by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action
For all of those who were once concerned about Tavis Smiley ending his much-respected State of the Black Union gathering every year, you no longer have any reason to worry: “The great” Juan Williams from Fox News is now going to take his place.
Well, Juan isn’t exactly replicating the State of the Black Union. Actually, he is going to be one of two moderators for the State of Race Symposium being sponsored by the Aspen Institute. According to Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Community and Society Program at the institute, the appointment of Williams to the post was nothing short of a perfect “basketball bounce pass.”
I played a little basketball in my day, so perhaps Mr. Firestone will allow me to dribble the ball for a second. The shining and magnificent prestige of the Aspen Institute got a little bit dimmer when they announced that Juan Williams would serve as one of their chosen ambassadors on race. This decision is like appointing Flava Flav as President of 100 Black Men of America, or making Charlie Sheen the head of the Catholic Church. Williams’ role in racial advancement has been mostly confined to him standing next to other hosts at Fox News and throwing ideological hand grenades at people of color. He is clearly, without question, the absolute worst black man to be presented as the head of such a gathering. Only Clarence Thomas or Ward Connerly could be as destructive.
The Aspen Institute is well-endowed with the legitimacy that comes with money. They’ve got millions to blow on events like this one, so they have little reason to care what I think. But by bringing in the man who said that he “gets nervous” when he’s around Muslims and young black men, they’ve reduced the debate to one that swims in the very kind of racial ignorance being promoted by Fox News. Replacing a brilliant mind like Tavis Smiley with an ethnic mascot like Williams is nothing short of insulting.
It appears that having a large platform grants instant credibility to some, no matter how harmful or hurtful their viewpoints might be. Fox News taps into the latent racial hatred that once hung black people from trees and led to lynch mobs dragging black men out of their homes at night. Juan Williams, by serving as well-paid black legitimacy to Fox News racism, is part of a very ugly tradition. By giving him an even larger platform to share his views, the Aspen Institute is doing almost nothing to promote the concept of true racial healing.