Black Republican doesn’t know his Black history

Earlier this month, during an event in Philadelphia supporting Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Florida Representative Byron Donalds made the attention-grabbing assertion that Black families were stronger and more conservative under the Jim Crow era.

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said. “During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — because Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”


His commentary was challenged by New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, who called Donalds’ remarks “factually inaccurate.” The Democratic National Committee said it was “absurd to suggest” the Jim Crow era “was anything but a horrific stain on our country’s history.” The NAACP’s president, Derrick Johnson, said during an interview on CNN that Donalds was attempting to “self-benefit using a false narrative.”

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Michigan’s Ferris State University, “Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively, in southern and border states between 1877 and the mid-1960s.” It was both a legal framework to oppress Black Americans and a cultural one that relegated them to the lowest social status, enforced by systemic violence. “All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of black people.”

There are gross inaccuracies with individuals like Donalds, who espouse such horrendously misguided assertions. But the single most important problem is neither the Black family nor the Black community was all that strong or intact under either slavery or Jim Crow, nor were there — in Donalds’s formulation — more Black families. Slavery was the epitome of the fundamental instability of Black families. The institution relied on the exploitation of slave labor. Black people were forced to have children who were then sold for profit. Families were routinely separated as part for the course.

Upon the conclusion of the presidential election of 1876 , 15 white men gathered in a room to figure out a solution to the first Stop the Steal movement. Known as the Wormley Agreement or the Compromise of 1877, five Supreme Court justices, five senators and five representatives awarded the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes and his vice president, Samuel Tilden, provided he would end Reconstruction. Among the requirements included a detailed verification that the federal government would prohibit demanding that former confederate states recognize the constitutional rights of Black citizens. As a result of such a horrendously regressive policy, state legislatures in the north and south rapidly and enthusiastically implemented a series of racially discriminatory policies that became known as Jim Crow laws.

For almost a century — from the end of race-based slavery until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — every Black person in America lived under this constitutionally-enforced, government-approved system of white supremacy. Black codes created after emancipation became law. Racially segregated schools were mandatory. It was legally permissible to politically disenfranchise Black voters and prohibit non-white people from living wherever they wanted. It was legal to physically harass, attack or murder any Black person or rape Black women and murder Black children with legal impunity (e.g., Emmett Till, Recy Taylor and numerous other Black women).

It was a system that denied Black taxpayers the privilege of using facilities built and maintained with their tax dollars. In essence, their entire humanity was at the mercy of a white population that was often outright hostile to their well-being.

This is the sort of America that Byron Donalds salutes and encourages Black Americans to adopt.

Donalds’ revisionist, fictionalized account of American history is thoroughly disproven by history, facts and hard evidence to the contrary. Before Jim Crow was legally dismantled, the nation was not a democracy. Black people were routinely murdered, raped, tortured, discriminated against and pillaged. They were denied the right to vote, access to unions, most institutions of higher learning and certain types of more desired jobs. The history of Black Americans has been one filled with rivers of blood, mountains of sweat and more than a few tears.

The results of slavery, Jim Crow, Black codes, and outright unapologetic violence have deeply affected America’s Black population. The results still linger with us today. Denying such hard truths will not bring us any closer to any sort of racial reconciliation.

Rather, acknowledging that racial conflict is a serious problem and making a valiant, diligent and committed effort to tackling the issue will be the only viable solution to addressing such a crisis. Such gross misrepresentations must be denounced and challenged at every turn.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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After Trump conviction, Bragg becomes the target

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg deserves to take a bow following his undeniable victory.

A New York jury delivered a guilty verdict in a trial largely devoid of political theater and intense media upheaval. That’s thanks to a judge who, during the multiple-week trial, managed to maintain civility and order and ensure the rights of all parties were upheld fairly.

Former President Trump was convicted on not one, not two, but 34 felony counts. Supporters are outraged. Detractors are pleased.

From the moment he brought a criminal case against the former president, Bragg himself was put on trial by many of Trump’s supporters. His legal case was also arrogantly dismissed by network political analysts and columnists, who thought it was weak, flimsy, and overly complex, and that he was misguided for bringing it forward. It was as if Bragg himself was guilty of incompetence.

The truth is Bragg possesses stealth political acumen and experience in dealing with public corruption and white-collar crime. As Manhattan district attorney, he successfully secured the conviction of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, on 15 felony counts. He was victorious in winning a six-count indictment against Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, on money laundering and conspiracy charges in a case that is still pending. During his tenure at the New York State attorney general’s office, Bragg spearheaded the investigation into the Trump Foundation, which was dismantled by court order to settle accusations of misuse of donors’ charitable funds.

The verdict confirms Trump committed numerous crimes to disguise crucial information about himself from the American people for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election. It established even more facts about how far Trump was willing to go, including disregarding the law and pushing others to break the law for political gain. This sinister inclination — to overturn traditional democratic norms and misdirect the law to serve his own agenda — is at the heart of two other criminal cases against the former president for the much more serious charges of spreading scurrilous falsehoods and aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

In addition, Trump has been further charged with mishandling highly classified national security documents after leaving office and sharing classified documents with individuals who were not authorized to see them. His attorneys have been successful in delaying those three trials.

Trump brought his own case against Bragg, calling the 34 felony count indictment a case of “political persecution” and denouncing Bragg in racially coded language as a “thug” and a “degenerate psychopath.” He insulted Justice Juan Merchan, commenting that he “looks like an angel but he’s really a devil.” Trump also encouraged his largely unhinged supporters to attack and denounce the verdict, with sycophantic Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) calling Trump’s indictment a “shocking and dangerous day for the rule of law in America” and “one of the most irresponsible decisions in American history by any prosecutor.” Graham predicted Trump would win in court.

“Guilty on all counts,” Megyn Kelly tweeted. The country is disgraced. Alvin Bragg should be disbarred. They will rue the day they unleashed this lawfare to corrupt a presidential election.” Numerous other Republican politicians, from Tim Scott to speaker Mike Johnson to Marco Rubio, have deliriously rushed to the defense of Trump.

Such unalloyed support for the former president is hardly surprising. After all, this is the man who once bragged that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and not lose a single vote. When he declared such a perverse prediction in January 2016, Trump was brash and arrogant. “It’s, like, incredible,” he said about the loyalty of his voters. After this verdict, he was less brash and more angry, less confident and more aggrieved. Lacking any degree of remorse, he cried about a “rigged trial by a conflicted judge” and predicted, “The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people, and they know what happened here.”

The bigger question is, after this verdict, will he retain such unprecedented loyalty from his political base? Sad to say, his die-hard supporters will remain dutiful, more loyal than ever.

One of the more positive outcomes of this verdict is the fact the rule of law applies to everyone, including a former president. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the conduct of the trial was ordinary. Twelve average Americans sitting in judgment on a former president and rendering a verdict is classic democracy in action.

Now, it is up to those of us who desire to maintain our system to work feverishly. Too much is at stake.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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On flags and fascism

Right-wing politicians have made no secret of their disdain for the rule of law as well as our current state of democracy.

One of the more blatant acts of far-right hostility to our current government was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s flying an upside down flag at his Washington, D.C. residence signaling support for the Capitol insurrection in the days after January 6, 2021.

Alito said his wife hung the flag in this position after a contentious dispute with a neighbor, which predictably garnered more than a few side-eyes and outright eye rolls.

Interestingly, it appears that flag raising seems to be an Alito pastime because he hung another “Appeal to Heaven” flag at his New Jersey beach home. The hanging of the second flag is even more ominous and disturbing because of its close association and identification with both far-right Christian nationalists and the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol.

Initially a Revolutionary War banner, the flag features philosopher John Locke’s motto in his Second Treatise on Government, in which he used it to describe the right of revolution. However, far-right Christian nationalists have recently adopted the flag in their attempt to impose their imperious will on the United States and its citizens.

Many argue that right-wing dark money has deeply influenced the current Supreme Court, an influence that conservative legal activist Leonard Leo spearheaded — he reportedly displayed the same “Appeal to Heaven” flag outside his home in Maine. Alito’s flag raising understandably and justifiably raises questions among his critics about his impartiality in his rulings. House Speaker Mike Johnson recently flew the flag outside his office in Congress.

Historically, placing the American flag upside down is a symbol of alarm, distress, and duress. However, over the past few decades people have increasingly used it as a symbol of political protest and defiance. This controversial act is at odds with military tradition, which demands that people treat the flag with honor, decorum, and respect.

The truth is both the political left and right have displayed upside-down flags as an expression of their displeasure and dissatisfaction over a plethora of issues, including the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, gun violence, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion and, in many cases, election outcomes. In 2012, Tea Party followers inverted flags at their homes to signal disgust at President Barack Obama’s reelection. Four years later, some liberals and progressives engaged in duplicative behavior after Donald Trump’s election as president.

Justice Alito and the political right in general have long ceased employing dog whistles to communicate fascist messages. They are aggressively promoting their searing and blatant rhetoric and fascist ideology while simultaneously taunting their critics without fear or shame. The rest of us can do nothing to stop them from advertising their fascist sympathies. Their impunity is part of the argument against democracy.

In its blind thirst for power, the current Republican Party has become rapacious, barbarous, and amoral, determined to attack and overturn any election outcomes or social movements that undermine its agenda. We have already seen the GOP engage in this sort of undemocratic activity with voter suppression and the duplicative election laws they have enacted.

Truth be told, Republicans made the decision decades ago never to alter their regressive values. Instead, they have decided to repress all entities whose ideology does not square with theirs. The agenda for their extreme elements is to employ alarming, abrasive, hyperbolic, and ominous rhetoric, no matter how irresponsible or dangerous. The more outlandish they can appear to their followers, the better. Ethics, civility, decency, facts, principles, and morality can all be damned. It is a party largely bereft of any responsibility.

The undeniable truth is the MAGA right has no regard for the constitution or other people’s rights. They have made it clear they will stop at nothing to secure their own right-wing dystopian society regardless of the havoc they create in doing so. Needless to say, the current state of political affairs is grim.

The 2024 election may be our last hope to preserve democracy as we know it. This will require everyone to become proactive in fighting, quelling, and outright defeating reductive forces of dystopian fascism immediately.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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A troll in Congress

To state the 118th Congress is an exercise in debasement, dereliction, and dysfunction would be an understatement. But what happened on the House Oversight Committee last week took things to a new low.

House Republicans were advocating for holding Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in contempt of Congress — an action the committee chairman, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, gleefully promoted in a fundraising appeal. They would eventually get “to the business at hand” but not before a back and forth by none other than Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the menacing right-winger who threw a cheap shot at Texas Rep. Jasmine Crockett.

“I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading,” Greene said, mocking Crockett’s makeup.

“That’s beneath even you, Ms. Greene,” shot back Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the panel.

The remark prompted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York—the committee’s number two Democrat—to demand that Ms. Greene’s words be “taken down” from the record, an official rebuke that would mean Ms. Greene would be barred from speaking for the rest of the session.

“How dare you attack the physical appearance of another person?” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. She later said on social media that she had felt compelled to defend Ms. Crockett, who is Black, against “racism and misogyny.”

“Are your feelings hurt?” Ms. Greene responded.

“Oh, baby girl, don’t even play,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez shot back.

“Why don’t you debate me?” Ms. Greene said to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

“I think it’s self-evident,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez replied.

“Yeah, you don’t have enough intelligence,” Ms. Greene said.

That second insult prompted more outrage, with multiple Democrats demanding Greene retract her remarks.

After much hot rhetoric, Greene agreed to have her words stricken from the record but refused to apologize. It was reality television at its most sordid. Raskin blamed Republican members who had travelled to New York to support Mr. Trump in court. “There was drinking going on in the hearing room on the Republican side,” he told The Hill on Friday, without naming any names.

Well, perhaps Rankin should know as the old saying goes, “a drunken man’s tongue is a sober man’s thoughts.”

The larger issue here is the blatant, arrogant, and ongoing disrespect toward people of color, in particular women of color in Congress and beyond. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and other members of the squad are frequently targeted by right-wing media outlets as “angry women of color.” Throughout the initial minutes of the hearing, Greene continued to directly taunt Crockett and Ocasio-Cortez. She’s the sort of racially-bigoted individual who hurls racist comments but acts like the victim of racism when called out.

For many right-wing congressmen, sparring with liberal progressives and the so-called “deep state” garners them credibility with their MAGA base of supporters. These are the voters (a large percentage of them) who are deeply distrustful of so-called elites and non-whites and view such individuals with suspicious, skeptical, jaundiced eyes and as “the other.” They are viewed as people who are not to be trusted.

Despite achieving and inhabiting one of the most prestigious spaces in American life, these members of Congress routinely have to defend themselves and fight for and demand respect from individuals who despise their existence. Indeed, many of these right-wingers, their supporters, and others of their regressive ilk would rather see non-white men and women cooking, cleaning, and tending the grounds of the buildings of Congress as opposed to legislating and ratifying laws for the nation. Such a fact causes many of them to seethe with resentment.

President Barack Obama endured such slights during his tenure as president. Vice President Kamala Harris routinely faces such juvenile comments. The prospect of Hakeem Jeffries as speaker of the house (a likely reality) enrages more than a few on the right. The hatred and resentment toward non-white achievement is real.

Bravo to Crockett, Cortez, and other people of color who refuse to allow others to publicly demean, attack, and humiliate them. Their ancestors would be proud to witness such unbridled courage in the face of relentless, ongoing adversity.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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Republicans of color aren’t standing up to racism

Last week, right-wing commentator Ann Coulter told former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy to his face she would not have voted for him because he’s Indian.

“There is a core national identity that is the identity of the WASP,” Coulter said on Ramaswamy’s “Truth” podcast, using an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. “And that doesn’t mean we can’t take anyone else in ― a Sri Lankan or a Japanese, or an Indian. But the core around which the nation’s values are formed is the WASP.”

Interestingly, Ramaswamy appeared unfazed by her insulting remarks and declared they shared an opposition to dual citizenship. He further stated, “that a child of immigrants would have greater loyalty to the country than disgruntled seventh-generation WASPs.” Despite such blatant, vulgar racism, Ramaswamy later praised her on social media, writing, “I disagree with her but respect that she had the guts to speak her mind.”

The truth is Ramaswamy is not alone in this regard. There are more than a few conservatives of color who have engaged in the art of self-debasement.

Back in 2021, South Carolina senator Tim Scott claimed with a straight face woke supremacy was as bad as white supremacy. In response, former CNN anchor Don Lemon spoke truth to power, alerting the senator, in no uncertain terms, to the undeniable truth that there is no comparison between the two camps. As the days passed, a few other commentators took Scott to task for his wayward, untoward commentary.

A Black man who hails from humble beginnings, (as he has described his background and upbringing) and the inhabitant of a state that has had an ugly, intensive, brutal and oppressive history of mistreatment of Black people (even by southern state standards), Scott likely knew better than to utter such dishonest foolishness. To add insult to injury, he went to Fox News and tried (unconvincingly) to defend his disingenuous remarks.

More recently, Scott has come under not-so-friendly fire due to his lap dogging for Donald Trump, telling the former president that “he just loves him.”

Scott is a person of color in a party that has declared political war on people of color. Thus, in order to save face and remain in the good graces of his GOP colleagues, Scott has opted to engage in shameful acts of intellectual dishonesty. His vacuous opportunism and misapplied priorities are sad and shameful.

We can’t ignore Nikki Haley, who behaved manner similar to that of Vivek Ramaswamy. The former governor and U.N. ambassador initially tied herself into political pretzels by refusing to denounce the confederate flag or criticize her former boss. She insulted many people when she argued that she disagrees with those who deny that the confederate flag represents racism, yet nonetheless respects their point of view.

Seriously, ambassador Haley? How can you simultaneously be for and against racism? Taking such a position is not that much different from when President Trump referred to white supremacists and anti-racist activists as “very fine people.” The latter group is commendable. The first group is anything but.

Trump went after Haley’s birth name, Nimarata, in yet another example of the former president employing racially-coded dog whistles to attack his presidential rivals. Trump also falsely stating she is ineligible to become president because her parents were not U.S. citizens when she was born in 1972. Haley initially behaved as if nothing was wrong. It was only afterwards, under extreme criticism from never Trumpers and independent Republicans, that she finally took off the gloves and began swinging.

Haley, who commented that her father had to teach at a historically Black college and university because he was unable to secure employment at a white institution of higher learning, continues to espouse the notion that “America was never a racist nation.” She does this even as Trump continues to levy thinly-veiled racist attacks at her.

Throughout history, there have been many others who have embraced groups and movements that stand in direct opposition to their religious or cultural heritage. It is important to note that such individuals exist on the political left as well. Opportunism is a bipartisan enterprise.

Some of this can be chalked up to confusion, self-hatred or other psychological maladies. Regardless, such retrograde antics perpetrated by intensely deluded and disingenuous men and women are a sad commentary, and says a lot more about them as opposed to the people or movements they have decided to fervently attack.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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The ghosts of Mississippi

Editor’s note: This column have been updated to include the correct name of an individual identified as shouting racial epithets.

History on the rerun. Ghosts of Mississippi. Magnolia State maintains its horrendously racist image.

Any of the statements could be used to describe the images shown across the nation last weekend at the University of Mississippi at Oxford.

Dozens of students at the university’s flagship campus gathered last week to protest Israel’s war in Gaza and to call for the school to be transparent in its potential dealings with Israel. These demonstrators were confronted with hundreds of counter-protesters, in contrast to the few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters.

Less than an hour after the protest began, police disbanded it – notably after counter-protesters threw items at the pro-Palestinian group. Police safely evacuated the pro-Palestinian students as the largely white, male group of counter-protesters chanted: “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” “Who’s your daddy?”, “USA”, “Hit the showers”, “Your nose is huge” and, in one instance, included a white man making monkey noises at a Black woman.

On Sunday, Phi Delta Theta fraternity responded in a statement, saying it was aware of the video that showed the actions of one counter-protester and had removed that individual, identified as James “JP” Staples, from membership.“The racist actions in the video were those of an individual and are antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter,” the statement read.

In response to such an odious incident, the University of Mississippi’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stated: “The behavior witnessed today was not only abhorrent but also entirely unacceptable,” the statement reads. “It is deeply disheartening to witness such blatant disregard for the principles of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner wrote, “This is a video showing anti-Blackness,” reposting Collins’ post. “This is a sitting Congressman applauding it.”

Shockingly, there were those who condoned and applauded such deplorable behavior. Rep. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican, shared the viral video on X saying, “Ole Miss taking care of business.” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, who himself recently declared April as Confederate Heritage Month and April 29 as Confederate Memorial Day, captioned a video of the counter-protesters singing the national anthem with “the ‘protests’ at Ole Miss today. Watch with sound. Warms my heart. I love Mississippi!”

Given his previous endorsement of racist legacies, such retrograde remarks should hardly be surprising. .

This overtly racist commentary parallels the Mississippi of yesteryear. In September 1962, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett –  a staunch and defiant segregationist – spoke to an all-white crowd of more than 40,000 people at the University of Mississippi football game against Kentucky. As Confederate flags waved, Barnett said: “I love Mississippi. I love her people. Our customs. I love and respect our heritage.”

The next day, an insurrection took place on campus as James Meredith enrolled, becoming the first known Black student in the university’s history.

Realizing that he stated the quiet part out too loud (at least for a governor) Reeves parroted statements similar to those echoed by Joe Biden the morning of the protests. In Biden’s statements on the protests around the nation, he said: “We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles … The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

Jailyn R. Smith, the young woman who was the subject of the attacks, made it clear the juvenile comments did not get to her

“The monkey gestures – and people calling me fat or Lizzo – didn’t hurt my feelings, because I know what I am,” Smith said. “I am so confident in my Blackness. I am so confident in my size, in the way that I wear my hair, and who I am. They do not bother me. If anything, I felt pity for them for how stupidly they acted,”

Smith, who is scheduled to graduate later this month, certainly demonstrated herself to be the mature, decent human being in this sordid encounter.

This incident at Ole miss gives adage to the statement “the more things change; they stay the same.”

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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Republicans have no real interest in protecting Jewish students

To say that the following academic year has been riveting for higher education is an understatement.

When presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard, Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology testified before Congress in December, they tried to go down the path of nuance and complexity, guided by legal counsel. The result was a public relations disaster, shortly after which both Gay and Magill resigned. It was widely agreed the three institutions had suffered serious damage, but not as serious as that which Columbia and several other high-profile campuses have recently suffered.

In retrospect, the three presidents’ decision to address genuinely complex issues in a nuanced fashion — at the possible cost of their careers — looks admirable. In contrast, Minouche Shafik, the current president of Columbia University, has managed to place herself in the middle of a firing squad with heavy artillery coming from all directions. Students, faculty, donors, alumni, politicians at all levels, and others have viewed Shafik with a jaundiced, disappointed, and wary eye. Many people from across the religious and political spectrum were shocked that she capitulated to arbitrary premises and refused to support fundamental academic principles of sincere inquiry and freedom of expression.

Many people, including me, vehemently denounce anti-Semitism, one of the oldest and most vile hatreds in history. But we should all pause and reflect before concluding that the cohort of right-wing politicians who conducted the hearing were genuinely interest in protecting the well being of Jewish students. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, has avidly touted white nationalist conspiracy theories.  Rep. Rick Allen, a right-wing Republican congressman from Georgia, routinely quotes Bible verses as a vehicle for dictating policy at a religiously diverse, pluralistic, secular university.

No, the purpose of this supposed “genuine inquiry” was to attack higher education as bastions of critical thinking.

The truth is that conservatives have long used a racist playbook as a guide to political victory. Examples include the mid-1960s, when the far right seized control of the Republican Party from the moderate Rockefeller wing; Richard Nixon’s infamous Southern strategy in 1968 and 1972; Ronald Reagan’s “big Black Bucks and welfare queens” trope that he invoked during his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 for defending universal human rights; George H. W. Bush’s racist stereotyping of Willie Horton in 1988; and George W. Bush’s “protection from terrorism” and the Obama birther conspiracy theories in 2008.

We are now well into another crucial election year in an America that remains heavily polarized. The racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other forms of white grievance that Donald Trump and his campaign intentionally agitated during his victory in 2016 and were narrowly defeated in 2020 have returned in 2024 with an additional list of fresh faces whose targets remain largely the same: women, non-Whites, immigrants, and those deemed “other.”

A university’s role is to teach students how to think critically and courageously. The college campus is the supposed citadel for the rational examination and exchange of ideas. This means that students might indeed feel unsettled when their world views differ from their peers’ or when what they discuss in class — or hear on campus — challenges their beliefs. This can be a positive thing. University education involves learning to engage in disagreement, even confrontation, and to contest ideas rather than seek to suppress them.

If we are being honest, the truth is that Elise Stefanik, Virginia Foxx, and their Republican colleagues have no real interest in solving campus problems. Their goal is to expose supposed liberal elites as dangerou and anti-American. They falsely promote themselves as heroic saviors capable of and determined to attack such sinister enemies into submission, if not outright silence.

Such an effort cannot be allowed to succeed for the survival of higher education or our nation’s future.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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Trump’s vileness on race is hardly new among Republicans

For almost a decade, Donald Trump has sent the Republican Party and much of the mainstream media into a political whirlwind. Trump’s bombastic behavior and searing personal attacks have angered many establishment Republicans while endearing him to hard-line conservatives.

But it’s nothing new for the Grand Old Party.

Over the past half-century, Republicans has engaged in behavior that has allowed individuals like Trump to rise and flourish in its ranks. Much of it can be traced back to the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, where the radical right elements of the party successfully wrestled power away from the more centrist Rockefeller wing, which they snidely referred to as a group comprising “weak sissified men.”

At this same convention, the more racist delegates verbally and, in some cases, physically attacked some of the few Black and other non-white delegates, including baseball legend Jackie Robinson. It was also in 1964 that Congress ratified the landmark Civil Rights Act.

Approval of this monumental piece of legislation caused such vehement dissension and outrage among so many conservatives (among them was Dixiecrat leader Strom Thurmond, who secretly fathered a Black child with his family’s maid) they denounced the Democratic Party and became Republicans. Thus, in the minds of many GOP men, genuine red-blooded men were hard-core segregationists.

Capitalizing on those sentiments, the GOP apparatus, led by its 1968 nominee Richard Nixon, employed the infamous Southern strategy. A number of southern governors of the era, notably Alabama Gov. George Wallace, employed this strategy (along with the slogan “law and order”) in their campaigns to appeal to white southern Democrats who were growing ever resentful at what they saw as America’s growing diversification and radicalization. This was a message that played on the racial resentments of whites while promoting segregationist themes.

With Nixon successfully winning the presidency in 1968, this sort of political dog whistle politics among Republican operatives was the standard for more than two decades.

General dissatisfaction with Jimmy Carter’s performance, coupled with international crises, allowed this form of resentment politics to return in the early 1980s. Indeed, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign started off in Philadelphia, Miss., advocating for states’ rights. It’s the same city where the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan murdered three civil rights activists in July 1964: 25-year-old Michael Schwerner, 20-year-old Andrew Goodman (both white and Jewish), and 19-year-old James Chaney. Their killers justified the murders as crucial in preserving their way of life and protecting white women from supposed “communists and outside agitators.”

Understandably, the optics of Reagan’s move sent shock waves through liberal political circles at the time. This was the same campaign that would refer to “welfare queens” riding around in pink Cadillacs and sexually objectifying Black men by referring to “Big Black Bucks” using food stamps to purchase T-bone steaks. Radical leftists and “militant feminists” were also targets of their cowboy diplomacy campaign and conservative message. This strategy managed to secure Reagan two terms as president.

This would continue in 1988 when the George H.W. Bush campaign “Hortonized” Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis by running an ad depicting the story of a Massachusetts prisoner, Willie Horton, who had murdered a young White couple while out on a weekend furlough. This message was designed to play on the fears of conservative whites, who harbored unhinged fears of Black men.

In 1992, the GOP bought out its best and brightest extreme elements at its party convention in Houston, Texas. From 700 Club host Pat Robertson arguing that feminism encouraged women to refuse to bake cookies to eventual presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan declaring America was in the midst of a cultural war, it looked as if party lunatics had taken over the convention asylum. Many political pundits argued that such a spectacle was the reason William Jefferson Clinton and the Democratic Party captured the White House for the first time since 1976.

It remains to be seen how the 2024 election will turn out. However, one thing is for certain: Trump’s rabid, unrestrained behavior is nothing new for the GOP. He embodies the spirit, values, and message that have defined a sizable segment of the Republican Party for more than half a century.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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What you might have forgotten about OJ Simpson and his trial

For those too young to fully remember the OJ Simpson trial, it was a television spectacle with all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Sex and violence, interracial relationships and marriage, infidelity, alcoholism, sexual deviancy and a host of lurid details that titillated and fascinated the public. Stories covering the trial became daily tidbits, as just about every outlet – from weekly tabloids to highbrow magazines and newspapers – intensely covered the trial. You also had a real life cast of characters that would have been a fiction writer’s dream.

The strong, handsome, sex symbol former Hall of Fame athlete. The former beauty queen, blonde-haired, blued-eyed murdered wife. Her tall, dark and handsome murdered body builder friend. The blond-haired hedonistic beach boy. The Latin housekeeper. The Asian judge. The white/Jewish female prosecutor. The Black male prosecutor. The Black male defense attorney. The legendary WASP attorney. The Jewish defense attorney. The Black ex-wife and kids from his first marriage. Biracial kids from his second marriage. The white racist cop and police force.

It went on and on. A theater of the surreal.

The trial, like many other issues in America, exposed the large racial divide in our nation. The country was largely divided among racial lines, with 62 percent of whites believing Simpson was guilty of murder and 68 percent of Blacks feeling that he was innocent, according to a CNN poll conducted at the time. Charges that the defense team, lead by the late Johnnie Cochran, was playing the “race card” to Time magazine darkening Simpson’s face on its cover elicited outrage from certain segments of the Black community and further divided the public. The racial gulf remained after the trial.

Many white Americans were shocked and outraged by witnessing groups of blacks cheering the verdict. To many, such jubilation demonstrated a high level of callousness and indifference to the plight of two brutally murdered victims.

On the contrary, for many Black Americans, the verdict represented vindication from a justice system that had for so long mistreated and incarcerated so many Black people, who in a number of cases were unjustly prosecuted without probable cause. Simpson was probably an afterthought. The cheering was for how Johnnie Cochran, the Black lead defense attorney, so skillfully, eloquently and powerfully commanded that courtroom.

Once he was implicated in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her body builder, waiter friend, Ronald Goldman, the once Black Prince Charming image Simpson worked so hard to cultivate quickly evaporated. The fact Nicole Brown Simpson was a blond haired, blue eyed former beauty queen intensified the hatred toward Simpson, particularly in racially-conscious social circles. Race did indeed matter!

It is very telling that many of Simpson’s critics (mostly White) who ruthlessly took him to task (and in my opinion, justifiably so) for two gruesome murders seemed to either overlook or ignore the fact that Claus Von Bulow, Robert Blake and several other White men were exonerated under similar circumstances. In the case of Von Bulow, he went on to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair and became a social fixture in New York society circles.

Both sides were passionate in their stances. However, most rational people know that Simpson was incarcerated in 2008 for nearly a decade, largely for failing to be convicted in 1995. The judge and predominately white jury in the second trial were determined to see Simpson face justice for what they saw as his failure to face consequences in his initial 1995 acquittal. Even most legal experts conceded as much, arguing that under normal circumstances, most people would have likely received less than three years or even probation for the sort of crime Simpson was involved in.

Moreover, anyone being honest with themselves knows that if Simpson had been accused of murdering his first wife, Marguerite Henry Simpson, a Black woman, the searing level of public outrage and craven level of print and electronic media coverage would not have been anywhere near as intense. I would argue that might have ended up a minor cover story in Jet or Ebony Magazine, and not much elsewhere. Such attitudes demonstrate that Black lives are too often of little significance to the larger society.

I was among those Black Americans, in the minority at the time, who felt Simpson was guilty. I still feel that way. That being said, from an intellectual standpoint, I could see why the jury came to the conclusion it did. The prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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Defending higher education against cynical politics

Thanks to the so-called culture wars, debates about events on college campuses are being employed as useful weapons for attacking the gradual democratization that has occurred in higher education since the 1950s.

Those of us who are academics and see education as crucial should be alarmed at the specter of partisan attacks, not to mention the garish and outlandish headlines that adversely affect many people trying to make sense of and understand their lives.

Academic freedom, a term the American Association of University Professors developed in the mid-20th century, was designed to provide freedom of and protection for the pursuit of knowledge by faculty members, whose primary purpose is to educate, acquire knowledge, and conduct research inside and outside the halls of academia. That lines up with the constitution’s protection of free speech and affirms the necessity of academic freedom to the right to education and the institutional independence of higher education institutions.

Nonetheless, across the nation, attacks on free speech have steadily increased. Over the past few years, right-wing groups opposed to the teaching of critical race theory have tried to undermine such important concepts by attempting to restrict the discussion of history, literature, and other disciplines within the humanities.

Such intense paranoia about supposedly “woke” campuses has materialized into actual laws from Florida to Alabama, where Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill that supposedly limits the teaching of “divisive” topics in the state’s colleges and universities. The bill is similar to Florida’s ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in public colleges, which was signed into law last May. Both measures are overt attacks on learning that attempt to divorce liberal and progressive beliefs and ideas from the classroom.

The conservative right has been on the warpath in its efforts to curtail academic freedom. According to the The Chronicle of Higher Education, Republican lawmakers have proposed 81 anti-DEI bills across 28 states.

That is why a recent report released by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup about how policies and laws shape college enrollment attracted my intense interest. The report was part of a comprehensive survey about students’ experiences of higher education.

Upon reading the report, I came to one major conclusion: intensely histrionic and dramatized discussions about so-called woke campuses dominating higher education do not correlate with the sentiments or concerns of many, or perhaps, most college students. The report’s key findings expose how grossly distorted our national debate over higher education has become and how out of sync Republican-led public higher education systems are with the majority of college students.

As for supposedly “divisive” concepts the right routinely decries about? It turns out students are interested in such ideas. Most of these students, the report notes, state they do not want limitations on what they can discuss in the classroom. What is more noteworthy is that students’ opinions do not conform with the hyper-political partisanship that saturates and intensely populates headlines.

In interviewing students who are concerned about this issue, some political differences are likely to be expected. However, students are nowhere near as politically stratified as a confluence of outside factors might have led one to believe. In fact, more than 60% of Republicans who care about this issue when selecting a college prefer that states do not restrict instruction on topics related to race and gender (compared to 83% of Democrats and 78% of independents).

College and university campuses are the supposed citadels for the rational examination and exchange of ideas. They should be centers where students have access to specific information shaping current societal discussions and where faculty members are encouraged to engage in their mission as public intellectuals, even when espousing unpopular discourse that exposes harsh realities about the past and present.

I make it clear to my students during the first class of every semester they are no longer in high school and that life is not multiple choice, though it can be somewhat true and false (the latter comment always gets a few laughs). I also  inform students none of us will be totally comfortable with everything we encounter or hear, and that as human beings, we must be expected to acclimate to various situations and environments. The fact that people are occasionally taken out of their comfort zones can be a positive thing.

Campuses must make a valiant effort to protect free speech and advocate mutually respectful dialogue. Administrators must make serious and committed efforts to protect the rights of faculty and students who become targets of attack for expressing controversial or unpopular viewpoints. These efforts are crucial, given our current political and societal landscape.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

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