Here's my latest column from the Courier-Journal. This one seems to have struck a nerve; it was shared on FaceBook nearly two thousand times, and was sent to Dartmouth and at least one former member of its Board of Trustees:
The campus guardians of political correctness have eyed the Kentucky Derby and judged it offensive. At Dartmouth College, the Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority has canceled its Derby party after some Dartmouth students called it racist and elitist.
Last year, campus Black Lives Matter protested outside the invitation-only party. According to the Washington Times, “Protesters held signs declaring ‘black rage’ and repeated chants of ‘What is Derby? It’s the face of genocide,’ and ‘What is Derby? It’s the face of police brutality.’”
After consulting the protesters and the Dartmouth Afro-American society, the sorority recently voted to curtail the Derby theme for this year’s spring party. The sorority’s vice president explained her understanding that Derby is “related to pre-war southern culture.” She parroted the narrative that Derby connotes antebellum plantations.
However, as any Kentuckian with a Derby glass handy can confirm, the first Derby was not held until 1875 — a decade after the Civil War ended. And Kentucky never joined the Confederacy; it’s as much midwestern as southern.
For $69,000 a year to attend Dartmouth, one would expect students at this Ivy League school to know these basics of history and geography. Or at least to Google before making their protest signs.
There is a difference between a Klansman’s hood and a Derby hat. This simple distinction escapes the bullies of censorship and conformity who got the party canceled. Likewise for the sorority members who caved.
The protesters claim the Kentucky Derby is offensive. But the only offense here is to Louisvillians and others slandered as racists for celebrating this premier sports event.
Surely those students who found the party theme offensive could have declined the invitation. It wasn’t a mandatory event. And this has nothing to do with campuses as “safe places.” It’s about freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Plainly, the parents of these students never read them the story of Peter and the Wolf. Racial injustice occurs, as does genocide. But equating Derby with genocide has no basis in history, no basis in reality. The hysterical exaggeration at Dartmouth takes serious issues and treats them dishonestly. The allegations are so silly as to trivialize those issues the protesters seek to publicize.
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It’s true that some Kentuckians once, before the first Derby, owned slaves. But in Kentucky, our log cabins were more numerous and hold more significance than our plantations.
William Faulkner — who knew a thing or two about plantations — recognized this when he covered the Derby in 1955 for Sports Illustrated. He described Lincoln’s birthplace, the “ancient one-room cabin in which the babe first saw light.” He imagined Lincoln “speaking into the scene of his own nativity the simple and matchless prose with which he reminded us of our duties and responsibilities if we wished to continue as a nation.”
Faulkner also observed the important role that African-Americans played in the thoroughbred industry
Indeed, Oliver Lewis, an African-American jockey from Fayette County, won Derby No.1 on Aristides.
Of the first 28 Derby winners,15 were ridden by black jockeys. Regrettably, that changed over time as the Jim Crow laws caused many blacks to move north. The fact remains, however, that African-Americans are indispensable to the illustrious history of the Kentucky Derby. This is a historic accomplishment of which the Black Lives Matter group at Dartmouth should be proud. Instead of protesting Derby, they should celebrate it — as do the many black celebrities who come to Derby year after year.
Alas, the Dartmouth KDE’s are replacing the Derby party with a Woodstock party. Incredibly, they say Woodstock better represents their values. Apparently their history classes omitted mention of hard drug use, sexual promiscuity and the three people who died at Woodstock. Instead, these students think Woodstock was just about peace, love and music.
Yet in some ways, Woodstock’s an apt theme this year as two aging hippies wrestle for the Democrat presidential nomination. Bernie Sander’s wife slept in a tent at Woodstock; Hillary Clinton tried to earmark federal money for a Woodstock museum.
Ironically, Woodstock and Derby have more in common than the Dartmouth coeds might expect.
Hunter S. Thompson’s essay, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, could describe Woodstock: The infield “will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It’s a fantastic scene — thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles.”
Now imagine replacing the mint juleps with LSD and heroin. What could go wrong?
Perhaps the Dartmouth KDEs didn’t mind dumping the Derby theme because they are on probation and the party would have to be dry: mint juleps without bourbon. Now that’s a legitimate reason to cancel a Derby party. Certainly a better reason than cowering before the political correctness vigilantes.