Racism is not a positive thing, and thus hard to present in a positive light when issuing a statement to the public.
But in a column he wrote for the university magazine, Emory University President James Wagner used the three-fifths compromise of 1787, which allowed slaves to count as three-fifths of a person in determining the Southern states’ congressional power, as a supporting example to argue how people with opposing views can reconcile through compromise and common ground.
A clumsy and regrettable mistake, he has said of his ironic choice, according to The New York Times.
Emory students and faculty alike have spoken out against the column, saying that the Wagner’s words are another example of insensitivity from the university’s administration: Earlier this year, Emory was accused of targeting racial minorities when it made a series of cuts that were previously beneficial to these groups. For example, certain programs that focused on or made recruiting minority members a priority have been shifted to other departments or eliminated, according to the Times.
Indeed, Wagner should have found a better, more positive example of two divided parties reaching a working compromise. The three-fifths compromise held that African-American slaves accounted for just three-fifths of a human being. It was racist, unfair and inhumane. And, as pointed out by Emory history professor Leslie Harris according to the Times, the Civil War is proof that the compromise, which was meant to preserve the union, was ultimately a terrible failure.
Wagner is president of a high-ranking academic institution, one where tolerance should be at the forefront of the social and intellectual environment so as to promote further progress in issues such as racism and discrimination. Wagner should be embarrassed that he has failed to be the beacon of this forward-thinking tolerance. Additionally, he should have been sensitive to the race struggles suffered in this country, especially so soon after Martin Luther King, Jr. day, instead centering his public dialogue around examples that promote humanity and not on pre-Civil War embarrassments.
It’s good to see the public reacting in the way that it has. If Emory students had stood silent, it’d have been drastic for both the university’s image and (more so) for the continued battle against racist attitudes.