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Friday, March 7, 2014


My guest post today is an email message I received this morning from a History Professor at a New England college.  She was my student at UMass, and we have been in close touch ever since.  Her doctoral dissertation, on which I worked with her closely, was a brilliant and quite original examination of a body of early Colonial literature that has been almost entirely ignored.  The Buzzfeed article to which she is alluding can be found here.  Although she is a serious scholar and teacher, she is also a mordant observer and critic of the passing scene, and perhaps I will be able to persuade her to let me post some of her funnier rants.  Here is what she wrote to me:

Call me prejudiced but I don't feel much pity for the students at Harvard University that put together that "I Too Am Harvard" campaign on Buzzfeed. At. All. I don't like how the students are portraying themselves as the pitiable victims of the unthinking, racist things White people say.
A friend of mine who graduated Harvard undergrad and Harvard law is totally offended by my opinion and called me a "hater," but it hasn't changed my mind.
Every Black person gets "Can I touch your hair" from White people at some time in their lives. I've had people walk right up to me and yank my hair...hard. Black people face micro-aggression wherever they go. None of those photos addressed racist AND classist macro-aggressions-- more serious systematic issues of race/class and racism/classism at Harvard: dealing with powerful professors who are classist AND racist, being treated like a criminal by campus police for walking while Black, being actively steered and discouraged from taking advantage of all that Harvard has to offer by academic advisers, or that people outside the Harvard University community are not permitted access to the Harvard library. With a policy like that, you can't tell me that knowledge isn't intricately linked to power.

I'm not as concerned with being asked "Do you tan?" or "Are you from Hartford?" as I am with the fact that although Black people are a minority in the population, they are the majority in prison--even in Utah, where the entire Black population consists of the Utah Jazz. Black people die at high rates of preventable diseases. Black people have less access to nutritious food (the only reason why Whole Foods came to Harlem is because the borough is being gentrified) As a result of gentrification, Black people will be pushed out to the suburbs, which lack reliable public transportation. Poverty and crime levels will skyrocket in the 'burbs, you mark my words.
To me, these sorts of things are much more significant that being told "Black people have such an easy time getting into college" by some sheltered White ninny from Privilegetown, USA. And this is wicked for me to say, but at the end of four years, micro-aggression or not, Black Harvard students will have Harvard degrees and all the advantages that come with it, which places them at serious advantage to most of the Black community. So if a Black Harvard student hasn't come up with a stock response to a classmate who says "You're so articulate", then his/her race card should be revoked. 
I can't help it. Stuff like this gets on my nerves. I get it, things like micro-aggression should be put out there constantly for liberal White people to chew on, but come on. Micro-aggression is to be expected and addressed, but there are bigger racial fish to fry than being persnickety about a White person saying "rap" instead of "hip hop." My birth certificate clearly states I have two "Negro" parents, I have been listening to the genre long before the kid complaining was a twinkle in his daddy's eye and I still call it "rap." 
Oh god. I've become the old man yelling at kids to stay off his yard. 
But still. Young people get on my nerves.


Matt said...

Is it true that blacks are the "majority in prison"? I couldn't easily find total state prison figures (and didn't want to spend the time looking at states individually) but it's false for the federal prison system- see here:

blacks do make up a disproportionate number of prisoners, and that's a huge worry. (Surely the bigger worry) but at least in federal prison it's not true that they are the majority.

(I did check for Utah, and as far as I can tell, blacks really are not the majority there- they make up 6.47% of the prison population, as far as I could tell from the department of corrections web page. That's probably [I'm guessing] higher than their percentage of the population in Utah, but obviously only a small minority of the prison population. Whites make up 66.34%)

None of this really undermines the point of the post, which I thought was good, though I do think that if we are going to use statistics or figures, we should get them right and be careful. Of course, it might turn out that if we take all state prisons together, blacks do make up a majority, or at least plurality, but I'd be a bit surprised.

Allan J. E said...

I've been following R. P. Wolff's blog for a while now, and while I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, he always seems to write from an erudite, scholarly perspective that is impossible to reject off-hand. It is unfortunate, then, that he allows his blog to be hijacked by a standard victimology tirade.

Matt made some good points in the comment above. I'll add a few more:

"Black people die at high rates of preventable diseases."

By "high", I assume the author means higher than average or higher than whites'. Assuming that's true, what conclusion are we to draw from this fact? It is a mere statistic (if that), and does not imply or prove anything eo ipso.

"Black people have less access to nutritious food (the only reason why Whole Foods came to Harlem..."

So, only Whole Foods sells nutritious foods? People who don't have WF in their neighborhoods don't have access to nutritious foods? Is there any evidence whatsoever that blacks have less access to nutritious foods? How does one define that access, anyway?

This is not nitpicking. When you throw unsubstantiated claims and fail to explain their causes or implications, you are weakening your case significantly.