“I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step. Like I did the world a (expletive) favor.”
— Aruna Khilanani
The quote above is from a recent speech given at Yale University’s Child Study Center by Aruna Khilanani, a New York City based MD. From her website: “Yo. I am a forensic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. I have specialized expertise in treating race, gender, sex, artists, and whiteness. Let’s roll.”
I’m perplexed on many fronts. First of all, what does shooting white people have to do with a lecture to an audience in a child study center at an Ivy League school? It seems an odd context for such a comment. Exactly how does Ms. Khilanani, who lives in one of the most difficult places in the country to own and carry a handgun, propose to obtain one to shoot white people, legally? Does she intend to do this with some degree of stealth? Silencers are illegal in NYC. Burying a body is hard, difficult work. Does her fantasy include assistants? If so, are they being paid a living wage?
The list of things wrong with all of this is long and we’ll get to it presently. But before doing so I’d like to state, for the record, that I don’t believe that Ms. Khilanani represents mainstream progressive thought. Most progressives that I know are not overly fond of either firearms or the fetishes they claim are frequently associated with them. All I’ll say to my progressive friends on Khilanani’s account is this: The next time you want to go after someone that you think should not own guns, there’s your huckleberry.
What’s most interesting to me about all of this is not that some clueless psychologist from NYC said something stupid in a Zoom lecture — that’s not at all uncommon. What’s interesting is the number of people who’ve jumped in to defend her.
A day or so after this story broke, I encountered in the Washington Post a full-throated defense of Khilanani’s speech by Lateshia Beachum, a reporter. In an article that was not an op-ed piece, but a report on the controversy, Ms. Beachum was apparently unable to find anyone who thought that it was inappropriate to fantasize about shooting people based on their race. She was able to find a half-dozen or so people who thought that comments like this are important to initiate conversations about race. One opined that “it’s actions, not words that matter.”
That’s pretty good, but I’m not having it. I’m willing to bet more than I can afford to lose that Khilanani and all of her defenders think that words matter when it’s Donald Trump calling down a mob on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 or making any of his numerous boorish, mean tweets.
Hypocrisy, thy name is Aruna’s defenders.
Yale, of course, is running away from this as fast as they can. And Khilanani is sure that this is due to racism and white hegemony. The thought that she might have just said something stupid, especially in the context in which her talk was given, never seems to have crossed her mind.
The best part about all of this isn’t the hypocrisy, or the utter stupidity, or the obvious racism of Khilanani’s comments; it’s the number of people who are jumping in to defend a dystopian fantasy in which their own life expectancies would be reduced to minutes. I’m pretty sure that Khilanani is living in one of the few places in this country where you can say something this idiotic, couch it as merely a conversation starter, and not get punched in the mouth for doing so — metaphorically, of course.
You want to know why credentials don’t much impress people anymore? Well, here you go. Khilanani has credentials out the wazoo. Her talk was given to an audience at one of the more prestigious universities in the world. Even though Yale has disowned the talk, they knew, or should have known, who Khilanani was before they invited her. But who knows. Maybe they aren’t allowed to view public websites of prospective speakers at Yale.
Anybody that thinks that sophistry, especially like this, is helpful for curing racism is out of their mind. I know that, you know that — and so does Khilanani. This wasn’t about making anything better, it was about saying something provocative to get 15 minutes of fame. The only problem with that is that I think Khilanani confused fame with infamy. The latter lasts a lot longer.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time with family, riding mountain bikes and motorcycles and playing guitars. His video blog, “Howlin’ at the Moon in ii-V-I,” may be found at facebook.com/HowlinattheMoonin251 and on YouTube at bit.ly/2SN745k.