Last October, a debate about cultural appropriation and racial justice — triggered in part by an email about Halloween costumes — stirred controversy across campus. Now, the notoriously provocative conservative pundit Milo Yiannopoulos is capitalizing on that controversy, promising to wear full Native American garb when he speaks at Yale next fall.
Yiannopoulos is the current technology editor of Breitbart and the founder of The Kernel, an online tabloid magazine focused on technology. He has drawn resounding criticism from liberals for his controversial opinions, which include his avid support for Donald Trump and a belief that lesbianism does not exist, despite his own homosexuality. He will be speaking at Yale on Oct. 28 as a part of his “The Dangerous F—-t Tour,” during which he will address topics such as safe spaces, cultural appropriation and trigger warnings. On March 25 — the same day Yiannopoulos confirmed on Twitter that he would be speaking at Yale — he also tweeted that he plans to wear a Native American costume to his presentation here. Yiannopoulous told the News that students invited him to speak, but he did not know whether they were affiliated with a campus organization. He would not provide their names.
“It appears to me sad that the free lunacy of progressives is taking even America’s best universities, and it seems to me the best way to deal with this culture of outrage is to be outrageous,” Yiannopoulos said in an interview with the News. “These are ridiculous people who deserve to be provoked.”
His tour has already successfully provoked audiences, even before his arrival: His planned stops at Dulwich College and the John Hampden Grammar School in England were “banned,” according to Yiannopoulos’ website. And students at Yale have already begun speaking against Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance.
Native American Cultural Center house manager Kyle Ranieri ’18 said Yiannopoulos’ professed intention to come in full Native American dress is “blatant cultural appropriation” which perpetuates existing systemic discrimination and oppression of indigenous peoples. Kodi Alvord ’17, president of the NACC-affiliated performance group Blue Feather, said Yiannopoulos’ claims about American Indian cultural identity demonstrate that he is not equipped to have a productive debate at Yale and should not come. If he does come, Alvord added, ideally the NACC would host an alternative event at the same time.
“When you have Milo coming to campus saying he’s wearing a Native American costume, I want to ask him what he thinks that is, because a generic Native American costume doesn’t exist when you have these many [Native] groups,” Alvord said. “It’s insulting; people are upset; and it’s disappointing and surprising that someone who is so unqualified to debate something which should not be debated anyway can profit off their own ignorance and arrogance and spread those misconceptions.”
Yiannopoulos told the News he intends to speak on why there is no such thing as cultural appropriation and how the so-called offense is actually the way art has always functioned. He added that in his experience, many constituents of cultures that are supposedly being appropriated are actually grateful to have others enjoy and cherish their cultures. Cultures are being stamped out by progressives who say they want to protect them, he said.
Administrators in the past have affirmed the University’s commitment to free speech and diversity of ideas. In September 2014, when the Muslim Students Association expressed concern over the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s decision to invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a prominent critic of radical Islam, to campus, University President Peter Salovey told the News that students may invite speakers regardless of their views or beliefs. Under University policy, students may also engage in dialogue with the speaker or organize peaceful protests, as long as they do not negatively impact the audience’s ability to listen to the speaker.
Despite some students’ protestations, others have stood by Yiannopoulos, whether or not they agree with his viewpoints. Karl Notturno ’17 said conversations surrounding these topics should not be suppressed, as such methods would only lead to greater consequences in the future. He added that the tour’s basis is settled on a dangerous trend in academia where the “regressive left” uses social pressure to enforce what people can and cannot say. Even if Yiannopoulos is wrong, Notturno said, he brings up ideas and topics that are important to address, and the only way to prove him wrong is by engaging with what he says.
Yiannopoulos himself has encouraged students who disagree with him to engage him in debate, saying that he is open to being convinced.
Mohit Sani ’19 said while he does not think Yiannopoulos’ planned outfit is appropriate, he hopes that those who attend the event will be able to listen to his ideas and realize that intolerance cannot be justified, no matter the cause. People in a progressive movement have to be continually self-aware and make sure they are reaching out to others in the best way, Sani added, and that was not always true of last semester’s racially charged events. There was much “moral superiority” and “bitterness” last fall, because many members of the racial injustice movement were sure they were right, Sani said.
Still, Ranieri disagreed that Yiannopoulos is the right candidate to foster a productive conversation.
“To have an open conversation on these topics does not require someone who is ignorant of different cultures and their relation to speech,” he said. “In fact, I believe Milo’s presence is counterproductive to important dialogue on diverse cultures and speech.”
Last January, Yiannopoulos cofounded the Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant, a scholarship exclusively available to white males pursuing a college education.
Clarification, Apr. 6: A previous version of this article misrepresented Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of radical Islam, as “anti-Islamic.” It also mischaracterized Kodi Alvord’s ’17 remarks.