David Vitter David Vitter’s campaign wasted no time in blowing their racist dog whistles so loud they might as well be vuvuzelas (too bad we can’t be like the World Cup and ban dog whistles too, but they unfortunately are considered Speech). Since the best predictor of future events is past performance, and Vitter has previously won accolades for airing The Most Racist Political Ads Ever, I know the proper response is to turn the volume down and ignore them entirely.
But yesterday’s offering in which John Bel Edwards’ recent speech at Southern University was taken completely out of context to make it sound like he would release 5,500
Scary Black Men “thugs and drug dealers” from prison if elected governor made me so angry yesterday I was shaking.
And it wasn’t just for the sheer racism, but what it implies if you go back to the original context in which John Bel Edwards gave that speech at Southern University last month.
Yesterday, both Lamar White and Jim Engster asked Edwards more about the context of his statements so I won’t get too much into detail here, other than to say that Edwards is well in the mainstream in supporting efforts to reduce our state’s embarrassing incarceration rate. I think it is safe to say that while Edwards has the support of our sheriffs, unlike our outgoing governor he probably doesn’t have the support of the for-profit prison industry which has a vested interest in keeping our incarceration rate as high as possible. There’s a lot of money to be made in sending generation after generation of young black men to prison rather than college.
But even more context is necessary. Edward’s speech to Southern University was part of a series put on by its College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. In fact, David Vitter was a featured speaker there in April.
One could drag and drop one of Vitter’s pictures into his own vile ad. SPEAKING TO LIBERAL BLACK OBAMA SUPPORTERS AT HISTORICALLY BLACK UNIVERSITY OBAMAOBAMAOBAMA SCARY SCARY GOING TO LET ALL THE DRUG DEALING
BLACK THUGS OUT OF JAIL!
Not picked up in Vitter’s ad though were some of the other things that Edwards talked about at Southern. About how HBCUs are often viewed as unimportant and unnecessary and are targeted for closure. About the failed SUNO closure attempt. About maintaining and increasing educational opportunities for African American students to combat institutional poverty. So Edwards’ comments about Louisiana’s astronomical incarceration rates fit in well because unfortunately any policy that reduces educational opportunities will by default result in more kids going to prison instead.
Regular readers of my blog (I think there are about a dozen of you even though some blog posts like my last one strike a nerve and are more widely read) will know that the impetus behind my blog is the half-decade war I’ve waged against Bobby Jindal’s higher education agenda, particularly GRAD Act, because of how it was designed to shrink higher education by reducing the number of African American students in our universities, especially the HBCUs, thus forcing them to close/merge/privatize. African American students would be forced to begin their post-secondary academic careers in community colleges or for profit institutions, but as my research and my first-hand experience as the director of admissions at one of our HBCUs indicated, many more of these students ended up going nowhere. When I go back and look at Bobby Jindal’s original higher education platform through the lens of what has happened in the last eight years, it is crystal clear to me that this was the intent of his policies. He never intended to increase or even maintain funding for public higher education. The intent was to shrink higher ed so that regional institutions and HBCUs would be forced to close or merge (or in the case of Grambling, privatize), larger white-serving institutions would be largely unscathed, and African American students would be sent to our cheaper and horribly underfunded community colleges.
This failed miserably. The downsizing never happened–some of us were supposed to be closed by now–and instead higher education came within 90 minutes of what I have said would be a multi-institutional collapse of historic proportions. And we are still hurting, even up to our now-listing flagship.
However, we succeeded in punching a big huge hole in GRAD Act by getting the admission requirements changed. You’ll have to take this anonymous blogger’s word for this when I say I had a hand in that and I am more proud of that accomplishment than in anything else I’ve done in my 20 year career in higher education. And my resume is full of other accomplishments–in fact, I’m not sure that this one is that resume-friendly. But that’s the one that I think will make the biggest difference in more people’s lives than anything else I have ever done. I will be proud of that to my grave and who knows, maybe it will be a treasure in heaven too, especially if I meet anyone there whose life was changed for the better. It certainly had an immediate impact on our public higher ed enrollments this fall, which was a move in the right direction.
Although when I look at David Vitter’s educational platform, I see more of the same. More GRAD Act. More cost-cutting commissions. (In contrast, John Bel Edwards advocates a 50/50 split between state-appropriated and tuition-based higher ed funding – there was a 70/30 split when Jindal first took office.) And the dog whistles tell me that it will once again be on the backs of our African American students. Where it is OK to have incarceration rates that are number 1 not just in the country but in the FREE WORLD. We punched a hole in the school to prison pipeline this past legislative session. It’s just a hole, but it’s something.
And I’ll be damned if that gets undone. If Vitter gets elected I will be looking for a job outside of Louisiana but while I’m here I will be the thorn in the side of ANYONE who thinks that giving our kids a better chance of going to prison than college is an A-OK plan to further their political careers. I took on Jindal and I’ll take on Vitter. I’ll take on ANYONE.
I may sound like a bleeding heart liberal but I’m really not. I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats. During my lifetime I’ve swung to the left and to the right politically but both poles are just off the center. I’m a pragmatist who values honesty, justice, and what’s right for people regardless of their class, race, level of education, or overall station in life. People are people and are all precious in God’s sight.
I hate to say it, but I actually voted for Jindal the first time around because I thought he would “get” higher ed. Boy, was I right. He knew it well enough to dismantle it in order to further his conservative bonafides. After his first year in office I know that I made a huge mistake and did everything in my power to make up for it.
And while I don’t think for a minute that Vitter has that kind of insider knowledge that Jindal did of both our higher ed and health care systems, the infrastructures are still in place for the whole house of cards to fall, like it almost did in June and while it still is in danger of doing during this fiscal year.
And sponsored Google ads like what comes up in the search terms “John Bel Edwards higher education” does not exactly say to me that educational opportunities for African Americans will be a priority for a Vitter administration. He’d rather that we continue sending 5,500 more people to prison every year–the majority of them African American–than the current secretary of the Department of Corrections says we should be sending.