Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Academia Didn’t Immunize Me From Racism

New York Times op-ed:  Academia Didn’t Immunize Me From Racism, by Chris Lebron (Johns Hopkins; author, The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea. (Oxford University Press 2017)):

BLMThe rage is flaring now because it has become entirely too normal for a white man with power to casually, so very casually, apply enough pressure to a vulnerable black neck and cause the soul to vacate in an untimely fashion. America’s propensity to dispense with black life is a sickness, a pathology that authorizes public murder for the sake of white supremacy.

Three major medical associations recently declared racism and police brutality public health crises. But I had long ago begun thinking of racism as a kind of social disease. I even gave it a name — Racial Diminishment Syndrome. This disease, like the coronavirus, is hard to detect, highly contagious and often deadly. Many of the infected exhibit no symptoms, but may be “spreaders.” When R.D.S. is active in public spaces (almost always), social distancing will decrease the likelihood of extreme illness or untimely death. ...

In 2007, my wife and I moved to Charlottesville, Va. Before arriving I had been heartened by its electoral map — bright blue surrounded by socially menacing red. Once there, I soon learned that a blue town is in some ways worse than a red one because everyone is possessed of the conviction of their own racial virtues, and they’re almost all very wrong. My first three years in Charlottesville were spent coldly coming to terms with its radical segregation and the absence of a black middle class. I observed as the police harassed homeless black men on the beloved Downtown Mall while the white frat boys got to shamelessly litter the streets surrounding the University of Virginia with beer kegs. Dionysus surely considered these misfits his chosen ones. ...

With middle age looming on the horizon, my tolerance for being a social other and possibly in danger just by walking out my front door was atrophying. The equation was becoming clearer in my mind: Me + white spaces = precarity. At the University of Virginia, where I was an assistant professor, I received lessons from senior colleagues who had the power to make or break my career on the need for humility in work I sought to publish. Then there was the time that a colleague, upon learning my wife and I had accepted positions at Yale, saw fit to walk into my office and quip, “If I were angry at you, I would tell you to go [expletive] … but I’m not!” He was angry, and he did effectively just tell me that. Social distance was needed; this man was a vector of R.D.S. ...

By the time I reached my present job at Johns Hopkins University, I had essentially given up. When the small number of my black colleagues decided to challenge the university’s wish to establish an armed police force on campus, one likely to be staffed by former officers from the Baltimore Police Department — one of the deadliest in the nation — I never bothered to join them. Valiant as their attempt was, I know this: When fearful whites and co-opted blacks decide the scariest people on earth are poor blacks, absolutely nothing can stop them from putting the police between them and the black folks they help to keep scary. ...

I almost never attend casual faculty functions. I don’t go out for drinks. I don’t entertain for dinner parties and I don’t seek to ingratiate myself into the lives of my white colleagues. I have a great deal of respect for the many white academics I have worked with. But some of them remain vectors of R.D.S. nonetheless. I know so much about many of these people because I know what it is white America needs me to be for it to allow me inside. What they need is a version of myself that acquiesces and conforms, that is never displeased or contrary — or angry.

I won’t do it. I’ll social distance. It’s already hard enough to breathe in America. Every day you feel like you’re living with a knee on your neck. It’s a sickness. And I am not immune.

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So there’s a lot of racism, and sexism, and antisemitism. Where does this lead us? It isn’t that clear.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jun 17, 2020 3:10:25 AM

Mike: "Where does this lead us?"

Since it can't be measured empirically, it leads us wherever the thought police want to go. I imagine there's a lot of racial score settling going on in newsrooms, on college campuses, in big tech firms, etc.

Posted by: MM | Jun 17, 2020 7:03:08 PM