Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Growing Intolerance Must Be Confronted

by Dr. Elwood Watson

elwoodwatson

Think about the following:

• Former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made the claim that President Obama’s health care plan would establish “death panels” to oversee end of life care for the elderly and  terminally ill.

• A Swastika was found spray-painted on a sign fronting the office of U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia,  (who is Black) a week after rowdy attendees at a town hall meeting angrily confronted the congressman over health care reform.  

• Newly-turned Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania faced a hostile crowd as well as taunts during a town hall meeting on health care reform.

• Right wing agitator and talk show host Glenn Beck of FOX News states that President Obama has a hatred of White people.

• A political poster of President Obama equating him with the deviant Batman character, the Joker, is posted on a number of right wing Web sites.

• A small but vocal number of Americans (known as birthers) refuse to believe that President Obama is an American-born citizen

• The majority of Republican Senators vote against confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court

I could provide you with more examples, but the point should be made clear by now. Unless you have been comatose or camping in the most remote regions of the earth without any access to modern technology then you are aware of ferocious rage that has erupted among a segment of the political right. From dishonest comments from certain right wing radio talk show hosts to aggressive and in some cases, mob violence from resentful tea baggers and private citizens who align themselves with such a movement, the far right has been on the warpath demonstrating its ugly, callous, and largely inhumane face to a currently surprised mainstream America.

For over a month now, the leaders of this political segment of American politics have engaged in the most destructive rhetoric publicly expressed by fearful citiizens  since the days of the early modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Even President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was able to successfully garner the support of the region by manipulating racist Whites who were fearful of and resented the civil rights movement, did not seem  so overtly hostile in its aims.

Some radical critics have gone even further and compared such troublesome behavior on the right to that of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. While it is probably safe to say that this nation will never reach the horrific crisis that engulfed Germany during the Nazi era, the similarities are far too eerie to dismiss. The naked raw emotions and resentment expressed by Obama opponents in public are  striking.

From ruthlessly spreading falsehoods that the current proposed health care plan would allow “death panels” to pull the plug on dear old grandma and grandpa if they became too ill; to shamelessly lampooning the president; to referring to Judge Sotomayor as a “Latina racist”; to arguing  that Obama was born in Kenya; to comparing the Obama White House to a Nazi organization and the president himself to Adolf Hitler, the malcontents who represent this extreme brand of conservatism have shown their racist, sexist, sinister and xenophobic teeth. And guess what? They have demonstrated that they are not afraid to bite no matter how disgraceful, rabid or perverse the consequences. Some of these anti-Obama protestors have arrogantly carried loaded guns to town hall meetings.

All one has to do is listen to the steady stream of hate that is coming from right wing talk radio on a daily basis to realize that the anger, fear and mistrust is rampant among more than a few people. The level of hate is unreal. Throughout American history, every president has had critics who have levied all sorts of allegations against him no matter how bizarre or unfounded. History has shown that there tends to be a vehement hatred toward those in power from those who are looking in from the outside.

Nonetheless, I would argue that among our very contemporary presidents –from Jimmy Carter onward, there has never been the level of unrestrained paranoia that is being directed toward our current commander-in-chief from his opponents. To be sure, while Ronald Reagan was not popular among many liberals (or many Black Americans for that matter); many liberals did like him personally.  No one managed to incur the wrath of conservatives like Bill Clinton did (his wife was a frequent target of conservative ire as well). George W.  Bush infuriated a number of groups, including liberals for what they saw as his embracing of anti-intellectualism as well as many traditional conservatives due to his rejection of a mainstream conservatism in favor of neo-conservatism.

However, there was no one (at least that I recall) posting incessantly on political blogs, carrying signs, contacting congressmen, disrupting town hall meetings demanding to know whether the president was a legitimate American citizen! Note to all the doubting Thomases out there – HE WAS BORN IN AMERICA! He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961.

To me, such intense resistance and resentment has a racial nexus to it.
From the first Latina being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the son of a Black Kenyan immigrant and White Kansas mother occupying the most powerful office in the nation and the world for that matter and other milestones, the fact is that a number of people (certainly not all or perhaps even most) cannot fully accept the fact that the “Leave it to Beaver”, Norman Rockwell , “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Pleasantville” early post-World War II suburban America, male dominant WASP culture has suddenly included non-Whites (and for sexists, White women) in the top echelons of power in the U.S.  The America that that these people knew where non-Whited were frequently marginalized, occasionally seen but not heard and certainly had little, if any voice, have managed to secure Supreme Court seats and live in the White House. This fact is driving a number of them mad with PARANOIA!

There are some conservatives who have denounced the tactics of some of their more extreme brethren, but these are the individuals who seem to be voices in the wilderness as opposed to being taken seriously as rational voices of reason. When this current madness will end is anyone’s guess. To be sure calmer voices will prevail as they always eventually do. Nonetheless, Republicans and other conservatives may want to do some real soul searching about what is happening in their party. As of right now, the right wing lunatics are running the asylum.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

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Get and Give All You Can: Advice for New Graduate Students

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009It’s that time of year — new graduate students are setting foot on campuses across the nation hoping to gain knowledge and have new experiences that will help them progress in their careers.  As a professor and adviser, I get really excited about new graduate students.  They are usually wide-eyed, excited, and eager to get started.  However, after a semester, I often sense their frustration with the academy.  So, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice for getting (and giving) the most out of your graduate experience.

1.   Keep an open mind.  Don’t let the students who have been around for a few years color your experience.  Make your experience your own experience and enjoy it.  This is one of the most wonderful times in your life — oh to be able to just think!

2.  Get to know the faculty members in your program.  Make appointments with them a few months into the semester.  This is especially important if you are enrolled in a master’s program and you want to enroll in Ph.D. programs in the future.  Most master’s programs are short and you need to get yourself on the radar screen of faculty members right away so that they are willing to write letters of recommendation for you.  Getting to know faculty members and having good intellectual conversations and debates will stimulate your thinking.

3.  Ask faculty members if you can help them conduct research and write articles.  You can do this in one of three ways: serve as a research assistant for a faculty member and learn the ways of writing and research in an apprentice-like way; ask to be a partner in a current research project (making sure to negotiate co-authorship if there are publications involved); or bring one of your own ideas to a faculty member and ask them to partner with you and serve as a co-author (with your name as first author).  One of the best ways of learning in graduate school is through collaboration around ideas.

4.  If you truly enjoy a class that you are taking and you do well when grades are given at the end of the semester, ask the professor if you can serve as a teaching assistant (paid or unpaid) for the class the next time it’s offered.  As a teaching assistant, you can gain experience grading, facilitating class discussions, lecturing, and designing a syllabus. 

5.  Most universities have many different cultural events, speakers, and organizational activities.  Frequent these.  The relationships that you establish across disciplines can be wonderfully beneficial and long lasting.  In addition, interacting with people outside your program or discipline keeps you on your toes and intellectually stimulated.

6.  Read, read, read.  Although there is typically more reading assigned than can possibly be digested in graduate school, do it or as much of it as you can!  Being well read is essential in life, especially if you plan on being a professor.  In addition, reading makes for better writing.  Study the way people write, keep track of smart phrases and uses of language and pull them out later when you are writing.  Read all kinds of things — fiction, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs — reading non-academic works keeps you in touch with the rest of the world and stimulates creative thinking.

7.  Attend conferences even if it means rooming with lots of other students.  Sometimes graduate students make the mistake of only operating within their own institutions or only listening to the perspectives of their program’s faculty members — don’t do that!  Get out there and gain many different perspectives.

8.  Get in the habit of writing every day.  There is a great deal of research that shows that if you write every day, you will be a better writer, a more productive writer, and that writing will come more easily to you.  Writing becomes natural instead of feeling forced.  Even an hour a day can keep you motivated.

9. Stay focused on ideas and not academic politics.  Asa Hilliard, my wonderful mentor, gave me the best advice when I was a new faculty member.  He said, “live for ideas not academic politics” — such sound advice.  I have faltered a few times, but once my head clears, I let the politics go and get back to the work.  The work is what is important to making change and making a difference in the lives of others.

10.  Make sure that you give as much as you get.  Find something about which you feel immense passion and give as much as you can to whatever it is.  The only way to sustain an academic career, or any career for that matter, is to pursue something that makes you want to get up each day and go at it. 

Good luck new students!

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

 

Navigating the Racial Highway in America

By James Ewers

jewers1If you want to have a good debate or scare people away, then start talking about race.  The ‘race’ word is a powerful one in America’s lexicon and seems to bring out passionate feelings in us. It is a catalyst for both change and status quo. It is my thinking that the word race has brought into context words such as diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, just to name a few. Many in this country would say that we are simply hung up on race. However, I think our racial healing, or hemorrhaging, is generational. Finally, it seems, young people are not as race-conscious as previous generations, although some may disagree with this statement. What makes the color of a person’s skin the object of so much attention and speculation? Why do some of us base our perceptions about a person solely on their skin color? As we all know, a person’s ability is not based on their skin color but on their competence and cognition. Yet, unfortunately, there are those who will go to their grave thinking otherwise. The uneasiness about race is felt on both sides. Many of our positions and mores about race come from our own experiences. Some of these feelings about race cannot be altered or changed regardless of how many diversity training programs we attend.

Some of our differences as black and white people are quite striking, most notably our responses to race.  I have both black and white friends, and my life is better because of it. But there have been incidents in this country involving race that have elicited such divergent responses I sometimes wonder, “are we looking at the same thing?” So we see things through different lens. There is also an extreme view held by each side about race relations. Some blacks and whites see their own race as the good guys and the other race as the bad guys. I disagree with this view, yet you would be naïve to think that it doesn’t exist.

Race is a slippery slope. Racial attitudes and positions seem to always follow us. Race never takes a break and is like the famous convenience store; it is always open. If you recall just a month ago now a white woman in Pennsylvania alleged that a black man had kidnapped her. We later found out that she was at Disney World. More recently a group of black children were asked to leave a swimming pool for reasons shrouded in race. Both incidents involved race and bad behavior.

So now just a few weeks ago, there was the incident involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the Harvard professor. Reports said that Professor Gates, who is black, had trouble getting into his house. He did get into his house yet by this time the Cambridge, Mass., police had arrived because of a 911 call placed by a local citizen. The police tape of the call never mentioned race, however the police report did. Officer James Crowley, who is white, and Professor Gates had a heated exchange even after Gates showed he was the owner of the home. Professor Gates was taken to the police station in handcuffs. However, throughout all of this we cannot forget that the police are there to protect and to serve whether it is in Cambridge or any other part of the country. Yet I wonder why the police could not have left Gates’ home once proper identity had been established. Because race is so explosive an issue, President Obama having a news conference on health care and other important matters was asked about the incident. President Obama, in my opinion and later by his own admission, used inappropriate language in responding to the reporter’s question. The three men, President Obama, Officer Crowley and Professor Gates met recently at the White House to hash out their differences and hopefully bring some constructive focus to the issue of race.

A lot of Americans are waiting to see if there is a blue print on how to talk about race. Fortunately, many communities have already started the conversation. It is my opinion that the rules of engagement ought to center around honesty, forthrightness and recognition of the need to get it out in the open.

Race and all of its complexities will not go away. If we want our communities to become better then we must be proactive in talking about our differences. Communities that understand each other better will prosper. Those that don’t won’t.

 James B. Ewers, Jr. Ed.D is a higher education consultant and the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.