When Railing Against Cancel Culture Is About Railing Against Accountability

In late Republic America, conservatives complaining about being “canceled” or “silenced” while holding forth in mainstream newspapers or on national television shows is so routine it has become cliché. People like Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens have made their entire careers into complaining about how they aren’t allowed to have careers. It’s like they are the only ones who can’t hear themselves over the sound of their own braying.

The newest member of this “society of the silenced” to have been granted a platform to complain about her lack of a platform is Emma Camp. Camp is a college senior of the University of Virginia who self-describes as a “​liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism”; she has also written for the conservative publication Reason and interned at the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. On Monday, she got on op ed in The New York Times to complain about [checks notes] having to lower her voice for fear that other students might hear what she thinks.

I’m not exaggerating. Her piece starts by complaining about feeling like she needs to speak in “hushed tones” during a professor’s office hours and goes on to bemoan the closing of doors so roommates don’t have to hear defenses of Thomas Jefferson (at the university he founded with profits from his slave holding plantation). Nothing bad has happened to Camp or to the other UVA students she quotes in her article for anecdotal support. Camp complains that her defense in class of the right of white people to criticize other cultures made other students in the same class angry with her. She complains that writing columns in her student newspaper “implor[ing] students to embrace free expression” caused her to “lose friends” and face “a Twitter pile-on.”

Her problem, according to her, is the need to “self-censor.” She’s apparently annoyed that she can’t say every single thought in her head without being “shamed” for the quality of those thoughts.

At this point I have to mention that Camp is white, because her self-reported problems make a lot more sense once you know that. In contrast, “self-censorship” is just part of the normal, everyday experience of non-white students at white American colleges. In fact, one of the reasons historically Black colleges and universities are still a thing is that they are some of the only places in the educational landscape where Black people don’t have to censor their thoughts and beliefs in order to play nice with white folks. Hushed tones? I’m a 43-year-old Black man with my own opinion column, and there are tons of thoughts I don’t give voice to in mixed company.

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