For four decades, the children in one Southern California school district have dressed up as Indians and Pilgrims and enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast. But the tradition has been dropped after a parent complained.
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We’ve had a war on Christmas. And a war on Columbus Day. Now we have a war on Thanksgiving instigated, in this instance, by a left-wing professor in California. And her crusade has been successful — the children won’t be reenacting the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts.
These cultural skirmishes are hardly new. They erupted in the 1960s and they’ve been with us ever since. Sometimes, they do good by causing institutions to re-examine themselves. But often, fearful bureaucrats give critics a de-facto “heckler’s veto.” If someone complains loudly enough, government officials fold, regardless of the will of the majority or the merits of the complaint.
For example, at Florida Gulf Coast University, President Wilson “Bah Humbug” Bradshaw has banned holiday decorations from public areas on campus. (Click here for more details.) Bradshaw isn’t just barring religious holiday items — for example creche displays. This Sunshine State Scrooge is outlawing Santa, “Giving Trees”, a greeting card design competition, etc. If Florida Gulf Coast University were a private institution, President Wilson Bradshaw would have greater latitude to limit the free speech rights and religious expression rights of students and faculty. But when a public employee restricts free speech in public areas, it raises all kinds of First Amendment questions and his actions will be subject to strict scrutiny by the courts.
Bradshaw isn’t the only public servant trying to stamp out Christmas displays, of course. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport stopped displaying decorated evergreen trees in November and December after one individual complained about the displays. Never mind that Washington state is one of the largest Christmas tree exporters in the entire country. Never mind that Washington’s nickname is the Evergreen State. Ironically, the officials that banned evergreen displays also oversee the port that ships millions of dollars worth of evergreen trees around and across the Pacific.
This extreme sensitivity is nothing new. When I was an editor on the Harvard Crimson, back in 1988, Harvard’s political correctness guru blasted the school’s cafeteria workers for holding a “Fifties Night” complete with 1950s era food and music.
Assistant Dean for Minority Affairs and Race Relations Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, who claimed she was motivated by a desire to “stop bigotry and racism,” publicly accused Harvard Cafeteria Services officials of being “insensitive” to “people of color” and women because they invited students to “join in a night of nostalgia celebrating” the “fabulous,” “fun” and “carefree” 1950s.
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
“BUT is it really insensitive or racist to call the 1950s “carefree” times? Compared to the 1940s–which brought us Hitler, the Holocaust and the atomic bomb–the 1950s might seem carefree. Next to the 1960s and 1970s–which gave us race riots, Vietnam, Watergate and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that decade might seem like “Happy Days.” But the truth is, no decade can fairly be termed “carefree.” …
The 1950s were “painful” and “complicated” for Blacks in America, as were the 1940s, the 1930s and every preceding decade. But Jim Crow and segregation weren’t invented in the 1950s–indeed, the 1950s sounded the death knell for government-sanctioned discrimination in the United States.
The Civil Rights movement began to blossom in the fifties: the Supreme Court threw out the “separate but equal” doctrine and ordered school desegregation in the 1950s. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus in the 1950s. Martin Luther King rose to national prominence in the 1950s. And a man from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, desegregated the nation’s armed services.
The assistant dean believes “women were mostly treated as sex objects” in Eisenhower’s era, but again ignores advances women made during that era. World War II gave women unparalleled employment opportunities, and the drive toward economic equality took off not in the 1970s but in the 1940s. The ’50s was not an awful era for women, a step backward on the road to equality.
If Hernandez-Gravelle had her way, we would do away with nostalgia. If she’s correct, then it is wrong to romanticize the past, for every decade has its blemishes and every year its flaws. Twenty years from now, it will be insensitive to be nostalgic about the 1980s, to remember these college days as “fabulous,” “fun” or “carefree”. Without a doubt, this decade has been “painful, complicated, and even life threatening” for the gay community, for the homeless and for the millions of Americans living in poverty.
PERHAPS Hernandez-Gravelle is right in that sense to denounce nostalgia. But she could oppose romanticizing the past without singling out employees who are only trying to enliven an otherwise mundane evening meal. Students enjoy ’50s night and other special meals, and they appreciate the extra efforts of the dining hall employees.
The dean was wrong to publicly renounce the workers, to accuse them of subtle if unintentional racism. By focusing on divisive theoretical questions, such as whether nostalgia inevitably constitutes racism and sexism, Hernandez-Gravelle merely diverts our attention from the far more important issues of minority faculty recruitment and University divestment.”