On Blackness Studies and the Despicable Attempt to Destroy Students’ Careers

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a blog post by former Wall Street Journal editor Naomi Schaefer Riley, titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations” (and like others, I’m not going to generate traffic for it by linking to it; if you want to read it in full, you can Google it easily enough). To put it briefly (and mildly), it is one of the most narrow-minded, myopic, damaging pieces of tripe that has appeared on the Chronicle’s site in some time.

The shorter version? Schaefer Riley belittles a field that has very real utility for understanding society today while simultaneously targeting individual doctoral students in an attempt to derail their careers before they can even fully begin. Tressiemc provides an excellent takedown of Schaefer Riley’s post, tearing apart Schaefer Riley’s post both for its alleged reasoning and, more importantly, for contributing to the difficulties and the challenges facing African-American students and students interested in blackness studies today. Certainly, Schaefer Riley’s critiques on blackness studies themselves are offensive and useless; as Ari Kelman points out,  the post is “a collection of right-wing, know-nothing talking points about how the academy has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since master let the field Negroes into the big house.  The best that can be said of this sort of punditry is that it’s so irrelevant that anybody who bothers to read it will stop well short of engaging with the author and opt to parody her instead.” This is true enough – Schaefer Riley’s arguments are so ridiculous and without reason or nuance as to be rendered irrelevant.

But Schaefer Riley also goes after those with the least security in academia, targeting specific doctoral students who are just beginning their careers in what is a blatant attempt to delegitimize both their personal academic production and the field in which they work more generally.  It’s a truly despicable act, and for those interested/outraged, you can sign a petition here that challenges the Chronicle to break its ties with Schaefer Riley.

[UPDATE]: After several other posts appeared on the Chronicle’s site, offering rebuttals from faculty and from students alike, Schaefer Riley defended her original post by basically hiding behind more talking points, speaking patronizingly past her critics without actually addressing (or showing a basic understanding of) their criticisms, and saying doctoral students should behave like “grown-ups” (and again, I’m not providing traffic for her stuff; it’s not hard to find on the Chronicle’s site or through Google). For somebody who (claims to have) spent 15 years writing about higher education, Schaefer Riley demonstrates a remarkable ignorance regarding the context and challenges facing scholars who are just entering the job market and who hope to acquire tenure in the not-too-distant future.

[UPDATE 2]: It’s worth noting that Schaefer Riley was negatively responding to this very good article that had run previously, highlighting changes in the field of blackness studies and focusing on Northwestern University for examples.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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2 Responses to On Blackness Studies and the Despicable Attempt to Destroy Students’ Careers

  1. SM says:

    The bigger problem, in my view, is the Chronicle’s glib dismissal of criticism on full display over Twitter. It would serve them right if schools drop subscriptions and ads. Schools do not need the Chronicle anymore and it would serve them to respond to *their customers* with more respect.

  2. Yes – it was disturbing (if not altogether surprising) to see the Chronicle pull the “we’re just trying to create a forum for debate!” excuses to justify Schaefer Riley’s hit-job. Instead, it opts for the same uninformed excuses of cable news networks’ vapid talk shows that provide people an opportunity to use unsubstantiated claims to shift focus away from real debate and discussion of substantive issues to shouting matches that fundamentally shift the political discourse to the right while dumbing it down. One would hope the CHE would have been above such tactics, but the ongoing employment of Schaefer Riley would seem to suggest otherwise.

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