Be WOKE, Be Proud: Racism Retrenches At Virginia Military Institute
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Cedric Wins, a retired Army major general and 1985 graduate of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, is VMI’s first Black superintendent. He was appointed in 2021 after the Washington Post published a long expose of racial discrimination at the school, including descriptions of a professor venerating her KKK ancestors with a story about how the KKK was known to “give the best parties” there in the 1930’s. A cadet was told he should resign when he complained about a depiction of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson on his class ring.
Now the Post is reporting that Superintendent Wins is facing stiff opposition to his plans for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at VMI. A Super PAC has been formed by VMI graduates to oppose Win’s plans. The leader of the Super PAC is General Wins’ 1985 classmate, Matt Daniel, who served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot. A website for the Super PAC, known as “Spirit of VMI,” recently put up a blog post stating, in all caps, “REJECT THE WOKE ASSAULT ON VMI. CLOSE RANKS.”
VMI is a Virginia state university supported with $29 million in state tax funds for this academic year. VMI didn’t admit its first black student until 1968 and had to be forced by a 7-1 Supreme Court decision in 1996 to admit women into its ranks. In contrast, the naval, army and air force service academies admitted women in 1976 when the rest of the services were gender-integrated by a law passed by Congress.
The Post reports that the Spirit of VMI Super PAC has posted cartoons mocking General Wins’ diversity efforts, one of them showing the body of a woman with her high-heeled legs sticking out of a trash can marked “DEI,” a common abbreviation for diversity, equity and inclusion. The two directors of the VMI diversity office are Black women.
The dispute between the two classmates over diversity at VMI is emblematic of similar struggles, most of them about race, at colleges and universities all over the country. Last year, the Supreme Court heard a case against affirmative action known as Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard. The case seeks to eliminate consideration of the race of applicants by colleges and universities in their admissions process. One Boston University Law professor explains the intent of the lawsuit this way: “The plaintiff’s request is not just to eliminate race-conscious admissions, but to forbid universities from even knowing the race of individual applicants.”
The court is expected to rule on the case later this year, and there are exactly zero legal experts who expect the decision to be in Harvard’s favor. This time next year, there will probably be no affirmative action programs left in higher education.
No less a figure than Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently had his general counsel, Ryan Newman, explain to a court in Tallahassee what WOKE means: “It is the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
You would think that an ardent opponent of all things WOKE would have come up with a definition just a tad more beneficial to his side of the argument, wouldn’t you? That he was apparently unable to do this tells you just about everything you want to know about the whole argument Republicans have against race/gender/sexual orientation/ sexual identity distinctions and policies in our political life. What the WOKE side of the argument holds is that there are wrongs that need to be righted in this country. To claim otherwise is to say that the wrongs were either acceptable or didn’t exist in the first place, thus there is no need to right them.
You can take that as far back as you want, but slavery is a good start. When the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865 abolishing slavery, that’s pretty much all it did. Section 2 of the amendment gave Congress the authority to “enforce this article by appropriate legislation,” but otherwise, no accommodation was made for the legacy of slavery, which was to be found everywhere there had been slaves. No attempts were made by slave states to provide for the health, or wellbeing, or education of newly-freed slaves. They were on their own to find places to live, earn a living, feed their families, and educate themselves and their children. Slaves had been forbidden to own property individually or jointly, so there were no churches or schools to serve the new community of “freedmen,” as they were called.
This seems an obvious point, but I’m going to make it anyway: is there any wonder there are even today HBCU’s, Historical Black Colleges and Universities? Most were established just after the Civil War as so-called “normal schools” to educate teachers for public schools to teach the children of slaves. Many of the schools themselves were built with the help of churches and formerly abolitionist forces in the North who provided funding and sometimes materials.
HBCU’s went from being normal schools training educators to become universities that educated a growing middle class of Black Americans at a time when other colleges and universities would not accept them into their student bodies. This went on through Jim Crow and afterwards. Not even the passage of Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation of public schools in the south and elsewhere. Public schools in Alexandria, Virginia, were still segregated when I entered my senior year in high school in 1964 and would remain segregated for several more years. Public colleges and universities in the south were forced by the Civil Rights Act and Brown to accept Black students, but private universities? Forget it. They could do whatever they wanted, and that included refusing admission to Black students.
And here we are in 2023 still fighting what has now become the war on WOKE. DeSantis and other Republican politicians have been joined by private right-wing legal foundations like Students for Fair Admissions in filing cases to end what they consider to be WOKE policies. Edward Blum, a so-called legal entrepreneur who isn’t a lawyer, formed Students for Fair Admissions specifically to file cases like the one against affirmative action currently before the Supreme Court.
The thing that is amazing about affirmative action is that it pits what we might call the Historically White Establishment (HWE) directly against historical discrimination against Black and other minorities (including women, who while not a minority have been historically treated like one). To the HWE, every college admission of a member of a minority or a woman is an admission someone who is not one of them, therefore any policy such as affirmative action must be stopped. They use terms like “race neutral” and are fond of turning Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on its head with the quote that he looked forward to a time when children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In DeSantis’ WOKE America, the color of white male skin is being used against those whose applications to college are rejected in favor of minorities or women.
Got that? It’s the essence of the anti-WOKE movement: The Historical White Establishment are the victims, not those who are still struggling to overcome policies that wouldn’t allow them in the door of public schools, colleges, Woolworth’s lunch counters, or many jobs that barred Black people for decades after the Civil War ended the enslavement of their grandparents and great grandparents.
You don’t remedy hundreds of years of slavery and a hundred years of Jim Crow and the systemic racism that resulted from both by turning a switch and calling it race neutral. Nothing is race neutral in this country. Racism is alive and well in the rhetoric and policies of the Republican Party and more of its candidates for national, state, and local office than you can count. The court decisions that have nibbled away at the Voting Rights Act and loosened restraints on gerrymandering are evidence enough of that. The Republican Party put those judges and justices on the bench, and the Republican Party has engineered the gerrymandering of districts that gives states like North Carolina and Alabama far greater numbers of Republican congressional seats than would be reflected by numbers of Democratic and Republican voters.
Righting wrongs that have existed for hundreds of years is the right thing to do. Be WOKE. Be proud.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.