Woke Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

by James A. Bacon

The bar for triggering Virginia Democrats gets lower by the day. The latest limbo contortion is a call by the Democratic Party of Virginia and the University Democrats at the University of Virginia for the resignation of Bert Ellis, a recently appointed member of the UVa Board of Visitors, who has yet to utter a single public word in his capacity as a board member. In a joint statement, the two organizations cite three particulars, each of which exceeds the other in triviality.

According to the joint statement, Ellis’ sins can be traced back to the 1974-75 academic year when he was chairman of the University Union, which put on concerts, brought in speakers and organized other events at UVa.

That year, the Union and Ellis held an event entitled The Correlation Between Race and Intelligence, featuring William Shockley, an unabashed racist, white supremecist [sic], and eugenicist. This event is a stain on the University’s past, especially due to the event’s intentional scheduling during Black Cultural Week. As the University continues to grapple with its history of slavery, racism, and eugenics, Mr. Ellis’ appointment is not only regressive, but also directly insulting to countless students and student organizations who have worked relentlessly to make Charlottesville more equitable.

Neither The Cavalier Daily, in its article raising the controversy, nor the Democratic Party, in its joint statement, acknowledges that Shockley, whose theories were widely circulated in the 1970s, was invited to debate Richard Goldsby, an African-American biologist. Neither Ellis nor the Student Union endorsed Shockley’s racist views; they invited public scrutiny.

If The Cavalier Daily, which rooted through its archives to gin up the controversy, had checked subsequent editions, it might have found that Goldsby did a superlative job of discrediting Shockley. Its editors might have discovered that the debate, far from being “regressive,” had the felicitous result of undermining a racist narrative that was widely held at the time. That’s how free speech and the open exchange of ideas work.

With its joint statement, however, the Democratic Party of Virginia now has signaled that upholding woke dogma is a greater priority than protecting free speech. Further, the statement makes clear that there is no statute of limitations for violating wokeness. Murderers in Virginia should be given a second chance in life — but not those who violate Woke dogma!

The indictment of Ellis continues as follows:

Nearly fifty years later, Mr. Ellis has yet to acknowledge the irreparable damage caused by the event and continues to espouse bigoted postulations, writing in 2021 that “The University is also overrun with courses that exist for no other purpose but to make a big deal about race and gender.”

Irreparable damage? Irreparable damage to whom? Civil rights advocates in the 1970s weren’t snowflakes who melted at the first exposure to a disagreeable idea. The joint statement substitutes hyperbolic indignation for fact and logic.As for Ellis making “bigoted postulations,” is it a mark of bigotry to observe that UVa now offers numerous courses, degrees and programs that study race, gender and equity from a social-justice perspective and exclude other points of view? The underlying truth of Ellis’ words is incontestable — indeed, the woke scolding to which he has been subjected itself constitutes vivid proof that such dogma exists.Then there’s this: 

In 2019, Mr. Ellis took it upon himself to fly to Charlottesville with the intention of removing a sign that criticized the University’s treatment of minority students from a Lawn room door with a razorblade. This overreach sets a concerning precedent surrounding student free speech, and continues a trend of hostile interactions with students from underrepresented backgrounds by Mr. Ellis.

OMG! Someone hand me the smelling salts. Ellis crossed state lines with a razor blade with the intent to excise a highly offensive sign that exposed visitors to the World Heritage Site to the words, “F— UVA”… but then refrained from acting upon his impulse. Evidently, Ellis is guilty not of doing something impermissible but thinking something impermissible.

One also might ask what “concerning precedent” was created by Ellis not cutting down the sign. Once again, the unforgivable offense is questioning leftist orthodoxy.

A reader asked why I was so obsessed in earlier posts with the scribblings of a few college newspaper editors. I was concerned precisely for the reasons revealed by the joint statement — it was clear to me that we were witnessing the opening salvos in a campaign of character assassination. Next will come a slew of newspaper articles and editorials about Governor Glenn Youngkin’s “controversial” appointment, in which all the have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife allegations will be recycled. Then will come the piling on from a handful of leftist politicians, who may or may not reflect the candid views of their moderate Democratic peers. If Ellis doesn’t submit by resigning, or if Youngkin doesn’t submit by firing him, we can expect an endless drip… drip… drip….

In truth, the joint statement tells us more about the Democratic Party of Virginia than it does about Ellis. Woke intolerance has leapt from the university into the mainstream political discourse. The Democratic party apparatus has assumed the role of thought police and enforcer of woke dogma. I suspect many elected Democrats will be uncomfortable with the party’s rhetoric, and I cannot imagine that enough legislators will find these allegations atrocious enough to reject Ellis’ appointment. But the controversy tells us where the Democratic Party is heading, and that is ample reason for concern.

Full disclosure: The author is vice president-communications of The Jefferson Council; Ellis is president.

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17 responses to “Woke Limbo: How Low Can You Go?”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

    1. If those three instances demand banning from campus, it appears the Democratic Party of Virginia and the University Democrats easily qualify for the same: slavery, the Lost Cause, Jim Crow, anti-freedmen gun control measures, voting poll tax, voting literacy tax, segregation, separate but equal, anti-integration measures, support of Planned Parenthood…..just some off the cuff thoughts of actions against the blacks of America.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Shockley? In the 70s? Why not Norman Lincoln Rockwell? By the 60s Shockley was a discredited racist.

        1. It was George, not Norman, and he was shot in ’67. It is unlikely he would have been available to speak at UVA in the ’70s. Norman however might have painted UVA a pretty picture:)

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Ah, the mind is a sorcerer. Even dead, he’d have carried Conservative water.

          2. ’tis indeed, and mine an unreliable sorcerer:)

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Interesting. BR commenters and authors have occasionally poked a thumb in the eye of the “Virginia Minister of Technology” (memory of exact title surrendered to the gods of cane alcohol) so this is a bit of a “could be worse”…

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    A bad day at Black Rock. If Miami built high rises like this…

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    When he was chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, the economist Clark Kerr famously quipped in a faculty meeting that his job had devolved into providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.

    Apparently, it’s devolved even further at UVa with the alumni rolling the clock back to the 1950s. The student’s wants haven’t changed though.

    1. They have not, but they are reportedly much more diverse wants these days.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It’s only kinky the first time.

  5. VA Dems are increasingly on a par with Dark Biden.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am not convinced that this is a joint statement by the University Democrats at UVa. and the state Democratic Party. The statement itself appears to be on the letterhead of the University Democrats. The state party is mentioned only at the end. The website of the state party has no mention of this release. It would not be the first time that a subsidiary organization invoked the name of the larger organization without that organization’s knowledge or permission. I hope that is the case here.

  7. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    These attacks on Ellis are ridiculous, they are attacking the man to discredit him in McCarthy fashion, because they do not want to listen to his ideas. Our Charlottesville newspaper had a couple Opinion pieces that were downright embarrassing. Below is a comment I posted on one of their Editorials.

    “It is disturbing that right when Mr. Ellis is starting his term, the Daily Progress has opted to pull the r…. card. In the article about his appointment dated June 30 in this newspaper, Mr. Ellis was clear he was going to be thoughtful and deliberate, it is quoted: “In an interview Thursday, Ellis said he wanted to join the board to affect change and that plans to listen and learn in his first year. “I’m not going in to make stuff happen on the first day,” he said. “There’s a lot of things to learn and people to meet.”

    Maybe instead of a knee jerk reaction, the DP ought to allow him the opportunity to do what he says he is going to do. After all, isn’t Diversity of thought a good thing in Board meetings?”

  8. What a tempest in a teapot! Mr. Ellis took a polarizing stance on that Lawn doorway and got a big label pasted on his back, one that the Current Inhabitant of Capitol Square found attractive; he accepted the appointment that resulted and now Ellis simply needs a thicker skin. And the Democratic Party has far better villains to pillory than the leadership of the Jefferson Council.

    As for the Cavalier Daily — “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Some 60 years ago now my college debate society invited Gus Hall, the then secretary of the CPUSA, to come speak on campus — with the condition that the debate precede the speech, that the debate topic be, “Should Gus Hall be allowed to speak to this society?” and if the audience voted ‘No” then he could not give his address. The debate began immediately in the school newspaper, days before his scheduled appearance; protests were announced; faculty were outraged; alumni threatened the usual; administrators pontificated as usual. In the end, Gus Hall canceled his visit, mooting whether the college or the society should withdraw the invitation. But everyone got a chance to air, once again, their (enthusiastic but often incoherent) views on the intersection of free speech and autocracy and public safety.

    What more could a modern-day bunch of alumni provocateurs desire than outrageous editorials in the CD and Virginia Magazine? This is not an excuse to whine but a teaching moment.

  9. How would anyone be expressing their outrage today if Shockley had not invented the transistor? Computers would still be rooms full of vacuum tubes and you’d need a pocket the size of a pickup truck bed to carry your phone.

    That does not make his racial views ok, but like Jefferson he had some genuine virtues too.

  10. Chrissy Taylor Avatar
    Chrissy Taylor

    How dare they assume “Mr Ellis” preferred pronouns!! Do they think that just because “he’s” a “male of a certain age group” that therefore he must identify as “sir” or “mister”?? 🙄
    The Neo-Marxist, woke collegiate crowd can’t even keep up with their own hypocrisies!….. Yet feel the need to put in loads of effort and wasted time to find miniscule, pointless discrepancies on Ellis’s record. They wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard to dig up dirt on their infallible idol Margaret Sanger?…. now would they??🙄

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