This week Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the February 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida, announced that Harvard had rescinded his admission. The reason—past racist comments he had allegedly made in private texts leaked to the media.
Predictably, the Right reacted with shock and outrage. Many lamented the fact that a 19-year-old and the survivor of a mass shooting wasn’t shown a shred of mercy by the Harvard bigwigs for benign comments he made when he was 16 years of age.
It’s worth explaining why someone who’s committed one of the most egregious sins of our era—bigotry should be shown some scrupulousness in the examination of his case as well as forgiveness.
In pursuing this question it would be wise to first examine similar cases of retribution.
There is precedent for this kind of behavior on the part of universities: in June 2017, Harvard rescinded the admission of several students over leaked messages exchanged in a group chat. The offending content included “racist” and sexually-explicit memes.
Across the pond, British students at Warwick University faced expulsion when sexually-charged messages about various female students were also leaked.
In both cases the conversations were entirely private, and none of the students were documented to have engaged in the behavior which they discussed or acted on the sentiments which they expressed.
Likewise, no one has shown Kashuv to be a rabid racist, much less a danger to anyone (including his potential peers). It’s also not clear how racist words or opinions exchanged in private, without malice, on a virtual medium, are academically disqualifying.
But the distinction between private speech and public action appears to have been utterly lost on the intelligentsia staffing Harvard and the liberal media more generally. To them, nuance is a privilege they cannot afford anyone guilty of bigotry, and most especially racism.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northup, recently accused of dressing in blackface in a yearbook photo, faced an avalanche of calls for his resignation from his own party. Although he weathered the storm and retained his office despite the wishes of his political superiors, it is telling that he too was denied the privilege of nuance.
Northup had, by his own (initial) admission, committed the unforgivable offense of dressing in blackface; that enough is grounds for his un-personing. Extenuating circumstances—such as the fact that his dressing in blackface at the time was likely college-aged humor in poor taste—don’t matter when the accusation in question deals with racism.
The contentious cases of Kashuv and Northup ultimately beg the question: Why is racism the modern heresy of the 21st Century? Why is the mere appearance of racism, or the form of racism regardless of context, an immediately damnable offense, not warranting forgiveness?
The same people who unequivocally demand the firing or expulsion or de-platforming of people like Steven Crowder for perceived bigotry are the same people who go to great lengths to elaborate all the reasons women might seek abortions, and why abortion is distinct from infanticide outside the womb. Nuance—and empathy—aren’t lacking there.
The most telling aspect of a society are its sacred cows—those things which it most vehemently defends, and whose offenders it most vehemently prosecutes. In the Middle Ages, during the time of the Inquisition, the one inviolable dogma was that of the Christian (Catholic) Church. Those who denied any integral part of the faith by word or deed faced not only social ostracism, but an investigation by ecclesiastical authorities and punishment by the state.
But the most overlooked aspects of the Inquisition are both its nuance and empathy. Rather than face a trial by secular authorities without theological training (a rather common method of passing judgment on heretics in Europe at the time), the accused under an Inquisitorial investigation would at the very least have a right to competent trial. Though he (or she) was often tortured and therefore induced into giving a confession, the Catholic Church always allowed the condemned access to the sacrament of confession and very often urged clemency on the part of the secular authorities.
In short, even the medieval Inquisition, with all its fabled cruelties and abuses, offered more nuance and empathy than our modern-day liberal overlords. Though the stakes are not nearly as high—Kashuv has not been executed, only denied admission to an Ivy League university—the heretics of our day are treated more harshly than the heretics of yore.
In order for anti-racism to avoid becoming a kind of Christianity without forgiveness—the religious zeal with which the Left crusades against all forms of bigotry cannot help but spur one on to such a comparison—Harvard and the mainstream media ought to treat real and possible cases of racism with a more compassionate hand.
Kashuv deserves a means to an appeal, and maybe, just maybe, the forgiveness of all those who were offended by his actions. Anyone in his position would surely desire the same.