On May 12, 2015, Robert A. Brown, President of Boston University wrote a public letter to the “Boston University Community.”
Those familiar with the language of power will recognize the rhetorical posture (it is the wind of passive aggression that contemporary capitalism breathes through its teeth):;
Many members of our community are aware of comments made on social media by Dr. Saida Grundy, who on July 1st will become an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology with an additional appointment in African American Studies. Dr. Grundy’s comments are receiving extensive coverage in the media; we are also hearing from alumni, friends, and others about them. Many have expressed the view that some of Dr. Grundy’s comments are offensive and/or racist.
Brown goes on to champion the mission of “maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions.” From this position, condemnation flows: “We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.”
Interested readers can easily find the tweets in question elsewhere. I will not reproduce them here, because doing so automatically summons into being the very seedy and demoralizing situation that right wing demagogues wish to normalize. The reactionary academic activist longs for the bygone supremacy of the white male critic. He wishes to see 10000 men cool-headedly sitting back in their chairs, analyzing the data: the Twitter “outburst” of this Palestinian American radical, the Facebook essay of that African American woman, concluding the operation with an up or down hand gesture, like a Roman emperor in a sandals-and-chariots Technicolor spectacular.
To understand the rage of those who would sift through the social media messages of a scholar of color, looking for evidence of thought crimes, one must recall the wounded, aggrieved, bathetic self-pity of those who feel that the academy has been overrun by so many others, who wish to find some way to role-play (as “public intellectuals” allegedly once did) as eagle-eyed judges swathed in robes, performatively uttering approbations and handing down punishments.
Against this project (and its legions of creeps) we must insist: it’s none of our business. To the relentless monger of hypotheticals (what if it was a call to kill babies? what if it was a celebratory ode to Jeffrey Dahmer?) we say: we’ll deal with that when it happens. But to compare this to that is to have embraced a willful and arrogant vapidity and to have served oneself up as a useful idiot to the very worst tribunes of hatred and anti-intellectualism that this country has ever seen.
Thus, solidarity with Saida Grundy ought to be voiced not merely as a formal reflex (defending the articulation of unpopular viewpoints), but as part of a more global critique of the place of these rituals of selective scrutiny and condemnation, hand-wringing and empty speechifying, after which every scholar of color, researcher in the disciplines brought into being by the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and heterodox philosopher becomes more vulnerable to attack, more likely to be passed over by a hiring committee or dean because of the anticipated trouble. We must reject the whole sordid ritual structure, and refuse the “he said/she said” format so beloved by the David Horowitzes of the world. Most of all, we must do whatever we can to express solidarity with Saida Grundy, and to build an infrastructure within our professional organizations so that nobody ever has to go through this again.
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