It's fair to say that the newly initiated secretary of education hasn't had the warmest welcome into her new role from the American people. But let's get one thing straight right away: Comparing Betsy DeVos to Ruby Bridges like one newspaper cartoon did is all-around troubling. In fact, such a comparison misses the point of many of the protests that have taken place since DeVos' confirmation.
The comparison seemed to come first from The Belleville News-Democrat, a newspaper in Belleville, Illinois, which isn't far from St. Louis, Missouri. On Sunday, the News-Democrat published a political cartoon by Glenn McCoy, titled, "Trying to trash Betsy DeVos." The cartoon appeared to show DeVos walking amid harsh protest, surrounded by large, protective figures. As many people online have noticed, the cartoon resembles "The Problem We All Live With," a Norman Rockwell painting of Bridges, the African-American activist who became the first black child to attend a desegregated school in the South in 1960.
McCoy's cartoon was likely inspired by an event that occurred last week in Washington, D.C.: When DeVos tried to enter Jefferson Middle School Academy in southwest D.C., she was blocked by protestors carrying bright signs and shouting their opposition. She ultimately did get into the building, but the episode clearly sent a message.
RW political cartoonist Glen McCoy created the image on the left.— ...she persisted. 🗽 (@leahmcelrath) February 14, 2017
On the right is Norman Rockwell's image about the Civil Rights Movement. pic.twitter.com/mbW2J6kRrX
On the surface, it may be easy to compare what happened last week to DeVos to Bridges' historic attempt to enter an all-white school — but if school has taught me anything, it's that the easy answer isn't always the right one. Although they both faced criticism for trying to enter a school, DeVos and Bridges — or their respective situations — likely could not be more different.
Bridges made history when she walked into William Frantz Elementary School in 1960. The criticism she faced in the process stemmed from the color of her skin. Meanwhile, DeVos, as far as I know, did not set any "firsts" by walking into Jefferson Middle School Academy. The criticism she has faced from the American people has nothing to do with the color of her skin, but rather, it has everything to do with choices she has made over the course of her career.
What's more, the comparison between DeVos and Bridges totally ignores the very reason that DeVos faces such criticism. At just six years old, Bridges faced potential violence in order to get the education she deserved. Now, the American people who have turned to protest in light of DeVos' nomination and confirmation are largely working to make sure that their children and their students can also get the education they deserve. Protestors are concerned that DeVos as secretary of education could threaten the public school system — the very system that Bridges and her fellow activists fought to gain access to during the Civil Rights Movement.
DeVos does not seem to be well-liked. She doesn't seem to be welcome in at least one of America's public schools. But she surely isn't Bridges.