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The following letter is in response to Hypersensitive Halloween by Kristy Barnes

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


I do not, and cannot, find fault in the assertion of Ms. Barnes when she suggests in her column that the UGBC initiative against offensive customs is demonstrative of a culture of toleration which curtails the expression of hateful messages in return for a more stable civic community based on acceptance of all peoples.

Where I have difficulty in following Ms. Barnes’ logic is when she attempts to make the claim that such boundaries on messages of hate are, in fact, unjust constraints on her ability to manifest her own culture in her outward expression. 

It seems very much that Ms. Barnes is playing the role of apologist for those ill-informed students who chose to put civic community to the side in order to indulge their own prejudices in the name of comedy. 

Perhaps Ms. Barnes herself does not belong to the typology of students who choose to engage in the expression of blatant hatred and bigotry, but choosing to defend those students on the grounds that one’s personal background can also result in bigoted expressions of hate misses the point of why intolerance is a problem in the first place.

When Ms. Barnes casts her socio-economic background as a legitimating condition of her critique of toleration, she does nothing more than expose herself as someone completely bereft of a claim to standing in this debate—for in a world where socio-economic inequality is determined before one is born, simply going through the motions of a privileged life does not ground one’s claim to understanding the plight of oppressed minorities under the same social schema. 

If this was all Ms. Barnes had done in her column, simply suggesting toleration is unjustly coercive due to her individual ability to climb the social ladder under privileged conditions, then I would probably have refrained from this rejoinder. But when Ms. Barnes goes so far as to suggest that we are bordering on a negative culture of hypersensitivity, I must draw the line.

What Ms. Barnes frames as a negative culture of hypersensitivity is actually nothing more than the feeling of shame she encounters when attempting to justify intolerant Halloween costumes—and she would be well suited to examine why exactly that guilt exists in the first place.

Ms. Barnes talks about culture “ensnarling” us (coupled with a quote from the judicious Montaigne of all people) by constraining our actions when they wonder into the realm of intolerance. Well, Ms. Barnes, that is the task of culture primarily. Constraining the type of self-conceit, indicative in your column, which facilitates pejorative and condescending world views wherein the plight of others is viewed as a constraint on your person as opposed to a grave injustice which must be rooted out from this society at all costs.

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