How Intellectual Inquiry Became Code for Defending Bigotry

Conservatives say they’re just “asking questions,” but the ones they ask have a disturbing thing in common

Tim Wise
Published in
8 min readNov 15, 2021


Image: Koldunov Alexey, Shutterstock, standard license, purchased by author

When conservatives bemoan the state of education and its supposed hijacking by woke mobs intent on destroying critical thought in the name of political correctness, they insist they are only interested in the search for truth.

The left, they say, seeks to shut down that quest — the animating spirit of education — by canceling professors with right-leaning views, de-platforming speakers, and running roughshod over free speech in the name of dogmatism.

Scholars should be able to ask all the questions and explore all subjects, without fear of censorship or professional banishment, they say. Nothing should be off the table just because it makes certain people uncomfortable.

But they don’t mean it.

…the search for truth is not the priority of these conservative and “classical liberal” critics of the left

And I’m not even talking about how relatively calm they’ve been in the face of multiple states banning classroom discussions of systemic racism in K-12 schools (possibly public colleges as well) under the guise of stopping Critical Race Theory.

Their criticisms of these efforts, when they’ve come at all, have been far less histrionic than their outrage over students shouting down Milo a few years ago or getting an Ann Coulter gig canceled.

But that’s not my focus here.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the search for truth is not the priority of these conservative and “classical liberal” critics of the left.

How we know the right doesn’t support an open-ended “search for truth”

There are many questions these folks would never demand that academic institutions take seriously, either at the departmental level or in the sense of a guest lecture.

For instance, would these defenders of open inquiry and the search for truth insist that a geology department…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)