Watch What You Say About Black Studies: Blogger Fired For Questioning Scholars’ Legitimacy

May 9, 2012  |  

It’s been about 10 days since lecturer and author Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education questioning the legitimacy of black studies, and as a result of the outcry over her piece, she has now been relieved of her duties as a blogger for the site.

The title of the piece alone lets you know something wicked was blowing this way. In, “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,” Riley pounces on the chosen topics of discourse by up-and-coming black scholars like the role of race in housing policies and the history of black midwifery in the United States, writing:

“If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.”

Even more insulting is the fact that she includes these scholars’ names while sarcastically ripping them and the credibility of their dissertations apart.

“Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s. Single family homes! The audacity! But Ms. Taylor sees that her issue is still relevant today. (Not much of a surprise since the entirety of black studies today seems to rest on the premise that nothing much has changed in this country in the past half century when it comes to race. Shhhh. Don’t tell them about the black president!) She explains that “The subprime lending crisis, if it did nothing else, highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market.” The subprime lending crisis was about the profitability of racism? Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess.”

About 6,500 people signed a petition calling for Riley’s dismissal and Liz McMillen, the site’s editor, listened. She wrote in a note apologizing for the piece:

“When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week … several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us,” McMillen wrote. “We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.”

Though there may be some credence to race baiting in the handful of dissertation titles Riley bothered to read (note: not the full articles), to blanket all young black scholars as stuck in 1963 and to suggest that we let “some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man,” is just wrong and ignorant of where some of those problems do in fact start.

Do you think Riley deserved to be fired?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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