The Professor Who Didn’t Think He Was Being Provocative

By Tom Gilson Published on October 15, 2017

George Ciccariello-Maher is on administrative leave from Drexel University, where he’s a professor of politics and global studies. The school made that decision, they say, “to ensure the safety of our campus” — not that Ciccariello-Maher did anything either provocative or controversial — just ask him! But he’s getting death threats for it anyway.

Really? Let’s see how carefully he’s been steering clear of controversy.

White Genocide for Christmas

We could start the story with Ciccariello-Maher’s famous December 24, 2016 tweet: “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.” Or we could mention his April tweet about “trying not to vomit” after seeing a first-class passenger giving up his seat for a uniformed soldier.

We could start back then, but that would be unfair, because when he spoke in a Washington Post op-ed about conclusions that were “neither provocative in tone nor controversial in content,” as he put it himself, he was talking about something much more recent.

Stream Satire Logo - 360Shootings “Almost Always Carried Out by White Men”

He had sent a “string of relatively uncontroversial tweets” following the Las Vegas massacre, seeking to explain why these crimes are “almost always carried out by white men.” There’s nothing there to debate, right? Ignore crimes committed by everyone else, and what you’ll find is that the remaining crimes are almost always carried out by white men. Works every time!

Or you could reach the same conclusion another way. Just count Omar Mateen, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooter, as a white man. Count Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik as white men, too. They’re the ones who killed 14 and injured 22 in San Bernardino in a shoot-up two years ago. See how easy it is to avoid being provocative?

“To Be White and Male Is … To Dominate”

But the professor is puzzled, it seems. All he did was tell us what led up to Paddock’s shooting spree. We know from “decades of research” he says, that “to be both white and male is to be subject to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.” Note the language there. To be both white and male is both of the following: to be subject to that “potent cocktail,” and also “to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.” White males dominate nonwhites and women — their bodies, that is.

“To be both white and male is to be subject to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.”

I never knew that about myself. My wife would sure be surprised. Up until now she’s been thinking I actually care for her. I guess neither of us was really in the know. If we’d been in touch with those decades of research, we’d realize that the truly provocative, controversial statements are ones like, “I actually care for her.”

Entitlement, Frustration, Violence?

Anyway, white males feel entitled, the white male prof tells us. Not only that, but “when that entitlement is frustrated,” it can lead to “violent consequences.” Which is why Stephen Paddock shot up a concert crowd in Las Vegas. I’m sure that same white, privileged Euro-American sense of entitlement also explains the 9/11 attacks.

Police are still searching for Paddock’s motive. They haven’t found much evidence he was feeling frustrated in his sense of entitlement. Obviously they’ve been looking in the wrong place. There’s all those decades of research, you know.

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Do You Buy This?

And now Drexel has put the prof on administrative leave to “ensure the safety of our campus,” according to Inside Higher Ed. The school has reason for concern: He’s been getting death threats — some of them very graphic, all of them fully abhorrent no matter what he’s said — for his non-provocative opinions.

I can see why he would call that unjust, can’t you? He’s threatening to take “all necessary legal action” to get restored to the classroom. I’ve seen no hint that he’s offering to calm his rhetoric to get restored that way. But then, why should he, when there’s nothing wrong with it?

Still there are whispers, Inside Higher Ed says, that some people aren’t buying the reasons Drexel gave for putting him on leave. Maybe — who knows? — they might have something else against him, other than the fact that he’s put his campus at risk. But how could they? It’s not his fault he stumbled into the wrath of all these frustrated, entitled white males!

The Real Moral of the Story: Something Wrong in Academia

But enough of this sarcastic satire. It’s time to get serious.

Obviously he’s tone-deaf to true controversy — but specifically in context of being a professor of politics.

The full sentence from which I quoted earlier in Ciccariello-Maher’s WaPo op-ed is, “In my view as a researcher and professor of politics, these tweets were neither provocative in tone nor controversial in content.” Obviously he’s tone-deaf to true controversy — but he’s tone-deaf specifically in context of being a professor of politics.

Meanwhile his bosses at Drexel have shied away from saying there was anything wrong with his opinions. Maybe they’re embarrassed over him in private, but if so, they’re even more embarrassed to admit it in public. Did I mention, by the way, that he also thinks conservatives are the “real thought police” limiting academic freedom?

There’s a message here, and it isn’t only about one professor’s outrageous, violent, prejudiced, discriminatory behavior. It’s also about the campus culture where his attitudes have grown up and flourished. I’m sure there are healthy places in academia. Where he’s been hanging around, though — where this kind of thing can apparently seem normal — there’s got to be something seriously wrong.

I don’t mind if you take that as being provocative. It certainly shouldn’t be controversial.

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