THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Guilt by Association: The Southern Poverty Law Center Hurls a Punch

A few days ago, I received a notice from a friend informing me that the Southern Poverty Law Center had included me in this week's HateWatch. I linked to the article criticizing film maker, Craig Bodeker for a DVD he produced called a Conversation About Race, for which I wrote a blurb recommending the documentary film for classroom use. Using the tactic of guilt by association and a highly selective list of the film's reviewers, the SPLC's article stated:

Bodeker's documentary has received most of its praise from hate publications and groups, including Vdare.com, The Occidental Quarterly, the National Policy Institute, American Renaissance and the Council of Conservative Citizens' Citizens Informer. (One so-called mainstream fan of the film is the controversial black scholar Carol Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University and a member of the National Council for the Humanities. In a blurb posted on the documentary's website, Swain calls the film "outstanding" and "meticulously done." "[I]t offers people of all races a rare opportunity to engage in cross-racial dialogue," she writes. "I highly recommend this film for social science courses dealing with race, class, and ethnicity.").

I responded to their attack with several Tweets directed at the SPLC. I have been highly critical of the organization in recent months because of its penchant for going after conservative individuals and groups who have exercised their First Amendment Rights to speak out on issues like illegal immigration. In fact, I have published two Huffington Post blogs critical of the new direction that the SPLC has taken. So, I was not exactly surprised that the SPLC would seek revenge against me, a relatively conservative black woman.

Yesterday, I sent out the following 140 character statements in response to the SPLC attack:

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center is doing a disservice 2 America. It is working 2 shutdown racial dialogue. http://bit.ly/4sID8B #SPLC #tcot10:55 AM Oct 8th
  • There aren't enough new hate groups 2 keep the #SPLC busy, so they target individuals & conservative organizations 2 raise money.#tcot #sgn10:58 AM Oct 8th from web
  • Watch the film the #SPLC has called racist & decide 4 yourself. http://bit.ly/Q1sJF Film is an exc. prelude to a real conversation on race.11:04 AM Oct 8th
  • Why is there a B in my bonnet? The SPLC calls the DVD racist & then quotes my endorsement of the film.Political incorrectness is not racist.11:07 AM Oct 8th

This morning I received an e-mail from Dr. Heidi Beirich, Director of Research and Special Projects at the Southern Poverty Law Center, providing me with a link to a new posting about Mr. Bodeker. She wrote: "I thought you might want to know that the maker of the documentary on race that you have been publicly praising is an avowed racist who refers to black people as monkeys."

The racist comments attributed to Mr. Bodeker are ugly and vile. Would I have reviewed his film and given it a positive endorsement had I known more about his background? With the knowledge I have today, I would recommend the film be shown along with background information about Mr. Bodeker's hostility towards racial and ethnic minorities. There is a poignant segment in the film that could help explain the resentment Mr. Bodeker feels towards minorities. The turning point for him takes place in a public school classroom as part of an effort to expose and eradicate hidden racism. But for young Mr. Bodeker, his sensitivity training had the opposite effect. Censoring Mr. Bodeker's film would not accomplish the potential good of using it as an opening salvo to a real conversation on race.

By attacking me, the SPLC seems to be implying a double-standard to film evaluation. I'm sure many of the SPLC staff endorsed some aspects of the Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine film. In doing so, they are likely comfortable separating their endorsement of a particular feature of that film from the unconditional endorsement of its maker. In their case, Bowling for Columbine could be valuable in a classroom setting, even if Michael Moore isn't beyond reproach. Similarly, they probably appreciate the artistic value of some Roman Polanski films even though Polanski is a convicted child rapist. Yet, they seem to conflate my endorsement of A Conversation about Race with a comprehensive endorsement of Mr. Bodeker, and his newly exposed familiarity with racist thought. The SPLC needs to rethink its mission and the impact that its attacks can have on individuals who are limited in the means available to defend themselves. An organization with the rich history of the Southern Poverty Law Center should be above Ad hominen attacks, guilt-by-association smears, and the never ending search for red herrings.

Carol M. Swain is a Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University. She has been on CNN Lou Dobbs Tonight and FOX's Sanity as a commentator on current issues. Professor Swain's books include: The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration (Cambridge University Press, 2002; Contemporary Voices of White Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 2003), and her most recent book Debating Immigration (Cambridge University Press, 2007). You can follow Carol M. Swain on Twitter @CMSwain and Face Book. E-mail Carol: carol.swain@vanderbilt.edu Website: http://carolmswain.net/