning in Hull on Friday 2nd March, hundreds of people will don yokes and chains and attempt the mile journey from Humberside to London — the gruelling route taken by enslaved Africans during the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
In Cambridgeshire, these include Wisbech, the birthplace of abolitionist Thomas Clarkson; Cambridge, where both Clarkson and William Wilberforce were educated; and Soham, where the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was married. Why and who? Image: Lifeline Expedition website Marchers include a number of children aged between five and 15, two of whom will occasionally wear the yokes and chains. The organisers stress that these children are aged 12 and 15 and have chosen to wear the yokes after seeing pictures of enslaved children.
The march of the Abolitionists aims to bring about an apology for the slave trade, and especially the role of the Church, and so help people deal with its legacy; to raise greater awareness of the true history of both slavery and abolition; remember and celebrate the work of both the black and white abolitionists; and promote greater understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness. Mille et une nuits, Anne-Sophie Nogaret est enseignante. Certains sont docteurs en sociologie ou en sciences politiques.
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The diagnosis is put forward by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, and they make their case convincingly. The argument is that college campus is ground zero for this new culture, but its rules of conduct are starting to leak into mainstream institutions. Campbell and Manning did not start their careers investigating microaggressions and trigger warnings.
Campbell had been studying the sociology of genocide at California State University, and Manning had been studying suicide at West Virginia University. They came together to consider the questions of how groups manage conflict and how grievances are handled in different cultural contexts. A dignity culture, they explain, has a set of moral values and behavioral norms designed to promote the idea that each human life possesses immutable worth.
If an individual has been brutalized or exists at the bottom of a social pecking order, she still has human worth. By contrast, in an honor culture, being on the bottom of a social pecking order is associated with great shame. Victims are tainted and often punished for bringing dishonor to their families. In some extreme circumstances, they may even be killed. A victimhood culture departs from both by inverting their norms. On a university campus, for example, victims are not shamed but are instead fiercely protected, and now awarded status.
It consisted of her carrying her mattress around the Columbia University campus, including to class, under the condition that her accused rapist needed to be expelled in order for her to stop. For this performance, she was widely criticized, but she was also heralded as a feminist hero. That such awards and accolades might incentivize vexatious or false complaints in a student body seemed not to matter to adults in charge.
In the most disquieting chapter, Campell and Manning predict that victimhood culture will eventually spread from elite colleges into the mainstream. In making this prediction, they note the significance of the fact that victimhood culture has emerged among the wealthiest schools in America. Oberlin and Brown, for example, have led the microaggression movement, while Claremont has been a pioneer in safe-space demands, microaggression protests, and the banning of speakers. That income level is double that of Saint Louis University, where Murray spoke to an attentive audience.
The book thus highlights a peculiar fact: The students most obsessed with their own oppression are some of the most pampered individuals in the world. Unlike victimhood culture, dignity culture did not arise from pampered pupils at American schools and universities. It did not even originate with the upper classes. Campbell and Manning explain that it was first established in the class of yeoman farmers, master craftsmen, and artisans of Northern Europe. Since its members had goods to sell, they had a lot to gain from general tolerance of the foibles of others and a lot to lose from engaging in reckless violence.
When institutions such as courts matured and the authority of nobles was weakened, the upper classes adopted dignity culture as well. So while dignity spread upwards from the middle classes to the social elite, Campbell and Manning warn, victimhood culture will likely spread downwards from the social elites to the middle classes—as those wishing to be upwardly mobile will try to emulate upper-class moral norms.
While the culture is likely to spread downwards, it is also likely to inspire resentment. Campbell and Manning warn that the narratives of privilege deployed by the culture, which target white men in particular, are just as likely to inspire hostility as deference, especially in those who feel that they are unfairly targeted as oppressors:.
If whites and males increasingly face a moral world divided between those who vilify them and those who glorify them, we should not be surprised if many find the latter more appealing than the former. Victimhood culture deviates from this moral equality by producing a moral hierarchy with white males at the bottom; the reaction it provokes may be the resurgence of a moral hierarchy that places them at the top.
Paradoxically, the backlash against political correctness is likely to make the situation worse. Conservatives are quickly learning to ape victimhood, too. You can side with the left and hope to be allowed to exist like a domesticates [sic] lap dog like David Brooks or Bret Stephens…. The logic of victimhood culture, then, is escalating grievance and retaliatory aggression. When slights cannot be neutralized with a dignified turn of the cheek, the prognosis looks grim.
What the purveyors of victimhood culture do not seem to grasp is that in weakening dignity, and in undermining the principles that deem all men and women to be moral equals, they unwittingly destroy the safeguards that prevent bad actors—such as hoaxers and narcissists—from climbing the social hierarchy through dishonesty and manipulation. In incentivizing weakness and reliance on third parties to intervene in disputes, students invite a paternalistic authoritarian apparatus to develop.
While they seem comfortable with an authoritarian apparatus on their university campus today, we should not be surprised if they demand an authoritarian state to police the citizenry tomorrow. The logical endpoint of a victimhood culture will not be a progressive utopia. On the contrary: The further this culture radiates outward, the more likely it will make victims of us all. The two sociologists have aimed to supply us with an empirical sociological analysis of the recent moral conflicts that have erupted on U.
After reading the book, I reached out to the American sociologists to interview them about some of the key themes of their book, and also to gain insight into some recent cultural trends that were not covered. What follows is a transcript of our interview conducted via email.
In dignity cultures, there is a low sensitivity to slight. People are more tolerant of insult and disagreement. Taking the law into your own hands with violent vengeance is itself a serious crime and generally looked down upon. Insults demand a serious response, and even accidental slights might provoke severe conflict. Having a low tolerance for offense is more likely to be seen as a virtue than a vice. Letting yourself be slighted without seeking justice is shameful. And seeking justice is more likely to take the form of violent vengeance.
Appealing to authorities is more stigmatized than taking matters into your own hands. These two kinds of cultures emphasize different sources of moral status or worth. It depends on reputation. And while a lot of things might go into making this reputation, the core of classical honor is physical bravery.
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Tolerating slights is shameful because you let someone put you down without defending your reputation by force. It suggests cowardice. Appealing to the authorities is shameful for the same reason. Virtue means being bold and forceful, aggressively defending your reputation against any challenges, and being vigilant for signs that someone else is probing you for weakness. Dignity is a kind of inherent and inalienable moral worth.
What we call victimhood culture combines some aspects of honor and dignity. People in a victimhood culture are like the honorable in having a high sensitivity to slight. Insults are serious business, and even unintentional slights might provoke a severe conflict. But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party.
They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large. The combination of high sensitivity with dependence on others encourages people to emphasize or exaggerate the severity of offenses. People who air grievances are likely to appeal to such concepts as disadvantage, marginality, or trauma, while casting the conflict as a matter of oppression. The result is that this culture also emphasizes a particular source of moral worth: victimhood.
Victim identities are deserving of special care and deference. Contrariwise, the privileged are morally suspect if not deserving of outright contempt. Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor. We can see examples of honor cultures around the world and throughout history. They tend to have relatively high rates of violence, including such distinctive forms as dueling and feuding. Much of the premodern West can be understood as an honor culture.
European elites used to preserve their honor by fighting duels to the death; in the US South, fatal duels continued up until the American Civil War.
By the 20 th century, though, dignity culture had largely supplanted honor culture in the West. Writing in , sociologist Peter Berger called the concept of honor obsolete, saying it had little resonance with modern people. People no longer lived in mortal fear of having their honor damaged. And duels to the death were a strange curiosity of the past. We argue that victimhood culture, at least in its more extreme forms, is new.
We see it in its purest form on contemporary college and university campuses. Manifestations of victimhood culture include complaining about and punishing microaggressions, demanding and creating safe spaces, requesting and requiring trigger warnings, and banning or disinviting speakers who might offend designated victim groups. Other kinds of status have other sources, so in any complex society not only are some people more respectable than others, but some are also wealthier, more socially integrated, or more culturally conventional.
Your position on these and other social hierarchies affects how people treat you. If you testify in court, for example, people are more likely to believe you if you are wealthy, respectable, and so on. So respectability — moral status — acts like other kinds of status. And since moral judgments give rise to it, it takes different forms depending on the moral culture. One culture might see obedience and self-control as key virtues, while another might see them as vices if they mean less individuality and authenticity.
This is what happens in an honor culture. Courage, and one aspect of it in particular — physical bravery — is elevated over other virtues. It also leads to a moral hierarchy with brave, strong, and violent men at the top and the cowardly and the weak at the bottom. Honor is one type of moral status, one revolving around a particular virtue. It arises under particular social conditions such as the absence of a government monopoly on violence, so we certainly understand why honor cultures exist and the logic of their moral system. But we agree with the critics of honor cultures throughout history who have objected to the conflict and violence those cultures produce.
We also object to the moral hierarchy of those cultures. Emphasizing one virtue over many others leads to perversities: Cruel men and hotheads can end up being esteemed while peacemakers are denigrated. The moral hierarchy of victimhood culture has some of the same problems, and it introduces others. Like honor cultures, victimhood cultures emphasize one set of vices and virtues over others. They are concerned with eradicating oppression and privilege, and this single-minded moral obsession can lead to the similar kinds of perversities that come from neglecting other virtues in honor cultures.
Honor cultures incentivize bravery while neglecting other virtues. But if you want esteem in a victimhood culture, what can you do? Victimhood culture incentivizes bad behavior. The idea is that all members of certain groups are victims, but that no one else is.
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Activists even argue that whites cannot be the victims of racism, or men the victims of sexism. Likewise, whether people can be victims of new offenses like cultural appropriation or microaggression, depends on their identity. A white person wearing a hairstyle associated with African Americans would be cultural appropriation, for instance, but an African American wearing a hairstyle associated with whites would not be. Likewise, those who have pioneered the concept of microaggression have made it clear that not all slights count.
Under this schema even many minority groups, such as Evangelical Christians, fail to qualify, and any discrimination against them is ignored or celebrated. We have two problems with this. The first is a fundamental moral objection. We believe in the ideals of dignity culture — that all human beings have an inherent worth and should be treated accordingly — and we object to the new hierarchy of victimhood just as we would any racial and ethnic hierarchy.
The second problem is the reactions it may produce. We find the recent prominence of alt-right white nationalists alarming, and we worry there will be more of it in reaction to the spread of victimhood culture. CL: You wrote your book before the explosion of the MeToo movement. From your perspective, and your knowledge about the spread of moral cultures, do you believe that the MeToo movement represents a significant shift in victimhood culture into the mainstream?
When we look at the full-blown victimhood culture among campus activists, the moral logic at work is starkly different than what we see in other contexts. The degree to which victimhood is a kind of status is variable, so even where dignity culture is still dominant, we might see some tendencies toward victimhood culture. In the book we talk about the movement against campus rape, and we point out that the movement has support from journalists, members of Congress, and others who are not part of the campus victimhood culture.
But what we do see is that an effort to honor victims leads to credulity even in cases like the rape hoaxes at Duke and at the University of Virginia where it should have been clear that the accusers were lying. It also leads to efforts to weaken the due process rights of the accused. And alongside the more mainstream elements of the movement are the campus activists and others enmeshed in victimhood culture who make more radical arguments — that accusers should always be believed, for example. The MeToo movement may be similar. The movement as a whole appears not to have relied on accusations of new victimhood offenses and has focused instead on things like rape, groping, and other kinds of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The accusations against Weinstein, for example, include 19 coerced sexual acts and many more instances of unwanted touching and sexual exhibitionism. Much of the MeToo movement might be seen as an expression of dignity culture — an appeal to ideals already widely held in the culture but commonly violated in practice. But the MeToo movement is large and has less mainstream elements as well, so some of the accusations have indeed drawn from victimhood culture in various ways.
We might think of the most prominent accusations existing on a continuum from Harvey Weinstein to comedian Aziz Ansari. The accusations against Weinstein, which deal with clear-cut cases of violence, coercion, and harassment, are understandable in terms of mainstream morality, while the accusation against Ansari is understandable only in terms of victimhood culture. The same perspective that leads to the labeling of uncomfortable conversations as a kind of aggression, or conservative political speech as violence, leads here to the labeling of boorish behavior on a date as sexual assault.
To the extent that the MeToo movement accords a special status to victims, to the extent that it establishes victimhood solely based on whether someone is a woman or man, and to the extent that it blurs the distinction between serious offenses like what Weinstein has been accused of and the kind of noncoercive sexual advances on a date that Ansari is accused of, it will indeed lead to the spread of victimhood culture. Another thing the Ansari case illustrates is something we have thought of as moral emaciation. The problem is that Grace has no moral language to communicate this.
Instead, it has to be oppression, assault. This is probably not good for the MeToo movement, and it may shift attention away from the kinds of offenses the movement was supposed to call attention to. Moral emaciation leads to moral confusion. Cultural appropriation seems to be one aspect of the new morality that most people find baffling. But can it be understood as a culture imbuing certain cultural objects or practices with moral status, that cannot or should not be accessed by people who are lower down in the moral hierarchy?
Is cultural appropriation in some way similar to a form of moral pollution? As with microaggressions, the offense is framed as a matter of collective oppression, of one social group harming another. And this is certainly one of the most baffling of the new offenses. If anything, we might expect social and cultural conservatives to be the ones most upset about Westerners practicing yoga or mindfulness meditation, or white kids adopting black fashions and hairstyles. In many cases they are, but these days so-called progressives are often vocal and visible critics.
Your suggestion about moral hierarchy is on point. Though the complaint is framed as a matter of someone dominating or exploiting the vulnerable — in a victimhood culture, virtually all complaints are — it might be more helpful to understand it as a matter of the offenders aping their betters. As sociologist Donald Black discusses in his book Moral Time , various societies throughout history have had rules — sumptuary laws — preventing people from adopting the styles, entertainments, and recreations of their social betters. The Han and Ming dynasties forbade commoners from wearing certain colors of clothing.
Premodern Japan had laws forbidding peasants from wearing clothing distinctive of townspeople. In medieval England a law stated that no one under the rank of knight should wear any fur clothing later amended to allow them to wear distinctive kinds of fur. The unwritten norms regarding cultural appropriation seem analogous to these sorts of restrictions. As you suggest, thinking of it as a kind of moral pollution also might help us put it into a larger sociological context. As sociologist Murray Milner argued in his work on the Indian caste system, sacredness is but a special form of status.
It corresponds to what we call moral status in our book, though like honor it might be a particular style of moral status. The sacred is that which is treated as special and worthy of reverence. It must be set apart from the profane, protected by rituals associated with cleanliness and purity. One might immediately think of Mosaic Law, but if we understand it abstractly we can see these sorts of purity rules everywhere, including regarding secular things like national flags and anthems. The culture of vibrant, good, brave, people is being polluted by those who carry the moral stain of privilege.
Hence we see pieces where people complain about the prevalence of whiteness in LGBT spaces, or Taylor Swift exuding whiteness, or, to give a case we mention in our book, people accusing others of asking white questions and employing white research methods. CL: It was really interesting to read about how conservatives particularly those who are very flamboyant or attention seeking have learned to use victimhood culture, or exploit victimhood culture for their own selfish benefit.
You argued that this might, in fact, lead to an increased uptake of victimhood culture morality in the mainstream culture. Would you be able to elaborate on this point for our readers? Conservatives and others who find themselves opposed to campus activists might uphold the values of the dignity culture the activists reject, but sometimes they end up departing from it themselves. One way they might do this is by embracing whatever victimhood culture opposes.
This can mean being deliberately provocative and offensive in order to get a rise out of the activists, or at the extreme, it can mean embracing alt-right ideologies that reject equality and diversity. But another way conservatives might depart from dignity culture is by embracing the assumptions of victimhood culture and pointing to their own victimhood. In our first article on victimhood culture in , we pointed to the case of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton student who wrote an article about checking his privilege , as campus activists had been urging that he and others do.
The idea was that when he checked his privilege he found in his background a long history of hardship and persecution, including family members who had been persecuted and murdered in the Holocaust. It points to the absurdities of the victimhood framework. The grandson of Holocaust survivors might legitimately wonder why he should have the burden of being labeled privileged while others at his elite university gain sympathy and status by labeling themselves victims. We ourselves sometimes wonder why in an academic environment where people constantly talk about disadvantage, inclusivity, diversity, and the like, our working class, small town, Southern backgrounds gain us no victimhood points.
But this easily leads to competitive victimhood, where moral disputes become contests over who can claim the most disadvantage. Conservatives at colleges and universities might be especially prone to embracing victimhood since they can actually make very plausible claims of being one of the most victimized groups on campus. Conservatives are vastly underrepresented among the faculty, especially in the social sciences. Conservatives on campus are also subject to what the activists would call microaggressions or worse if directed toward recognized victim groups. Many of them remain closeted.
We also see claims of victimhood becoming a key part of the campus conservative message. Conservatives should definitely complain about the suppression of free speech on campus. But sometimes this takes the form of engaging in intentionally offensive speech in order to get a reaction from the left that then becomes the basis of further complaints. This actually combines both of the dignity-rejecting strategies — the embrace of offensiveness and the embrace of victimhood.
Conservative groups that have brought in the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, seem more interested in stirring up controversy and angering the left than in advancing conservative ideas. They should have the right to do so, of course, and even when groups have brought in conservative intellectuals campus activists have sometimes reacted in the same way.
Still, bringing in someone like Yiannopoulos hardly advances the ideals of dignity. Another way that conservatives and other opponents of victimhood culture may end up adopting its assumptions, perhaps unwittingly, is by valorizing the victims of victimhood culture. Consider the recent case of Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Wilfred Laurier University who was certainly treated badly by the faculty and administration there.
When Shepherd released a recording of the meeting, there was an outpouring of support for her from those concerned about free speech and academic freedom, and the university ended up apologizing. In the aftermath of all of that, though, Shepherd has become a kind of celebrity among opponents of victimhood culture, with regular speaking engagements and honors, including the Outstanding Student Award from Heterodox Academy and a prominent speaking spot at their upcoming meeting.
While Shepherd behaved well in the initial conflict with her superiors, her prominence seems to come almost entirely from her status as a victim-of-victimhood culture rather than from any insights of her own. Her views have been consistently supportive of free speech but otherwise mostly inchoate and rapidly shifting. For many opponents of victimhood culture, though, her status as a victim gives her a kind of moral authority and perhaps even immunity from criticism. CL: I really liked the way you offered insight and not just condemnation of victimhood culture. How do you remain so detached from your subject without becoming judgemental?
We both have somewhat analytical thinking styles. We each got into studying conflict and social control because that seemed where the action was, scientifically speaking. In our book we talk about the politicization of sociology. The field has long tended to attract people with axes to grind — mostly liberal or progressive ones, occasionally conservative ones. Even if they take scientific methodology seriously — and many still do — their topics and questions are driven by what they feel passionate about for practical or political reasons.
Hence the common pattern of people studying their own gender, race, ethnicity, or else writing about the topic they were doing activism on before deciding to go to graduate school. Victimhood culture does hit closer to home for us. Its epicenter is the university, and it has a lot of traction in the social sciences. As academic sociologists, we definitely have practical worries about what the future holds.
Throughout the process of writing the book we were simply more interested in describing and analyzing than merely complaining. Complaint is boring. Analysis is interesting, especially if one is making cross-cultural comparisons and searching for the general principles behind it all.
In comparative context, all human behavior is bizarre and fascinating. We are social scientists, but of course, we are not only social scientists. We have political views and strong moral commitments. Our book considers several consequences of victimhood culture that we, and probably most of our readers, think are bad. How, then, would people who agree with us go about preserving dignity culture? Can we make ourselves less sensitive to slight? Studying ancient wisdom , learning the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, or even absorbing some folk knowledge might be helpful. Can we find better ways of handling our grievances other than venting online or complaining to a bureaucracy?
Talking things out is hard. It requires confrontations that many of us would rather avoid. But like anything, if you can force yourself to start doing it, it might get easier with practice. We might also focus on the epicenter of victimhood culture — our colleges and universities.
Do we know how much of that is for the policing of offensive speech and propagating microaggression theory and implicit bias training? Do our legislators know? Maybe we should call and ask — or better yet, get together a group of a half-dozen friends to call and ask. If it were possible to shrink the university bureaucracy — particularly the bureaucracy charged with handling offensive words and images — it would reduce the moral dependency of victimhood culture.
It would reduce the incentives to jockey for victim status and increase the incentives for alternative ways of dealing with problems. It might even make people more prone to talk to talk to one another and speak their minds without fear of reprimand. Along those lines, another strategy would be to try to reduce the ideological homogeneity of the academy, where a mainstream conservative is a rarer thing than a radical leftist.
But since victimhood culture is currently most concentrated on the radical left, some of its most severe manifestations involve demonizing those on the right. Theoretically, increasing ideological diversity should reduce the degree of ideological intolerance on campus, and so undermine some of the more severe eruptions. It would also provide some more tolerance for those wishing to criticize victimhood culture as such. For many college students, socialization into extreme sensitivity and dependency began before they arrived.
There are signs that children and youth — at least from the middle and upper classes — are more sheltered, supervised, and regulated than in decades past, and that they have correspondingly less practice in coping with difficulties and handling conflicts on their own.
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Supporters of so-called free-range parenting campaign against this, encouraging parents to allow their children unsupervised play and school districts to provide recess grounds with such dangerous equipment as jungle gyms and monkey bars. One might find ways to encourage these kinds of initiatives locally or nationally, such as by raising money for the legal defense of people charged with neglect and abuse for what many of us would consider a reasonable bit of autonomy or schools held responsible for accidental injuries.
Google maps. Several students conveyed their outrage on social media and on campus. La Fabrique. Pas suffisamment encore aux yeux de certains. Nous manquons de professeurs qui travaillent sur les discriminations raciales. Poursuivons le tour de France. Au-dessus de moi, il y a les profiteurs blancs. Le plus souvent en silence. Discours inutilement alarmistes? The tennis great was committed to respectful dialogue, refusing to lower himself to the level of invective. Raymond Arsenault Mr.
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Arsenault is a biographer of Arthur Ashe. The New York Times Sept. Arthur Ashe always had an exquisite sense of timing, whether he was striking a topspin backhand or choosing when to speak out for liberty and justice for all. Open — a milestone to be celebrated on Saturday at the grand stadium bearing his name — coincides with a national conversation on the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of professional athletes.
But the example he set as a champion on and off the court has never been more relevant. As Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and others strive to use their athletic stardom as a platform for social justice activism, they might want to look back at what this soft-spoken African-American tennis star accomplished during the age of Jim Crow and apartheid.
The first thing they will discover is that, like most politically motivated athletes, Mr. Ashe turned to activism only after his formative years as an emerging sports celebrity. At the same time, Mr. The calculus of risk and responsibility soon changed, however, as Mr.
Ashe reinvented himself as a year-old activist-in-training during the tumultuous year of With his stunning victory in September at the U. Open, where he overcame the best pros in the world as a fifth-seeded amateur, he gained a new confidence that affected all aspects of his life. Jefferson Rogers, a prominent black civil rights leader Mr. Ashe had known since childhood. Rogers had been urging Mr. Ashe to speak out on civil rights issues for some time, and when he finally did so, it released a spirit of civic engagement that enveloped his life.
In part, Mr. During the violent spring of , the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ashe had come to admire above all other black leaders, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whom he had supported as a presidential candidate, shook Mr. But he refused to surrender to disillusionment. Instead he dedicated himself to active citizenship on a level rarely seen in the world of sports. His activism began with an effort to expand economic and educational opportunities for young urban blacks, but his primary focus soon turned to the liberation of black South Africans suffering under apartheid.
Later he supported a wide variety of causes, playing an active role in campaigns for black political power, high educational standards for college athletes, criminal justice reform, equality of the sexes and AIDS awareness. He also became involved in numerous philanthropic enterprises. By the end of his life, Mr. He had become, along with Muhammad Ali, a prime example of an athlete who transcended the world of sports. In , President Barack Obama identified Mr. Ali and Mr. Ashe as the sports figures he admired above all others. Ashe practiced his own distinctive brand of activism, one based on unemotional appeals to common sense and enlightened philosophical principles as simple as the Golden Rule.
He had no facility for, and little interest in, using agitation and drama to draw attention to causes, no matter how worthy they might be. A champion of civility, he always kept his cool and never raised his voice in anger or frustration. Viewing emotional appeals as self-defeating and even dangerous, he relied on reasoned persuasion derived from careful preparation and research. Ashe preferred to make a case in written form, or as a speaker on the college lecture circuit or as a witness before the United Nations. His periodic opinion pieces in The Washington Post and other newspapers tackled a number of thorny issues related to sports and the broader society, including upholding high academic standards for college athletic eligibility and the expulsion of South Africa from international athletic competition.
In retirement Mr. Ashe became a popular tennis broadcaster known for his clever quips, yet as an activist he never resorted to sound bites that excited audiences with reductionist slogans. Often working behind the scenes, he engaged in high-profile public debate only when he felt there was no other way to advance his point of view.
Suspicious of quick fixes, he advocated incremental and gradual change as the best guarantor of true progress. Yet he did not let this commitment to long-term solutions interfere with his determination to give voice to the voiceless. Known as a risk taker on the court, he was no less bold off the court, where he never shied away from speaking truth to power. He was arrested twice, in while participating in an anti-apartheid demonstration in front of the South African Embassy and in while picketing the White House in protest of the George H.
The first arrest embarrassed the American tennis establishment, which soon removed him from his position as captain of the U. Davis Cup team, and the second occurred during the final months of his life as he struggled with the ravages of AIDS. In both cases he accepted the consequences of his principled activism with dignity. Ashe was a class act in every way, a man who practiced what he preached without being diverted by the temptations of power, fame or fortune.
When we place his approach to dissent and public debate in a contemporary frame, it becomes obvious that his legacy is the antithesis of the scorched-earth politics of Trumpism. If Mr. Ashe were alive today, he would no doubt be appalled by the bullying tactics and insulting rhetoric of a president determined to punish athletes who have the courage and audacity to speak out against police brutality toward African-Americans. And yet we can be equally sure that Mr.
Not all of the activist athletes involved in public protests during the past two years have followed Mr.
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But many have made a good-faith effort to do so, resisting the temptation to respond in kind to Mr. In particular, several of the most visible activists — including Mr. Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and Mr. James — have kept their composure and dignity even as they have borne the brunt of Mr. By and large, they have wisely taken the same high road that Mr.
Ashe took two generations ago, eschewing the politics of character assassination while keeping their eyes on the prize. Ashe would surely be gratified that to date, this high road has led to more protest, not less, confirming his belief that real change comes from rational advocacy and hard work, not emotional self-indulgence.
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As we celebrate his remarkable life and legacy a quarter-century after his death, we can be confident that Mr. But he had a social conscience that was way ahead of its time Raymond Arsenault The Guardian 9 Sep The era of Open tennis, in which both amateurs and professionals competed, was only four months old.
Many feared that mixing the two groups was a mistake. Yet Ashe, with help from a string of upsets that eliminated the top four seeds, defeated the Dutchman Tom Okker in the championship match — in the process becoming the first black man to reach the highest echelon of amateur tennis.
But the lost income proved inconsequential in light of the other benefits that came in the wake of his historic performance. He became not only as a bona fide sports star but also a citizen activist with important things to contribute to society and a platform to do so. Ashe began to speak out on questions of social and economic justice. Earlier in the year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had shocked Ashe out of his youthful reticence to become involved in the struggle for civil rights. Over the next 25 years, he worked tirelessly as an advocate for civil and human rights, a role model for athletes interested in more than fame and fortune.
Without picking up a racket, he managed to demonstrate a moral leadership that far transcended the world of sports. So what is happening at the Open is unthinkable: gender and nationality and politics will take a back seat to a full-fledged effort to support Ashe. This awakening of social responsibility — among a group of athletes not typically known for political courage — was deeply gratifying to a man whose previous calls to action had been largely ignored.
Seven years earlier he was fired as captain of the US Davis Cup team in part because leaders were uncomfortable with his growing political activism, especially his arrest during an anti-apartheid demonstration outside a South African embassy. This rebuke did not shake his belief in active citizenship as a bedrock principle, however, and as the Open drew to a close he demonstrated just how seriously he regarded personal commitment to social justice.
When his lifelong friend and anti-apartheid ally Randall Robinson asked Ashe to come to Washington for a protest march he immediately said yes, even though the march was scheduled four days before the end of the Open. To Ashe and the organizers of the White House protest, this double standard — which flew in the face of the political realities of both islands — smacked of racism.
More recently, he had monitored the truncated career of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a self-styled champion of the poor whose regime was toppled by a military coup with the tacit support of the Bush administration. Ashe felt compelled to speak out. Considering his medical condition, he had no business being at a protest; certainly no one would have blamed him if he had begged off. No one, that is, but himself.
At the appointed hour, he arrived at the protest site in jeans, T-shirt and straw hat, a human scarecrow reduced to lbs on his 6ft 1in frame, but resolute as ever. The throng included a handful of celebrities, but Ashe alone represented the sports world. While he knew his presence was largely symbolic, he hoped to set an example.
Since federal law prohibited large demonstrations close to the White House, the organizers expected arrests. The police did not disappoint: nearly demonstrators, including Ashe, were arrested, handcuffed and carted away. Ashe, despite his physical condition, asked for and received no favors. After paying his fine and calling his wife Jeanne to assure her he was all right, he took the late afternoon train back to New York.
The next night, while sitting on his couch watching the nightly news, he felt a sharp pain in his sternum. Tests revealed he had suffered a mild heart attack, the second of his life. Prior to the trip to Washington, Jeanne had worried something like this might happen. But she knew her husband was never one to play it safe when something important was on the line. On the tennis court, he had always been prone to fits of reckless play, going for broke with shots that defied logic or sense. Off the court, particularly in his later years, Arthur Ashe almost always went full-out.
He did so not because he craved activity for its own sake but rather because he wanted to live a virtuous and productive life. Even near the end, weakened by disease, he still wanted to make a difference. And he did, as he always did. Her favorite memory is from seven years later at Wimbledon. Ashe claimed the last of his three major titles in England in in a match against heavy favorite Jimmy Connors. She also remembers the changeovers. It was the first time you were conscious of the mental side of tennis. Arthur was instrumental in that. Arthur was a thinker. As the U. Open celebrates its 50th anniversary, the U.
Tennis Association is also honoring Ashe for all that he was: thinker, pioneer, activist, champion. Fans can be seen walking around sporting white T-shirts featuring a picture of Ashe wearing sunglasses, cool as can be. Ashe was an Army lieutenant when he won the U. Open as an amateur in ; Johnnie, 70, was in the Marine Corps for 20 years. Johnnie Ashe, like Wade, remembers his brother as an intellectual and an innovator, as someone who was meant to change the world. He was three months away from coming home.
What mountain was he going to climb next? Since Johnnie stayed on active duty, Arthur could compete for both the U. Open championships in He is the only person to have won both. I tell people if Arthur had concentrated on just tennis, he would have been the best in the world. But tennis was a vehicle. He wanted to be able to take kids outside of their environs, outside of their element for a little while and expose them to what they can be.
What happens is you get somebody like Arthur — and following Arthur, LeBron James is starting to do things — to expose kids. Arthur, and Althea Gibson before him, opened doors for people of color in our sport. Then you get two playground children — one from Harlem, one from Richmond — to break into the bigs. People had to stop and think about that. He also won the Australian Open and a third and final major in at Wimbledon. After all these years there are the formidable but not mutually exclusive legacies of Ashe: as the only African-American man to win a Grand Slam tournament and as a venerated humanitarian.
Washington came tantalizingly close to living up to the former and has found a contextual purpose in the latter. That said, Washington was admittedly more focused on the biggest payday of his career, potential lifetime membership in the All England Club and a permanent engraving on its champions wall. Family life in northern Florida is good for Washington, with a wife, two teenage children, a real estate business and an eponymous foundation in an impoverished area of Jacksonville that for 22 years has provided a tennis introduction for children unlikely to find a private pathway into the sport.
If, in the process, another Ashe happened to emerge, so much the better. But that was not the primary function, or point. We highly encourage kids to play on their high school team, go on to play or try out for their college team. Why there was no African-American male Grand Slam champion successor to Ashe in the years soon after his trailblazing is no great mystery, Washington said. Fifty years ago, tennis was largely the province of the wealthy and white, lacking a foundational structure to facilitate such an occurrence. They in turn have been followed by a raft of African-American female players, including the U.
Washington retired in with four tour victories and a quarterfinal Australian Open result in addition to his Wimbledon run. He was followed by James Blake, who rose to No. Martin Blackman, the U. Even with better intentions, and greater investment, it still took a set of circumstances worthy of a Disney script to land Frances Tiafoe, one of the more promising young American players, on tour.
Talent and a noticeable work ethic attracted well-heeled benefactors and helped Tiafoe climb to his current ranking of No.