Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

TEDxUGA: Misconceptions on American Fear

UGA students and staff alike got a chance to share their work and stories at this year’s TEDxUGA. Photo courtesy of user “TEDx OaklandUniversity” on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/117424147@N08/12488143864

Friday, March 24, the Classic Center hosted UGA faculty members and students to share their unique ideas and perspectives on technology, relationships, science, politics, and other topics as part of this year’s TEDx at UGA event. TEDx events intend to serve as forums for ideas and innovation;the TED Talks franchise is known for maximizing quality and impact through the speakers and topics that are featured.

As part of the quality control process, TED Talk staffers work meticulously to hone the speakers’ presentations prior to the events. Many TED Talks have turned into viral sensations, taking unknown speakers from obscurity to worldwide fame. The quality that this system has produced has led to its expansion into local communities, known as the TEDx program.

The organization has shrewdly avoided divisive political topics, and has instead focused any politics-related subjects to more benign titles, such as “How to have better political conversations,” and “Can a divided America heal?” TEDx rules prohibit content that break this format, and its licensing agreement states explicitly that events should contain “No talks with an inflammatory political or religious agenda, nor for polarizing ‘us vs them’ language.” TEDx also urges speakers to “use empirical evidence and limit anecdotal evidence.”

 Yet, the TEDx at UGA event broke this important rule by allowing as one of its speakers Dr. Valerie Babb, who chose to denigrate and divide rather than to enlighten. Dr. Babb is a Franklin College Professor of English and director of the Institute for African American Studies. The topic on which Dr. Babb chose to speak described an ominous fear that she claims is currently gripping the United States. This fear, Dr. Babb asserts, is chiefly felt and simultaneously perpetuated by rich, white males.

Historically privileged and problematic, according to Dr. Babb, the white male strawman believes himself to be the “real” American, while citizens of other ethnicities and backgrounds are merely along for the ride and given the designation, “they.” And if given enough space to live and prosper, these newcomers threaten to topple white men as the dominators of Western culture. This is not only unfairly divisive, it is irresponsible.

The present-day fear that Dr. Babb implies is one mainly felt of illegal immigrants from various Latin American countries and of Muslims hailing from the Middle East. Indeed, there is considerable concern about these groups of people, but it is far more complex and far less conceptual as ‘white anxiety,’ the concept in question. Dr. Babb describes families of illegal immigrants “cowering in their own homes” during immigration raids. Surely, she seemed to imply, these are reactionary raids orchestrated by a government crippled by fear, and not simply the result of a sovereign nation enforcing its laws and protecting its borders, even if in a retroactive manner.

The topic of Muslim refugees, one that Dr. Babb naturally implied was also heavily influenced by white male fear, concerns much more than just law and order. Citizens of the United States have been witnesses to the cultural disintegration of many European cities. European leaders, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, hail “cultural enrichment” as a necessity in the modern West, and have prioritized “tolerance” over the safety and will of their own citizens. As such, they have failed to curb an increase in organized attacks as well as petty crime, and have even seen the de facto segregation of certain areas.

Proud and historic cities are besieged by an ideology that separates itself from the others, largely due to its unwillingness to assimilate to Western culture. The Islamic State has made clear its goal of subduing all those who reject their ideology, and vast numbers of Muslims, including 51 percent of those living in the U.S., believe in governing by Sharia law. Obviously, all Muslims should not be associated with the monstrous manifestation of Islam packaged by the Islamic State, and nor should irrational fear-mongering dominate policy. Americans should simply be realistic about the very present threat of attack from hardline extremists who have no interest in Western values other than to see them exterminated. It is fallacy to imply that the mysterious and dubious clan of solely white Americans who feel threatened by the spread of Islamism, the militant, fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, feel so because of the average skin color of Muslims. All Americans are watching what is actually happening in England, France, Germany and Sweden, and have legitimate cause for concern.

The problem with Dr. Babb’s argument, and what ultimately puts it at odds with the TEDx guidelines, is that it assumes concepts such as white privilege, the racist motivation for stricter immigration laws, and “diversity equals strength,” are indisputable facts. This is why her talk is, technically speaking, not appropriate for TEDx. It is yet another example of the nonproductive leftist tendency to emphasize identity politics over pragmatic and sensible solutions. The forum for discussion among citizens and elected officials is clouded by this unfortunate trend. Calling out an entire race of people as instigators of a mysterious national fear serves only to polarize listeners and generate more animosity in a time which the nation could do with as much objectivity as possible. It is also irresponsible to diminish such a present threat. She suggests that we tune out the “white noise of fear” (pun intended, no doubt).  If she chooses to do so, that’s fine. The noise is getting louder every day, and its deniers will not be able to cover their ears much longer.

– J. Thomas Perdue is a sophomore studying journalism. He is a first-time contributor to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.