Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Ugly Truth Of Being A Black Professor In America

Chronicle of Higher Education Review:  The Ugly Truth of Being a Black Professor in America, by George Yancy (Emory):

"Dear Nigger Professor." That was the beginning of a message that was sent to me. There is nothing to be cherished here, despite the salutation. Years ago, Malcolm X asked, "What does a white man call a black man with a Ph.D.?" He answered: "A nigger with a Ph.D."

The message came in response to an op-ed I published in The New York Times in December 2015. I’d spent much of that year conducting a series of interviews with philosophers about race. I wanted to hold a disagreeable mirror up to white readers and ask that they take a long, hard look without fleeing. My article, "Dear White America," took the form of a letter asking readers to accept the truth of what it means to be white in a society created for white people. I asked them to tarry with the ways in which they perpetuate a racist society, the ways in which they are racist. In return, I asked for understanding and even love — love in the sense that James Baldwin used the term: "Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."

Instead, I received hundreds of emails, phone messages, and letters, an overwhelming number of which were filled with racist vitriol. My university did its important and necessary part — top administrators assured me that my academic freedom was protected. Yet my predicament was not easy. Campus police had to monitor my office. Departmental instructions were clear: No one was to provide any strangers with my office hours. I needed police presence at my invited talks at other universities. It all felt surreal — and dangerous.

This is what it’s like to be the target of racist hatred:

Another uppity Nigger. Calling a Nigger a professor is like calling White Black and Wet Dry.
Even the most sophisticated nigger will revert back to their jungle bunny behavior when excited.
You can dress a Nigger up in a suit and tie and they’ll still be Niggers.
This belief that niggers even reason is blatant pseudo-intellectualism.

For these writers, "nigger professor" is an oxymoron. ...

Some of my students of color have asked me, "Why talk about race with white people when at the end of the day everything remains the same — that is, their racism continues?" "Why teach courses on race and whiteness?" "Do you really think that such courses will make a difference?" I find these questions haunting; they nag at my conscience. ...

It is probably true that I would not have my job were it not for affirmative action. Many white women wouldn’t have jobs either! And of course, white men have benefited from white supremacy for years. But affirmative action is not white supremacy in reverse; it is not antiwhite, but pro-justice. It was created so that with my Ph.D., which I earned with distinction, I would actually be able to teach at a university. Affirmative action, in the case of black people, is a response to systemic racist disadvantages. It’s important to get that history right — not twisted. ...

By recounting, in explicit language, the white backlash that I encountered after writing "Dear White America," those violent and dehumanizing racist modes of address, I risk becoming retraumatized. The retelling is imperative, though. For too long, I have had black students say to me that they feel unsafe at PWIs (predominantly white institutions). I must believe them. And while they may not have been called a nigger to their faces, such white spaces position them as inconsequential, deny their blackness through superficial concerns for "diversity," and take their complaints as instances of individual problems of institutional adjustment. I insist on bearing witness to black pain and suffering at PWIs because the deniers are out there. We are told that what we know in our very bodies to be true isn’t credible. This is a different kind of violence, the epistemic kind.

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I wonder why people see in color and ethnicity. We are all brothers, you don't get intimidated with skin color or profession. Respect!

Posted by: MadDog | May 10, 2018 10:10:52 PM

Anon, since when to conservative professors get hate mail calling them the n-word? What do you mean they have the "same problems"?

No, they just get canned.

Posted by: Art Deco | May 9, 2018 10:03:24 AM

@Equivalence -- By n-word do you mean Nazis?

Posted by: Mike Petrik | May 9, 2018 7:56:40 AM

Anon, since when to conservative professors get hate mail calling them the n-word?

What do you mean they have the "same problems"?

Posted by: Equivalence | May 9, 2018 6:28:48 AM

In today's supercharged political atmosphere, any person of race A criticizing race B is likely to get an unwelcome reaction. Imagine, if you will, a white law professor writing an article called "Dear Black America," asking the Afro-American population to hold up a self-critical mirror. It doesn't take much imagination to picture what the reaction would be. Ask Amy Wax.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | May 9, 2018 4:14:32 AM

Of course, conservative professors and speakers have the same problems on today's campuses.

Posted by: Anon | May 8, 2018 7:12:54 PM

My straight ,white, male kid was also group bullied both verbally and physically so severely that we had to leave in the middle of the academic school year.
My point is that everyone has stories of abuse, even a straight, white male.

The professor needs to learn that his anger,
grudges, and bitterness are only hurting him and no one else.

Instead of living the rest of his life as a victim in his Ivory Tower,
he could volunteer to help marginalized people, or rescue kids forced into the sex slave industry. They are in every US city.

For him to say minorities cannot succeed by merit is racist.

What he really needs is the love of Christ to turn his entire
Life around.

Prayers for you, Professor. You can have love , joy, and peace, with Jesus. It worked for my son, Praise God!

Posted by: Jamie Johnson | May 8, 2018 5:30:59 PM

I've faced various times in my life when I've been attacked and I've found that the best response is to keep your cool and regard anything they say as their problem. Keep reminding yourself that, if you let them upset you, they win.

I gave similar advice to a Jewish woman who said she was bitter and angry because her parents were bitter and angry at having lost so many friends and relatives in the Holocaust. I tried to point out to her that by remaining bitter, Hitler was still winning long after his death. Alas, that did not seem to help. She almost seem to enjoy her misery.
I also disagree with this remark: "But affirmative action is not white supremacy in reverse; it is not antiwhite, but pro-justice."

No affirmation action is not pro-justice. It is exceptionally unjust. Justice punishes the guilty. It would have been quite just in the 1960s to level a heavy reparations tax on whites who'd gone through segregated laws schools. After all, they did benefit from segregation and probably did little to nothing to change the status quo. But that's precisely what AA does not do. It pretends to punish all whites for evils that only a few whites benefited from and in practice primarily punishes those who benefited little if at all.

Take Joe White, who earned his law degree and a lucrative career under segregation. Was he punished, perhaps by a tax that'd fund law school for blacks? Not at all. How about his sons and daughters? How likely is it that they'll be kept out of law school by AA? Almost zip.

Now take Joe Poorwhite. His dad, a sharecropper, did not benefit from segregation. He had to compete for poor-paying jobs with poor blacks. Indeed, because segregation kept down talented blacks, his competition was worse. Now suppose he has a son or daughter who works hard and ought, in a race neutral scheme, to get into law school. How likely is he or she to be excluded due to AA? Quite likely, particularly since his family won't have been able to afford a good education.

So no, affirmative action is not about justice. Not even close. It's guiding principle was ensuring that no one who benefited substantially from racism ever paid any penalty—indeed typically penalty at all. (Think of LBJ, who used his considerable political skills to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1957.) All the burdens are be borne by poorer whites who benefited little, if at all, from segregation. That is so unjust, it's absurd to pretend otherwise.

And yet this George Yancy wants to claim that not punishing the guilty who actually participated in and benefited from segregation but punishing by crushing the career aspiration of those born half a century after the end of segregation is just. That is insane.

And if they complain, well they're racists. Maybe they are racists, but they they have a more finely tuned sense of justice that does this Prof. Yancy. They know that justice means punishing the guilty but not the innocent. He doesn't.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | May 8, 2018 4:53:12 PM

Here it is. And it's a tedious bore, paragraph after paragraph about Dr. Yancy's feelz. It's difficult to believe many people had any thing but a mild disgust reaction. Mild disgust elicits one sentence responses/

Posted by: Art Deco | May 8, 2018 4:28:12 PM

1. "Hundreds" including posted letters? In response to an op-ed piece by a private citizen? Non ci credo.

2. He writes jeremiads that most of his audience finds unpersuasive. People who find your jeremiad less than cogent tend to take the view that you're carrying some steep conceits. You think you deserve abasement; you're willing to take 'engagement'; what you get is an upraised middle finger. I'll submit most people would expect the middle finger.

Posted by: Art Deco | May 8, 2018 4:16:06 PM

So sad that a dialogue without vitriol cannot take place.

Posted by: Tom N. | May 8, 2018 2:15:19 PM