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September 07, 2009



Your post and its comments remind me that in the past few months the rumors of Woodrow Wilson and his advisors being racist have come to fruition in an explosion of demands to expunge his name from official places of honor. Students at Princeton University, where Wilson was President from 1902 to 1910, have demanded that the university take action by removing his name from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and other university-related areas where he has been honored. In the broader world, advocacy groups and those with revisionist agendas have demanded that Wilson's name be expunged from public buildings, bridges, public schools, and currency (he is on the $100,000 bill) all over the United States. How seriously should this be considered?

Certainly Wilson, a Southerner born in Virginia and who spent his childhood there as well as in Georgia and the Carolinas, embraced and eulogized the pro-slavery culture of the antebellum South. He could therefore be described as a social as opposed to political conservative -- and was even a detective story addict attracted by that genre's subversion of the social order until its peaceful restitution at the end. But an attitude of social conservatism does not necessarily give rise to racism.

However in Wilson's case, while his programs were propelled by a politically reformist and progressive point of view, some of his presidential actions might be considered racist: he authorized his cabinet members to reverse the policy of integrating federal government agencies that had been instituted during Reconstruction and continued thereafter, and removed a majority of blacks in political positions appointed during the Taft administration replacing them with whites. He also appointed trusted advisors and cabinet members with more or less bigoted views, including Colonel Edward House, son-in-law William McAdoo, and James C. McReynolds -- the last-mentioned his Attorney General, first Supreme Court appointee, and one of the most infamous American bigots of the 20th century. (Interestingly his second Supreme Court appointee was Louis Brandeis, a jurist of an entirely different stripe.) Similarly some of Wilson's earlier actions while Governor of  New Jersey and as President of Princeton University might also be viewed as racist.

But it can be argued that the decisions were made at a time when non-Caucasian ethnic groups were suppressed almost as a matter of course, when it was considered expedient to do so for reasons of public safety, and when someone like Wilson with his views could say with impunity "If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it."

But it seems wrong-headed to me to begin expunging his name from already established edifices and institutions, where the decision to honor him was surely not made lightly. It would instead make more sense to refrain from honoring him going forward if this be considered warranted on an ad hoc basis, or for concerned groups and institutions to make sure that his name is expunged from their own internal rolls of honor. But for these groups of individuals -- African-American or otherwise -- to lobby and advocate for expungement on a nation-wide and/or state-by-state scale is in my view going too far. It is using racism -- albeit almost surely justified in today's assessment of Wilson -- as an excuse for engendering a climate of ex post facto entitlement. And I think there is no place for that in the 21st century United States.


I think that personalities are a combination of often-correlated characteristics. If they are unacceptable personalities, we call the combination a syndrome.

So of course, your First Racist comes to mind. I think that K’s syndrome includes an exaggeration of traits that all of us share with a de-emphasis on others that we share.

K’s syndrome includes but is not based on:
• Fear of the “other” which leads to hatred of the other and ideations of self supremacy (racism),
• A tendency toward authoritarianism, which includes blind faith in Daddy, (or Uncle Sam or general so and so, or God), chauvinist thinking and action,
• Patriarchal organization,
• And conservative, i.e. preferring tradition and stability over experimentation and action,

The primal cause appears to be hereditary, as well as environmental. What the proportions are, I have no clue.
My name for this group is ‘Hateful’. LOL

Since Tradition in our country, at least what we were taught in PS 217, was/is to favor individual rights over community rights, the Hatefuls’ blind adherence to libertarian rather than the communitarian ideology is simply following tradition, which fits their syndrome. Remember the days of McCarthy while we were in 217. I took a dare one day back then, and said the word ‘communist’ on the corner of Ditmas and Rugby. This kind of childish belief and fear motivates the Hatefuls today. Comes in handy when you want to exploit others but still feel morally good.

And so on…..

Otis Jefferson Brown

The racist-conservative connection may appear valid at the moment, but in the long view of American history it doesn't hold up. They don't come any more conservative than John Adams, yet on racial matters (and on women's rights) he was far ahead of his contemporaries, while Thomas Jefferson - champion of individual liberty and patron saint of the modern Democratic Party - flunks miserably. Washington, the conservative, freed his slaves; Jefferson didn't. Racism was rife among the populist followers of William Jennings Bryan - have-nots all. There were many racist southern Democrats who were faithful supporters of FDR and the New Deal; if judged solely on their economic agenda, they'd be considered left-wingers. If you studied voters in West Virginia today, I'm sure you'd find that liberalism (on economic matters) and racism can co-exist quite comfortably. It's a big, complicated subject. Without having read it, I'd guess that Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" should be required reading for both of us.


Wow - that last paragraph really says it all. Thanks for posting this.

Otis Jefferson Brown

There's always something weird about Brooklyn kids from the 1940s who rooted for the Yankees. Think Rudy Giuliani.

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