Discourse / Letters / November 14, 2017

Letter to the Editor: “To Emily Anderson and Roy Anderson”

I, as a white person, have more power than my friends of color to call out the racism which was shown in the letters of Emily Anderson and Roy Anderson. Everything I say here is because I love this college and I want it to be the best it can be; this requires hardcore and extensively deep examination of the problematic issues which are much too prevalent on campus. Please actively listen to what I am saying and do not get defensive, which will only hinder your learning, but instead allow yourself to be uncomfortable and actively question yourselves.


To Emily Anderson:

The people you are writing about, the people who should “become thoughtful citizens,” the people who should “confront sexist, racist, classist and colonialist texts,” are the people subjected to these ideologies every second of their existence. They do not need to confront any of these texts, as they confront the reality of these ideas constantly in their daily lives. You are specifically catering to white people. And the LAST thing white people need to do is to read sexist, racist, classist, and colonialist texts written by OTHER white people. If you want people to learn about these issues, teach texts written by people of color. Listen to their experiences with oppression. Stop teaching the oppression itself. Say, “look, here are the literal and very real experiences of people who have dealt with the context of these ideologies in the past and look how they were affected.” Of course your teaching should touch on these problematic ideologies, but learning about them should never be the focus. I ask you to “take a bold step back” and question your own history of teaching. The reasons you have given ignore all accountability of perpetuating racist power structures. I say all of this with respect to you, because I want you to be the best professor you can be, although you have done nothing to deserve my respect as a perpetuator of racism and an individual who is not actively working to question their own position in a world that is based on unequal power structures which cater specifically to white people. Talk about Good Person of Szechwan all you like. Talk about it until your students of color can’t breathe; talk about it until they choke on the oppression that your classroom proliferates. If you think I am being too extreme, there is plenty of room for expansion in your learning of racism.

Instead of learning something from the production of Good Person of Szechwan, you should learn something from its cancellation. We, the students, gathered in a peaceful discussion. Around 80 students came to this forum, and another 80+ alumni and others in the community submitted statements of solidarity and protest. If there is anything to learn from this, it is that your ideas are outdated and you need to question your own perceptions of racism. It is not about the fact that this play is being taught; it is a required text that all theatre majors read in class (although that should be questioned as well). The larger issue here is that, by casting white actors in a play set in Asia, we would be white-washing these characters and thus not properly respecting their identities. There’s enough white people and actors in the universe; they don’t need to take over the roles of people of color. Literally google “white-washing Asian roles” and do some research, because honestly it is no one’s responsibility but your own to educate yourself on these problems. China is NOT a prop for white men such as Brecht and Blackadder to use as a platform for their white ideas of “parables.” It is a real place, with real people, with real identity, and with real culture. It is highly inappropriate to degrade it to something which it is not. And theatre is a completely different platform from reading; a director is creating a literal world. Hopefully no white man would dare to give a speech from the perspective of a black man during the Civil Rights movement because it is HIGHLY inappropriate to do so with the symbolistic existence of the racist perpetrators; likewise, theatre follows the same directives. 

Finally, you can criticize Brecht without having seen it. I have not seen this play; I never wish to see this play because it goes against everything I believe in and it makes me, a white person, extremely uncomfortable because of its underlying racist themes. There is plenty to talk about here, and I dare again say that you should reflect on your own role in a racist power structure, make yourself uncomfortable by admitting that, and work to actually confront the problematic viewpoints you have shown in your letter.


To Roy Anderson:

“For example, how could an old white guy like me teach development economics for 40 years without offending somebody?”

Your sarcasm is inappropriate and painfully ignorant. If you believe this, you should look introspectively and be held accountable for any mistakes you may have made. Be more aware of what you are saying. Be critical of the power structure you exist in. Actively question the beliefs you hold and ask yourself why/how you might be offending somebody. Don’t blame the students for being offended; you are the offender and must hold yourself responsible.

You are blatantly expressing Neo-Nazi ideology in your letter, and for that I am horrified. I honestly think you should be removed as a professor at this college. Especially here at Knox, where we strive to be a diverse campus that constantly works hard to provide equality and lessen the crushing weight of the power structures that minority groups face every day, there is absolutely no room for someone who refuses to question their own contribution to these issues. If you have been here for over 40 years, clearly your ideology has become outdated, and without daily questioning of these ideologies that you persistently enable, you do not have the right to teach groups that are troubled by these issues and which will be oppressed in your classroom. 
I agree that we do need free speech. This protest against Good Person of Szechwan was the EPITOME of free speech. Students gathered in solidarity and protest against a powerful, all-white faculty. We showed that we do have a say at this college and in our theatre department. Students used free speech to call out the theatre department for its racism, and I am using free speech to call out yours. No one would allow a Nazi to come talk about anti-Semitism on this campus although technically that would be free speech; in the same way, we cannot allow a racist production to trouble students and especially harm the education of students of color whose existences would be harmed and attacked by watching or partaking in this production.

We did have a discussion. And we came to a conclusion. And yes, I am gleeful that the production was cancelled. It is an incredibly small victory against racism and a small dent in the white hierarchal power structures which govern this campus.


Ren Barkey

They/Them pronouns

Theatre Major 2018

TKS Staff

Tags:  free speech letter to the editor professors racism the good person of szechwan theatre

Bookmark and Share

Previous Post
Letter to the Editor: White opinions of racism do not matter
Next Post
Letter to the Editor: "On learning, student activism, and censorship"

You might also like


Nov 14, 2017

A powerfully written, bold and provoking piece! I respect and admire your efforts, Ren.

Nov 14, 2017

I read professor Anderson’s letter, and while I don’t personally care for the sarcastic and paternalistic tone, I also don’t see the “blatant NeoNazi ideology.”

Ren, would you clarify as to what you see as “blatantly Neo-Nazi ideology?” That’s a powerful accusation, one that is couched in the pain of Jewish experience. And as a Jew, I find using the weight of that pain as a lazy rhetorical device that doesn’t really apply quite insulting. Prof. Anderson’s post may be patronizing, and it may leaning on the authoritarian side of things, but I don’t see how it is espousing any of the most relevant aspects of Neo Nazi ideology. Like, you know, Jewish geoncide? If you’re referring to the other less relevant aspects of Neo Nazi ideology, I’d ask that you that you find a more intellectually rigorous comparison to make. Preferably one that doesn’t ignore the Holocaust as the most significant tenant of Nazi ideology.

Afterwards, I’d think your own advice is pretty relevant: you should look introspectively, hold yourself accountable for any mistakes you may have made. Be more aware of what you are saying. Be critical of the power structure you exist in. Actively question the beliefs you hold and ask yourself why/how you might be offending somebody. Don’t blame me for being offended; you are the offender and must hold yourself responsible.

    Nov 14, 2017

    Neo-Nazism is not exclusively Nazi beliefs. While it does borrow anti-seministic beliefs from Hitlerism, it has now expanded to include racism, nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, etc. Neo-Nazis — people who often deny their connection to the beliefs of Hitler and the Holocaust — are now not necessarily an organized group, but rather people who display these same characteristics. I did not invent this term or create the definition for it. I am simply seeing the racist and hierarchal beliefs that Roy Anderson has projected in his letter, most specifically that free speech should triumph over harmful behaviors, which is a typical Neo-Nazi standpoint. It is not a rhetorical device; he is literally showing the viewpoints of Neo-Nazism as currently defined.

    While these are the reasons I chose to use the term Neo-Nazi in my letter, I apologize for using it. I am holding myself accountable for that and I see how this term could be triggering. In all future instances of my writing, I will find another term to use. Thank you for pointing this out to me.

Nov 14, 2017

Re: Prof Roy Anderson’s letter — please read this for background. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Modest_Proposal

Nov 14, 2017

Danielle is missing the brilliant satire of the letter. An earlier letter stated ‘white people don’t get to define what is racist.’ This letter (by a ‘white’ person) calls out two other ‘white’ people for racism. It’s the ironic exception that proves the rule. The question of whether one can ‘couch’ an accusation in the ‘pain’ of Jewish experience is actually a clever ironic inversion of an earlier writer’s identification of Brecht as ‘Jewish’ [he wasn’t] and thus foregrounds how even the most enlightened of us is susceptible to unconscious blindnesses and prejudices. The most brilliant irony though is the writer’s ethical decision to apologize for ‘triggering’ readers with the word ‘Neo-Nazi’ rather than offering the more expected apology to two well-respected and delightful members of the Knox Community for actually labeling them as ‘racist’ and ‘Neo-Nazi’ in the first place and thereby potentially ‘triggering’ others who have known them for years seeing the accusation spread on social media. The letter is obviously intended as a devastating satire on the whole concept of triggering and sensitivity. Notice also the subtle irony of stating that ‘free speech triumphing over harmful behaviors’ is a Neo-Nazi standpoint as opposed to a ‘liberal’ one (reminding us inevitably of how historically free speech has kept the nasty men in jackboots who get to define what the ‘harmful behaviors’ are from burning books and people and so on). But the coup de gras is of course the truly fantastic satirical brilliance of the writer’s succinctly demonstrating how free speech can on occasion be a ‘harmful behavior’ by proving it in action. I’d modestly propose that the letter is superb Swiftian irony and that the author is actually Roy Anderson.

    Nov 15, 2017

    White people don’t get to define what is racist: as in, they cannot say “this is NOT racist” when racism is called out. As a white person calling out other white people, I am doing what my friends of color cannot necessarily do without much more intense consequences. It is not ironic at all; it is called being an ally against something which is so clearly racist. I am not the movement; I am a spokesperson for it. I do not feel the need to apologize to these two professors because they have hurt an entire community on campus and needed to be called out. I have not seen any apologies from them. This is my responsibility as an ally and as someone who is white, as I (sadly) have more power fighting white oppression than do my friends of color, as evidenced by all their previous complaints which were left unheard. If Roy Anderson and Emily Anderson did not wish to engage in discourse about their problematic beliefs, they should not have written public letters to our student newspaper. These are very serious accusations I pose, they are justified, and they should be treated as serious allegations if these problematic behaviors go unchanged. And yes; the point of liberalism is to shine forth the words of those who have been mistreated, not give free speech to the oppressors who already have the power. If you think my words are harmful because they are “accusatory,” I invite you to question your own defensiveness as it relates to this issue. The fact that you are confronting my letter by twisting it into an ironical statement to support your beliefs rather than reading and responding to it is evidence of this.

    Furthermore, of course we are all susceptible to unconscious prejudices. I am not above this; it is impossible for white people to be. The issue comes from the confrontation of these prejudices: do we get defensive and refuse to change, or do we actively work each day to better ourselves and work against what we have been taught to believe?

Nov 15, 2017

To the editor,

I think much of recent student activism around racial issues at Knox has been productive and meaningful. The effects of racism are pervasive, which tends to normalize its legacy. It is good to challenge this. But that said, ad hominen attacks on the character of people that activists disagree with (such as implying someone is a Neo-Nazi for advocating what they see as protections of free speech) is not helpful.

It is not my intention to dwell on these unfortunate behaviors, as the most important issue is combating racism, rather than discussing the excesses of people attempting to do that, but I can’t let ugly attacks on someone like Professor Roy Anderson go unchallenged. I have not always agreed with Roy’s economic paradigm, but I have never doubted his decency, his concern for the truth, and his concern for the well-being of his students.

One can challenge Roy and all of us (the faculty) for giving inadequate attention to the problem of racism in America in syllabai, course offerings, and other aspects of a Knox education, if that is your perception. (I think there is some merit in this perception and challenge.) But to attack people’s character misses the point of what we at Knox need to do.

I am hopeful that we can learn from each other and move forward.

Steve Cohn

    Nov 16, 2017

    I would just like to clarify that my intention is not to attack people’s character, but rather the racist tones so clearly evident in their letters. I, and many of my fellow students, worried that these racist tones would not be seen or else would remain unchallenged, which is why I wrote this letter. I’m sure Emily Anderson and Roy Anderson are good people, or else they never would have been hired here at Knox, but the power they hold as faculty members only makes their racist tones more problematic and more desperately in need of being addressed. I was simply responding to the letters they wrote and the problematic issues which were evident; if this was seen as an attack on their characters, it was in actuality a defense of my fellow students of color and perhaps an attack on the deeply entrenched existence of racism itself on the Knox campus. I did worry that this would be seen as an attack on the professors, but I had hoped to simply call out the problematic issues so that they, and other white people, could hopefully work to start understanding and addressing them. It is nearly impossible to directly call racism out without it being misconstrued as an attack on white people rather than white privilege, as it is all too often embodied in the words of white people, so this is a risk I believed needed to be taken.

    I greatly appreciate your response as someone who sees the meaningfulness of student activism and the overall respectful nature of your words, even when disagreeing with the perhaps seemingly radical stance I took. I hope that one day I will write as eloquently as you do, as you seem to embody what I most try to do in my activism, and I hope that I have appropriately explained the difficult position that current Knox activists are placed in when trying to call out racism on campus. Thank you for your response.

Nov 15, 2017

The issue of the play’s cancellation points to a problem that threatens to upend Western society.

Social justice warriors and the alt-right are two sides of the same worthless coin. The idea that only actors who share the identities of characters to be portrayed can portray those characters is ridiculous, especially because SJWs believe race is a construct anyway. By their logic, why shouldn’t the actor conveniently begin to “identify” as Asian for the duration of the production? If you dared to question that “identity,” you would cause that actor “emotional distress.” The logical end of the “only Asians can play Asian roles” argument would invalidate ACTING as a discipline, because it would imply that only people who literally ARE that exact character could play that exact character. A 20-year-old playing a 50-year-old? Ageist. Someone who uses they/them pronouns playing a woman? Misogynist. Using a British accent? Anglophobia.

Professors Anderson, Anderson, Smith, and Blackadder are in the right, and I applaud their courage. However, I’m sure they realize that teaching postmodernism and Marxism and advocating for “social justice” in the classroom has rendered many professors complicit in the preponderance of SJWs like these protesters. Personally, I feel sorry for tenured professors trapped in a university climate that has become a parody of itself, even if the tragedy is of their own making. Stay strong, professors, uphold Enlightenment ideals, and know there are plenty of students out there of all identities who want a real education and would never stoop to the self-infantilizing level of asking to be catered to and coddled.

Anyone fed up with the idiocy of the far-left (AND the far-right) needs to educate themselves. Begin by watching the YouTube videos of Jordan B. Peterson. Read his book, Maps of Meaning. Here’s a quote:

“I think the idea of white privilege is absolutely reprehensible, and it’s not because white people aren’t privileged. You know, we have all sorts of privileges, and most people have privileges of all sorts, and you should be grateful for your privileges and work to deserve them, I would say. But, the idea that you can target an ethnic group with a collective crime, regardless of the specific innocence or guilt of the constituent elements of that group, there is absolutely nothing that’s more racist than that. It’s absolutely abhorrent.”

That’s because racism = attributing to the individual the imagined characteristics of the group as if that group were homogeneous. All your prattle about “white men” is racist. (Also, lol at the fact that the postmodernists were mostly white men. So was Marx.)

Peterson also expertly explains how the logical end of intersectionality–dividing people up into categories of oppression and ranking those categories–is individualism. Go figure.

As classical liberal (who paid for four years of college in which I was taught postmodernism and Marxism and dutifully parroted those ideologies until I awoke to their absurdity) and as a person disgusted by the alt-right and the far left in equal measure, I believe that if progressives don’t ditch the postmodern Marxist pity-party, we’ll be stuck with four more years of Trump, a REAL racist demagogue. Colleges are producing plenty of Democratic voters, sure, but I fear they will be intellectually and morally bankrupt people. No wonder: postmodernists don’t believe in absolute morality. Nor do they believe in reason. Intelligence is just a social construct, I guess, so why would these protesting students want to educate themselves? You don’t need to be intelligent to wield power. SJWs see that, paradoxically, the most empowering status in the eyes of the left is that of the victim, so they adopt that mantle (inventing new identities and new categories of oppression if need be) in order to gain attention and special treatment from their peers and the superiors foolish enough to allow or encourage their condescension (wouldn’t want to lose their jobs; don’t want to waste their breath).

The left has abandoned the working class in favor of identity politics. Big mistake. It’s one of the factors that got us Trump, and Trump is destroying America. But the SJWs are destroying America just as much as Trump and the alt-right. The alt-right LOVES social justice warriors. They love how the left has become a parody of itself.


The people criticizing the play are going to have a tough time in the real world, but then again, they WANT to have a tough time in the real world, though they would never admit that, as it will enable them to disguise their worst impulses (hatred, revenge) under the veneer of righteous anger.

The problem with Brecht does not lie in his art: it lies in the fact that he was a Marxist. Even so, freedom of speech should unquestionably rule and art should be separated from the artist. Censorship is abhorrent. Forbidden speech and compulsory speech are antithetical to Western values. While the fact that you sling around the “Neo-Nazi” label is amusing, it at least demonstrates that you’re aware of the Holocaust. Are you aware, though, of how many corpses are a testament to the corrupt ideology of Marx? (By answering hate with hate and divisiveness with divineness, are you part of the problem or part of the solution?)



    Nov 22, 2017

    Just as a point of fact, Marxism and postmodernism are fundamentally opposed. One could parrot one of them but not both.

Dec 02, 2017


I know that in theory they’re mututally exclusive, as PoMo rejects meta-narratives like Marx’s vision of history (the only meta-narrative they like, of course, is Postmodernism). This rejection is evidenced in Derrida’s “Specters of Marx.” Most SJWs, though, appear to sympathize with both philosophies, though, despite their obvious contradictions. They lack an understanding of both, as you rightfully note! Most SJWs appear to maintain PoMo lines of “reasoning” in their discourse of gender/race/etc (except when generalizing about “white people”) but Marxist ones with respect to economic philosophy. They pick and choose, cobbling together an incoherent philosophy, and the aporias don’t bug them. PoMo is ironic, Marxism deadly serious, and though they don’t logically cohere, they have both deeply influenced contemporary thought and life. SJWs are like, say, secular Christians–they go through the motions of Marxism (though as Postmodernists, they don’t “believe” it) and their actions, rather than their professed beliefs, reveal (and constitute) their true beliefs.

You’re an awesome professor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.