tressiemc

some of us are brave

The Inferiority of Blackness as a Subject

I am writing this very quickly while on the side of Interstate 20. I am also struggling mightily to not use my colorful repertoire of insanely rhythmic and appropriate curse words. Thank me later.

Today The Chronicle of Higher Education published a blog entry from Naomi Schaefer Riley entitled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” I refuse to link. They do not deserve the traffic. Google it or take my word for it.

Schaefer Riley is responding to an earlier Chronicle article lauding the first cohort of Northwestern University’s Black Studies program. So bemused is she by the mere titles of the dissertations of these young black scholars that Schaefer Riley can barely contain her glee as she proceeds to viciously, intentionally, and deliberately insult every single one of the scholars listed and everyone within the field of black studies. You can almost hear her giggling as she writes:

“If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.”

What could be so utterly ridiculous of an academic topic to draw such ire from Schaefer Riley? For one, black midwives. I mean can you just imagine a critical examination of how black women give birth? How RIDICULOUS!

That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.

Not only is black childbirth beneath her contempt but the very idea of literature about natural birth is also contemptible. It could be argued that is a particularly odd position in an age when public health schools are cropping up at every reputable university imaginable and scholars from across  disciplines are attempting to better understand the links between social realities and biological processes. Schaefer Riley will hear none of that! It’s liberal nonsense this whole idea that scholars might want to record the history and experiences of women having babies.

It’s not just childbirth that pisses Schaefer Riley off, though. So, too, does a critical analysis of housing, public policy, and race:

Then there is Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s. Single family homes! The audacity! But Ms. Taylor sees that her issue is still relevant today. (Not much of a surprise since the entirety of black studies today seems to rest on the premise that nothing much has changed in this country in the past half century when it comes to race. Shhhh. Don’t tell them about the black president!) She explains that “The subprime lending crisis, if it did nothing else, highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market.” The subprime lending crisis was about the profitability of racism? Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess.

This as our nation tries to recover from a protracted economic recession caused, in part, by persistent inequality in the housing market. Nope, not relevant. History happened THEN and this is NOW. And what happens to black people can in no way be generalized to any greater white human experience. You know, the only experience that matters.

Schaefer Riley goes on to deride, chide, and condescend to all of black studies through a personal attack on the scholarship of three young scholars who have the audacity to treat the black subject as a human subject worthy of interrogation.

The relevancy of black studies has never been so clearly proven as it is in Schaefer Riley’s gleeful attack.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about how Schaefer Riley constructed her argument.

She begins by responding to an innocuous article highlighting the work of doctoral students who just happen to be black and who just happen to be studying issues that impact black people.

Doctoral students.

That’s Schaefer Riley’s target: a group of accomplished, intelligent black doctoral students.

Schaefer Riley went after, arguably, the most powerless group of people in all of academe: doctoral students who lack the political cover of tenure, institutional support, or extensive professional networks. She attacked junior scholars who have done nothing but tried to fulfill the requirements of their degree program and who had the audacity to be recognized for doing so in academia’s largest publication. Their crime is not being fucking* invisible.

For that, for daring to be seen and heard Schaefer Riley eviscerates the hard work of  doctoral students.

And she does not even afford them the respect of critiquing their actual scholarship. That is beneath her. She attacks the very veracity of their right to choose what scholarship they will do. In effect, she attacks their right to be agents in their own academic careers.

She eschews their dissertation titles as laughable. She pokes fun at their subject matter. She all but calls them stupid.

And The Chronicle of Higher Education let her.

Maybe it has been awhile since you have been a graduate student. Maybe you have never been a black graduate student. Let me tell you a little about my experience of that.

You are almost always perceived as crazy and different for doing something few in your family or peer groups would ever consider doing. Even if you are among the best and brightest in college you are somewhat of an oddity in graduate school. You are either the voice of all black people or the voice of no one. You can be, in any combination and at any given moment: an affirmative action case, an overachiever, lazy, aggressive, scary, and your University’s poster child for diversity.

You are simultaneously invisible and in the spotlight…all the time. For five plus years. And you pay for the privilege because you care about the scholarship. You do the work. You jump through the hoops. You refine a research agenda, craft a research question that passes muster with your committee members, you spend countless hours reading, writing, collecting data, and learning your craft. Finally, it is time to present your baby to the world. And you do not expect to be coddled but you do expect that professional rules of conduct to which you have been taught to adhere will also apply to your colleagues.

You expect that completing almost all the requirements of your degree program will signal to the greater field that you, at minimum, should be respected as an intellectual peer.

You expect arguments to adhere, however symbolically, to the rules of logic.

You expect critiques to be confined to your ideas, not extended to your person.

You expect that when an academic publication promotes a scholar’s opinion that these very basic rules of engagement will apply.

If you are Ruth Hayes, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and La TaSha B. Levy you awoke today to find that none of those rules apply when the scholarship is yours.

For that The Chronicle of Higher Education is as much to blame as Naomi Schaefer Riley.

These scholars did not deserve to be publicly attacked in the largest academic news publication for daring to be visible and black with a dissertation title that Schaefer Riley finds hilarious.

It isn’t scholarship when the entire purpose is to ridicule.

I know we’re not using the “r” word after Obama being elected and all but it really is this simple: by elevating Schaefer Riley’s racially tinged attack on three emerging scholars, The Chronicle is legitimizing open season on black scholars for doing black studies. That’s racist racism.

It does go to prove that black studies remain critical to academe but it also begs the question: with colleagues like The Chronicle and Naomi Schaefer Riley who in the hell needs enemies?

*fine, fine, fine: one cuss word slipped through. Sue me. Just don’t write about me in The Chronicle!

ETA: There’s now a petition because every time I think about it I get angry all over again. Public shaming and bullying is never OK. Please sign and share.

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191 comments on “The Inferiority of Blackness as a Subject

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  13. Diana Lenore Miller
    May 19, 2012

    this was on Stossel today with a totally different slant…interesting. I thought there were so many nuances that were missed, that the whole issue was given a cursory overview…I would really appreciate a true dialogue about this but it is sorely lacking.

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  19. Pingback: Higher Education Blogger Fired For Criticizing African-American Students | Being 1732

  20. ....
    May 8, 2012

    thank you later? Glad you got thanked by being fired

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  25. MeShorn
    May 6, 2012

    I see the absolute see no need for such unnecessary treaching in “Black Universities. If is not providing the spirit and truth of God’s intentions and purpose for all created-beings to understand and the knowledge of reconcilable life living choices of all human-beings!

    • Lois
      May 8, 2012

      I am not completely sure what your comment means, but it seems to state there is not a need for ‘Black Studies’ because all studies should be focused only on those topics, issues that pertain to all human beings, regardless of race. How true that would be if our country had incorporated the actual promise of the Constitution at our nation’s founding: that ‘All men are created equal.’ If the God-Given rights of ‘Life liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ had been extended to all those living in the New World and, what a different United States we would have today! But those rights and promises were only extended to Caucasian European-Americans. African Americans were brought here in chains as slaves and when the colonies declared independence from England, the Constitution kept them in chains and enslaved – in fact African-Americans were not even considered complete and full human beings, as God had created the, in the words of the Constitution. Had our founding fathers abolished and outlawed slavery at our Nation’s Birth, there would be no need to have African-American studies covering their unique American History in Black Universities.All Americans would have been free and equal created beings of their Creator from the glorious start of our country: Instead the truth is, in public schools, the ghastly horror and terror of Slavery, Jim Crow, and the fight for civil rights and current Institutionalized Racism is not taught. If it is not taught, then White America lives in blissful denial of what has led to the plight of an African American’s disparate opportunites and the direct effect that not embracing African-Americans as being Created in the Image of God and being afforded access to the same advantages and opportunities their caucasian counterparts were given at this country’s inception has had on many actual human existances of African-Americans (or even the disadvantages and lack of opportunies). Without African American studies there is no context. Which leaves us with a disjointed, disconnected American History and aids and encourages the creation and perpetuation of a stereotypical view of African Americans today,

      • MeShorn
        May 8, 2012

        Lois,
        You provided a run down factual accounts of failures concerning the events of the Parent Culture of Europeans America’s and their offsprings Descendant of American Slaves.

        The issues concerning “black studies” in so many Black Universities they operate and provide instructions of history from a inferior position concerning the identity and the created purpose.

        We really as a culture have no clue to of legal identity in this country! We embrace and stand up to maintain lies, false facts and don’t study the “spirit and truth” of created-beings from a God who have a purpose of all!

        Lois please take the time to get your copy of America’s Little Black Book by Norris Shelton from http://www.slavesusa.com

        Most of us are absent of the truth of our created culture in America. We want to have fantast about Africa, not realizing that our beginning begin from the America’s Parent culture before we even had voting rights. This country had already provided us a legal identity as American Slaves!

        The use of “color” is to create a inferior and remove the truth; and we spread the “Jim Crows” in the Black Studies of Inferior teaching…

        When you read America’s Little Black Book and the pray that the spirit reveal it to you…then you get back with me!

        • Lois
          May 17, 2012

          Thank you for clarifying your comment. I will look for the book & look into the perspective you are referrring to. Although to you it appeared as if I was “running down factual accounts” I was just sharing what I have experienced in my life raising my children and grandchildren. My comment was more a knee jerk reaction to my experiences within my own fundamental christian church where I had to walk away from their teachings that justified not only slavery, but also treating African-American’s as inferior or as cursed. All I know Ihave slowly and painfully learned on my own. I am not a college graduate and have not formally studied African-American Studies. I just have experienced those I love were/are not taught even a coherent historic timeline in their schools (private & public) to help them make sense of the present. You have a much deeper understanding of the issues than I do, and I welcome learning all that I can.

  26. Pingback: Academic rigor, journalistic ethics, and “partisan hackery” | Ted Gideonse

  27. ACRAH
    May 5, 2012

    Reblogged this on THE GRAPEVINE.

  28. Lois
    May 5, 2012

    Thank you for your post – and for not linking. I appreciate your blog & learning from you.

  29. Pingback: Why Is the Chronicle of Higher Education Publishing Racist Hacks? - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

  30. gaga
    May 5, 2012

    Is anyone else curious what Riley’s husband, Jason Riley, who is black, thinks of his wife’s views? Though maybe that’s obvious given that he is on the uber-conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

  31. Pingback: The Chronicle of Higher Education Has a Lot of Apologizing to Do… | FavStocks

  32. Linda Stewart
    May 5, 2012

    Reblogged this on Human Rights & Social Justice and commented:
    Great post – worth reading!

  33. mochalolalisa
    May 5, 2012

    Thank you for this! Kudos!

  34. Pingback: a not-all-that-persuasive case for eliminating black studies |

  35. Dietrick Large
    May 4, 2012

    I would recommend Ms.Naomi Schaefer Riley wean herself from her narrow prejudices towards Black scholarship and read the 8th verse of the 3rd chapter of Paul’s Epistle to Titus which reads: “That they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good work.”

  36. Matt Wilson
    May 4, 2012

    I believe that there is some language being confused here. Ms. Riley’s article criticizes black scholars whose field of research is ‘black studies’. I believe (and please correct me if I am wrong) there are two separate issues at hand here;

    1) The stereotypes and discrimination that black doctoral students face (regardless of their field of study)

    2) The value and merit of ‘black studies’ as an intellectual pursuit (regardless of the race of the person who is studying it).

    By criticizing black scholars who are pursuing ‘black studies’ Ms. Riley very cunningly twisted two distinct issues in a manner that compounded its hurtfulness to black readers but goes right over the head of most non-black readers – causing even some very well-intentioned white people to either think that the black community is overreacting or not seeing Ms. Riley’s point due to their anger.

  37. Pingback: Naomi Schaefer Riley’s decree that Black Studies does not produce anything worthwhile | Moneydick

  38. cinnamoncolbert
    May 4, 2012

    On the theory that all publicity is good, does your blog post help or hurt the Chronicle ?
    The most pre eminent general science magazines, Nature (london) and Science (US, by the AAAS) every few years publish these rediculous articles that result ina lot of press…the most famous from Nature is by a French Immunologist who claimed you could do homeopathy (homeopathy is incompatible with current science) and dilute an antibody solution to less then one IgG molecule/.tube

  39. Ron Sweeney
    May 4, 2012

    Very powerful writing. Tears in my eyes from reading this.

  40. this is a righteous essay.

  41. Emily Castor
    May 4, 2012

    Somebody make some hoodies that say: I Am Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. I’ll buy one!

  42. Pingback: In Lieu of Weekend Reading: SMH Edition - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  43. kdpoststoday
    May 4, 2012

    Bless you for a well thought out and righteous response! The world needs more of your writing so please don’t just pull to the side of the highway–too dangerous–pull all the way off.

  44. Pingback: Linkage « An Ergodic Walk

  45. tuckom01
    May 4, 2012

    Reblogged this on omar209 and commented:
    What can I say? This is post racial america right? And apparently a Black president means that you can no longer study race or racism in the past or present. I wasn’t an AFS major but I think its unbelievable to suggest that an entire field is inferior. Given the fact that the Black experience and the experience of people of color is often ignored or under-reported I think its imperative that intellectuals make it their business to consider the Black experience. This reminds me of discussion regarding groups such as the BSU, LASA (Latin American Student Association), NAACP Black Greek orgs etc. and whether affinity groups are still relevant. The simple answer is yes. I say yes because if we left it up to the majority, the interest of people of color would seldom be heard, reported or considered.

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  49. Paul
    May 4, 2012

    Nicely written. Riley seems like quite a piece of [work]. I can’t get myself to read the article, but I did notice her last book was an attack on tenure.

  50. CatoRenasci
    May 4, 2012

    I find the notion that there is such a thing as “black scholarship” which should somehow be differentiated from “white scholarship” (or some other “[ethnic descriptor] scholarship”) risible. Scholarship is either good — well-researched and thoughtful analysis of a topic of some significance, and written at least reasonably well — or bad. Ethnic background, or interest, may affect one’s choice of topic, but should not affect the quality of the scholarship.

    Ms. Riley may or may not be correct that a good deal of “black studies” scholarship is shoddy – I simply haven’t read enough of it to know. But I would venture to say that there is a vast amount of shoddy scholarship in virtually every field and Ms. Riley has not made the case that “black scholarship” is uniquely bad.

    My sense, after a decade of graduate work in the humanities and social sciences and a handful of graduate degrees including a doctorate, is that 90% of what passes for scholarship doesn’t advance human knowledge a jot and is often tendentious and pernicious.

    With scholarship, as the lawyers say, res ipsa locquitor: the thing speaks for it self.

    Judge it on its merits, not the color of its author.

    • trevor john
      February 1, 2013

      Thank you for thinking.

  51. Pingback: Democracy and Diversity (pt. 2) « Everything Needs to Change

  52. Dit_ca
    May 4, 2012

    Are people missing the fact that a Chronicle reporter, Stacey Patton, wrote the article on black studies that Riley is attacking? That article was a front page story in the newspaper. That article is what The Chronicle put its editorial imprimatur on.

    • taressa11
      May 4, 2012

      I posted the link to Dr. Patton’s article in hopes that people might read it and therefore have a chance to understand the context of the blog pieces. Though it doesn’t seem as if there’s real interest in the source…

  53. The author is using the attack on a few doctoral students as a launching pad to dismiss or destroy the discipline of earning doctorates in the field of black-studies, which she apparently views as irrelevant.

    Interesting comment at the end of Naomi Schaefer Riley’s post: “let legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America.”

    I would start with asking at what point were blacks in America not subject to the problems imposed upon them by those in power? For example:

    In the 60s, blacks suffered from laws, institutions and historic prohibition that prevented them from participation in a budding venture capital industry that, under the Reagan administration, would become the explosive fuel boosting young companies with tens of billions of dollars in investments annually that would, according to the Kauffman Foundation, represent nearly all net new job growth in America since 1980. That industry would give rise to the risk capital angel investment industry. Together, angels and VCs have ignited a firestorm of technological innovations, disruptions of business models and industries in a 21st century global knowledge-based, tech-driven innovation economy.

    At the same time America was transitioning from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy over the past 40 years, racism prevailed in industry, government and finance. Black unemployment remained consistently double White unemployment regardless of political pendulums because the problem is systemic across the nation. Blacks don’t control any industries, including the powerful industry of influence, media, where Black-ownership of media platforms is less than 1 percent.

    The 1 percent refrain echoes across the economic data. Consider that 1.9 million black-owned businesses produced less than 1 percent GDP in 2007 … before the economic collapse. Consider that 1.8 million businesses had zero employees. Any MBA can tell you an under-capitalized company cannot grow. And where does that capital come from? White-owned debt-financing via banks and other debt instruments. Risk capital, also dominated by whites, had no interest (forgive the pun) in black-owned businesses and startups.

    Look at public education, which is indeed, an economic institution. Two types of schools according to the Dept of Education: high-poverty and low-poverty. The high-poverty schools are overwhelmingly populated by minorities. The opposite is true in low-poverty schools. The disparate achievement outcomes is consistent across years, decades and generations.

    When we start focusing on the capitalism that underscores the evolution of this nation, we see plainly the consistency of racism and blatant discrimination across industries and institutions.

    The study of the phenomena of white American racism toward Blacks, and the multi-generational ramifications thereof, isn’t itself racist. Such studies are most assuredly relevant. Does the author suggest there ought not be an in-depth scholarly investigation into the widespread disruptions white Americans have forcibly asserted across the landscape upon non-whites for generations?

    The author suggested legitimate scholars should seek solutions to the problems of black Americans. Such research obviously starts with examining the impact of consistent struggles for freedom and opportunity denied to blacks by whites. Perhaps the author might wish to examine the reasons for declining diversity in TODAY’s corporate workplace and the small biz marketplace where companies compete for market share. Perhaps the author might ask why there must be laws enacted and organized efforts and struggles over decades to move the needle of diversity in industry even a tiny percentage?

    Perhaps the author might wish to delve into the venture capital industry and financial industries where decisions are made that impact the lives of black Americans. Perhaps the tenor and tone of the author’s commentary above might be changed if better informed by enrolling in a Black-studies program.

  54. Pingback: Skip the Dissertations, Just Read the Blog « anthropos mundorum

  55. taressa11
    May 4, 2012

    For context, if you haven’t already, please read the original article that the blog was referring to…http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Studies-Swaggering/131533/

  56. Al Bradbury
    May 4, 2012

    @Jimmy (not sure if I’m in the right layer of comments here): But it is, in fact, true that “the entire system is a corrupt white-centric one.”

    @tressiemc: I too loved your essay! I’m glad to have found your site and look forward to reading more of your work.

  57. reynardo
    May 4, 2012

    I’ve worked out the perfect revenge. I’m going to track down copies of these students’ theses, and cite them in my own work (with all the correct attribution of course). After all, isn’t that a sign of academic success – that your work’s been used as a reference by someone else? Heh.

  58. gusology
    May 4, 2012

    Reblogged this on gusology and commented:
    Jesus tapdancing Christ.

  59. Pingback: “So I could be easeful”: Celebrate and Support New Scholars « Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

  60. Lisa Wade, PhD
    May 4, 2012

    Petition signed.

  61. mesin kasir
    May 4, 2012

    Nice Shared! I can’t get myself to read the article, but I did notice her last book was an attack on tenure.

  62. I am shocked and appalled that the academe’s premier publication has published what is clearly an attack on the person not ideas of Black graduate students….hate by any other name is still hate….shame on the Chronicle.

  63. signed
    May 4, 2012

    At best CHE was irresponsible and at worst … well, already there. A minimum requirement of any serious critique should include actually having read the object of the critique. Doctoral candidates must do their due diligence in order to pursue any course of study or investigation, so the least Schaefer Riley should have done was hers. Anything less, I agree, should not be published. Crazy talk, I know. I just want to acknowledge that the three doctoral students couldn’t have pursued their topics to the point of publication without the sponsorship of their advisors, department heads, faculty and peer review committees, and universities as a whole that supports their programs. If any of their ideas and research were vetted out to be truly preposterous, unviable, or just plain uninteresting to the academic world, it would have been addressed and/or dismissed at any number of checkpoints. So, a job well done to all three of them.

  64. Marcia W
    May 4, 2012

    I signed the petition & wrote this to accompany it: Schaefer Reily is a minority herself: a woman who can even get published at all, let alone be taken seriously by any well-known scholarly journal. Seems to me she feels there is limited room at the top–hence her attempt to kick in the face of anyone who might be climbing a similar ladder. Her obviously insecure attack has backfired where I am concerned. She has revealed herself as a vicious troglodyte and piqued my curiosity to explore these dissertations to see what I can learn and how my world view can be changed by these bright students. CHE has compromised its integrity and caused me to be disinclined to take them seriously in the future. Just so no one thinks I’m rushing to the defense of “my people,” I am a white 57-year-old woman working toward my bachelor’s degree.

  65. PsychProf
    May 4, 2012

    Nicely written. Riley seems like quite a piece of [work]. I can’t get myself to read the article, but I did notice her last book was an attack on tenure.

  66. Pingback: Yes, Please Read Them, Asshole « zunguzungu

  67. Sabrina
    May 4, 2012

    There’s nothing wrong with Black Studies. However, one wishes that there were more black students entering the science or technology fields, or the business fields, for that matter. I do feel that this would do a lot more for progress than Black Studies can ever accomplish. This is not to dismiss such academic fields of study, but they do tend to remain academic. Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson has talked about having the experience of realizing that he was one of the few black people to be seen on TV (back when he was first on) to be consulted for his expertise in a subject that had nothing to do with being black. And it cannot be ignored that that is vital for progress! So while this person’s criticism was mean-spirited, to say the least, I do think that we need to be doing a lot more to encourage young black people to enter fields that have nothing to do with being black. It will be a very hard fight, there is no doubt. But they must do this for future generations! They must pave the pathway. We need more black scientists and technological innovators. We need to flood the university and society with them. We need a black Steve Jobs. We need hundreds of them. It is not impossible. And directing black students into those fields will do much more for racism and inequality in this country than directing them into Black Studies will ever do.

    • kimberley (@xaotica)
      May 4, 2012

      My field of study is human-computer interaction. More specifically, user research / user experience… I study things like how to make websites / software / smartphones easier to use for people who aren’t tech geeks, how to make them accessible to people with disabilities, etc. Some of the people in my program definitely want to be “the next Steve Jobs”.

      The students in my program are definitely not what I’d consider diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, orientation, or socioeconomic background. Of the 70 students who were accepted, I saw 3 other women in the orientation, and 5 non-Caucasian people, 1 of whom was black.

      However, from my perspective there is a bigger issue than whether young black people are interested in studying science, technology, black studies or anything else. There are a lot of students of all ethnicities who don’t have access to the tools and information that they’d need to be able to decide what subjects they find most interesting.

      I went back to school recently, much later in life than is typical. At the time I went to high school, there were no subjects available in the public high school that interested me at all. We had a computer lab but the only thing it was used for was typing classes. Many schools didn’t even have that. The students who learned how to use computers were the ones whose parents were able to provide one. Those parents needed the time to teach themselves how to teach their kids, or the money to pay someone else to teach their kids, and the money to pay for the technology.

      The cost of technology has come down a lot, and it’s no longer unusual for schools to have a computer lab that offers more than typing. But it’s definitely not universal either. There are plenty of high schools across the country that still have no functional computers or no teachers who really understand how to use them.

      Yes, there are many libraries who have computers and free computer classes, and many other programs outside of school that offer free services. But young students don’t necessarily know that.

      I’m definitely *not* saying that the only reason someone would be interested in black studies is because they didn’t have access to tools or access to other subjects, or that it’s a field that’s any less interesting or worthwhile or important. My point is more that you can provide lots of encouragement to a young black student who’s trying to be “the next Steve Jobs”, but they are still going to have a difficult and frustrating experience if they don’t have access to the tools they need to learn about the subject.

      Also, I don’t think you meant to be hurtful when you said that technology is a field that has “nothing to do with being black”, but it’s really hard for me to see it that way. To me, technology has something to do with everyone who uses it or might want to use it, and some of those people happen to be black. Regardless of whether your area of interest is black studies, science, technology, or anything else, your experience is not going to be identical to everyone else in that field. I didn’t choose to focus on women’s studies or human sexuality, but that doesn’t mean that my experiences studying technology haven’t been different because of the things about me that are visibly different from most of my academic peers.

      I’m not trying to criticize you for wanting something that I want, and that many people want, and that I think would make the world a better place. I just think it’s very idealistic to believe that directing people into a field can make up for all the reasons they might have a harder time entering that field. Even if you suddenly snapped your fingers and every kid had access to identical tools and an identical education, not everyone has the sort of personality where they enjoy being stared at every time they enter a room or being scoffed at because of things about themself that they didn’t choose and can’t change. I don’t fault anybody for not wanting to choose that feeling. Yes, it feels satisfying to prove to people that treated you badly that they were fools. But it also feels satisfying to enter a room and not immediately feel like you don’t belong there, or be told directly or indirectly that you don’t belong there. I don’t feel like it’s my place to tell somebody else that it is their responsibility to put themselves in situations where they may feel crappy and alienated and alone for a long time. I feel like it’s my place to try to ensure that other people don’t have to feel that way, and part of that is understanding them as an individual, the larger context of the situation, and what I can do to change it all for the better.

      • Sabrina
        May 4, 2012

        I agree with much of what you said here, Kimberly. Let me say, first of all, that I come from a humanities background, so I’m sure someone like yourself would have a much better idea for how we need to prepare kids for success in tech and science fields. And I certainly don’t discount the humanities by any means. I feel they are vital. But part of the reason the job situation is dire for people in this country as a whole is because they are not being trained for science and tech jobs. I think we need to set up kids, all kids, of all races and backgrounds, for success in these fields from the time they’re young. It’s completely tiring that such inequity exists in education in this country. How people cannot see how vital equity if for the growth and stability of a country is beyond me.

        Just to correct one thing, I never said that technology had nothing to do with being black, I was conveying what astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson said. I’ve included the link below. You can go to 36.50 where he starts talking about this. It is a very important point that he’s making. What he says is,

        “I had never before in my life…seen an interview with a black person on television for expertise that had nothing to do with being black…. The guy didn’t ask me, ‘Well, how do black people feel about plasma coming from the sun… so to this day I’m getting email from white people wishing they were as smart as I was… that was an unthinkable thing 30 years ago… that would just never have happened… white people wishing they were as smart as a black person… it’s not that the black community can’t afford to have me do astrophysics, it can’t afford for me to not do astrophysics… ”

        It really is worth listening to all that he says about this topic. Very vital points.

    • madeofatoms
      May 4, 2012

      I don’t believe it is an either or proposition, between ‘hard’ science (important) and ‘soft’ science, which you imply is somehow trivial, and which you discount too quickly. What is considered important to study and fund in the sciences has everything to do with social, economic and political relations. And writing about race and inequality is not the same as, or reducible to, writing about being black anymore than writing about cellular biology is the same as writing about being composed of cells.

      • Sabrina
        May 4, 2012

        “And writing about race and inequality is not the same as, or reducible to, writing about being black anymore than writing about cellular biology is the same as writing about being composed of cells.”

        Black Studies certainly has at its core the experience of black people, just as Gender Studies has at its core the study of gender, just as Linguistics has at its core the study of language. Of course all of those are only the seed, the core of what those fields are about and the fields themselves are extremely complex and creative. But saying what is at the core of a field of study is not to dismiss it. All subjects certainly need more than such a brief description. But we understand them as simply shorthand.

        And I’m certainly not saying that certain scientific research doesn’t have implications for race and gender. Of course it does. One need only take a look at genome research and see how the majority of research is being done on people of European origin. Since we can count on medical innovations from such genome research, this does not bode well for medical equity. If we think medical equity is bad now, the gap will only widen unless we step in.

        I think the misunderstanding comes from when I said, “astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson has talked about having the experience of realizing that he was one of the few black people to be seen on TV (back when he was first on) to be consulted for his expertise in a subject that had nothing to do with being black.” I can only apologize for not being as articulate as he is. Please listen to Neil de Grasse Tyson’s points (I linked to youtube in my reply to Jennifer above). He expresses what I was trying to get across by my statements a lot better than I ever could!

        I never dismissed any subject. (As someone who comes from a humanities background, I value all education.) What I am saying is that we need to pay attention to the inequity that exists in the hard sciences. If our society were not so technologically based and driven, this might not be a huge issue of concern. However, seeing as our society today is very technologically based and driven and this will only continue, it is a very huge concern.

        Quite frankly, there are people out there that have the perception (whether unconscious or not) that certain minorities and women are simply not as good at the hard sciences as compared to others. Let’s take the example of a white woman. Let’s say you have one white woman who is a leader in the field of Woman’s Studies. Now you have another white woman who is a leader in the field of astrophysics. Let’s assume they’re both in the public eye. In a very real sense, the white woman who has chosen to be an astrophysicist will do more to advance gender equality than the white woman is a leader in Woman’s Studies.

      • Sabrina
        May 4, 2012

        Darn, I meant my reply to Kimberly, not Jennifer! Sheesh, I’m sure glad it’s Friday. ;)

      • dcdoc
        May 7, 2012

        What is ‘hard’ science and what is ‘soft’ science, the more abstruse versus the more readily understandable scientific fields? Or do you really mean science versus non-science? You don’t imagine, do you, that a field like ‘political science’ is a scientific discipline, do you?

    • NowImaBigG
      May 6, 2012

      I too wish that there were more students of African descent entering the fields of science and business, however, it is not incumbent of these students to do so in order to “do more for racism and inequality.” I bet that no one “directed” these students into Black Studies and that they choose this field because they had a passion for it and are making a great contribution. This is because diverse views are often missing from bodies of literature and therefore our knowledge is oftener skewed, Maybe there needs to be a study of why there are not more Black students in science and business? I am sure that there is some literature, perhaps you should research it. While you state at the onset that there is nothing wriong with Black studies your subsequent discussion seems to imply otherwise.

  68. Murfmensch
    May 3, 2012

    I often hear Feminist and Critical Race Studies dismissed but almost never on paper. No book title can survive a sniffy rendition. There is something called a “Principle of Charity”. There is no problem with criticizing a new scholar’s work but it is vicious to do so without showing some dilligence. Hence, the rarity of response on paper. The Chronicle needs to get this commitment from those who carry their banner. Browsing titles and diagnosing an entire field? Sheee-it!

    This shows the need for Black Studies departments. There need to be venues where Blacks are taken seriously and where Black scholars have their own resources. There is so little of this going on that there is nothing to fear.

  69. Doctoral students unite
    May 3, 2012

    I’ve never been a black grad student, but I’m a (white) foreign grad student doing an esoteric subject involving an historically oppressed minority, so can, I hope, empathise with these ladies. (‘Why are you doing that?’ is such a frustrating question. So will say in solidarity (and no coherence at all) that you, dear PhD students working your asses off to share some knowledge about something you’re passionate about–you rock, and you rock hard, and this Schafer Riley person sucks. Were I on the right continent, I’d buy you a round.

  70. beverlydiehl
    May 3, 2012

    I have never been a black graduate student, OR a graduate student, so forgive me if this is a dumb question. But isn’t the POINT of a doctoral thesis to bring to light ideas and research that has never been touched on before? Theoretically, aren’t ALL doctoral theses somewhat obscure to the average layperson, rather than low-hanging fruit? Riley’s blog post sounds like she is primarily highlighting her own ignorance, bias, and lack of imagination, because *I* can certainly see how exploring the black midwife model, racism in housing and lending, and other black experiences are of value to ALL of American society. I am sorry that

    These students did not deserve to be attacked by anyone; they should be applauded for pursuing higher education AND subjects for which they have a passion. And I echo those who are blown away by how articulately and thoroughly you expressed your outrage while typing by the side of a road. I am sorry that “an affirmative action case, an overachiever, lazy, aggressive, scary, and your University’s poster child for diversity” is still a burden that is put on black students by so many, and hope someday, that won’t be the case.

  71. Pingback: Two essential articles about race relations and Black Studies today–hope you’ll read! | AfricanAmerLit3132CSU

  72. Matt Wilson
    May 3, 2012

    What a brilliant piece. May I suggest, though, that instead of cursing Ms. Riley you thank and encourage her? What she wrote what is quite possibly the greatest advertisement for black studies programs ever created. I would suggest adding quotes from her essay to the admissions page of every Black studies program in the country. Your enrollment will easily double.

    I would only argue with one thing you wrote – about Black doctoral students being the most powerless group of people in all of academia (which in fairness you said was arguable.) They may be the most vulnerable, but powerless?

    To modify/improve an old adage; hell hath no fury like a black scholar scorned.

  73. Pingback: The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating the Racism from The Chronicle: Just Read about Naomi Schaefer Riley « 4ddad

  74. Don
    May 3, 2012

    Wow. I really wish I hadn’t googled and read that article (thank you for not linking it). Naomi Schaefer Riley checks off (nearly) every single box on the stupid racist checklist. Her ‘response to critics’ is actually hilarious, because she admits that she hadn’t read the dissertations and doesn’t actually research her articles. This is really hilarious because the subtitle to the original article encourages us to “read the dissertations”.

    Thankfully, the comments seem to be almost universally negative.

  75. Rachel
    May 3, 2012

    I agree with the main thrust of this column but not with its attack on the Chronicle for somehow “legitimizing” this point-of-view. I don’t think editors of newspapers are necessarily supposed to agree with everything in their pages. Sometimes, they offer a perspective precisely because it exists on the margins. Furthermore, this was a blog post from one of the Chronicle’s bloggers. It was not an article or an editorial. I don’t see that marginalizing conservative bloggers (however offensive their views may seem) is a solution to the problem of racism. if anything, it drives conservatives into the echo chambers of conservative web pages, where they never have to listen to dissenting opinions.

    • Mandy Scarbary
      May 4, 2012

      Agree. Giving nutwings their soapboxes allows us the opportunity to hold up the mirror to their faces.

  76. Pingback: Move Over Science, I have an Agenda « irritually

  77. Pingback: Black Studies, Part 2: A Response to Critics - Brainstorm - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  78. residenciaenlatierra
    May 3, 2012

    A wonderful response. I was an academic in Ethnic Studies at a pretty well regarded institution. But I left. Why? Nobody told me how disrespectful and mean-spirited people could be.

  79. melissa f
    May 3, 2012

    Thank you for articulating the anger I, too, felt about this attack, but was not skilled enough to say. Truly thank you.

  80. Catherine Squires
    May 3, 2012

    I suggest a petition for the Chronicle to publish YOUR piece on its front page as a rebuttal.

    • Laurel Bowman
      May 3, 2012

      Seconded.

      • Smith
        May 5, 2012

        Thirded! This is a great article.

  81. A. Fitzgerald Potter Sr.
    May 3, 2012

    Wow, this individual needs to go back to school and be forced to study the plight of the race that built this country! Great piece!

  82. Anonymous Black
    May 3, 2012

    I wonder if I, a black person, could be so dismissive of the dissertation projects that white phd’s are doing. “Oh wow you’re studying an 18th century poet no one’s ever heard of or doing a performance analysis of Donnie Darko b/c it’s your favorite movie.” Where’s the angry blog in the chronicle about the infinitesimal work that white folks do that doesn’t address rural white poverty or perhaps more importantly, white racism?

  83. Adam
    May 3, 2012

    I mostly agree with your diatribe, but this truly is a stupid analysis:
    “The subprime lending crisis, if it did nothing else, highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market.”

    The credit crisis highlighted the profitability of *classism*, not racism. Rich people, the Bush administration (which wanted to create an “ownership society”), and banks worked together to push poor people — white and black — into mortgages they couldn’t afford. I’m not saying the black is irrelevant (though it wasn’t categorically different from the white one), and my point certainly doesn’t vitiate the existence of black studies, which I’m not really qualified to assess. But on this narrow question of what the many outrages of the lending crisis show, Schaefer Riley is right.

    • YAJ
      May 6, 2012

      Adam, I understand that you want us to see the equality of the sub-prime lending malpractice between whites and black. However, the evidence doesn’t support such equity between the two groups. Blacks were targeted – the presence of whites with subprime loans may correlate to class or not as many whites wanted to buy and flip houses and subprime lending may have capitalized the practice but that does not negate the facts as described in this article: http://www.theroot.com/views/ghetto-loans-mud-people

  84. shirleymaybanks
    May 3, 2012

    The Chronicle posts inflammatory opinion pieces as part of its regular offerings. This piece, like many others, was much commented-on by readers, most of whom found the author’s position faulty but not CHE’s decision to post it. I usually just scroll on by and let fools be fools.

  85. learn by doing
    May 3, 2012

    I love this site. Is like good medicine for this Black doctoral student. This post has been forwarded to all my CRUNK sista-friends in grad school, because whether the Schaefer Riley’s of the world like it or not

    …we are gonna get that PAPER.

  86. Pingback: Petition: Chronicle Column Suggests Eliminating Black Studies « Feminist Philosophers

  87. wraabe
    May 3, 2012

    The note on Ruth Hayes’ dissertation reminds me of an encounter with a pre-med undergraduate no more than two years ago. After learning about the racist presumption that whiteness is normal and that blackness is other, she realized that she had encountered such a presumption in her studies, where the medical reading advised about skin color that new-born babies had a healthy pinkish color to their skin. Apparently, the education being offered to students in biology classes—no more than two years ago–still assumed (without irony) that white is the expected color of a new-born infant but that a pinkish tinge was OK in a healthy infant. Oh, I don’t know, maybe that’s a reason why the “nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature”?

  88. bionicdiscovery
    May 3, 2012

    “How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is?”

    This sums up her problem. In one sentence she’s managed to assert that “natural birth literature” is irrelevant and either make the assumption that white people always take the nonwhite experience into account – or – she’s under the erroneous belief that it is unnecessary to even examine it. I can’t tell which from the wording. Either way – dismissing an entire realm of study because she doesn’t like the premise/synopsis of the work of three scholars reveals just how truly ignorant and uninformed she is.

    Dismissing how lenders deliberately targeted minorities in search of homes because oh-so-many white people lost their homes is also largely irrelevant. How many MORE minorities lost theirs due specifically to those vicious lending practices? More to the point – how many would have kept theirs had they been given fair mortgage loans?

    I’d like to believe that she doesn’t represent a larger community of people who dismiss work that (God forbid) makes black people, black problems, black power – etc – the focus, but I don’t. People are quick to highlight how our President is black and call anything even remotely related to what these scholars investigated reverse racism. It’s not reverse racism – no one is doing it at the expense of white people. Highlighting how the privileged, white majority benefits from a system created in their favor, while those that have been *othered* suffer, is not reverse racism. It’s called bringing attention to a problem so the people with the power to do so can implement change.

    This isn’t about *you* privileged people. No one is doing this sort of research to shame you or point a finger in your direction. In short, it’s not about *you* its about *them.*

  89. Marc
    May 3, 2012

    Thank you for responding to this. Black scholarship doesn’t deserved to be devalued in this nature.

  90. bjn
    May 3, 2012

    Here is the title of Naomi Anne Schaefer’s Harvard thesis: “To have and to hold : a comparison of the virtues necessary to acquire and maintain rule in Shakespeare’s plays”

    Ridicule away.

    http://discovery.lib.harvard.edu/?itemid=|library/m/aleph|007897592

    • Emily Castor
      May 4, 2012

      thank you.

  91. bionicdiscovery
    May 3, 2012

    “How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is?”

    This sums up her problem. In one sentence she’s managed to assert that “natural birth literature” is irrelevant and either make the assumption that white people always take the nonwhite experience into account – or – she’s under the erroneous belief that it is unnecessary to even examine it. I can’t tell which from the wording. Either way – dismissing an entire realm of study because she doesn’t like the premise/synopsis of the work of three scholars reveals just how truly ignorant and uninformed she is.

    Dismissing how lenders deliberately targeted minorities in search of homes because oh-so-many white people lost their homes is also largely irrelevant. How many MORE minorities lost theirs due to those vicious lending practices? More to the point – how many would have kept theirs had they been given fair mortgage loans?

    I’d like to believe that she doesn’t represent a larger community of people who dismiss work that (God forbid) makes black people, black problems, black power – etc – the focus, but I don’t. People are quick to highlight how our President is black and call anything even remotely related to what this scholars investigated reverse racism. It’s not reverse racism – no one is doing it at the expense of white people. Highlighting how the privileged, white majority benefits from a system created in their favor, while those that have been *othered* suffer is not reverse racism. It’s called bringing attention to a problem so the people with the power to do so can implement change.

    This isn’t about *you* privileged people. No one is doing this sort of research to shame you or point a finger in your direction. In short, it’s not about *you* is about *them.*

    • profsmusher
      May 3, 2012

      I think Ms. Riley is so ignorant of academia that she doesn’t realize that “literature” means the body of peer-reviewed writing on a given topic, and thinks that the dissertator is writing about natural birth *fiction.* Which makes her being a blooger for the Chronicle that much more egregious.

      • bionicdiscovery
        May 4, 2012

        I never even considered that. The realization makes this woman’s post even worse. It’s actually quite saddening.

    • Pfalzprophet
      May 3, 2012

      It seems to me that, to establish or refute an hypothesis that racism was a critical factor in the foreclosure nightmare of the past 5 years, one must conduct a multivariate analysis, considering all the factors that resulted in the mess. How is it possible to disentangle sub-prime lending from racism, when the targets of this odious practice were disproportionatelym but not exclusively, African-American, and therefore prey? To disprove the hypothesis that racism was not involved in sub-prime lending, there must exist some evidence that demonstrates that African-Americans were targeted first or exclusively, by the sub-prime lenders. Is there evidence as well that the objective of such lending practices was to create foreclosures?

      I haven’t seen any reliable data on any of these elements, all of which, in my opinion, are necessary to support an allegation of racism in foreclosures or sub-prime lending. That is not to say that racism was not a factor, but it is to say that such an allegation asks for evidence, not mere anecdotes.

      • bionicdiscovery
        May 3, 2012

        Correct me if I misunderstand what you’ve written but, while I agree that it’s evidence is better than anecdotes – I’m inclined to question how we’d find evidence of racist lending practices beyond a lender specifically saying “I’m doing this to this black couple specifically because they are black” or something of the sort. But, even then, there would be someone to dismiss that and file it away.

        I can’t comment too much (really – at all) on the dissertation discussed in the post because I’ve never read it – but the point I think she (Taylor) was trying to make is that institutionalized racism exists and lingers and the very crux of its pervasiveness is that it can’t be “proven” without a shadow of a doubt. The recent mortgage crisis in this country, as she said, highlights the profitability of (institutionalized) racism. The racism is in policies, regulations, etc, and often how they are applied. And we can highlight it as profitable, because someone did indeed profit while someone else lost. But, because that line is taken out of context, I can’t know what Taylor was trying to get at. These are just my assumptions – and we all know what they say about assumptions.

        Beyond that, I think too many people are inclined to dismiss the policies themselves as being racist if they don’t affect the black or othered community as whole, but random or fractional application does not negate racism. And the absence of evidence doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, it just means you can’t “prove” its existence in a court of law.

      • YAJ
        May 6, 2012

        Well, regarding the “lack of evidence”, there have been many investigative news reports that have produced the evidence you seemed to have missed. Here’s one, but ONE, please seek more as the New York Times and Frontline (among many) have made clear that the predatory and racist lending practices are not allegations, but fact:
        1. http://www.theroot.com/views/ghetto-loans-mud-people
        2. http://video.pbs.org/video/2226666502

  92. txgirlwonder
    May 3, 2012

    Thank you for speaking out.

    • Brian Purnell
      May 3, 2012

      Your response is right on. I really appreciate what you wrote. But this person, as you stated, is a straight up fool. And the CHE, as you wrote, should be embarrassed it put out that nonsense. As far as Black Studies is concerned, Naomi Schaefer Riley is irrelevant. We should just ignore her ignorant self. None the less, I signed your petition.

  93. Brittany
    May 3, 2012

    I find it unacceptable for some to claim “point made” by assuming black studies majors have left their calendars in the 60’s, these must be the same individuals that see no reason for women’s stuidies or sociology in general. In order to keep history form repeating we must discuss it in depth and from multiple perspectives. Academia is often the only time race is discussed at a level that may create change. Take a black studies course or at least read a race related article with the knowledge that white privilege remains before you deem it unnecessary.

  94. Elliot Mercer
    May 3, 2012

    While visiting Northwestern I had the pleasure of hearing La TaSha B. Levy read a chapter of her dissertation on black Republicanism, which Riley takes a heavy thwack at (without reading more than a two-sentence blurb on the topic proposal). I must say that I was not alone in thinking Levy’s work was one of the most fascinating, eye-opening, and revolutionary looks at American culture I have experienced in a long time. African-American Studies is quite separate from my area of research, but I left that presentation vowing to read the entire dissertation when it was published. Had Riley taken the time to read more than a paragraph summary of these authors’ works, she might have realized that their scholastic work is actually a blessing to the entire world of academia.

  95. mch
    May 3, 2012

    Thank you for sharing. Keep writing.
    Our demise will begin the moment we devalue or cease to produce knowledge as we know it. Be reminded, knowledge is a resource. Racism and privilege are based largely in systemic and inequitable access to – and control over – resources.

    • miishen
      May 3, 2012

      well said.

  96. asha s. best
    May 3, 2012

    Reblogged this on The BGSA Library and commented:
    While our site is geared towards Black graduate students of all disciplinary vantage points, the question of who can produce knowledge about POC and who is seen as legitimate in the academy still haunts us whether or not we are in Sociology, Geography, Cultural Studies, etc. The article that this post takes up is a gross reminder of that.

  97. ikahn El
    May 3, 2012

    Interesting.
    African studies (by Caucasians)
    is precisely how Africans
    and their current day descendants are
    Continually conquered.

    You are the most studied people on the
    Planet.

    Although you out number Caucasians on the planet 10/1.

  98. Pingback: Molly Des Jardin: blog link: the inferiority of blackness as a subject « wasting gold paper

  99. Jimmy
    May 3, 2012

    I may be wrong but it appears to me that in your righteous indignation you may have labelled Ms Riley a racist on the wrong grounds. For all I know she is a racist. She certainly displays the symptoms. But perhaps in your anger you did not or could not see that she may have a point. She is, in her own unfortunate way, saying that perhaps in a program such as black studies, the doctoral candidates might suffer from a miopic view of the country that makes it difficult for them to not view society as anything but a racist and oppressive system with white overlords intent on subjugating African Americans. Her main point seems to be that these students are interpreting benign data such as middle class housing for blacks, as unambiguously racist examples of white hegemony. While I can agree that she could have said things with more tact, I must say that I think she is making a legitimate criticism that is shared by much of white America. To call her a racist may be a fair assessment. I just think that you may be missing the mark a bit.

    • AC
      May 3, 2012

      Is her criticism legitimate because the opinion is shared by other whites? Is that the standard for credibility? And are her views not myopic
      when only a few dissertations are her focus?

      Please, help me understand.

    • karnythia
      May 3, 2012

      Actually Tressie was spot on. You should look at some of the “benign” data about black people’s financial lives and the policies that target them. More specifically, you should learn about what kinds of products banks sell to black mortgage applicants & what terms like redlining actually mean. You should also grasp that black people have a right to self determination and to discuss the reality of their history in a country where white America’s wealth & achievements were accomplished on the backs of people who have survived slavery & Jim Crow laws, only to run into differential sentencing, prisons as plantations, redlining disguised as gentrification, & white Americans who refuse to grasp any history or current events that don’t let them pretend that we’re a post racial society.

      • Jimmy
        May 3, 2012

        I did not and do not deny the reality of racism in this country. I realize that this is a highly stratified system and that interaction theory is an unfortunate yet all too real part of our way of life. But I did not imply otherwise in my comment. What I was saying is that Ms Reily was simply making what could be seen as a legitimate argument about the notion that black people might be capable of racism as well and that perhaps in this type of program (black studies) a student could fall into a mentality that tends to give her the idea that the entire system is a corrupt white-centric one. I’m not saying that I fault African Americans for this but sometimes it seems similar to McCarthyism in their communities. In other words, there are white racists around every tree. This type of view can only hurt their cause and does not allow them to appreciate the progress that indeed has been made. While I think that the idea of a post racial society is laughable, I also think that the election of a black man to the nations highest office has to mean something. But these attitudes that I am talking about make it hard to see anything but the terrible side of society. Moreover while our history is filled with horrific treatment of blacks it is also the story of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. It’s the story of the founding documents which while being in one sense hypocritical also had within themselves an unprecedented potential, which ultimately put Barak Obama in the White House.

        • tressiemc22
          May 3, 2012

          Lest my position be perverted I want to be clear that I never called Schneider Riley a racist. I did and do call the utilization of The Chronicle’s power as a legitimizing institution to attack an academic area study by personally attacking black scholars an act of racism. I stand by that. And I note that the election of Barack Obama in no way disrupts this racist deployment of institutional power nor its impact on the individuals Schneider Riley attacked.

          And, as an aside: that you call the research of these scholars their “cause” and not scholarship or research as it is generally called when the topic or researchers are white is rather part of the problem.

          • abuasher
            April 2, 2014

            So I just found you, and this conversation, and, good lord, I admire your patience.

    • Tad Suiter (@retius)
      May 3, 2012

      Jimmy, I think you may be in over your head a bit on this one.

      First off, go watch illdoctrine’s “how to tell people they sound racist” video. This blog piece does a very good job of keeping the subject at “What Riley said was racist,” and really doesn’t go into the “”Riley herself is racist” conversation. We *all* need to learn to disentangle those two different things– the “you did something racist” and the “I think you are racist”– because the former is very important to talk about, where the latter is usually not worth going into with people.

      But really, I think there’s a gap in your– and Riley’s– knowledge of the subjects at hand. In each of the above cases, where you see a “cause” being “miopically” [sic] pursued, I see junior scholars engaging with larger bodies of literature in multiple fields: a corpus of research created by people of all races, often with wildly divergent ideologies and ideas about solutions.

      There’s nothing McCarthy-like about this at all. This is junior scholars doing what they’re supposed to do– pursuing a course of investigation that builds on the larger body of scholarship and attempts to address lacuna therein. And (even if were possible to) take race out of the equation, one of the key issues here is that attacking grad students on their work– without having even seen said work– is abhorrent, unprofessional, and has no place in a publication that would like to see itself as the paper of record for higher ed.

      • Jimmy
        May 3, 2012

        Tad, I think you’re arguing semantics, attacking me personally rather than what I said (I misspelled miopic, oooooh, that’ll show me), and you do not address even one of the points that I made. It appears to me that you and the others here commenting have difficulty with alternative views. Disagreement is not tolerated. I’m in over my head? What am I a moron? I think I see what is being said. I just happen to hold a differing opinion. So you, instead of addressing what I say, try to belittle me in the most petty manner possible.

        You say I should watch a video to disentangle my confusion. Well sport, the fact is I don’t really have the desire or motivation to try to understand a semantical non-issue. Who cares whether this woman or what she says is racist? Is the difference really that vital? To me it’s like arguing the pronunciation of tomato. And frankly I could care less. With my previous comments I attempted to engage in a rational debate pertaining to a serious issue. Apparently you Tad, and others here are more concerned with patting each other on the back and trying to convince yourselves of the righteousness of your views. You don’t genuinely want a dialogue, you want to be mad at the world and right about it.

      • profsmusher
        May 3, 2012

        If Jimmy can’t accept what has been proven by generations of scholars–namely that structural racism was part of this country’s founding and continues to affect everyone in our society (which is NOT the same thing as arguing that “there are white racists behind every tree”)–I’m not sure we can even argue with him.

      • Elizabeth
        May 3, 2012

        “Apparently you Tad, and others here are more concerned with patting each other on the back and trying to convince yourselves of the righteousness of your views.”

        I think it’s more accurate to say academia is often the process of studying a subject while wearing blinders and loupes.

    • funlayo
      May 3, 2012

      Thanks for this powerful post!

      I will add to all that’s been said that dissertations do involve… research! And lots of it. And multiple people — Black and White — reading and approving or not approving what has been written. It’s not as though students can just write whatever they happen to think about an issue, they have to substantiate it, defend it and so forth. So to behave as though Black scholars are just saying whatever they feel like with no substantiation and pulling ideas out of thin air is incredibly insulting and, more importantly incorrect.

      Since we’re sharing secrets, let me tell you one: White people do Black Studies too. (Shhhh!) And there are an equal number of, if not more, White scholars — and Professors — in many Black studies departments than there are Black. So clearly it isn’t only Black people with their quaintly “myopic” views of race and racism who feel that Black Studies is a worthy enterprise and engage in it. Why no White scholars being quoted or critiqued. Where’s her critique of Tim Wise and other Whites who study and speak out against racism and look at the ways in which it still impacts this country and the world — including in housing and birth outcomes?

      Oh, right, not as easy to attack them as it is to attack grad students. And Black ones, at that.

    • karen
      May 3, 2012

      I got the same impression you did. While callous, I beleive the underlying message was more a call to arms for better arguments and research. However, as other respondents make the point, where does she get off telling people in academia what to–and not to–study? It seems a stretch for such an underaccomplished person to sit on her high horse and judge from her throne of trumped up ego… but alas it is a free country. I didn’t want you to get the impression your take away was invalid, but it’s like trying to reason with an angry swarm…surely you know better? Being so reasonable and all.. :)

      • Smith
        May 5, 2012

        The problem with your assertion that she was calling for “better arguments and research” is that there is no evidence she read the dissertations. In her blog post, I see references only to a “sidebar” summarizing the papers. I do not see how you can critique something until you have read it thoroughly.

      • S. N. Harrell
        May 11, 2012

        I would argue with the notion that THREE dissertations are an accurate evaluation of the field of Black studies … she might want to do a Meta-Analysis of Black Studies dissertations (that’s a specific type of data analysis that requires a research design etc.) THEN provide a critique on the study based on the results provided through the data analysis. She would also need to quantify what is “good” and “bad” and have some specific, measurable and repeatable manner of doing so.

        Further, the subjects that those THREE dissertations covered are salient to someone somewhere, otherwise it would not have passed through a dissertation chair (the person that oversees that the student is pursuing scholarly work) and a dissertation committee (a group of usually 2 or more scholarly individuals, working in the field). Now … I would wonder what search terms she used to find three articles, not that those articles are arbitrary, but to use ONLY THREE articles, when there are HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS of Black Studies dissertations over any amount of time, to represent the ENTIRE field shows a great deal of foolishness (about research and scholarly literature) on her part.

        Lastly, IDK whether anyone has mentioned this elsewhere & this is not necessarily in reply here; nevertheless: a Black President does not unequivocally means that there is no racism or bigotry directed at Black people, if anything it is highlighting the great depths of racism and some of its more subtle nature (i.e. people saying they are colorblind).

    • Sara Amis
      May 3, 2012

      Er. I don’t see how anyone who was alive and conscious during 2008 can describe sub-prime mortgage practices as “benign.” There are entire neighborhoods in Atlanta which are pretty much wiped out…every house on the street is boarded up. And the way people were targeted for predatory lending is very much racially tinged.

    • 2yniq
      May 4, 2012

      Jimmy, I hope YOU don’t try writing anything in your car! When you give credence to white America for its critique of what black people are/should be like, you’re already off the road and in the ditch. It’s such a trite thing, for white people to tell non-whites the “CORRECT” way to be black, or Hispanic, or anything else. Why don’t more white people try doing a better job of learning how to be white, without being insulting, overbearing, and embarrassing. (Yes, I’m white, and I KNOW how arrogant white people can be in their ignorance of what life really is like for anyone else.)

    • Eric Johnson
      May 4, 2012

      Jimmy, I think there’s an important thing you’re missing. Go back to what you said you were endorsing in Riley’s article:

      “perhaps in a program such as black studies, the doctoral candidates might suffer from a miopic view of the country that makes it difficult for them to not view society as anything but a racist and oppressive system with white overlords intent on subjugating African Americans.”

      See, that’s not what any of these dissertations are about. Look at the two described here. The are involved with documenting and analyzing concrete details about real people’s lives. Giving birth, getting born, and living somewhere. On an institutional level, race shapes how those things happen and how they are talked about. Nobody there is “nterpreting benign data such as middle class housing for blacks, as unambiguously racist examples of white hegemony. ” If you want to critique something, you really need to be able to describe it first.

    • Smith
      May 5, 2012

      What, like the “miopic” (did you mean myopic?) focus white people have on issues that affect them?

      And here I thought the *purpose* of graduate school was to delve deeply into a topic that interests you greatly, perhaps a topic of great importance in your life and the lives of those around you.

  100. Alaina
    May 3, 2012

    Wonderful article! As a future Black graduate student (in a few months) this definitely gives me many things to think on. I hope the Chronicle admits/rights their mistake, as the majority of their articles are thoughtful and enlightening.

  101. TheresaEmilyAnn
    May 3, 2012

    I google searched “Naomi Riley”+”Eliminating Black Studies” and found this

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/the-most-persuasive-case-for-eliminating-black-studies-just-read-the-dissertations/46346

    “Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments. If these young scholars are the future of the discipline, I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man.”

    At the end of her article she seems to be saying that Black scholars are not focusing on the right issues… Though yea she isn’t the one who gets to decide what another person/ student picks to study or work on with their time / life / research either… and that’s besides the race angle of any white person telling any black person what or how to do things for themselves, or trying to “help” without being asked or whatever.

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  103. Kenneth O'Brien
    May 3, 2012

    Bravo.

  104. Queequeg's Mark
    May 3, 2012

    Reblogged this on Queequeg's Mark and commented:
    This is a great response to the question of doing away with African American Studies or any ethnic studies for that matter.

  105. This is such a well-written and justified critique. Most importantly, your restrained civility has a beautiful eloquence to it. I second what James Runkle pointed out: You wrote this on the side of the road?! Thank you for holding both Schaefer Riley and the Chronicle accountable for their words. I want to offer another layer to this: As a female university professor (and former doctoral student) and also as a mother of 4 (yes, four) children, I am personally interested in this doctoral research about black midwifery and particularly the childbirth experience. But I realize I am an outlier among many non child-bearing colleagues. I’m wondering if Schaefer Riley has ever given birth? If not, does she recognize her biased (dis)interest and disparaging of this topic?

    • Monica
      May 3, 2012

      I’ve never given birth and never will, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate midwifery and the childbirth experience of others. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the experience of other races, either. How very limited we would be if other people didn’t interest us.

  106. Daisy Kincaid
    May 3, 2012

    Schafer Riley, can we just say, is also affiliated with this place:

    http://www.americanvalues.org/

    who have four goals:
    >>>Our current work focuses on four goals.

    To increase the proportion of children growing up with their two married parents.
    To renew the ethic of thrift and replace the culture of debt and waste.
    To help turn the intellectual tide against extremism in the Arab and Muslim world.
    To improve and civilize our public conversation.

    THIS IS APPARENTLY HER ATTEMPT TO IMPROVE AND CIVILIZE OUR PUBLIC CONVERSATION. Thanks Naomi.

  107. Lisa Moore
    May 3, 2012

    Thank you, Tressie. This was so needed to this deeply offensive and troubling piece.

  108. FirstGenU
    May 3, 2012

    I’m so appalled. Not only does she not have any graduate education, but her book is about popular culture. Clearly more relevant than questioning housing policies. *hard eye roll*

    • Doctoral Student in TV Studies
      May 3, 2012

      By all means, attack Schaefer Riley. But: please refrain from attacking popular culture as a site of inquiry.

  109. Pingback: Shame On You, Chronicle | M A R K S I S M

  110. rmehlinger
    May 3, 2012

    FYI your “thank me later” link at the top is dead; you left out the :. The correct link is http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/challenge-the-chronicle-of-higher-education-to/.

  111. Homepage
    May 3, 2012

    i was just browsing along and came upon your blog. just wantd to say fantastic website and this post truly helped me. 564433

  112. gabrielleangelica
    May 2, 2012

    Reblogged this on Quilted Journey.

  113. um, if google serves me right, she never even *went* to graduate school, so why is she in a position to judge these scholars? i went to go try ot look up her dissertation title for comparison, but to no avail. #justsayin

    • Phil
      May 3, 2012

      It’s too bad we can’t look up her dissertation title and make fun of it. Apparently that’s all the research you need to do to have your blog published by the Chronicle of Higher Ed. #timesavin

    • Jeffrey Jones
      May 3, 2012

      Who needs grad school when you went to.. ahem…Haa-vaad? Grad school is for the plebs. She shits ivy, and that’s enough.

    • S. N. Harrell
      May 11, 2012

      It’s jealousy. No graduate school would accept her with her subpar critical thinking and writing skills!

  114. jaredpurdy
    May 2, 2012

    Regretfully, unless you are a paying member, you cannot view the replies, posts, etc.

    • Kristin
      May 3, 2012

      @jaredpurdy- Jared I’m not a paying member and I was able to see the comments-I only address it because the comment trail is facinating and it’s encouraging to see how many people are speaking up and speaking out. Tressiemc-Brilliant!!! Thank you, single cuss word (you get all the credit in the world in my book for restraining yourself) and all.

  115. spot on. it’s ridiculous and small to pick on a doctoral student in such a public sphere, and in such a crude, mocking manner. i completely agree … schaefer riley’s argument and presence only undermine her intent.

    i also loved the use of the strong language. it’s called for in this situation. thanks for writing.

  116. Erica L. Williams
    May 2, 2012

    thank you for writing this eloquent and insightful response to Schaeffer Riley’s horrible blog.

  117. James Runkle
    May 2, 2012

    You wrote this on the side of the road?? Just like that? Yet another reason why you are a genius.

    • tressiemc22
      May 2, 2012

      On my iPad, no less! And there are some structural issues; yadda, yadda, yadda. You see me through the eyes of love. :)

      • Rachel Toor
        May 3, 2012

        I don’t love you (perhaps because I don’t know you) but I am mightily impressed by this piece, road or no, iPad or no. More cuss words would have been an appropriate response to the original blog post.

        Rachel Toor

      • Emily Castor
        May 4, 2012

        Well done!

    • Chrissy
      May 3, 2012

      i was thinking the same, side of the road? Brilliant. Insightful. great article!

      • AdaRenee
        May 3, 2012

        imagine the sword of words crafted had you been at a desk! brilliant, well done, fantastic!!! Kick that academe a&$

    • Emily Castor
      May 3, 2012

      Well, let the church say, “AMEN”! (Excuse me while I do my praise dance! Thank you, Lord.) Can I be honest? I’m so happy Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote her protest essay — even happier that The Chronicle of Higher Education published it. This makes the essay a personal opinion and a shared ideology.

      Now we know fo’ sho’ what “white” women in their feminist covens are snickering about. I always thought it was my headscarf. What a relief, I love my headscarf.

      White women love to tell me that I’m paranoid. Brothers and sisters, it’s not paranoia you’re feeling–here is discursive evidence that white women and therefore their feminist and neo-feminist ideologies are racially skewed. They don’t even know that I have a vagina and they don’t care if I do.

      Neo-feminism qua feminism or women of color feminism–pish posh.
      I told you so, I told you so! What a sweet “I told you so moment.” Let me bask in white women’s imagined general superiority–mmmmm. Hasn’t she read West’s Race Matters or any Angela Davis essays?

      I can’t say that I never drank the Kool-Aid. I want/wanted to believe I am respected–not equal, dear Lord, no. I don’t want to be equal to the people/persons who created and disseminated the hurtful and derisive article that undermines Black scholarly work.

      Regarding President Obama as the symbol that white people have done enough — I want to share an academic experience. I was taking a class and a University Professor said that if they hire too many black professors he was afraid the school would become a “Black University.” I lost my breath! I asked, “what would be wrong with that?” He said, “well, you know.” Unfortunately, I do know. I know that white folks (ethnic whites and regular whites) see Blackness as unnecessary.

      Would you look at the time…I haven’t watched the Help today. And ‘you people’ need to worry about climate change, order a VEGAN meal, then read an essay on the Affective Feminist Politics of Bedouin Pottery.

      • Sara Amis
        May 3, 2012

        Whatshername is a feminist? Anybody who doesn’t think birth and midwives are a valid topic of research pretty much fails entirely as a feminist, white or otherwise.

      • Julie
        May 4, 2012

        Wow. For some reason I can’t reply to Sara Amis’ post but I want to ask her “SERIOUSLY?” Do you honestly think childbirth and midwifery are beneath the work of a serious feminist? You’re completely missing the mark of what it means to be female, especially pre-20th century.

      • Julie
        May 4, 2012

        In fact, you’re showing the exact same lack of respect for women as whatshername does for black studies.

      • Sara Amis
        May 4, 2012

        Uh. You just completely misinterpreted what I said. As in, THE EXACT OPPOSITE.

      • Dr. Williams
        May 4, 2012

        Love this comment … and I am just tooo pleased someone “got around” to writing something about Obama! And let me write (jokingly of course) … that at least these Scholars received their 5 minutes of fame … negatively or otherwise …

      • Elizabeth
        May 4, 2012

        I’m not sure where you’re coming from here, as I don’t know NSR to be a feminist at all. To say that her racist tripe here about Black Studies somehow proves something about *all* white feminists is mostly leaving me confused. I support my fellow PhD students she ripped into.

      • Emily Castor
        May 4, 2012

        Elizabeth (Beth), Julia, et al. Hey, Girls:

        Do I mean all white women are complicit? Um, yes. Let’s take Trayvon Martin for example–no let’s take NSR’s mention of President Barack Obama. NSR gestures that Black people are not disenfranchised because Barack Obama is Black and he’s President. OK. The one stands in for the many. Flip the script. NSR is white and now herein she stands in for the many as well. Boo-ya.

        I ain’t mad at ‘cha. Well…no, I’m not. I pity you. There is nothing in your past, present, or future that can help you translate the literal racist practices of your people into the implied and normative ideologies of the present unless you are at the center of the diatribe and you somehow reposition yourselves as the victim. What? (Imagine a white woman wearing a hoodie that says: I AM Trayvon Martin. No you not.)

        The attack has little to do with reproduction and natural childbirth as a dissertation topic. The killing of Treyvon Martin had nothing to do with his shirt. This has nothing to do with a dissertation topic. It has everything to do with some white woman feeling protected enough to slam a sista’ with a MacBook, an ABD and a fellowship.

        You know how this works out. At the end of the day–Miss Ann gon’ say you attacked her first. White women have always enjoyed the position of mediated white male power. She attacked from behind the shield of his safety.

        She attacked Black Studies and proposed that Black scholars as persons and representatives of “things” should be destroyed–erased–foreclosed. She didn’t offer an intervention. She wants us DEAD. (Swing low, sweet chariot.) What’s not clear, darlings? Ergo — She proposes that only white women are worthy of study and scholarship–and being a white woman speaking/writing — a white women still sits in the G-d space of all knowing and all powerful-ness. She is The one who decides life and death–DEATH TO BLACK STUDIES…OFF WITH THEIR HEADS. Need I say more? White Women as/is G-d? Sounds like Feminist dribble to me. “I found G-d in myself and She loved me fiercely.” Da, Da, Da, Da, Doop!

        Rewind. Unpack. What is being attacked here? Black Studies and Black scholars and Black scholarship. Agreed? Who is being attacked here? Specific Black scholars and by default all Black scholars working in “Black Studies.” Got it? What would she like to erase? She wants Black Studies departments closed and dissertation funding for anything about Black people chopped off–eviscerated. Oh, white Women–you’ve got to love ‘em…

        Silence equals complicity. White women equals — privilege. Now, what don’t you understand?

        • Elizabeth
          May 4, 2012

          More when I’m not on my phone. My name isn’t Beth.

      • Chichi
        May 4, 2012

        You are crazy girl!, a crazy delight! I cannot stop laughing, what a sweet relief from trying to write this feminist paper that is kicking my ass!

      • Italvina
        May 5, 2012

        How in God’s name is this one woman’s essay representative of white women as a group, much less white feminists? You are truly idiotic if you think it is. What does the category “white women” even mean? Are white Colombian women and Irish-Americans the same, poor white women and rich ones the same?? If this comment is as nuanced as your thinking gets, I truly hope you are not studying to get a Ph.D. Also, it is B.S. that your inane remarks have distracted from the blog post above, which was entirely on point.

      • Josie Specorelli
        May 5, 2012

        Blaming everything on white folks makes you as racist as them. Is this lady absurd? Yep. Should the Chronicle have let any of this be published? Nope. But anyone who generalizes to an entire race is racist. Period.
        It has been said that it is ok to say this one white woman obviously represents all white women because whites say racism is dead with a black president, but that’s not logical either, especially when you consider how annoying it is to be seen as the icon of your entire culture. As the author said, it is frustrating and unfair to be looked at to represent your entire race. Everyone’s an individual, everyone has an opinion. Their OWN opinion.
        At this point, class differences are as bad as those of race. It’s considered taboo to even hint that there’s such a thing as white poverty, but trying to help them is just proof that only whites are important right? Certainly not that people are important no matter what.
        Also, interesting combination of dialect and high grammar. I know you did it on purpose- this way you can be proud of your race and show off that you know where you came from, with the added bonus that anyone who mentions it just doesn’t understand and must be a racist. It’s pretty easy to read through though, and by using it, you are contributing to the idea that there are “black” and “white” ways of speaking and each tell us different things. I was raised to believe that was stupid, talk how you want, it’s all English. Using dialect to prove a point makes little sense here.

        • Emily Castor
          May 5, 2012

          The definition of racist precludes me from ever-never-ever being a racist. Amen!

        • Emily Castor
          May 5, 2012

          Josie:
          Hmmm. I called a Latina from Columbia white and she nearly lost her mind. She said there’s no such thing as a white woman from Columbia. It’s not me who lumps all white women together–society does. Don’t call names. Don’t make it personal and if I’m off track you are right behind me. If you don’t think her personal race is in effect here — I’ll just disagree. My choice. Even poor whites are under the umbrella of privilege. Have a nice day. Oh, PhD in hand, darling.

      • Jenny
        May 6, 2012

        I am a white feminist woman. I’m not snickering. I’m disgusted with this woman and her opinions that shouldn’t see the light of day. I couldn’t disagree more with her sentiments and am disturbed to be lumped into a category with her.

        I’m not a user of the phrase “those people” – in any regard. I also have serious issues with individuals who protest against those who use such perceivably derogatory terms, and then use the same terms themselves.

      • Sparrow
        May 9, 2012

        I totally sympathize with your outrage, but please don’t think that all white feminists think like that coprocephalic moron. Most of us don’t look down on others for what they choose to study. A person’s academic choices are none of anybody else’s business. (Well, except for whoever is on the dissertation committee, of course.) Black students should be interested in subjects that impact on their history and culture, just as they should be interested in any other subject – to the extent that it interests THEM. The kind of mean-spirited, racist horse puckey that Riley indulges in is just ignorant stupidity, plain and simple. The vast majority of feminists would not give her the time of day. After all, imagine what Riley would say about the kinds of dissertations that white feminists write. You think she’d be any less disdainful of a paper about white childbirth? Or one about the history of male domination in white America? I suspect she’d be just as spiteful, only instead of rolling her eyes about black “self-indulgence”, she’d be laughing at the “hairy hippies” and how they “can’t get over being left out of the prom”. That kind of mean-spirited bitchery doesn’t stop at the color line, believe me.

      • S. N. Harrell
        May 11, 2012

        Emily … THIS is my favorite thing to say (though I say it in a completely different manner)! Je t’aime for you saying this! http://tressiemc.com/2012/05/02/the-inferiority-of-blackness-as-a-subject/#comment-185

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