Shaun King, Senior Social Justice Writer for the New York Daily News and prominent Black Lives Matter activist, criticized University President Joel Seligman’s decision not to ban Yik Yak in a speech last Friday about racial issues in America, calling the anonymous app proof of societal regression.

“It is easy when you are not the object of the threats to feel like we should keep this for freedom of speech,” he said, before describing that students he talked to felt “physically sick and nauseous, feeling physically unsafe, because they know there are people around here protected by the way that system [of anonymity] works.”

King said that there are other ways to promote free speech than leaving Yik Yak unscathed, and urged Seligman to reconsider his decision.  

“Yik Yak is proof that we are in the dip,” he said, referring to periods of history in which people are “unthinkably ugly towards each other.”

Seligman responded by saying that he had turned over five offensive posts to the Monroe County District Attorney, and that he had spoken to Yik Yak’s general counsel, but maintained his defense of free speech on campus.

“I want my Black brothers and sisters to feel free to speak here, and I want people to know they can do so,” he said.

“If we open this door,” Seligman said in reference to banning the app, “if we say we will selectively censor things, I worry.”

King’s speech covered many of Black Lives Matter’s talking points, and the columnist often drew from history to discuss racial inequities in America.

He cited frequently the research of prolific historian Leopold Van Ranke, whose work examined social trends of human interaction throughout history.

“Van Ranke discovered that throughout human history, the way we treat each other has been a steady incline of getting better, but that the way we treat each other looks more like this,”King said, gesturing to an erratically sloped line graph projected on the screen behind him.

“Van Ranke observed that throughout human history there have been golden ages of amazing human interaction. But following those peaks are enormous dips […].”

“For the rest of this presentation,” King said, “I want to show you that we are in one of those dips.”

For King, those dips are shown in Donald Trump’s rising popularity, mass incarceration rates, police brutality, and other forms of prejudice directed toward Black Americans.

“The younger and blacker you are,” King said after asking the audience to raise their hand if they could name a close friend or relative currently serving a prison sentence, “the more likely that your hand went up.”

King lambasted former President Richard Nixon’s administration for the mass incarceration of Black Americans.

“People say that we have to change the system, but the system was designed this way,” he said. “It was designed to criminalize being black.”

Throughout his speech, the columnist interspersed videos of documented violence committed against Black Americans by police officers, and also condemned Trump for espousing racism.

“It is the height of white privilege,” King said in reference to a Trump supporter who grinned at journalists while threatening to kill a Black protester if she returned to the Trump rally she was protesting. “[The targeted protestor is] a college student—an honors student. I know her.”

King had harsh words for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as well, criticizing the former Secretary of State and her husband for their treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors.

Izzy Yurovskiy, a rising senior, sides firmly with King in the Yik Yak debate, saying that other social media platforms do a better job of preserving the right to freedom of speech.

“I don’t understand why we don’t just ban it,” said Yurovskiy of the app. “If you need anonymity to confidently say what you believe, then maybe you shouldn’t be saying it at all.”

Tagged: Race


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