‘All self-identified white people (no exceptions) are invested in and collude with systemic white racism/white supremacy…’
(Neil Vigdor, The Hartford Courant) A Trinity College professor whose racially charged social media posts created an uproar in 2017 is once again facing a firestorm from alumni of the Hartford liberal arts school for tweeting “Whiteness is terrorism” on Easter and referring to Barack and Michelle Obama as “white kneegrows.”
In a second tweet Sunday, Johnny Eric Williams, who is black, wrote: “All self-identified white people (no exceptions) are invested in and collude with systemic white racism/white supremacy.”
Earlier this month, the tenured sociology professor said “ ‘White’ kneegrows really need a lot of therapy and a good ‘ol ass kicking,” in a Facebook post. When asked whether he was referring to Candace Owens, the black conservative commentator and political activist, who is from Connecticut, Williams said it wasn’t just her.
“I’m referring to her other and less brazen but more insidious dangerous ‘white’ kneegrows like Barry and Michelle Obama and many other white kneegrows you encounter daily,” Williams posted.
In an emailed response, Williams said “there are many socially defined black folks who have internalized whiteness — as a way and knowing and being in the world. They like others who believe themselves to be ‘white,’ act on these ideas in ways that create and sustain systemic white racism.”
“Such whiteness internalization lead folks like Candace Owens, Barry and Michelle Obama to engage in actions and policy creations that are existential threats to humanity, particularly the racial oppressed. Thus my post denotes the urgency of exposing these individual as enemies of humanity’s well-being,” Williams said.
Williams’ latest posts recall a 2-year-old controversy, during which he took a mutually agreed upon leave of absence from Trinity because of the national attention his social media comments about race generated. An investigation by Trinity cleared Williams of any wrongdoing and determined the tweets were protected by academic freedom.
The controversial pair of Facebook posts by Williams in 2017 included an inflammatory and profane hashtag — “Let Them (expletive) Die” — that was widely shared on social and conservative media, leading to the threats against Williams and calls for him to be fired.
Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney reported that the college lost $200,000 in donations due to the controversy. Sixteen incoming students also withdrew their enrollment.
At the time, Berger-Sweeney said she supported Williams’ right to express his views, but found his words personally offensive.
“They also contradict our fundamental institutional values and run counter to our efforts to bridge divides and to promote understanding, both among members of our college community and between us and members of communities beyond our own,” Berger-Sweeney said.
A Trinity spokeswoman was not immediately prepared to comment on the latest controversial tweets.
“This stuff is not for the faint-hearted,” Williams told The Hartford Courant in an interview Tuesday.
A group of Trinity graduates, commenting on the Facebook page Alumni for a Better Trinity College, condemned Williams’ remarks.
“I think he’s telling us he’s a hateful bigot,” wrote Steve Musicant, a 1985 graduate of Trinity.
Musicant told the Courant that even as a philosophy major and a liberal Democrat from Bloomfield who is the parent of a current Trinity student, he finds Williams’ comments disturbing.
“I don’t believe there’s any room for that,” said Musicant, who has been auditing classes the past two semesters at his alma mater. “He’s a bigot and I think he should be fired.”
Musicant characterized the controversy as a “black eye” for Trinity, where he said there’s an assumed progressivism because it is a liberal arts college, but is stereotypically preppie. He was not aware of Williams’ Facebook comments about the Obamas.
“He’s a piece of … ” Musicant said.
Howard Scott Nesbitt, a 1983 Trinity graduate, first posted Williams’ tweets on the Alumni for a Better Trinity College Facebook page. He said he reached out to Williams for an explanation and received a thoughtful reply from the professor.
“Absolutely nothing should happen to Professor Williams,” Nesbitt said in a text message Tuesday. “In my opinion freedom of speech, thoughts, and expression, our absolute. Although I think Twitter is not the most efficient place for this kind of in depth conversation, I do think different opinions must be welcome — and, in fact, are welcome at a liberal arts school like Trinity. Students must be encouraged to think outside their comfort zone, and to discuss, in a civil manner, differing viewpoints.”
Nesbitt said quashing a discussion about race isn’t the solution.
“Regardless of whether I personally agree or not, conversations like this must happen … (another close relative of mine went to a different New England liberal arts school, and any conversation that went away from the prevailing beliefs of most college students today was immediately shut down,” Nesbitt said. “I do not believe this is healthy for a liberal arts institution, or our country.”
Williams said he is not anti-white and that he is trying to get people to think about the oppression of African Americans, which can be a provocative topic. He said his tweets were not in response to Sunday’s deadly Easter terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka or any other specific incident.
“Whiteness breeds terrorism, the exploitation of other people’s bodies and minds for profit,” Williams said. “It’s academic freedom. That’s the role of a professor to try to help students see their complicity and collusion with white racism.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Derby Republican, the top Republican female office holder in the Connecticut Legislature and a 1987 Trinity College graduate, blasted Williams’ social media comments.
“This is hate speech, plain and simple,” Klarides said. “It is a toxic. It is polarizing and it is not anything we need in this country, particularly in this day and age.”
Klarides said she is all for sharing dissenting viewpoints in a college setting, but that Williams has crossed a line.
“I’ve spoken to the president there. Their answer is, ‘he’s a tenured professor and free speech,’ ” Klarides said. “It’s a cycle of vicious language. You’re supposed to be shaping their lives.”
Williams said his comments are being taken out of context by those “just looking to get rid of black intellectuals” at Trinity College.
“First of all, they don’t understand what I’m talking about, which reveals their shortcoming of knowledge about white supremacy,” Williams said. “Trinity is a very hostile place. I know that many of them think a black person’s humanity is negotiable. As of now, the environment here is hostility to anyone who isn’t white and from the upper crust. All of them are not bad, but there’s a preponderance of them who try to get their way.”
Williams said he wasn’t referring to the school’s administration.
“I think this time they have my back,” he said, downplaying the loss of donations to the school. “As far as I know, there was only one person who withheld the money.”
The Obamas and Owens weren’t the only African Americans that Williams criticized.
“When I look at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, he’s really not black,” Williams said Tuesday. “He may look black. He enforces white supremacy … ”
A military veteran, Williams said he’s experienced first hand what he’s trying to explain on social media. He said when he and his wife, who is white and Jewish, went to look for housing together in West Hartford, they were unsuccessful.
“When she goes by herself, she gets the apartment,” he said. “It’s not a matter of intent. It’s a matter of outcome.”
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