Woodrow Wilson and Black Lives Matter
There have been a number of college campus protests recently initiated allegedly over claims these institutions engaged in racial discrimination. The unrest at University of Missouri resulted the President’s and Chancellor’s resignation as demanded by the protesting students.
Now Princeton is looking at a set of “demands” which include eliminating all public references to former President Woodrow Wilson (as in 28th US President and Princeton’s “Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs”). Hmmm.
Black Lives Matter seems to have arisen following a series of police shootings where African Americans were killed during run ins with police. In many of the incidents, two characteristics seemed present. First, excessive lethal force was apparently employed and second, incident investigation exonerated the accused.
Even though data shows that police have killed almost twice as many white persons as African Americans, when the data is corrected for population, the disproportioned African American police shootings jumps out.
These two issues are tempting to conflate. Racism and Police prejudice may seem potentially interrelated.
Being human, the tendency is to assign behavior of some to the group as a whole. The charge of prejudice is unavoidable. For the police, dealing regularly with dangerous people, they could easily see most everyone (like those in the poor areas) as a criminal and justify lethal force.
Racism and racist policies are not always that easy to detect. Universities have been under pressure to open enrollment to a more “diverse” group and clearly now feel betrayed when minority students bite back.
Looking back most higher learning institutions some group had to be the minority. Each of these groups would have struggled with slights and often outright prejudices. Over time the schools evolved to be more inclusive and probably the minority group grew thicker skin. One might see the current African American discrimination claims as simply they are going through the same process. Hmmm.
Woodrow Wilson and Princeton represent something a little different. African Americans have a legitimate grievance if Wilson is presented as a great man without flaws. Having his name on a prestigious University School could certainly convey this. But to suggest all will be ok if Wilson name was struck from the school’s official name borders on naive if not short sighted.
Renaming institutions cannot change what the historical record already says. It is far more to everyone’s benefit that Wilson be remembered as a Statesman and College President who endorsed many good beliefs and who unfortunately also held other discredited beliefs.
Championing the “League of Nations” does not make his segregation views any more acceptable, nor does his views on race subtract from his contributions in other areas.
The excessive use of force in police matters can arise from a great many causes, not just racism. Emotional aptitude, training, and supervision can all contribute to a mind set that is ready to employ excess force.
Black lives must matter and so should all lives matter. If we allow police excesses (that African Americans are calling out) to continue, all other groups may live to experience these same excesses should police be ever called into confront some other type of protest or demonstration.
African American leaders will do well by their peers to emphasize education and acquiring the emotional and executive skills to compete and succeed in life after school. While some protesting and push back on perceived organizational slights is part of human nature, the victim would be wise to match, no double, their protest efforts with even greater academic work.
Excessive police force is a danger to all Americans. Since we can not do without police support of law and order, we all need to support proper police selection, training and supervision.