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by Robert Shibley
This Halloween, Hampshire College students — and Americans who care about free inquiry — have reason to be spooked.
As part of its “Hampshire Halloween” celebration, Hampshire’s “Hype Committee” scheduled a performance by Afrobeat band Shokazoba. But that decision quickly turned sour. As Hampshire carefully explained, some students asked “whether [Shokazoba] was a predominantly white Afrobeat band and express[ed] concerns about cultural appropriation and the need to respect marginalized cultures.”
Shokazoba keyboardist Jason Moses explained in emails that it began when someone posted, “lol leave it to hampshire to book a bunch of white folks playing afrofunk” on the event’s Facebook page. Moses continued, “Our lead singer, who is African-American, then posted to try to clear the air. We are a multicultural band with people of many backgrounds, but we all have fairly light skin.”
Things went downhill from there. In follow-up Facebook comments, the band was told by students that it had “colonize[d] a style of music originating from a racially oppressed group.” When a band member stated that Jews had also suffered from oppression, one student’s (now deleted) comment announced, “Jewish oppression is irrelevant because they control the IMF!”
Band members argued that their skin color shouldn’t matter. But students complained that the “colorblind racist ideologies of the band” — such as Moses’s statement that “Hatred, bigotry, and ignorance do not discriminate based on skin color” — were “incredibly problematic.” The Hype Committee decided the night before the party to disinvite (but still pay) Shokazoba.
Lead singer Janaya Collins wrote: “I still can’t believe that this happened last night.”
College campuses should be havens for free thought. If Hampshire College cannot tolerate a multiracial band because of concerns about “cultural appropriation” or “colorblind” racial views, how can it claim — as it does — to support “inquiry-based” learning?
Hampshire blamed the cancellation on “the intensity and tone that arose on the event’s planning site on social media,” including “rude, and at times unsettling, remarks.”
Doesn’t that simply provide would-be censors an incentive to make as much trouble as possible to silence expression they dislike?
Perhaps most frightening is that students claimed having Shokazoba on campus would leave them “unsafe.” This “unsafe” feeling would stem from witnessing a band with a supposedly insufficient level of African heritage play Afrobeat music.
The fact that this argument was effective on an American campus should scare everyone this Halloween.