Question My Nightmare and I Will Become Your Nightmare…

Believe it or not, in 2019 America, a public entity has asked me not to show my face in my own home on my own property.

As a consequence of my having violated progressive-think in the areas of race, gun rights, gender identification, and political preference (I voted for the guy who won), our attorneys have reminded a few school districts in Southern California that you can cancel business with vendors for a number of reasons. You cannot, however, terminate a two-decade relationship for political reasons. The courts have made that a very expensive proposition for public servants, and most of them know that, even in California.

A few, however, simply cannot believe they can’t use their buying power to punish thought crime. Ridicule students for mocking the Second Amendment? Unthinkable! Question whether white nationalism really exists in America and rebuke the genocidal racist, Louis Farrakhan? Stop it! There are children present. Question the pristine motives of Stormy Daniels? Such irreverence! Can female students be safe around you, Mr. Riley?

The same school districts that routinely lead their students off to zoos where modern environmental habitat policy will be discussed and tolerance museums where conservative talk radio will be compared to Nazi propaganda, don’t think our living history field trips—completely devoid of contemporary political commentary—will be safe simply because the owner has unapproved opinions.

Our resulting lawsuit encouraged a few districts to do an “ahem” and come back to the table. In a few cases, senior administrative officials visited our living history farm and concluded what they have concluded for 20 years: this experience is valuable for getting students excited about American history. Some of those who canceled in a fit of pique are now re-booking tours.

Unfortunately, a few otherwise capable public servants simply can’t bring themselves to say no to some of their own shrieking prima donnas. One of those districts actually proposed I agree not to show my face when their students are present. If their purpose was to anger me, they achieved their ends, but not just because this is my own home and my own business. I’m angry because these are public servants, eating up my tax dollars and screaming “racism” while they officially declare me an “untouchable” for merely possessing the wrong ideas. I am tempted to have my attorneys propose I wear a yellow star of David whenever they are present; unfortunately, I’m guessing a few of them wouldn’t even understand the reference.

Those of us who have to work for a living, those of us accountable to the market, missed two very ugly realities we may have thought were so absurd no one could take them seriously. Well, we were wrong. These ideas are finding their way into the workplace via human resources departments that hire the otherwise worthless skills of identity studies majors.

Bad Idea No. 1: My victim status is both my religion and my claim for damages. Question it at your peril.

Identity-based persecution mythology is very powerful stuff, and it’s a very potent insurance policy against personal failures. I think most parents, in almost all cultures, pass victim mythology on to their children in unhealthy ways.

On some subconscious level, we’re not aware of how enormous “approved victimhood” really is. If you get out of your car in some urban location, bearing at least some of the trappings of a Native American appearance, you can quietly wear all of the implied nobility, and pocket the privileges, of a Wounded Knee survivor—even if none of your kin were even remotely hurt by this event. As the Covington incident nearly proved, it apparently gives you the right to have children expelled from their schools, and it means you will never face probing questions by the press. A man who wears flamboyant scarves and guy-liner can project a quiet rage behind a still calm. One incorrect response and you run the risk of bearing the blame for all bigotry everywhere. At University of California-Riverside recently, a triggered Latina decided she had the right to steal a student’s MAGA cap and threaten genocide—without so much as a gasp from anyone standing nearby.

A conservative friend told me the other night that, for the last 50 years, we’ve been conditioned to bow and scrape before these victim narratives instinctively, whether they are true or not. In one way, their very power is our fault. We accept a collective guilt for crimes we never committed and we validate what is, after all, a crippling self-pity.

If a child believes he can expect prejudice, he will go out looking for his own personal sacrament in this pilgrimage through a sea of bigotry and discrimination. He will be rewarded for recounting his personal slights. His failures will be excused. In some cases, if he can’t find an instance of injustice, he will actually stage one of his own. We shouldn’t be surprised by the Jussie Smollett incident at all, because of two realities: racism for all practical purposes is conquered and yet we’ve trained people to long for their own war story.

Let’s be frank. Those of us in majority culture know that race discrimination is something that really isn’t a significant part of life in America today. We hire the right people for the job, and in this economy we may have to wait a long time to find them. Their identity issues don’t matter to us. Most of us find greater kinship in ideas, faith, and political unity. Any kinship based on skin color would be something of a joke. (“Hey, Brad, are you going to be at the White Nationalism mixer tonight?”)

Our children marry across racial and ethnic boundaries, because American tolerance basically works, and people from all over the world really do want to “melt into it.” Those stuck in identity victimhood are the ones afraid of a true meritocracy and the true America. The race grievance industry, indeed, is actually afraid that conservative Christian America has the race issue beat. The racist-baiters are the ones who need it to remain alive.

If we are to end this nightmare, you might consider some version of my own methodology: call their bluff. Be irreverent at the next HR meeting. Laugh out loud at whiners. Sue their asses off. If nothing else, encourage people to get back on task and get the job done. Cut off identity discussion at the knees.

Bad Idea No. 2: We all need “safe spaces” to avoid ideas that might hurt us.

This is so patently ridiculous for people who have been taught the value of a good discussion and the marketplace of ideas, that we have failed to take this ugly nightmare seriously, but it’s both very human and very ancient. Tyrants and thugs have never really enjoyed being contradicted. America’s dedication to a free press and orderly debate is an historic anomaly. As recently as the 1930s even Americans toyed with fascism, and it is raising its head again under a banner that would sound about right for a children’s toy company: “safe space.”

In our own personal war with approved think, we encountered odd testimonies to the evil of silence. I’ve found that some women of color, for example, actually believe that any criticism of Louis Farrakhan represents a kind of threat to their children’s identity and sense of self-worth. (Really.) When you press this question, you learn these mothers have never been exposed to his truly racist and genocidal ideas. The “safe space” banner serves to protect the vile and make vile little living-history farmers like me—who are now being asked to walk around with an “unsafe” label on their foreheads. (“Be careful kids, that farmer there doesn’t believe Louis Farrakhan is a saint.”)

It seems I can’t even talk about our personal struggle without swimming through a sea of raging irony. I have hired mostly women managers (though my Stormy Daniels ridicule automatically makes me a misogynist), and one of those managers has a child in public high school. A history teacher held up a picture of former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and identified him as the leader of a “white supremacy” group. Obviously, an open and free debate would utterly skewer such absurdity, but the very institutions that give free range to bad ideas demand that good ideas wear a warning label and must never be expressed.

A little hint: The guy with the funny three-cornered hat and the “unsafe” label—that’s not me. I told my attorney to tell the district in question to do something to themselves. My wife hates the language, but, frankly, it’s the most Christian thing I can think to advocate.

Join me, one way or the other. This won’t get better until we all get a little mean on behalf of the truth.

Photo Credit: Riley’s farm

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About James Patrick Riley

James Riley is the owner and operator of Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, California and the creator of "Courage, New Hampshire," a television drama seen on PBS stations across the country. The father of six children, Riley performs "Patrick Henry" and supervises a living history program visited by hundreds of thousands of school children. He holds a degree in history from Stanford University.