At Texas A&M University, student organizations may submit ads to run as computer screensavers in campus libraries. On June 14, a staffer at the Evans Library noticed this ad shown at right from the Texas Aggie Conservatives running on the library's computers. Finding it distasteful and out of step with the values of the university, she reported it to the Dean of Libraries and the Vice President for Diversity.
After its exposure in mid-June, Vice President of Information Technology Pierce Cantrell announced he would shut down the student organization PSA service immediately because appropriate guidelines were not being enforced. On July 5th, a full three weeks later, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Sarah Bednarz was informed that the ad had not yet been taken down and that Cantrell planned to take it down in mid-July. “This seems to me too little and too late,” Bednarz wrote in an e-mail. “All summer thousands of current students, new students, and their parents have seen this PSA which is not consistent with Aggie values. Can it not come off ASAP? I had assumed that would be the case.” Cantrell soon announced in an email to student organizations that all PSA ads would be taken down on Monday, July 9th.
Not a moment too soon and many too late. The ad is hateful, vile and above all, racist.
What's so wrong about this ad?
1. President Obama is depicted as a boy who needs a “time out.” As most Americans know, “boy” has been used constantly throughout American history to deride and classify African-American men as inferior people. It is an image which works to justify control (i.e., giving a “time out”) over African-Americans through dehumanization.
2. President Obama is depicted in baggy, hip-hop clothing. The associations inherent in this portrayal are obvious: the president is a black “street kid” who must be shown his place. While in real life, this clothing is not necessarily indicative of one lifestyle or another, the context of the image and the accompanying text solidifies its racism.
3. The ad demeans the president. Following and well before the 2008 election, Republicans and self-described conservatives have incessantly called President Obama a terrorist sympathizer, a Manchurian president, and compared him to history's worst mass murderers. Their hate speech against the president and his causes prompted the Department of Homeland Security to release a report on the dangers posed by violent right-wing extremists. President Obama receives 30 death threats a day, a 400% increase over President Bush. This hateful rhetoric, employed so transparently in this ad, is a genuine national security threat and a scourge to a healthy American political system.
With this ad, the Texas Aggie Conservatives have shown their hateful colors. But it isn't the first time. Last year, the Aggie Conservatives launched a petition to convince the university to defund the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transexual Center because the club offers seminars on responsible sex. The petition letter states, “I find the programing of this center morally objectionable.” This ad also isn't the club's first instance of openly violent rhetoric against the president. On their website, the Aggie Conservatives proudly display a picture of club members wearing “Beat The Hell Outta Obama” t-shirts.
In late 2011, the UT College Republicans started the unfortunate trend of racism from Texas's right-wing college organizations. Then-president Lauren Pierce tweeted her sympathies with those who want to kill President Obama. Soon after, her presidential successor Cassie Wright tweeted the following: “My president is black. He smokes a lot of crack. Holla. #2012 #Obama”. The Aggie Conservatives' ad is somewhat more subtle than this shameful bile from their fellow collegiate conservatives, but is no less detrimental because of it. Indeed, the implied racial inferiority dripping from the ad is a perfect display of how deeply embedded racism is in right-wing American politics.
The Texas Aggie Conservatives are an embarrassment to their university. Their actions show how utterly unserious they are about fostering genuine political dialogue. The club could have easily chosen sensible ads like “Join us if you don't want Obama to win a second term!” or “Let's work together to elect a new president!” Instead, the club chose to promote hate and racism.
Last week, Aggie students made national news for a “Maroon Wall” they formed to protect a fallen soldier's funeral from the bigoted Westboro Baptist Church. Unfortunately, the Texas Aggie Conservatives have proven themselves to embody the same type of political hate that Aggies were nationally applauded last week for fighting against. The university must follow through on its delayed promise to take down the ad, and in doing so choose the Maroon Wall over the Texas Aggie Conservatives.