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Do not equate Hitler and Wilson: a response to Mulrain

<h6>Walter Hood’s “Double Sights,” with Robertson Hall, which houses the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, in the background.</h6>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Walter Hood’s “Double Sights,” with Robertson Hall, which houses the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, in the background.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

In her recent piece for The Daily Princetonian, Imani Mulrain critiques Larry Giberson’s reasoned argument against removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and First College, noting that “by his logic, the Berlin Institute of Technology should’ve kept its former title ‘Adolf Hitler University.’” Furthermore, Mulrain claims that those who “hold Wilson as the lesser of the two evils” are often “Caucasians who feel entitled to an opinion which they cannot defend.”

I strongly disagree with Mulrain’s argument and am offended by her rhetoric. First, Mulrain fails to recognize that there are gradations of immoral, wrong, and repulsive behaviors and ideologies. Wilson’s bigotry, while unquestionably detestable, does not compare to Hitler’s evil. Calling out the alleged “hypocrisy” of a society that “recognizes Hitler as a terrible person” without “reach[ing] the same consensus for a figure such as Woodrow Wilson” blurs important moral distinctions. To equate Wilson’s racism with Hitler’s anti-Semitism needlessly debases the mass murder of millions of Jews by equating bigotry with genocide and war crimes.

Second, Mulrain’s rhetoric attempts to divide and categorize people based on race alone, something which is not only offensive but also quite surprising for a piece whose purpose is to call out racism. Mulrain labels those who disagree with her as “Caucasians who feel entitled to an opinion which they cannot defend,” sarcastically noting that “time and time again, dissertations by white students who are somehow experts on why the University should not remove Wilson’s legacy plague our campus listservs.”

If Mulrain’s issue with those who disagree with her is that “they cannot defend” their positions, that is fine. But why is it acceptable for Mulrain to categorically dismiss her detractors as mere Caucasians who seemingly are not entitled to have any opinion on this issue? Are Black students who support the preservation of Wilson’s name on Princeton’s campus also guilty of holding “an opinion which they cannot defend,” or is it only the white students whose views on this topic are indefensible? I don’t see why an author’s skin color should play any role in evaluating an argument. People, arguments, viewpoints, and listserv posts should be judged by their content, not by their color. 

Mulrain does not merely judge Giberson based on the color of his skin without rebutting his arguments on the merits; she also compares Giberson to “conspiracy theorists” and questions if his position stems from the fact that removing Wilson’s name from campus “concerns his heritage as the ‘master race.’” Insinuating that Giberson’s true motivation stems from “his heritage as the ‘master race’” is a shocking and completely unsubstantiated accusation, one which treats him so ungenerously as to be absurd. Applying the standard of “well, maybe he’s compelled by some evil, racist motivation” reflects a cynical worldview that casts an omnipresent suspicion on others and stymies meaningful thought and intellectual growth.

Initially, I was inclined to simply ignore Mulrain’s piece. In general, I stay away from articles that begin with a Hitler quote, and her argument and rhetoric are so shocking as to (almost) not deserve a response. But I pen this piece because I am afraid of the consequences of leaving divisive, race-baiting rhetoric unchecked. 

Hillel Koslowe is a rising junior in the Department of Computer Science. He can be reached at hkoslowe@princeton.edu.

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