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Posts by John L. Jackson Jr.

October 11, 2010, 01:32 PM ET

Lies Your Dissertation Committee Told You

The "market" appears to be looking a little better this year than it did last October, at least in some of the disciplines/fields that I know best, including Anthropology, Africana Studies, and Communication, the domains in which several of my graduate students are (or will be) job hunting. I recently had a newly minted Ph.D. come into my office with a list of more than 35 advertised positions (postdocs and tenure-track offerings) that he will be applying for over the next three months. Putting aside the question of how any of this recommendation-writing (for 30-plus applications) is even possible without the help of Interfolio (and ignoring the debate about whether or not students are disadvantaged when their rec-writers opt for what sometimes feels like the academic equivalent of a glorified form letter), I was more struck by the kinds of wildly discrepant advice this young scholar... Read More

September 16, 2010, 02:13 PM ET

Seriously, Who Cares?

I know that there are always "so what?" stories that pass for "Breaking News" or front-page headlines, but this week seems particularly bad on that front. Here are three of the current non-stories that I refuse to follow:

1) Those NRC Rankings: I've just gotten word (via emails from several different colleagues) that the National Research Council is finally about to release its too-long-awaited departmental rankings. I think that they are providing limited access next week and making the information "public" the following week. Some people aren't quite sure how valuable such a ranking would have been four or five years ago (when the data was collected), but I fear that only historians will find the information useful at this point.

2) The Book-Burning Pastor's Latest Claims: I barely followed this non-story before 9/11, even with the insensitive threat of burned Holy Books hanging in...

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September 3, 2010, 02:57 PM ET

The Best TV Is Bad TV

I missed the Emmy Awards earlier this week. I barely knew they were happening, and I didn't really care, even though I'm a big TV watcher and this year's broadcast actually attracted many more viewers than the show has in recent years.

I rarely make a big ritual out of watching any of the annual award ceremonies. I'm a filmmaker and a film fanatic, but there are many years when I even have to build up the energy to watch the Oscars. But I was particularly disinterested in the Emmy broadcast this year, and glancing at the nominees and the winners, I realize why: I don't watch those shows. I watch "bad TV."

That wasn't always the case. There used to be a time when "my shows" were the critically-acclaimed ones: The Wire, The Sopranos, 24, The West Wing, The X-Files, Sex and the City. They had relatively large audiences, and they won all the awards. But even after any of those shows lost...

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August 23, 2010, 01:35 AM ET

No Race Talk for a Month

Race Cardologists (those pundits who disparage others for unscrupulously leading with "the race card" whenever they play the game of American cultural politics) have been howling extra loudly these days, declaiming Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration and Obama himself and the liberal media (and ostensibly anybody else who deigns to see race/racism at all, ever) for crying (racial) wolf.

Obama was supposed to move us beyond race, the argument goes, but he's only made us more racially polarized. If minorities (and the guilt-ridden white liberals who indulge them) would just stop trafficking in race-based victimization, they might be able to see that racism is the least of anybody's problems.

There are many versions of this kind of would-be post-racialism, versions to be found on both ends of the political spectrum.

I remember when a group of graduate students, myself...

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August 2, 2010, 01:00 AM ET

Opting Out

Since early May, I've heard three different stories about tenured faculty members, relatively young tenured faculty members (two from liberal-arts colleges and one from a research university), who have recently decided to leave the academy. They've walked away from their respective institutions, from their lifetime gigs, in order to embark on something completely different.

These scholars (in the humanities and the social sciences) safely cleared that defining promotional hurdle and grabbed the golden chalice of lifelong jobdom, nothing to sneeze at, as we all know, especially in the context of nonstop news headlines about growing economic/occupational insecurity. It would seem like now is the worst time to forsake tenure for the uncertainties of a volatile job market. But these scholars have a hankering for something else. Or they have simply decided that the trade-offs are too high:...

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July 16, 2010, 07:59 AM ET

The R-Word (Again)

The R-word in question is racism. Everyone's throwing it around these days, but very few people seem to agree on what it means.

The NAACP recently asked Tea Party leaders to repudiate the movement's racist members, to stop displaying "continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements."

Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express responded by describing the NAACP's  antiquated use of the word "colored" (in its name) as racist and declaring that the storied Civil Rights organization makes "more money off of race than any slave trader" ever did.

Other right-wingers simply dismiss the NAACP's accusation of racism as racist, the socio-political equivalent of saying "I'm rubber; you're glue. Everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."

Via tweet, Sarah Palin called the NAACP's very charge "appalling."

In other racial news, Jesse Jackson is still being clowned and condemned for...

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June 9, 2010, 05:10 PM ET

'White Guilt' and the Revolution

Is "white guilt" really real? Slavoj Žižek thinks so. 

The Slovenian political philosopher (once dubbed "the most dangerous philosopher in the West" by the New Republic and "the Elvis of cultural theory" by The Chronicle of Higher Education) has written a communist manifesto, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, challenging contemporary interpretations of 9/11 and of the global financial meltdown of 2008. I won't try to capture all the nuances of that ambitious and provocative work, but I will give you my version of its punch line: that only what Žižek calls "a dictatorship of the proletariat" can make up for the limitations and constitutive exclusions that inescapably define capitalism (and liberalism and socialism) in all of their various guises.

Far from being a threat to capitalism's undeniable ubiquity and unchallenged global hegemony (as some Leftists attempt to interpret things)...

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May 24, 2010, 09:00 AM ET

The Graduate-School Lottery

"How about just putting names in a hat and just picking one?"

A friend, Theresa, and I were comparing war stories about the graduate application process, and she offered up this witty solution. Indeed, we weren't actually "comparing" stories, not really. I was simply relaying frustrations that have been voiced by some of my friends and colleagues forced to choose as few as two graduate students (sometimes even just one) from among hundreds of prospectives.

This isn't about finding a needle in a haystack, the one gem that objectively shines brighter than all the rest. It can feel more like throwing a dart at a far away dartboard and then subsequently drawing a bullseye around it.

Of course, others have lamented the seemingly arbitrary criteria that sometimes separate some great grad-school candidates from other great ones. That's why I always tell my undergraduates not to take such...

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May 6, 2010, 04:00 PM ET

Race, Genetics, and Harvard Law School

Is it reasonable to simply ponder the "possibility," ever so idly and hypothetically, that bad genes might explain African-American underachievement? It is a an old and many-told tale, I know, but it just got a fresh re-telling at Harvard Law School this month.

A Harvard Law student recently apologized for comments she emailed to friends and colleagues following what sounds like an intriguing and heated dinner-time discussion about affirmative action. After first expressing concern that some of her earlier comments during that aforementioned dinner were misconstrued as politically correct, the student attempted to clarify her take on the matter.

"I absolutely do not rule out the possibility," she wrote, "that African-Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent." Claiming that sound research could convince her otherwise, she seemed intent on dispelling any ...

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April 13, 2010, 03:14 PM ET

Just Bad Writing

At 11:14am this morning, wgeurin wrote the following in a comment to my previous blog post:

"The piece is so horribly written that into the second paragraph I was thinking it was a deliberate satire to show how bad some writing could be. Then I realized it was just bad writing."

intered added, much less dismissively, the following:

"Thank you, Mr. Jackson. I do not intend to be impolite with respect to the writing. I enjoy reading what you have to say. However, it is also impolite to ask readers to wade through unnecessary obfuscation, circumlocution, and jargon to get to a simple point."

These responses voice the common (and legitimate) concern that many academics and non-academic have about the love affair that some scholars seem to have with opaque and over-dressed prose.

wgeurin and intered push back against my willingness to, say, deploy words like deploy, or to unnecessarily "...

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