educational justice

Seriously, Betsy? The Civil Rights Act

On Friday U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a statement celebrating the 56th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1957 by a Republican-controlled Congress despite opposition by segregationist Southern Democrats. Her statement nods to America’s current unrest in response to discriminatory practices based on race, color, or national origin, despite a half-century-old law that prohibits exactly that. 

“We have been deeply affected by the recent events that have contributed to racial discord and strife throughout our country.” She salutes the “hard-earned victories [that] enshrined equal protection in our Constitution and banned discrimination in our schools, workplaces, and public facilities.”


If only her boss were on the same page.

But he’s not. In fact, he’s reading an entirely different book (or, more likely, not reading at all). So, as we honor the Civil Rights Act’s anniversary, it’s worthwhile to examine how President Trump, as well as DeVos, undermines federal legislation. 

Let’s take a look at the ways Trump subverts the law by appealing to base (pun intended) instincts the Civil Rights Act intended to reverse.

In 2017 Trump said that people from Haiti “all have AIDS” and people from Nigeria “would never go back to their huts” in Africa. He also called the White supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville “very fine people.”

In January 2018 he grumbled, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

Trump habitually dehumanizes immigrants, people of color, and Jews. In this tweet he gets three for one:


Beto O’Rourke and Gabriel Sherman tweeted back,


Last July he insulted the late Elijah Cummings, civil rights advocate and Congressman from Baltimore, who expressed outrage at the inhumane conditions at the Mexican border:


After George Floyd’s murder, Trump tweeted, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a racist phrase that has been traced back to Bull Connor of Birmingham, Alabama, who released police dogs and fire hoses against Black civil rights activists. 

Twitter took down the tweet for “glorifying violence.” Trump responded:


Ezra Klein commented,


Not enough irony for you? Trump calls Kamala Harris “Willie’s Ho,” which the New York Times suggests is “an apparent reference to Willie Brown, the powerful California State Assembly speaker who was her mentor and onetime boyfriend.” He calls Stacey Abrams “Shamu” and said MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, who is Black, is a “skank” who was “born butt ugly.” There’s his racist baby tweet (also taken down by Twitter), his retweeting of a video of a man shouting “White Power,”and his “Kung flu” moniker for COVID-19.

In response to the latter, the head of the Anti-Defamation Defense League tweeted,



We’re commemorating a law that jump-started a journey that, to many, feels stalled in this age of civil unrest, ratcheted-up racial tensions, pandemia, and school closure-related learning losses that disproportionately affect low-income, Black and Brown children. Simultaneously we endure an administration that enacts DeVos’ own regressive agenda, rescinding protections for students of color, students with disabilities and transgender students.  


It’s easy to feel hopeless. But I try to remember what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said and President Barack Obama repeated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

For our children, especially those most marginalized, it can’t bend fast enough.

Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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