Naomi Schaefer Riley’s decree that Black Studies does not produce anything worthwhile

In which comments on the Internet once again reaffirm my faith in humanity:

I’ve been following the backlash against Naomi Schaefer Riley’s post on her Chronicle for Higher Education blog titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations” — and it has truly jump started my Friday morning. In her article, she essentially calls Black Studies a study in victimization, ‘blaming the white man’, and a field of study not worthy of anyone’s time — all while confessing that she hasn’t the time to read any of the intellectual output of those doctoral candidates. Aaron Brady’s response to her  unapologetic response to the backlash on her first post knocked it out of the park:

You attacked the validity of a field to exist — literally argued that it should not exist — on the basis of three dissertations that you had obviously not read. And then the title of your post enjoined us to “Just Read the Dissertations.” You can breezily declare that “there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery,” but this precisely confirms the fundamentally unserious and bad faith way you’re proceeding here. You presume to have authority to speak about a field — and to condemn three young scholars — without actually knowing anything about what you’re talking about. This is a simple and literal description of what you did: you argued that black studies is illegitimate on the basis of someone else’s description of some (unscientifically selected, unrepresentative) dissertations of which you had no serious personal knowledge. Are you surprised that people leap to the conclusion that someting else is going on here? What you did was neither scholarship nor journalism; it was just writing words on a computer that you knew would find a ready audience among people that dislike the idea of “Black Studies.”

Personally, I think those dissertations sound really interesting. But my bottom line point would be, simply, that you not only don’t know what you’re talking about, you take that fundamental ignorance of a field as a license to deny that field’s validity. As an intellectual argument, it’s structurally identical to the Arizona state senators who banned ethnic studies texts while making it clear they had never and never would read them. You can pretend that you are objecting to what is written in those dissertations if you want, but since you obviously have no idea what is in them, good luck convincing anyone but the rightwing choir you’re preaching to. If you are wondering why people think you’re a racist hack, it is this: we have nothing to go on but your own words. And they speak volumes. (via)

Thanks Aaron.

Also worth reading is this post on TressieMC:

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 fucking* 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. In effect, she attacks their right to be agents in their own academic careers.

This entire dialogue serves as an amazing, and often amazingly depressing, re-introduction to the persistant prejudices in the US and academia.

If you think Naomi’s platform on the CHE blog should be relinquished, sign this petition, and hug a Black Studies major.

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