Suprynowicz : Back to the plantation
By Vin Suprynowicz
On Nov. 12, 2002, Steve Hinkle, an undergraduate at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), in San Luis Obispo, Calif., was walking around campus, posting fliers advertising a speech by Mason Weaver, author of "It's OK to Leave the Plantation" (1998, National Center for Public Policy Research.)
In that book, Weaver - an African-American - traces his own journey "from Berkeley militant to conservative businessman," and argues that dependence on government welfare programs puts many modern African-Americans in circumstances akin to slavery.
Weaver asserts that "overseers" and "drivers" still exist on today's "mental plantation." He uses these terms to describe those who quickly jump to criticize any African-American different from them - the folks who scream "Uncle Tom" and "handkerchief head" at an individual until that person is cowed into silence and returns to the fold.
"In just 184 pages, Weaver manages to challenge just about every bit of plantation mentality in Black America - past, present and future," writes Kimberley Wilson, a member of the African American leadership network Project 21. "'It's OK to Leave the Plantation' is also a remarkably hopeful book written by a man who has not only faced naked racism and discrimination, but also suffered greatly because of it."
The comparison to the methods used to keep slaves in submission is a good one. One of the most pernicious aspects of slavery was the presumption that it was somehow a "favor" to black folk for their masters to feed, clothe, and house them, on the premise they could not otherwise have figured out how to fend for themselves and their families. Isn't that the underlying presumption of the modern welfare state?
Chattel slavery did not respect any institution of marriage among blacks. And doesn't the welfare state provide a perverse incentive for minority mothers to remain unmarried, by threatening to take them off the dole should they marry or otherwise gain an independent income?
It was a keystone of slavery that blacks must be kept illiterate, which kept them dependent. And while 80 percent of American blacks had achieved literacy by 1940, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress tell us that by the year 2000, six decades of our vastly expensive modern government schools had reduced black literacy to a mere 60 percent. The government schools - our largest and most expensive collectivist welfare program - managed to double black illiteracy in only 60 years.
And our government subsidized inner-city housing projects mimic the old plantation in another, even more crucial way.
Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar tells us at page 258 of his book "The Bill of Rights" that "Alongside ... the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ... Congress passed the Freedman's Bureau Act, a sister statute introduced the same day by the same sponsor. ... The Freedman's' Bureau Act affirmed that 'laws ... concerning personal liberty, personal property, personal security, and the acquisition, enjoyment and disposition of estate, real and personal, including the constitutional right to bear arms, shall be secured to and enjoyed by all citizens. ...'"
Professor Amar goes on to quote Sen. Samuel Pomeroy, declaring on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1866, "Every man ... should have the right to bear arms for the defense of his family and his homestead. And if the cabin door of the freedman is broken open and the intruder enters for purposes as vile as were known to slavery, then should a well-loaded musket be in the hand of the occupant."
But doesn't our federal government today claim power and discretion to search the apartments of welfare recipients in its HUD projects, confiscating any firearms found in the hands of the "freedmen" and free women found there -- even going so far as to argue it can do so without search warrants, since the Fourth Amendment was supposedly waived when these "welfare" recipients applied for their housing subsidies?
But we were discussing Cal Poly student Steve Hinkle, who was posting fliers advertising a speech by author Weaver - an African-American - to be sponsored by the Cal Poly College Republicans (CPCR) and the school's student government. The flier contained merely the title of the book, a photograph of the author (did I mention he's African-American?) and the time and location of the speech.
When Hinkle sought to post a flier on a public bulletin board in the school's amusingly named "Multicultural Center," several students approached him. They claimed that they were "offended" by the flier and that it was in violation of the Center's posting policy. Hinkle left to check the policy, confirming that he was indeed in compliance. While he was gone, one of the students called the university police. The officer summoned to the Center stated in writing that he was investigating a report of "a suspicious white male passing out literature of an offensive racial nature."
"The students in the Multicultural Center admit trying to prevent Hinkle from advertising the event," reports Thor L. Halvorssen, CEO of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE -- see www.thefire.org.)
"Charges were brought not against these censors, however, but against Hinkle himself," Halvorssen continues in a June 30 press release.
On Jan. 29, 2003, Cal Poly charged Hinkle with "disruption" of a "campus event." The students who objected to the posting of the flier claimed they were holding a Bible study dinner and meeting at the time of the incident.
The university's "finding of facts" notes that the Bible study group is not officially recognized, that the bulletin board is in a public "student lounge area," and that no notice of any kind indicated that a meeting was underway at the time.
In February, Cal Poly subjected Hinkle to a lengthy hearing. He was denied the right to have a lawyer present, but his faculty advisor made a transcript. At that hearing, Cornel Morton, vice president for student affairs, told Hinkle "You are a young white male member of CPCR. To students of color, this may be a collision of experience. ... The chemistry has racial implications, and you are naive not to acknowledge those."
On March 12, Vice Provost W. David Conn found Hinkle guilty. Conn ordered Hinkle to write letters of apology to the offended students. The sentencing letter from Conn stated that the text of the apology would be subject to the approval of the Office of Judicial Affairs. The letter also warned "There is no parameter or guarantee regarding the confidentiality of the letter (of apology)" and that "this decision is final." Conn informed Hinkle that if he did not accept this punishment, he would face much stiffer penalties, including expulsion.
Hinkle submitted his case to FIRE. On April 15, Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy, wrote to Cal Poly President Warren J. Baker, urging him to defend Steve Hinkle's fundamental constitutional rights.
Lukianoff argued the absurdity of a "disruption" charge against someone who was silently posting, on a public bulletin board, a flier for an approved campus event. Moreover, Lukianoff wrote, the "disrupted" students were "not a recognized student group and the 'meeting' was therefore not a 'campus function.' Ironically, Mr. Hinkle was actually posting fliers for an event that was sponsored by a recognized student group and by the student government, and it is he who has the far better claim to 'campus function' status."
Hinkle's accusers, Lukianoff noted, "themselves initiated what they later claimed was his 'disruption'. ... If they had allowed Mr. Hinkle to go about his constitutionally protected activity, there would have been no 'disruption' at all. All of this leads FIRE to draw the obvious conclusion Mr. Hinkle and the CPCR are being punished for the content of their expression."
On May 9, Cal Poly's legal counsel, Carlos Cordova, responded to FIRE's letter, denying any wrongdoing.
Today, Steve Hinkle remains under threat of expulsion from this hideous institution of "learning" for trying to post a factual, constitutionally protected flier.
"Allowing some individuals to veto the protected expression of others is an unconscionable betrayal of Cal Poly's moral and legal obligations," argues Halvorssen, of FIRE.
"Cal Poly grants selected students abusive control over the expression of other students," Halvorssen noted. "Disagreement, now called 'offense,' is all it takes to get Cal Poly administrators to launch an inquiry and secure a conviction on a spurious charge of 'disruption.' Cal Poly gives some people the power to veto what others have to say."
For some reason, Mr. Halvorssen thinks such paternalistic behavior infringes Mr. Hinkle's right to "freedom of speech."
Some people just don't know their place.
JULY 6, 2003
About the Author
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of the books Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega. For information on his books or his monthly newsletter dial 702-656-3285, or visit Web sites http//www.privacyalert.us or http//www.LibertyBookShop.us.