In the 1977 television series Roots, actor Levar Burton is whipped until he begrudgingly gives up his given name and is forced to use the plantation’s assigned name Toby. Screenshots from video available at Critical Commons.
Forty years ago, millions of Americans watched the Roots series which included a scene so disconcerting that actor Levar Burton, whipped to near unconsciousness until finally surrendering his name, called it “his most difficult to perform.“ This cinematic moment set up Kunta Kinte’s key dilemma, which was not his capture by enemy tribesman, but the forced surrendering of his identity and having to live with one the plantation assigned.
This hardship of losing his name and personal history attached to it not only broke the spirit of the once-proud Gambian, but would have impacted three key constructs Kinte relied on in understanding who he was — these being his National, Social/Group and Individual Identities. The disruption or eradication of any of these three layers would impact Kinte’s personality foundation, interrupt his developmental continuity and eliminate accrued self-esteem among others potentially causing the type of significant developmental and social troubles for the young man that the author Alex Haley capitalized on in detailing the man’s dramatic life.
While whipping someone into identity compliance may be a tool of the past, the same psychological fear of Identity Loss are now more common among Americans today than they were back in 1767. Recent Ipsos data suggests that nearly 39 percent of “white” Americans believe they are under attack while a whopping 54 percent of “black” Americans believe they are too. Thus, it’s reasonable that this poll correlates with recent news spikes detailing actual identity attacks:
At the national level the NAACP just announced that America’s National “Identity” — as delivered in the lyrics of the National Anthem — has now been deemed racist, specifically in response to the president weighing into the NFL anthem protest issue, and now must be changed… *Crack*!
At the state level, a Democrat from Detroit will be punishing 1000s of constituents if Bill 0646 passes. He plans on withholding funding from cash-strapped schools until they surrender their long-held identities such as Vikings, Scots or Chippewas… *Snap*!
And at the county level, Democrat members of the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia, backed by the NAACP, recently ignored years of student and community votes for a replacement high school name — and instead “assigned” to their “wrongheaded” taxpayers their “approved” moniker instead…*Pow*!
And at a local level, a university’s homecoming parade was abruptly halted by protestors where the school’s black chancellor was immediately escorted out by police for his own safety while an actual indigenous American dressed in native garb — representing the school’s native identity — was physically threatened while his surrounding followers were verbally and physically assaulted…*Whack*!
In each of the examples above, there is some level of dehumanization that has, or will, take place with each forced change. And history is full of organizations likewise hoping to control nations, individuals or groups through “identity antagonism” with significant success. Examples range from the 1938 Nazi law forcing Jews to change their names through to today where many cults or gangs also require name/identity changes. Military indoctrinations too, like what author and veteran Alex Haley endured, relies on a specific process of “de-pluralization” and “de-individualization” as detailed in Stahelski’s Five Phases. “Boot Camp” is multi-step process that puts recruits under extreme pressure while stripping them from prior affiliations and eradicating their previous individual identities.
To achieve a compliant post-self identity state, recruits are forbidden to use their first names, or in the more extreme U.S. Marine Corps example, they are forced to speak in third person or what psychologist’s call illeism.
However, it’s important to remember that military recruits are screened before entering boot camp such that only 29 percent of Americans even qualify to attempt service — and of those who successfully screen to attend boot camp — approximately 15 percent ultimately wash out. So, the question becomes, “What would happen to today’s non-military, non-cult or non-gang youths when they are forced against their will into a process of ‘de-pluralization’ and ‘de-individualization’?” Well the answer might be found at a Virginia High School which was recently forced to change its name against the majority wishes of the students and community.
Forced Identity Change – The Impact of a Name-Change “Whipping” on Teenagers
In 2015 a group of five J.E.B. Stuart High School students joined local NAACP and Hollywood personalities in calling for the school to change its name to Justice Thurgood Marshall. For two years, however, surveys and community feedback from the community clearly indicated that a name change was not desired. In 2016, for example, a long-marketed campaign to change the name culminated in a key community survey where only 1%of the surveyed population returned a “yes” vote for change!
Yet key Democrat Party backed school board members continued to market for name change directly to the students by allowing hostile and often dishonest communication products – from Black Lives Matter and the NAACP – to be delivered directly the beleaguered students by a few accommodating teachers and activist students.
Ultimately the school board leadership relented in July 2017 and voted yes in proposing a win-win solution where the school would subtly shift away from the Confederate named J.E.B. Stuart and instead celebrate the Virginia-based “Stuarts” who had famously fought – and died – in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 while also serving as state elected leaders. The community came together and voted “yes” to this solution yet – at the last minute – the school board voted down their own recommended “Stuart” option and instead forced the Hollywood-backed Thurgood Marshall identity on the resistant community in ‘assigning it the name’ “Justice”.
What’s in a School Name to a Teenager?
Gerald Oster in Helping Your Depressed Teenager writes that “Identity is the sense of one’s special place (or niche) in the world (and that) teenagers are constantly trying to discover who they are, who they will become and where they belong.” Findings in the Journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology, argue that a teenager’s positive identity formation is closely tied to his or her High School experience and that identity development correlated to personal affirmation when the school related to multiple aspects of themselves.
A school’s name or symbol is traditionally meant to convey the power or strength of sports teams and helps form certain aspects of a student’s identity. Participating in school traditions also creates a sense of belonging not just to the school peer group, but to a whole community where most residents shared the same themed school rituals. Social scientists suggest that students who participate in school traditions are perpetuating an important act called “community building.” Yet name-change antagonists bypass the positive aspects of identity and typically attack real or assumed historic misdeeds of the school’s icon as justification for projecting stress upon the students by associating them directly to the school’s namesake — such as the assumed “racism” of a slave holder — which was the logic used to promote changing the Stuart High School name in Fairfax County, Virginia.
In one key example of an attack, a NAACP chapter president contrasted Stuart’s name against the positive characteristics of abolitionist John Brown. To make the point of “racism,” the assembled heard the wildly incorrect yet painfully uncorrected claim that Brown (who had a relationship with Stuart) was ultimately charged and unfairly hanged as a heroic “African American” — but Brown was most certainly was not an African American. Other media quoted “experts” dishonestly claimed the high school had been built “on land taken from resistant black residents under eminent domain… that the government simply took their private property” while at the school itself one teacher lectured students that JEB Stuart was an equivalent of Adolph Hitler.
All of these incendiary claims could easily have been disproven but weren’t and the resultant impact — similar to the ‘de-pluralization’ and ‘de-individualization’ process — predictably had impact. Ultimately the hyperbolic claims became the antagonist’s “whip” in delivering humiliation, embarrassment and pressure on “target” students who — like Kunta Kinte in Roots — resisted name change. Student Victoria Haver explained the tension the campaign created: “People are very polarized… It’s either, ‘you’re a racist and a bigot because you don’t want the name changed,’ or ‘you hate America and you hate our history, because you do want it changed.’”
Another media report demonstrate that it wasn’t just hesitant students who were targeted: “Tensions are rising in the controversy over changing the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School. Three community leaders advocating to keep the name have filed police reports after they were called white supremacists on the anonymous web forum Fairfax Underground. Now, they say they won’t attend the meeting out of fear for their safety.”
Likewise, at another schools forced into a name change, one student became so upset that he sent a string of death threats to the students and staff seen as those holding the “whip” — which forced the FBI’s involvement.
Other teenage name-change victims in Oklahoma, Massachusetts and New York showcased their frustration by bolting from classes by the 100s in protest. These unexpected protests forced police involvement, traffic snarls, missed tests and ultimately earned punishments and detentions for the resistant students. These detentions in turn hastened the resentment of the new school name and those who were seen as complicit in the change. The National Institute of Mental Heath suggests that these tension-creating campaigns can create symptoms similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder known as Avoidance, Arousal or Cognition:
Avoidance “Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.” Triggering of this symptom can happen when she is reminded of that person such that they would avoid related places or issues.
Arousal (or Reactivity): 1) Easily startled; 2) Feeling Tense; 3) Difficulty Sleeping or 4) Having Angry Outbursts. They explain that these symptoms are usually consistent and not triggered by reminders of the person or event. Specifically, these symptoms “…may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.”
Cognition (or Mood): 1) Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event; 2) Negative thoughts about oneself or the world; 3) Distorted feelings like guilt or blame and 4) Loss of interest in enjoyable activities where the victim may feel alienated or detached from close ones.
NIMH suggests the PTSD symptoms are often accompanied by anxiety disorders: depression, substance abuse or one or more which include restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge; being easily fatigued; difficulty concentrating or irritability.
Stuart Student Measures Before & During the Hyperbolic Name-Change Campaign
The following eight measures were taken before and during the name-change campaign. The academic, behavioral and fitness measures are related to the aforementioned NIMH and PTSD symptoms while comparative “baseline” data was provided from nearby Lee High School, also of Fairfax County, which is similar in size and demographics to Stuart High School, to better demonstrate the impacts of the hostile campaign vs. a nearby school which didn’t suffer the attacks.
- Group and Personal Identity – An assessment of two Stuart yearbooks (2014 vs. 2016) demonstrates there was a significant drop off in the student’s cohesiveness and concepts of “group” or “oneness” as presented by images and words after the campaign. Strong Group & Personal ID are significant elements in mental stability, confidence and overall well being. “Primary Group Pride” images featured after negative name campaign dropped from 39 to 3 — a loss of 92.3 percent in promoting strong “Group ID” imagery. Psychologists claim loss of Individual/Group ID causes confusion, stress and anxiety.
- Cardiovascular Fitness – The National Institute of Mental Health suggests those exposed to routine anxiety producing stimuli — such as the stress caused by loss of identity or membership in a group — may see a drop off in sleep and focus. Declining sleep may be measured by loss of individual fitness and drop off in grades. Year over year cardiovascular fitness scores of incoming Stuart Students (Pre-Campaign vs. Campaign) demonstrated a drop in passing by -6 percnet for Boys and -14.7 percent points for Girls and vs. County averages the declines are even greater with drops of -7.9 percent Boys and -16 percentfor Girls.
- Grades – Stuart students experienced a drop in class grades directly associated with the Slavery Focus/anti-Virginia/Stuart and Civil War topics. Stuart students had produced the lowest Virginia Historypass rate in the County in 2013/14 at84 percent but by 2015/16 — at the height of the attack — the pass rates fell even more to 81 percent. Meanwhile, for comparison and to isolate the Virginia scores, World History pass rates where compared during the same time frame and where shown to have gone up resulting in an 8 percentdivergence between Virginia. vs. World History pass rates during the name-change campaign.
- Race-Based Grade Loss – Virginia requires students complete standardized tests in History and Social Science. Results were compared here year over year and with nearby confederate-themed R. E. Lee High School used as a control group in that the students there did not suffer anxiety producing, divisive and polarizing anti-name campaign. Here the name-change hypothesis held in that Stuart’s Black studentssuffered the largest pass-rate drop at -7 percent; the largest percentage loss in the county. Stuart’s White students, however, gained +4 percent creating a 13 percent gap between groups which previously had only a 2 percent gap. Meanwhile Lee High School rates went up +5 percent during the same period.
- Behavior and
- Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Offenses – NIMH suggests those subject to periods of stress or anxiety will often have behavioral or substance abuse problems. Using Lee H.S. as a “control” group shows that JEB Stuart Students saw a substantial increase in all categories once the change campaign brought into the school with a +177 percent and +37 percent increase during the campaign year — the county’s largest increase.
- Absences and
- Dropouts – Psychologists suggest people avoid stress or anxiety causing environments. To this end absences (minor reaction) and drop outs (major reaction) were measured. School data demonstrated above shows that Black student’s grades suffered the most during the name-change campaign which would reasonably suggest there would be a correlation in increased absences or dropouts. Indeed, Stuart suffered a +9.1 percent increase in severe (>20 percent absences) among Black students while Lee High School saw an increase of only +3.2 during the same period. Finally, Stuart dropouts increased by 2.7 percent while they actually decreased at Lee by .2 percent during the same period.
Hyperbolic Name-Change Antagonists Have to Be Neutralized
The state and county data used to showcase the student’s name-change demise at J.E.B. Stuart High School started nearly two years ago but much of the clear damage is apparently only now coming to light. Only days after assigning the students their new name they then provided a series of “Depression Screenings” to afflicted students perhaps in the spirit of ‘better late than never’.
But in what may be the healthiest mental response, resistant students fought the school board’s decision by campaigning to return the promised “Stuart” name in a petition entitled: Listen to the Students voices!” While the student-led effort has garnered nearly 1,500 signers, the community launched a school board recall effort and began in legal action which focuses on the board’s abandonment of their own name-change policies.
But beyond the student’s mental health outcomes, this case study seemingly offers a true microcosm of where the larger population is. One need only parallel the spikes in the affected J.E.B. Stuart students’ “Disruptive Behavior” and “Drug, Alcohol & Tobacco offenses” with the nation’s overall increases in suicide rates; mass shootings and alcohol use.
Clearly research demonstrates that maintaining one’s positive identity matters. Thus, when anyone, of any race, attacks the basis of who they are or worse – forces someone else to change who they are – bad things can happen and scholars agree. Dr. Jason D. Hill a black immigrant who chose to live in the U.S. – argues that this type of antagonistic anti-Americanism is infecting youth at a stunning speed. Likewise Professor Walter Williams in his recent article entitled “Undermining America” posits, “Leftists have had their greatest successes in undermining American values on the nation’s college campuses. Derelict and dishonest college administrators, professors and boards of trustees have given them carte blanche.” Dr. Jason D. Hill’s video can be accessed here.
Americans of all races, names and identities must pay attention to those movements which seek to whip us, to re-name us or to divide us. We must embrace critical thinking and its emphasis of education over simple minded eradication. Another danger is the intellectually lazy reliance on “Presentism”, which is one’s bias toward the past influenced by one’s present-day attitudes and experiences, which is being leveraged more and more as the basis of identity attacks.
Abe Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” To this end, we must embrace our nation’s motto of E. Pluribus Unum or “From Many, We are One.” Our motto demands that we incorporate our collective subcultures, traditions and ethnicities in strengthening and maintaining our unified identity. We are a strong a multi-ethnic society where Americanism must unify under the banner of inclusivity and true – not just stated – tolerance.
To survive as a nation, Americans must resist the whip of segregationist’s plantation mindset known today as identity politics and practiced by the ever-more mainstream Left. Levar Burton reflected on this sentiment: “Kunta was a warrior and he maintained that aspect of his identity throughout his entire life, he never surrendered who he was. . . . It was the indomitability of his human spirit, his warrior spirit, that prevented him from accepting that name, and that’s what that scene is about. I control who I am.”
— M. Andre Billeaudeaux