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Craven and Pusillanimous at the Chronicle

May 9th, 2012 - 4:58 am

The Chronicle of so-called higher education, that is.

On April 30, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a column for “Brainstorm,” the Chronicle’s blog, called “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” When I say that there was nothing new in Ms. Riley’s column, I do not mean to disparage it. No: it is a splendid piece, a public service, really. It performs exactly the same service as the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Everyone knows, though few have the temerity to say, that “Black Studies” is an awful confidence game: an exercise in racial grievance mongering utterly without scholarly merit. In this, I hasten to add, it resembles many other pseudo-disciplines invented since the late 1960s to provide a home for intellectually challenged but politically fermenting denizens of our universities: Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, Transgender Studies, etc. etc. Kingsley Amis once observed that much that was wrong with twentieth century academia could be summed up in the word “workshop.” “Studies” is the new “workshop.” Take a look at the “dissertations” Ms. Riley describes. They are cringe-making in their awfulness. Consider:

  • “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth,” by Ruth Hayes. “It began,” Riley writes,  “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.”
  •  Then there is “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s,” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. “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. . . . 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.”
  •  Riley’s pièce de la résistance is a work by La TaSha B. Levy. “Ms. Levy,” the Chronicle writes, “is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have ‘played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.’” Riley asks: “The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights? Because they believe there are some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people they are assaulting civil rights?”

And on it goes. Riley concludes with this sterling bit of advice: “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.” But of course if you subtract the racialism from such works you would be left with… nothing. That’s what they essentially are: politicized exercises in race mongering.

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