Lately, American higher education is notoriously prone to tantrums. Two more academic meltdowns last week raise connected questions:
First, are scholars allowed to suggest any explanation for racial disparities other than that White People Are Bad?
Second, if they can’t say anything heretical or interesting, do we really need white scholars anymore, or can they be replaced by Professors of Color?
The American Historical Review, perhaps the top academic journal in its field, got itself in all sorts of trouble for assigning the review of an academic book about the failure of school desegregation in Nashville to a historian who actually has thought long and hard about the subject of why busing hasn’t worked as hoped anywhere or anytime. Raymond Wolters has been a professor of history at the U. of Delaware for the past 52 years. But that means he can actually remember the past—a dangerous capability, as Orwell noted in 1984.
Meanwhile, Pomona College’s hiring of the crown princess of sociology, Alice Goffman, author of On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, the celebrated 2014 denunciation of the mass incarceration of muscular, sexy black males, was slammed by 128 People of Color claiming affiliation with Pomona. Why? Because Goffman is not black:
This hire does not enhance a culture of inquiry and understanding on campus as we navigate a tumultuous time in our nation’s history; on the contrary, it boasts the framework [sic] that white women can theorize about and profit from Black lives while giving no room for Black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.