a not-all-that-persuasive case for eliminating black studies

Reading this makes me embarrassed to be a member of this universe. Here is a wonderful response. The response does not link to the original, but I think it is useful to see just how thoroughly silly, ignorant, and mean-spirited the piece is. It is deeply embarrassing for the Chronicle that such a person blogs for them.

Schaefer Riley (NSR) posts a piece entitled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” In response to obvious criticism that she didn’t even read the dissertations that she belittles and labels “hackery,” she writes,“Finally, since this is a blog about academia and not journalism, I’ll forgive the commenters for not understanding that it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them.”

She forgives the commenters? What a condescending ****. Honestly.

I’m a generous person. I accept that it is completely possible to construct a proper argument in the spirit of NSR’s piece. It is fine for the Chronicle to have a space for conservative critiques of various disciplines. It is, however, a real slur against conservatism to suggest that conservatism is what NSR is doing. She suggests that a modern history of conservative black Republicans, and their role in the attack on civil rights, is partisan “liberal hackery.” Like NSR, I haven’t read this dissertation, but I doubt it could be as liberally partisan as the suggestion NSR’s silliness is a serious representation of conservative thought.

Her only defense is that this is just a “500-word piece.” It is not worth actually reading these dissertations. It is not worth making an actual argument. This is, however, what is offensive about her post. Given 500 words, without a reading any of this work, or showing any understanding of why people do historical research of any sort in the first place, she feels really comfortable saying that Black Studies should be eliminated.

The silver lining is that the three scholars she singles out (La TaSha B. Levy, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Ruth Hayes) for belittling, actually have really interesting dissertation topics. If there is any shred of truth to NSR’s piece, it is that it is easy to make fun of a discipline by cherry picking some silly dissertations. Part of this is just the nature of academic research. Outside of a context, it is usually difficult to evaluate the value of research. This is true in the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. Given the easy task of finding a few dissertations that sound frivolous taken out of context, NSR screws it up with three great topics.

Here is NSR belittling* Taylor:

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 is an excellent example of the stupidity-evil problem. Ideally we would engage in debate by challenging the assumptions or logic of a person’s argument, but this is pure provocation from NSR. It is either ignorance or dishonesty. The number of white people who went into foreclosure has no relevance to the point being made. If NSR honestly reads “the profitability of racism” as “only black people went into foreclosure” she simply does not know how to read. There is no way around it. The only defense against such stupidity is dishonesty. (And I think being dishonest to obfuscate oppression is evil.) She possesses the ability to comprehend English but chooses not to. I suppose the subsequent defense would be that it is not a conscious choice – she simply can not read about the history of race without getting all worked up and defensive – BUT THE PRESIDENT IS BLACK! (She actually resorts to that one point!)

I’m aware of the existence of people whose otherwise significant intellectual abilities seize once they read something about race. I’m not sure why anyone would want to know their opinions on Black Studies.


* I keep using the term “belittling” because that is what she is doing. It is not critique.

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