On August 17th, 2017, a woman by the name of Ashleigh Stackelford delivered a talk to Netroots Nation on the evils of white supremacy. But Ms. Stackelford went much further than a simple condemnation of white racism in her speech.
“No, you’re always going to be racist, actually,” Ms. Stackelford told her audience, many of whom were white. “So even when you’re on your path to trying to figure out how to be a better human being, I believe that white people are born into not being human.” Ms. Stackelford delivered this message as she stood in front of a sign listing, among other oddities, her PayPal information. It is yet unclear whether or not her statements motivated Ashleigh’s audience to donate to the account.
Unfortunately, this type of neo-racist orthodoxy permeates a wide swath of American society. Earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers supported a race-essentialist curriculum for gradeschoolers, which teaches, among other things, that whiteness leads to “deals with the devil for stolen lands, goods, privileges, and the like.” Another example is The Hennepin County Healthcare System demoting the Filipino Chair of the Ob/gyn Department because her personal views on race did not correspond with her skin color and revealed her supposed “internalized whiteness.”
In March 2021, in response to the shocking rise of these intolerant attitudes and practices, The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), was launched. The next logical question: what is FAIR? FAIR is a non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and liberties for all Americans, and promoting a common culture based on fairness, understanding and humanity.
To further answer the question, it would be worthwhile to turn to an interview from September of this year, which the Pepperdine Beacon’s very own Editor-in-Chief Caden Benedict obtained from Lory Warren,FAIR’s Director of Chapter Networks. She elaborated on FAIR’s mission in terms of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision on race. “As to Martin Luther King Jr. [and his vision], we believe that equality under the law is the best path forward for our country and for addressing what some characterize as racial inequity. We feel that equality under the law is absolutely the best path to create true progress.”
Ms. Warren went on to explain that FAIR was founded “in response to what we view as a new intolerant orthodoxy. Schools in particular, are hyper racializing all issues. People are being divided by race and other immutable characteristics. And there seems to be more and more intolerance surrounding our ability to question that and to discuss why that’s happening. We don’t believe that people should be reduced to simply the color of their skin or any other characteristics like that, because we are all members of the human race. That’s why we use the term ‘pro human’ to describe what we are about… And we feel that is the best counterbalance to this new illiberal orthodoxy.”
This message is not, however, an outgrowth of partisan conservatism. In fact, as Ms. Warren explained, FAIR’s nonpartisanship is one of its highest priorities. She went on to state:
“We have members from across the entire political spectrum, people who would describe themselves as center right or center left, we have people who voted for Biden, people who voted for Trump, we have people who would describe themselves as progressives and conservatives .”
This diversity of thought is well reflected in the viewpoints of many of FAIR’s board members. Consider, for example, Steven Pinker, a Harvard University cognitive psychologist. Steven Pinker is no right-winger. Much of his philosophy of progress is rooted in Humanist beliefs about the Enlightenment and the advances achievable through natural reason as divorced from religious thought. Nonetheless, Steven Pinker has become a prominent target of identity-politics supporters, who challenge Pinker’s fondness for the Enlightenment as ignoring the ills its proponents wrought on racial, economic and sexual minorities in the West.
In July of 2020, an open letter was written to the Linguistic Society of America requesting Pinker be removed from the society on the grounds he “[drowns] out the voices of people suffering from racist and sexist violence.” Though not the first time Steven Pinker had come under fire for his views, it served as a catalyst for his increasing involvement in the fight against illiberalism, and eventually culminated with his joining FAIR.
The story of a heterodox figure coming under attack by detractors is not unique to Steven Pinker. Another member of FAIR’s board, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is an outspoken opponent of radical Islam and the suppression of womens’ rights. Like Pinker, she is not a conservative. She could be rightly described as a feminist, takes liberal stances on abortion, social policy, economics, and opposes government funding of all religious schools. But she has been denounced for her unflinching critique of Islamic extremism . For this, Hirsi Ali has been called an Islamaphobe and an imperialist. In 2014, Ali was extended an honorary degree from Brandeis University, before the offer was reneged upon due to pressure from both the University president and the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR). In 2016, Ali was placed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-Muslim extremists. Considering Ali’s history and stances on many issues, these accusations are laughableㅡnevertheless they persist in the public discourse surrounding her.
Abigail Shrier is another board member of FAIR, most famous for her work Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters, In which she examines gender ideology and issues surrounding the medical transitioning of minors suffering from gender dysphoria. Though her work relates to a different field of American polity than Pinker’s or Ali’s, the reaction is the same: unfounded claims and attempted censorship. Amazon refused to advertise the book, and Target briefly pulled it from their shelves (though the decision was quickly reversed). In response the Shrier’s book, many have called her transphobic, bigoted, and seeking to erase trans voices. The culture of silencing and intolerance which faces both Steven Pinker and Ayaan Hirsi Ali also targets Shrier in the same attempt to silence, rather than refute with logic and facts.
The diverse viewpoints of those involved with FAIR is a testament to the universality of the beliefs of free speech, equality, and our common humanity—values FAIR is trying to promulgate in practical ways through America.
When asked about some of these concrete steps FAIR is taking to combat the spread of intolerance on university campuses and beyond, Ms. Warren replied, “We’ve launched some other really important initiatives, one of which is called FAIR Transparency. That was modeled after the glass door concept, in which people will have the opportunity to rate and comment on their schools, their businesses, and government agencies.”
This type of program is much more in keeping with FAIR’s model of education. FAIR is not interested in promoting any one ideology; the idea FAIR wishes to promote is that people should be free to debate ideas. This puts them at odds, in some cases, with some recent legislative initiatives . “FAIR does not necessarily support some of the legislation we’ve seen that would ban concepts such as CRT; we are much more in favor of the transparency approach.”
In addition to this, FAIR has a plethora of resources they make available to inform individuals on the content of their education. These include chapters in communities and university campuses, and their Advocacy Network of over seventy-five lawyers across the country that take on civil liberties cases, particularly cases about free speech.
Sadly, we are at a point in time in this great nation that necessitates an organization like FAIR. It seems that, since the early years of the 2000s, most Americans agreed on the fundamental tenets FAIR espouses. However, in the past five years it seems that so much common ground has dissolved, and in the reality of such a world FAIR has come along to remind Americans that liberal ideals are worth defending . Will it prove fruitful? That remains to be seen. But one can only hope and pray that the work that organizations like FAIR and others are doing will stem the growing tide of intolerance and return the culture of America back to a time of open debate and bonhomie toward one’s neighbors of differing viewpoints.
It would be interesting to see what a FAIR chapter at Pepperdine could do in this community.