On the day after famed right-wing speaker Ben Shapiro visited campus, one of my classes began with an uncomfortable discussion about the ramifications of his visit. We debated whether he should’ve been allowed to come to Boston University after making multiple reprehensible statements, often having inconsistent viewpoints and potentially made students of color feel unsafe.
There were several back and forths between students, but it came to a breaking point when one student played devil’s advocate and said something like the following: “Ben Shapiro is very similar to Martin Luther King Jr. They both have similar viewpoints and were met by pushback from the general public.”
I fell out of my chair.
The discussion quickly ended after that because class ended, but it haunted me for the rest of the day. How could someone say something like that about a figure who tweeted that Trayvon Martin deserved to be murdered by the police? Moreover, how was a discussion that was meant to clarify and reconcile students’ feelings lead to more confusion and anger?
This kind of behavior is not unique. There have been multiple TikToks made about the moment when “the racist kid in class wearing a suit” raises his hand and asks to play devil’s advocate for a chance to spout some racist nonsense. In high school, my history classes were overrun by this kind of person.
They thrived on conflict, the disruption of meaningful discussion and the chance to spew racist, derogatory arguments. It’s one thing to be racist on their Twitter accounts, but it’s something different altogether when doing it in an academic setting.
When questioned about their viewpoints, I’ve noticed that these people tend to defend themselves by saying that they were merely trying to “broaden” the conversation. Their opponents are infringing upon their freedom of speech, and trapping themselves inside an echo chamber by not “listening to facts.”
Frankly, these types of claims have nothing to do with what makes a fruitful discussion.
Let’s say we wanted to have a discussion on the legacy of slavery in America, which is what Shapiro attempted to do in his speech on campus last November. A devil’s advocate would demand that we need to hear what Shapiro has to say, so here is a rough summary: black Americans need to stop conflating the past with the present, victimizing themselves. That is what he would add to the conversation.
His argument ignores any semblance of context — of slavery causing undoable trauma on future generations of black Americans, of the government offering no substantial aid to former slaves once slavery was abolished, of Jim Crow laws that allowed and encouraged violence against black Americans, of mass incarceration that disproportionately imprisons black individuals.
Other scholars have written papers and books disproving his point far better than I can. The point still stands: Shapiro, along with other devil’s advocates, constructed a terrible argument. Look at how much time we just wasted disproving his obviously false and prejudiced claim.
How can anyone believe that centuries of slavery and systematic oppression have no effect on how black Americans are treated today?
The same goes for the devil’s advocate in my writing class. How on earth is Shapiro anything near iconic civil rights activist MLK? How on earth could we possibly get anywhere in discussions if we keep entertaining these clowns?
I can say with confidence that these advocates who attempt to represent the devil do not broaden the conversation, or enrich it with a different viewpoint. All they do is disrupt it and mask their egregious thoughts as legitimate arguments. Therefore, I rule that devil’s advocates should be disbarred and cancelled until further notice.