Archive for academic
The academic and policy worlds have been roiled by last week’s announcement that a Heritage Foundation study on the cost of immigration reform was co-authored by Jason Richwine, who wrote a dissertation on the purported low IQ of immigrants. It beyond belief that, in the year 2013, there are still some that want to posit that there is a genetic basis for race. Even more surprisingly, these arguments come endorsed with a seal of approval by some of the nation’s top universities, like Harvard in this case. As an alumnus of the Kennedy School and a scholar of race and Hispanic identity, I feel obliged to provide a response.
Having spent last week with some of the world’s premier scholars of race at a workshop on “Reconsidering Race” at Texas A&M University, in which we examined the interface of social science and genetics/genomics and health, I am stunned by the lack of rigor and intellectual depth evinced by Richwine’s dissertation. The work makes extremely simplistic assumptions about “race,” immigration, and the link between IQ and genetics. Even a neophyte in matters of genetics/genomics can see the gaping holes in Richwine’s logic. One would have expected his advisors, Professors George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jencks to have been more cognizant of the complex nature of terms such as “race”, “Hispanic,” and “white,” as well as their tenuous links to genetics (assuming they actually read the dissertation). Richwine claimed in his Harvard dissertation that “the material environment and genes probably make the greatest contributions to IQ differences” (p. 4) and that “today’s immigrants are not as intelligent on average as white natives” (p. 134).
There are three basic points that have to be made to remind these scholars that such shoddy work should not easily pass at the doctoral level– or any level for that matter. One is the basic idea that “Hispanics” can be of any race (a concept that Richwine references in passing in his dissertation), so that it is not possible to simply oppose “Hispanic” and “white” as if they were mutually exclusive categories (a dichotomy that is crucial to his argument). In fact, Pope Francis is Hispanic; so is Rigoberta Menchu. The term is a politically- and socially-constructed category that has been shaped through historical ties between the US, Latin America, and the Iberian peninsula. There is nothing inherent, natural, or ‘genetic’ in the category of “Hispanic.” There are many people of European ancestry in Latin America, but there are also many of Amerindian origins, African descent, and a vast majority whose origins are a mix of ethnicities, including East Asian, Jewish, Arab, and practically every other group in the world (I myself, for example, am of Aymara, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese origin).
The primitive binary taxonomy of “black vs. white” (emanating from the US one-drop rule) that has somehow become transformed into a spurious “white vs. non-white” Manichean logic is untenable. Not only has racial admixture always been the case (since, as work by Nell Irvin Painter reminds us, there were many ‘white races’ — not just one– at previous historical times), but ‘racial’ mixing has become even more prevalent even in the US in the last five decades as a result of the rapid rise of non-European migration. Even for those who consider “Hispanic” a race, the understanding of this term is cultural and historical, not genetic (for example, in the ideas of the eminent Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos). Race is not a dichotomous variable. The Latin American experience shows us this, and the US would do well to heed that lesson to break down its dualistic racial paradigm.
The second point to be made is that the genetics and genomics revolution of the last two decades or so does have implications for what we understand as ‘race,’ but not in the way that people like Richwine want to argue. Our workshop examined the idea of ‘race’ in light of recent genetics and genomic research in order to see whether it has consequences for our conceptualization of ‘racial’ identities and categories, and also for policies related to health disparities. These are complex and as of yet unresolved questions, but they certainly do not buttress the idea that there are such things as natural entities called ‘’races’’ and that they are rooted in genetic grounds. Recent research shows that humans share about 97% of the same genetic material with orangutans (an animal beloved by visitors to this blog). It also tells us that orangutans are more genetically diverse among themselves than are humans. In other words, people are more alike, across regional populations, than we are different.
And even within the small areas of difference, no evidence exists that such differences make for strictly separate human categories that are essentially discrete. It may be true that some populations share some genetic markers among themselves more than with others, but these differences are minimal. As epidemiologist Jay Kaufman of McGill has argued, the more we learn about the human genome, the closer we are to individuated genetic understanding, not to the construction of broad, essentially-unchangeable human groups. Richwine’s error is to think that IQ is a stable phenotype that reflects universal intelligence. Yes, we should take the genomics revolution as a challenge to simple social-constructivist views of race, but we cannot make the error of thinking that it validates a reification of the complex sociopolitical categories that we call ‘races.’
The last point is that the rudimentary statistical analysis of the kind that Richwine carried out ignores the important interface between social realities and genetics. Besides the problems noted above, we can underscore that even IQ test results are culturally-shaped, and not some measure of a primordial, biological mental ability. Rather, they reflect the intertwining of some aspects of mental capacity with education, life experiences, socioeconomic status, and other contingent contexts. They are not measures of pure intelligence (a dubious concept as well). What we ought to be advocating is not some sort of eugenics-based retrograde Nativist policy that reminds us of the 19th century, but improved educational access for all, and a fair, uniform immigration policy that minimizes discrimination, not enhances it.
It is both morally and intellectually disingenuous to propose what Borjas et al. have been advocating for years now. To claim to favor more immigration of those with “higher IQ’s” or more human capital flies in the face of the fact that low-human capital immigrants contribute profoundly to US economic growth due to their low wages in key industries such as construction, agriculture, and also the service sector. In manufacturing, Hispanics are underpaid relative to their economic value, as sociologist Arthur Sakamoto has shown. Ethically, it is unacceptable for a modern liberal-democratic state to promote high-IQ selectivity in immigration, for this policy advocates unequal treatment rather than uniform standards for all (in this light, Canadian immigration policy, which makes distinctions based on human capital, may be suspect as well, owing to the brain drain that it induces in poorer nations).
As educators, we have a special responsibility to provide non-superficial answers to complex questions. The idea of race is a fraught one. As the Kennedy School is my alma mater, I must say that it is time that policy questions not be treated as merely quantitative or mechanical issues. Public policy schools must also provide coursework that deepens analyses, no thins them down. “Race” is a concept that involves normative, political, historical, cultural, economic, and social forces in a complex interplay. It cannot be bandied about willy-nilly with no sensitivity to them. This idea applies to all racial categories, but it is perhaps most salient for the term “Hispanic,” owing to the rich diversity of ethnic origins that have gone into its making over a long historical period. It is befuddling that no one on Richwine’s committee seems to have been aware of this (in particular Jencks, who has written on these issues in the past).
It is time for antediluvian academics to step aside and give more space to the new generations of scholars that are able to engage in a critique of the all-too-dominant idea that race is merely a social construct but without falling into an antiquated racial essentialism. It is time for a real national dialogue on race that will start new conversations. Our classrooms are a good place to begin these discussions.
Diego A. von Vacano is Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University and author of The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity and Hispanic/Latin American Political Thought (Oxford UP) and is writing a new book on immigrant identities.
White racism today remains “‘normal’” and deeply imbedded in most historically white institutions. Every such institution is still substantially whitewashed in its important norms, rules, and arrangements…it seems likely that a majority of whites cannot see just how whitewashed their historically white organizations and institutions really are.
The editorial piece discusses a recent submission from guest contributor of The Daily Princetonian and Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, who controversially declared that the women of Princeton should, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” She goes on to say:
I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless… As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Oh no, she didn’t!! Sorry, I was channeling a number of high school students I work with. But nonetheless, apparently from the slings and arrows she received for publishing her essay, Susan forgot the first two rules of the Ivy League:
1st RULE: You do not talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
Douthat noted many of her ideological opponents deem her as a turncoat to feminism. Her betrayal of acknowledging a truth, which Douthat feels many who attend Ivy League institutions are conscious of, is Patton’s biggest crime. A truth that encompasses the ideas that these places of highly manicured lawns and pristine historically well-kept buildings are focused not only on the pursuit of academic excellence, but also the charge of preserving racial entitlement while safeguarding the advantages accrued over generations in order to be safely transmitted to the next.
Even though these institutions over the decades have visibly discussed racial diversity and applied a dash of the finest cosmetic makeup to cover their blemished pale skin, Ivy League schools continue to be, as Feagin states, “whitewashed.” The quest for meritocracy continues within the 21st century. The current mode of protecting white interests, access to power, and purifying the elite is constant in country that attempts to convince its people that they are living in a post racial society. Albert Memmi understood this mechanism of racial supremacy when he stated,
racists are people who are afraid…generally it is because one wishes to obtain or defend something of value…the necessity to defend an individual identity and a collective identity, against all who come from elsewhere and don’t belong, is in operation.
This is not a declaration that all who attend these settings are racist per se, but the institution itself and those that practice the dark arts of the white racial frame, are definitely protecting historically privileged White placement on a hierarchy while simultaneously dispensing unequal treatment for a marginalized people. Its systems do not freely and equally entitle Blacks and Latinos to the same resources, power, and empathy as predetermined for the privileged placement of Whites. This is definitely illustrated within their modest number of students and faculty of color.
But then again, what do I know. I was poor and attended a state school.
The archived video(s) of An Exploration of Whiteness and Health A Roundtable Discussion
is available beginning here (updated 12/16/12):
The examination of whiteness in the scholarly literature is well established (Fine et al., 1997; Frankenberg, 1993; Hughey, 2010; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Whiteness, like other racial categories, is socially constructed and actively maintained through the social boundaries by, for example, defining who is white and is not white (Allen, 1994; Daniels, 1997; Roediger, 2007; Wray, 2006). The seeming invisibility of whiteness is one of its’ central mechanisms because it allows those within the category white to think of themselves as simply human, individual and without race, while Others are racialized (Dyer, 1998). We know that whiteness shapes housing (Low, 2009), education (Leonardo, 2009), politics (Feagin, 2012), law (Lopez, 2006), research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008) and indeed, frames much of our misapprehension of society (Feagin, 2010; Lipsitz, 1998). Still, we understand little of how whiteness and health are connected. Being socially assigned as white is associated with large and statistically significant advantages in health status (Jones et al., 2008). Anderson’s ground breaking book The Cultivation of Whiteness (2006) offers an exhaustive examination of the way whiteness was deployed as a scientific and medical category in Australia though to the second world war. Yet, there is relatively little beyond this that explores the myriad connections between whiteness and health (Daniels and Schulz, 2006; Daniels, 2012; Katz Rothman, 2001). References listed here.
The Whiteness & Health Roundtable is an afternoon conversation with scholars and activists doing work on this area.
The roundtable is sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) and the Critical Social & Environmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center CUNY. The event is hosted by Michelle Fine (Distinguished Professor, Social Psychology, Women’s Studies and Urban Education), Jessie Daniels (Professor, Urban Public Health and Sociology) and Rachel Liebert, (PhD Student, Critical Social/Personality Psychology).
The Obama administration just submitted their amicus brief in regard to the Fisher v. University of Texas (Austin) affirmative action case, which our substantially conservative Supreme Court has decided to hear in the fall.
The brief is indeed fairly brief and mostly sticks to fairly narrow affirmative action arguments based largely in the language and logic of the University of Michigan Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) Supreme Court decision and a few related decisions, such as by arguing that the University of Texas (UT) remedial admissions plan tried unsuccessfully other admissions approaches first, only uses “race” as one variable among several “diversity” variables, is limited in time (reviewed every five years), and has had a modest but good effect in improving UT campus diversity. The brief lays out these conditions and the Grutter perspective allowing “race” as on variable among many pretty well, as a historically rather mainstream and white-centrist position on these university affirmative action issues.
The central arguments, and main rationale, of this brief use common but tepid “diversity” language and cite various important legal cases and agency/research studies (see here for one other study) to back up the argument that diversity helps (especially white, but they don’t use the word in that context) people adjust to and work with (including in the military and business) people who are different from them. The brief is generally cast in that more modest “diversity is important to student careers and success in the ‘real world’” rationale for adding some (modest, actually) “race” diversity to the student body.
What is not here in the rather timid Obama administration brief is rather striking. The brief never uses the word “racism,” nor does it directly reference the fact that UT was for many decades a prominent Jim-Crowed university. It still was firmly segregated, like all historically white southern universities, when I attended college in Texas in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, UT’s football coach then famously said he would not have an “N-word” on his football team, one of the last teams in the old southwest athletic conference to be racially desegregated. That prominent view of the coach was well-known in Texas’s black communities and indeed alienated many black parents and students from considering going to UT. I know that from personal efforts when I was a UT faculty member trying to recruit black students to this university in the 1970s and 1980s. Relatively few black students went to UT until the 1970s.
None of this long and extreme racist segregation background is noted in the administration’s brief, and the very high level of racial segregation still obvious in Texas high schools, from which UT draws most of its students, is only noted briefly and is not analyzed as to why that racial segregation was created or still persists.
Striking in this connection, too, is that there is no mention of the numerous white policymakers who historically and openly created (even into the 1960s), and still often create or maintain less blatantly, the state’s segregated high schools. White elite decisionmakers are only implicit in this brief, as they are in almost all discussions of U.S. systemic-racism issues. Clearly, the authors were afraid to call out and assess frontally the white racism that is foundational and systemic for Texas’s educational system, as elsewhere in the U.S. educational system.
Even the word “white” appears just four times in the document, once in reference to the plaintiff’s identity and only in vague passing comments for the other three cases. The reality of whiteness and white private in connection with such university cases, especially in the South, is nowhere addressed.
A major underlying structural and systemic issue ignored in this brief is the white-created system of Jim Crow racial segregation that dominated the state’s educational system from not long after its establishment by Reconstruction era state constitutions in the 1860s (ironically, shaped significantly by white and black “radical Republicans” then) for nearly a century, indeed until the mid- to late-1960s. The many impacts of that educational Jim Crow and other Jim Crow oppression cannot be undone by even more aggressive “affirmative” action than this modest plan of UT. That is especially true because a great many whites abandoned the public high schools as a reaction to the end of legal segregation. Whites have set up private overwhelmingly or completely white high schools across Texas, from the 1960s to the present, to avoid contacts with black (often Latinos too) students, and thus have usually destroyed much of the economic support and viability of all but the most well-funded public schools, and those mostly in white suburban areas of Texas cities.
The brief goes just as far as it had to go with its “diversity is essential” perspective in order to support the rather modest UT affirmative action program, and does that pretty well. Only a non-centrist, far-right white perspective would find the brief’s main arguments and this modest UT affirmative action program in admission really objectionable. It is but a very modest first step in the large scale change necessary for real and meaningful diversity in higher education.
At UW Today, a University of Washington publication, Molly McElroy recently published a summary of research by Anthony Greenwald at the University of Washington with some other psychological researchers. The title of her article is “Unconscious racial attitudes playing large role in 2012 presidential vote.”
McElroy summarizes their current and earlier research:
In a study done just prior to the 2008 presidential election, Greenwald and colleagues found that race attitudes played a role in predicting votes for the Republican candidate John McCain.
They used the implicit association test (IAT), which we have discussed a bit previously here. One version of the IAT has respondents match white and black faces to desirable and undesirable words, and the speed/difficulty in matching in used to judge “implicit” or “unconscious racial bias.”
Most recently, during the 2012 Republican primaries they collected online data from nearly 15,000 voters, and have found that the intensity of white preference on a version of the IAT (and other measures) links to conservative political preferences:
Greenwald asked survey-takers about their political beliefs, how “warmly” they felt toward black and white people, and which presidential contender they preferred. Because the survey was conducted in the first four months of 2012, it included the five main Republican hopefuls – Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum – as well as Obama.
. . . . Greenwald found that favoritism for Republican candidates was predicted by respondents’ racial attitudes, both their self-reported views and their implicit biases measured by the IAT. Greenwald emphasized that the study’s finding that some candidates are more attractive to voters with pro-white racial attitudes does not mean that those candidates are racist.
An odd comment that last one. Such preferences for whiteness over blackness are of course “racist” if one means by that term thinking and operating out of a conventional white-racist framing of U.S. society. And the Republican candidates themselves certainly did a good bit of that white racial framing over the primaries.
The journalist McElroy, and apparently some of the researchers, seem a bit surprised that President Barack Obama’s election did not reduce this white racial preference for whites. But such negative results will not be surprising to the social scientists who write for this blog, or for most of our social science and other readers, as much social science and other data beyond the IAT research articles would lead one to expect such findings.
Greenwald is cited as explaining the continuing “racial bias” among white voters in regard to President Obama with this interesting explanation:
[Greenwald] suspects that Obama’s power as president in 2012, compared with his lesser status as candidate in 2008, may have “brought out race-based antagonism that had less reason to be activated in 2008.”
That is, whites with strong racial biases directed at black Americans may be even more disturbed now that a black man has great power as president. I suspect he is right about that, as our extensive data on the racist attacks on Obama inside and outside the Republican Party in our book, Yes We Can?: White Racial Framing and the 2008 Presidential Election demonstrate. (I also develop a broad argument about a centuries-old link of U.S. politics to white racism in its many forms in a new Routledge (2012) book, White Party, White Government: Race Class and U.S. Politics.)
One major limitation of the typical psychological interpretations of the IAT research findings is that these otherwise creative social psychologists are handicapped by old and very limiting concepts like “bias” and “racial prejudice.” Such white racial views and attitudes are only a small part of the broad white racial frame that has been drilled into almost all American heads, of whites and others, now for centuries. That dominant white racial frame includes these racial biases but also racial stereotyping, racial narratives, racialized emotions, racial images, and inclinations to discriminate. The problem is the hoary and dominant white framing, the dominant white worldview, not just some racial bias.
In addition, IAT results showing that even relatively “egalitarian” whites still exhibit “unconscious racial bias” is much better explained as these whites revealing significant elements of a deep white racial framing—-a framing that allows more liberal whites to truly believe they are colorblind even as they still see the world very much through elements of a white racial framing of society generated in their minds from cradle to grave. Without major deframing, reframing, and counter-framing — especially in a true liberty and justice direction — the old white racial frame still dominates the landscape of white minds and the minds of many others.
Last week, we were reminded again of the false construct of a post-racial society when Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a vitriolic and careless article in The Chronicle of Higher Education maligning three Black studies graduate students at Northwestern University, their professors, and the entire area of study. In her piece, she openly sneered at each woman’s dissertation (none of which she had read) and basically characterized their work as useless, “irrelevant,” outdated, and predicated upon victimization.
Already, responses have been generated by the NU students as well as the faculty. A Chronicle editor has also responded with a rather weak defense of Riley’s blog, claiming that, “It is a blog for opinion . . . not news reporting by the staff.” Besides the feelings of intense rage and sadness I felt over Riley publicly defaming these scholars at the beginning of their careers, I had another overwhelming feeling.
It is simply exhausting to fight those who have no awareness of the presence and manifestation of their own White privilege. It is the additional energy that Blacks must expend particularly when they dare to trespass through areas perceived as “White terrain” (Feagin 1991) which academia most certainly is.
Riley’s piece exposed the White privilege that Peggy McIntosh spoke of long ago in her 1988 landmark essay. In it, McIntosh includes a laundry list of nearly 50 invisible privileges conferred to her at birth simply by virtue of being born White. Based on Riley’s piece and her equally as sarcastic and misguided non-apology, we could adapt and add to some of McIntosh’s original items, because through Riley’s pieces, we’ve learned White privilege also includes:
1) The ability to make pronouncements and declarations on which dissertation topics constitute “legitimate debate” and who is a “legitimate scholar” based on precious few sentences about the work in question.
2) The privilege to substitute snark for responsible research and have it published in the leading publication on higher education without the editors challenging its integrity and in fact defending its inclusion as merely “an opportunity– to debate.”
3) The privilege to stunt the spirit of academic inquiry and intellectual curiosity simply because a research topic pertains to Blackness.
4) The privilege to pretend all is well where race relations are concerned and that if there are racial disparities or tensions, it’s because people of color caused them. [FYI: Ms. Riley, any of Tim Wise's books, or Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's Racism without Racists (2009), or Joe Feagin's recent White Racial Frame (2010) can help you with this one.]
5) The ability to attack any Black person at any time and particularly those who have achieved scholar status because they threaten White hegemony.
And so, because Ms. Riley decided to wield these elements of her privilege like a weapon, we are stuck defending ourselves and expending the energy to respond.
Essentially, what she told the NU students is: You do not belong. It’s a message sent to Blacks whether they are doctoral students at a leading research university, student-athletes on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, or a child walking around a White neighborhood armed only with an iced tea and Skittles. And yes, Ms. Riley, even President Obama is regularly told he doesn’t belong when he’s the only president who’s been called a “liar” in a televised address before a joint session of Congress or who has to prove citizenship over and over again like a freed slave showing manumission papers.
Fortunately, as Black folks, we have learned to multi-task—to resist our oppression and defend ourselves and our labor even as we go about our research, teaching, and daily lives. Yet, the fact that we must do both speaks to the very nature of the racial inequality Naomi Schaefer Riley claims has all but disappeared.
There have been a lot of nasty-ass rumors embraced by philosophers and your run of the mill academicians surrounding the material substantiations of time as “histories,” and the meta-physical “flow of time,” as linear continuum towards progress and development. It is assumed without provocation that the variety of “histories” offered by racialized oppressed peoples enclosed within [H]istory—understood as a universal account of white civilization—emerges as continuities that further the evolution of not only our American society, but the edifice of the West. In short, we are told to believe that the multiple histories that now emerge at this moment are in fact the inevitable result of the genius of the Dialectical Hemi-(spherical engine) driving the expression of multiple subjectivities. But time need not revolve around such a mythical perspective; a perspective that demands from colonized people that they cherish their past enslavement and historical debasement by racism, and accept that their contemporary suffering, their present dehumanization, and their ongoing exploitation by the political economics of the university, blessed them with the post-colonial discourses to be shared with a now attentive white audience waiting to take stock of their critiques. The dominant schema of America’s liberal democratic order suggests that history be read and time be gauged by the falling away of the organized oppressive structures of the past, where the present is known by the remnants the last fading vestiges of racism, and the future will be identified by the absence of the barriers and attitudes of the past and present filled with only enlightened white folks who are adamantly against racism. This progressive teleology—the idea solidified by integration which suggests racism and the political economics of white supremacy will simply disappear over time—is the largely accepted political dogma of not only our social life, but the unquestioned paradigm of our academic lives as well.
As a function of its unique specialization, academic education determines for us what figures and categories are synonymous with knowledge. As such, even the most creative scholar who aims to be “radical,” forges their weapons from the formal templates of criticality outlined within disciplinarity, where the newly acquired linguistic armaments of race, class, and gender do little more than justify the revisions made to already bourgeois Black women’s thought like Anna Julia Cooper so that they may be copyrighted as canonical figures and made into Black feminists who truly supported the pluralist democratic ethos realized by America’s civil rights era. While intersectionality, popularly referred to the study of “Race, Class, and Gender,” what I have called the “trinity of bulls**t,” in previous writings, remain the three stooges of any inquiry into racist oppression, this rhetorical trope does little to tell the reader anything about the actual methods and/or concepts needed to understand the complicated nexus between racism, political economics and sexual exploitation.
It only contends that we should make “discursive space” to hear from the subjects many have agreed to believe come to embody this allusive trinity. As Peter Kwan has argued in a series of articles entitled “Jeffery Dahmer and the Cosynthesis of Categories,”“Complicity and Complexity: Cosynthesis and Praxis,” and “After Intersectionality,” intersectionality (specifically the idea of race and gender) has been used primarily as a tool to center an identity politics that justifies defining race and gender as Black women, rather than on the systemic dynamics of racist sexual exploitation. In short, the rhetorical tropes of race, class, and gender are thought to be evidence of something like rigor and interdisciplinarity, but in reality they announce categories that disciplinary consensus has decided are represented by specific antebellum women authors compatible with integrationism, feminism, and the revisions to and selective reading of their thought along these lines.
Similarly, I have argued in previous works like “Concerning the Under-specialization of Race Theory in American Philosophy: How the Exclusion of Black Sources Affects the Field,” that disciplines reward scholarship dealing with race that abide by the correct ethics of disdain,—
those ethics that outline the proper rules of engaging racism and colonial oppression—so that the resulting engagements of non-European peoples against their oppression can qualify as philosophy is of the utmost concern(Curry 2010, p.50).
These ethics de-radicalize analyses of racism, because an actual investigation into racism in the discipline of philosophy would begin with institutional criticisms that attack the organizational integrity of philosophical organizations like the American Philosophy Association (APA), the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP), and the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP), the largely white philosophy departments with histories of racial discrimination, and the work of white philosophers contributing to the erasure of Black, Latin American, and Indigenous peoples in an effort to solidify white thinkers authority on racism and colonialism over and against the reading of authors who are part of the groups that actually suffered under oppression. In philosophy, this is largely done by explaining away the racism of white scholars like John Dewey (who supported segregated education, assimilation, and the naturalness of racial antipathy) and Josiah Royce (who advocated the United States take up the “white man’s burden,” and British colonial administration in the South) , and revising the theories of European thinkers like Immanuel Kant (a figure Emmanuel Eze demonstrated was not only racist, but responsible for racial taxonomy), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (who supported slavery and argued Africans were outside of history and civilization) and Michel Foucault (who not only steals his analysis of prisons from the Black Panthers, but dismisses the persistence of racism based on skin color), so that what the discipline says counts as their (now revised and inclusive) “non-racist ideas,” amounting to little more than proclamations that Americans should strive toward democratic progress, and that (white) individuals are moral and rational, take priority over the highly developed racist associations (think Josiah Royce’s idolization of Joseph LeConte), anthropologies (think of Kant’s founding of physical geography and pragmatic anthropology), and actual thoughts of these historic white thinkers. Failure to abide by this disciplinary etiquette results in being labeled as “ideological,” “political,” and “anachronistic”—a nasty ad hominem intended to suggest that the scholar in question has no grasp of history despite the deliberate ahistorical nature of reading American and European authors of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century as being in line with sixties’ brand Kingian integrationism.
These aforementioned propagandas are meant to deter the young Black philosopher from questioning the institutional legitimacy of philosophy’s disciplinarity. The initial strategy pursued by many departments is usually positive and involves offering the young Black philosopher evidence of inclusion and progress in the field. This is usually done by showing the Black graduate student/s that the department either has people who write on W.E.B. DuBois and/or Frantz Fanon or people who are sympathetic to these authors’ work. This is usually combined with introducing the student/s to one or more of the Black philosophers who comprise less than 1% of the discipline in an effort to show the student that there are people who look like them doing work in philosophy. Mind you, very rarely are these gestures followed with actual curricula changes, like classes and/or dissertation support aiming to cultivate a comprehensive specialization in DuBois and Fanon equal to that of white figures like Kant, Hegel, or Dewey, or followed by the hiring of Black faculty (even in the cases with one professor—it is usually just that one expected to teach all of Africana philosophy and European traditions as well) with specializations on these figures once the deficiency in Africana philosophy is recognized. As dissatisfaction grows with the inculcated chimeras of pluralism and diversity in philosophy, the Black graduate student is warned that their “growing anger,” and “radicality,” not only threatens their careers, but their matriculation. This repressive apparatus (the doctorate) is used to wed the Black philosopher to their duty as a philosophical thinker on race—which is to gradually change (by moral appeal) how whites think about Blacks. In other words, the Black philosopher is recognized not as race theorist, but racial therapist by sanction.
Perhaps the direst consequence of philosophy’s racism on the Black mind is the Black philosopher’s obsessive hope in the redemptive character of white innocence; or what Joe Feagin has described in our conversations as “white virtue.” Because racism is understood to be a “mistaken idea” held by ignorance, academic philosophy maintains that Black philosophers arguing with and talking to whites, even dead whites through their scholarship, uncovers the virtuous purity and innocence of white reason. Accepting that whites can and have changed as a result of integration and the desegregation of the academy is made into a professional prerequisite. Almost a decade before Derrick Bell introduced what would come to be known as his racial realist thesis, Robert F. Williams, author of Negroes with Guns, argued in that work that:
The stranglehold of oppression cannot be loosened by a plea to the oppressor’s conscience… We have come to comprehend the nature of racism. It is a mass psychosis…the logical inventions of a thoroughly diseased mind. The racist is a man crazed by hysteria at the idea of coming into equal human contact with Negroes. And this mass mental illness called racism is very much a part of the “American way of life (p.110-111).
A rigorous study of American racism marks history through the endurance of epochs, not differences between generations, where the conscious realization of America’s history of slavery, Jim Crow and domestic colonization stems from the civilizational motif solidified by the teleological continuity of empire, not the idealized hope that white colonizers instilled in their progeny the ideas to overthrow their own economic, political, and military superiority over the world. In other words, the descendants of whites carry with them the aspirations for, not the aversion to, the legacies of their colonial parents.
Part two. (Recall that along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable; at each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is part of a reflection on my experience.)
Many of my students in the Bronx sleep with multiple generations of their family in the same room at night. Many at 11 years old have had to assume responsibilities that most at Middlebury are years away from having to worry about. Many cannot turn to family for assistance with homework because their parents come home too late after their second or third “menial” job. Some barely have time to think of homework at all when they come home burned out from work themselves. One student told me that after school she works five hours straight on her feet at McDonalds, dealing with perpetually rude customers for $7.20 an hour.
When students walk into the classroom they are blamed by teachers for “trying” to fail instead of empowered to challenge a society that has failed them: “At a certain point the teacher has done all we can do, it is not our fault, but yours. Going to summer school was not a badge of honor when I went to school, but maybe it is here.”
Who wants to engage in school when your community is disproportionately affected by social ills that your education does not prepare you to respond to? Who wants to learn when the curriculum fails to recognize your history and culture?
Louis Michael Seidman argues that Brown v. Board of Education did not radically change the face of education, but rather served to legitimate current arrangements: “True, many blacks remained poor and disempowered. But their status was no longer a result of the denial of equality. Instead, it marked a personal failure to take advantage of one’s definitionally equal status.” We must challenge this racist individual ideology that allows me to “deserve” to get to Middlebury and my students in the Bronx to “deserve” to fail.