Schooling a social justice mob

A poster for the 1965 film version of William Shakespeare's 'Othello' shows Laurence Olivier donning blackface to portray the title character.

WATERTOWN — Tyrannical societies have at least one thing in common.

They conduct mock trials of those considered to be traitors; these are usually public events. This allows authorities to prosecute those already deemed guilty of betraying the state. Mounting a defense is useless.

The people on trial are told to confess their crimes — all of them! The trials often feature family members and friends who confirm the allegations made against the defendants. These witnesses are more than willing to testify against their loved ones because they know they’ll be the next ones on trial if they don’t cooperate.

Of course, these are not trials in the traditional sense of the word. The judges are not impartial triers of fact, and members of the jury have been told what verdict they’ll render.

In fact, many of these trials require no juries; the judges will declare those in the dock guilty as charged. There is zero chance of the defendants being found innocent because there are no facts being honestly evaluated. The only “law” under consideration is the will of the despotic individual or party in command.

Communist regimes have been known for staging such trials. Virtually everyone knows that their purpose is not to persuade observers that the defendants are actually guilty but to intimidate the broader audience.

It’s actually better if citizens understand that the charges were trumped up. If anyone steps out of line for just a minor infraction, this is what happens.

Even those who are innocent of legitimate offenses will suffer the consequences for merely contemplating that they can think for themselves. What the dictatorial state is prosecuting here is “thought crimes.”

And for this, the guilty individuals are sent to re-education camps. There, they’ll be subjected to incessant instructions about what to think and how to think for prolonged periods of time. And until they demonstrate that they’ve fully absorbed the ideology, the lessons will continue.

In one sense, these are the lucky people. Many of those deemed guilty are marched outside and shot. Once again, the message to onlookers is clear.

It’s unnerving to consider there are still societies in the world where such atrocities occur. But what’s truly frightening is the fact that the United States is well on its way to joining their ranks.

Students at the University of Michigan have targeted a renowned professor of music for not cultivating “a safe environment” during one of his classes. Bright Sheng, a professor of composition, screened the 1965 film version of “Othello” starring Laurence Olivier.

The famed actor appeared in blackface to portray the title role of William Shakespeare’s play. Othello was a member of a group called the Moors, who were European Muslims of African descent.

Some students were mortified that they weren’t previously warned of the image they would see. Sheng withdrew from teaching this particular class, and the university is investigating the matter. Many people believe he should be dismissed from his position.

In a story published Oct. 8 by Reason magazine, Robby Soave highlighted the irony of Sheng confronting such behavior in the United States:

“Bright Sheng is a professor of composition at the University of Michigan. He was born in China in 1955; when he was a child, the Red Guards took away his family piano. Nevertheless, he grew up to become a widely celebrated musician: He received a MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellowship in 2001 and has twice been a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in music. … Imagine surviving the Cultural Revolution in communist China only to re-encounter it on an American university campus in 2021.”

What’s sad is that the University of Michigan is pandering to current and former students as well as other professors who have labeled Sheng as a racist. He apologized to his students, admitting that showing this film version of the play was insensitive on his part.

Sheng’s detractors, however, kept up the campaign of character assassination. He defended himself against charges of racism by pointing out times he has provided singing opportunities to black individuals. But critics accused him of trying to play down his “crimes” by showing how he sympathized with members of minority communities.

This is one example of how social justice mobs attempt to purify our culture, removing anything that doesn’t fit in with the popular ideology. Never mind that the students whining over the discomfort they experienced by watching a movie behaved in a childish manner. They will not be denied the privilege of making their “feelings” about the matter a priority, and the university foolishly caved to their demands.

There are so many similarities between the kangaroo court trials conducted by oppressive regimes and the ridiculous campaigns of indignation carried out by those caught in the Cult of the Woke. Numerous people have had their lives destroyed by merciless disciples of this warped mindset.

It’s crucial that we remain vigilant when it comes to racism and its insidious effects. But we need to do so responsibly. The goal should be to constructively change the views of those who truly exhibit bigotry, not tear down anyone in sight just to show how virtuous we are.

Having Olivier appear on screen in blackface was wrong — there’s no doubt about that. But that repulsive tradition is part of our history, and we must acknowledge that it occurred without abandoning all sensibility.

If these University of Michigan students want a warning about the potential of encountering unpleasant material, here it is:

You live in a free society, so coming across content that makes you uneasy is inevitable. And you’re enrolled in a major university, whose job it is to challenge your preconceived notions and help you mature so you can handle difficulties more effectively. There’s no guarantee of a life of perpetual comfort and universal approval, so you need to be ready for tough times.

If the fragile psyches of students are going to shatter when they look at mildly inappropriate images, perhaps they shouldn’t be in college. And if university administrators are going to affirm young people’s delusions of entitlement, they need to find work in another field.

The Wolverines deserve a grade of F for how they dealt with this situation.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.

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(5) comments



2. This is stupid but not the end of the world. To quote Matthew Ygelesias's excellent essay "Tema Okun's White Supremacy Culture Work is Bad": "I do not think a bunch of folks running around telling the world that asking for written memos and focusing on measurable results is racist are going to take over the United States and extinguish human liberty. Frankly, I don’t think they’re going to do anything at all other than run a bunch of basically useless trainings and disrupt the internal functioning of progressive organizations. " Same thing. Taking a prof off a class when the students complain will not bring down western civilization.


I agree that the conduct of all parties toward Prof. Sheng was disgusting. And I’m sure there may be instances of it at other universities. It seems everyone needs a grievance and someone to hate in this country today.

What would really help is if we had rational political parties on both the right and left. Fortunately, the Democratic Party is controlled by its moderates and that’s what Dem voters want. Biden was nominated and elected, not Sanders or Warren. The GOP is a cult right now. They have no principles beyond allegiance to Trump.

As bad as the incident in Michigan is, I don’t see Biden conducting show trials anytime soon. I’d actually be happy if AG Garland showed a little more backbone in aiding investigations of 1/6. Speaking of which, those fine “tourists” at the Capitol had the gallows all set up and were chanting about using it.

So, at the present, if there are going to be re-education camps, show trials, political violence or the like I’m more concerned about it coming from the right. There are elected members of Congress casually calling for it.

hermit thrush

what exactly is the problem here, jerry? (besides sheng's own actions.) what he did is spectacularly inappropriate. makes perfect sense that he would be removed from the class, but it's not like he's been fired.

All Done

This is easily the most hysterical, nonsense article in the history of this paper, and you guys are going to endorse Stefanik again, after she supported Trumps attempt at overthrowing the government.

“ But what’s truly frightening is the fact that the United States is well on its way to joining their ranks.”

Clutch your pearls! Sure, one in three people in the North Country will be over 60 in less than ten years, and the best and brightest high school graduates flee the region, but at least the Watertown Daily Times is proving to be a real thought-leader here. 19 year olds at a college have a bad opinion, and your “editor” is likening them to Murderous Communist regimes.

Wow. Brain drain in the North Country is real. The saddest thing is how clueless our old people are. I had so much respect for the generation born 1900-1930. Their children (current baby boomers) have had their brains rotted by decades of Fox News.


While I am sure that Jerry appreciates the frequent ad hominem commentary from readers, a fatal flaw in your reasoning was the assumption that in was only 19 year olds had the "bad opinion". Faculty also held the same opinion and pressed the administration for disciplinary action against Sheng. If you believe that the article overstates the problem of censorship at universities, than please make your case. If you think Jerry’s time is better spent on the issues you outlined, make your case.

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