Academia’s role in legitimizing conservative hate speech
"We are forced to give even more space and legitimacy to the people who believe we shouldn’t exist."
In 1985, a conservative group called Accuracy in Academia (AIA) was established with the intent of protecting “academic freedom.” Their mission was to get schools to return to “the quest for truth,” which manifests as an active push against what they claim to be a “liberal bias” in academia.
Since AIA’s inception, these points have become mainstream in academia and these ideas have become adopted by the American public with very little to no critique on what is meant by “truth” and who gets to decide what a “liberal bias” is.
This nation was built on ideals that actively aim to dehumanize, exploit, and exterminate minorities, and every established institution is part of a system that perpetuates these ideals—especially academia.
Western academia functions as a gatekeeper to socioeconomic mobility. Excluding and limiting minority access to education has never been about access to “knowledge,” but access to power and wealth.
The institution has sold us pseudoscience and sloppy “intellectual” defenses (read: bigotry) as unchallengeable “truths.” There is a long, documented history of American scientists using their “expertise” to further white supremacy, heteronormativity, ableism, and American exceptionalism—claiming that chattel slavery was justified, declaring queerness a mental illness, purporting that cis men are biologically superior to cis women, etc.
The primary purpose of academic institutions has always been to legitimize white supremacy through elitism and ableism. Thus, it has always been a system of indoctrination rather than truth, knowledge, and liberation.
With the entrance of minority students into colleges during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a shift in academia as white America knew it. We came in with our own lived experiences, our own histories, and our own truths. “Our existence is resistance” rings true; the mere existence of minority students in white academic spaces was antagonistic to the intentional patriotic white supremacist indoctrination.
A question arose: How could one believe the likes of William Shockley or James Watson, who claimed that Black people were naturally less intelligent, when Black people were thriving in higher education?
Instead of discarding of this white supremacist pseudoscience, conservative watchdog groups like AIA began pouring money into ensuring that this perspective was still seen as legitimate, and in creating an even larger divide between Black and white students, by claiming that pushes against their pseudoscience was nothing more than “liberal bias.”
AIA’s “quest for truth” left a legacy that conservative college groups continue to follow today. By framing conflicting ideas as a matter of differing political ideology, rather than simply fact vs. fiction, it allows conservatives the room to legitimize their fact-lacking, white supremacist views as an academic rebuttal to marginalized people speaking on our lived experiences. Hateful indoctrination becomes a valued “opinion” and any dissenting perspective is seen as not giving “space” to “political diversity.”
Conservatives on campus, and beyond, now call for a “safe space,” and use words like “marginalization,” “fear,” “silencing,” and “discrimination” to describe being disagreed with, and their use of these words are intentional and strategic. When speaking of our oppression, those who exist at the margins of society have deployed these terms while engaging in conversations which center us rather than whiteness, and we have backed it all up with empirical data and lived experiences.
Conservatives are co-opting these terms to demand an emotional response from moderate and left-leaning people. A manipulation that will allow conservatives to speak out without being challenged by the people their hate speech oppresses. This puts us in a position of impossibility, because if we speak up about their hateful rhetoric, then we become imagined as the “intolerant oppressors.” This is the importance and function of holding onto the “free speech” arguments that conservatives love to make.
This is a successful tactic, in part, because white centrists never truly listen to marginalized people of color. Rather than trying to understand the systems we speak of, they cling to buzzwords—sometimes not believing that these oppressive systems even exist.
If white centrists listened, they would understand that there is no way that the social standing of the privileged and the marginalized could ever be switched.
There is no flipping of oppressions, and conservatives are not and cannot be marginalized on the basis of their political standing.
I once received an email from my college’s president, where she writes; “Conservative students, faculty, and staff are reluctant to speak up and offer counterpoints to prevailing opinions on campus for fear they will be vilified.”
The monitoring of “liberal bias” continues. I have heard some of the “counterpoints to prevailing opinions” from conservative faculty on my campus. One being a white conservative professor advocating for anyone of any race to be able to use the N word, and then proceeding to use the slur multiple times during class.
Students of color typically do not feel safe enough to go against their professors, as they are usually not incentivized or represented by groups like AIA. And so, this white conservative professor did not face any transparent or known repercussions for their repeated use of a racial slur during their lecture.
Whatever “marginalization” or “silencing” conservatives on college campuses speak of is not only a figment of their imagination, but it’s something they actively perpetuate towards non-conservatives.
The real tragedy is that, in this weird song and dance, people who look, live, and love as I do get lost in the margins and are forced to give even more space and legitimacy to the people who believe we shouldn’t exist. Protecting our safety and speaking our truths is not a political ideology—its our right to existence.
Accuracy in Academia is still a functioning watch group funded by conservative think tanks. They are able to maintain their position on campuses because white centrists believe that racial minorities are the “militant left” and that we need to “listen” more to conservatives. They ignore history and present day reality, because they, too, are invested in white supremacy. The benefit of the doubt, of course, is always given to those who have been endeavoring to indoctrinate us from the start—white conservatives.
Idiley is a Somali-Canadian immigrant who’s found a home in the Black Mecca of the South. She is a recent graduate, a sometimes writer, and a full time goddess.