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Is Brainstorm Racist?

Is Brainstorm racist for publishing racist attacks?

I have been struggling with this question ever since my fellow blogger Naomi Shaefer Riley wrote a breathtakingly unfounded attack on graduate students working in Black Studies and went even further to call for the elimination of Black Studies all together. Normally I ignore the sort of blogs Ms. Shaefer Riley writes, even when they are about me. I ignore her mostly because I think there are far more important things to write about than bloggers at the Chronicle, but I also ignore her because her blogs are more attack than argument and have the same intellectual weight as Fox News broadcasts. Don’t get me wrong. I believe conservative arguments can have all sorts of intellectual merit. But there is a difference between an analysis of Black Studies as a field and the complete dismissal of an entire discipline without ever reading any of it.

But now it is The Chronicle itself that is being called racist, specifically Brainstorm for allowing such hate speech to be published. As Tressiemc argues in “The Inferiority of Blackness as a Subject” in response to the Shaefer Riley piece,

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 (expletive) 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…

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…

The Chronicle is legitimizing open season on black scholars for doing black studies. That’s racist racism.

There is a petition calling for Shaefer Riley’s dismissal. According to the petition, it is The Chronicle that must take responsibility and fire Shaefer Riley since

By giving Schaefer Riley a platform in the preeminent academic news publication, The Chronicle elevated her attacks to legitimate scholarly critique

In the past 12 hours, the number of signatures has gone from 600 to over 4000. And yet I myself did not sign. At least not yet. Partly I have not signed the petition because I am not sure The Chronicle should fire someone because they are nearly universally reviled. There are all sorts of people who believe I should be fired from The Chronicle‘s Brainstorm blog and some of them go so far as to call my institution and suggest I be fired from there as well. Which leads me to believe that editorial decisions about who stays and who goes should not really be in response to public pressure since no unpopular views would ever be published, at least not for long.

On the other hand, I do not believe all speech is free. I do not believe attacks against the most marginalized members of academe or society (and believe me, that is Shaefer Riley’s oeuvre) are “free” as opposed to “hate.” I do not believe that the sort of angry and often illogical attacks that Shaefer Riley spews or Fox News broadcasts are the same as engagement with the issues from a conservative perspective. Instead, I am fairly certain that Shaefer Riley and Fox News make intellectual debate impossible because they so often come at their subjects with dangerously little knowledge and a very creative relationship to facts.

I cannot imagine why the editors at Brainstorm thought someone like that added to the intellectual richness of the blog. I hope they write a response to the many people who are now wondering whether Brainstorm is racist.

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