On the list
Judge first, study later
THESE DAYS—these unforgivable, grim, implacable days—some people are judged by their worst moments. Maybe their worst decisions. Their worst weeks. Even their worst two minutes. And the mob of social media warriors attacks, bayonets affixed.
A former U.S. senator of some note, and from Arkansas at that, is on the list to be canceled next. There are those who demand that J. William Fulbright be erased from the University of Arkansas. They want a statue taken down and his name deleted from the arts and science college. A committee on the UofA campus has been meeting virtually since last summer. And word is leaking out about what its members are hearing.
According to Jaime Adame’s story yesterday, there are still those associated with the university who are brave enough to defend the man, even if he was on the wrong side of history on segregation: “The drive to re-examine Fulbright gained momentum last year, but comments solicited as part of the campus effort also show that strong supporters remain for the longtime U.S. senator and former UA president. He’s perhaps best known for introducing legislation in 1945 that created the international education exchange program named after him.
“An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis of more than 225 comments found that students wrote in to support change by a roughly 3-to-1 margin, with faculty members and alumni commenting in smaller numbers but leaning the other way on what the university should do.”
Some of the online comments on the matter were serious. As in, some folks say they’ll start withholding money from the university should it take steps to cancel J. William Fulbright. As one person wrote: “Please keep the J. William Fulbright name and statue. It is not fair to judge figures in history by today’s lens that did not exist at the time. He was human and had flaws like everyone else, but his international recognition and the good things he did outweigh any negatives.”
Others, as you can imagine, feel differently. One of the comments said: “Personally, I am sickened by the possibility that I might one day have a diploma saying that I got my education from a school named after a segregationist. I think it is despicable that it is 2020, and we are just now considering the fact that Fulbright’s legacy maybe isn’t one to memorialize.”
One wonders if the writer would be personally sickened by knowing that the nation’s capital is named for a man who owned slaves, and whether his name should be canceled, too. Or whether the names of colleges, cities, states, counties, schools and hospitals should be changed because the men and women so honored were people of their times, and had unevolved and wrong views about race, sex and social matters. And whether they should all be, yes, whitewashed from history.
Although this Cold War liberal J. William Fulbright was on the wrong side of history when it comes to early civil rights bills (and the awful Southern Manifesto), he was on the right side of history on so many other issues. Such as his opposition to the Vietnam War. And his support for Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court. And, before that, his opposition to Joseph McCarthy (when no other United States senator would oppose the little man from Wisconsin). And what about all the people helped by the Fulbright Scholarship?
Certainly Senator Fulbright can be criticized for some of his positions (and should be). But how will future Arkansans know to criticize if the man is wiped clean from memory? Every person’s life has to be judged in the balance. Judging people by their greatest weaknesses or the attitude of their times is unfair. To them and to history.
Instead of perfecting the past, this cancel culture would leave it perfectly empty. If that is what a college education is about today, more’s the pity. And less is the education.