Saturday, October 13, 2007

The real victims.

(What to call this post? Carry on Campus? De-canting Bollinger? Who Put the Cad in Academy? Oh, forget it.) It has been pointed out how cowardly and absurd the president of Columbia University was when he prefaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech with a load of hyperbolic invective drawn from the neoconservative lexicon. Presumably, Bollinger thought his bluster amounted to a courageous stand of the sort that would win him admiration in the New York Times - kind of like the Moynihan used to insult African and Third World delegates at the UN and get wolf-whistles in New York for it: finally, we oppressed Americans are standing up to the bastards! Students and academics in the institution simply thought it was stunningly inept. One could add, as Rostam Pourzal does, that it was stunning hypocrisy, since Columbia University has a long history of welcoming actual tyrants. Pervez Musharaff, who is certainly far more oppressive than the Iranian president, and does less in the interests of the general population and has fewer democratic credentials, was cheered to the rafters not so long ago. Oh, and guess who else they adored?

Well, there we might leave it if Columbia University wasn't recently the scene of another controversy, with a series of racist provocations on campus. This has involved two 'noose' incidents, one of which was placed outside Professor Madonna Constantine's door, and a variety of racist graffiti. As usual, these incidents are part of a daily, quotidian culture of systematic marginalisation and discrimination, which requires active efforts to undermine the racist structure of the educational agenda itself. And as usual, when Bollinger was challenged about the need to rollback a culture of racism in the academy, he spoke of how proud he was of its efforts toward tackling the problem already. In fact, the NYPD reported that Columbia University was rather hesitant to cooperate with their investigation into the incident, which in some quarters would be known as obstruction. The right-wing press is primarily concerned with the way that these incidents are being 'blown out of proportion', being used to 'indict American society in general' rather than catch the individuals concerned and get on with the business of perpetuating white suprem - er, colourblind meritocracy.

The slender margin within which it is possible in the American academia to produce critical thought and to attack the racist ideologies that the university system has typically been most effective in reproducing, is an obsession for the American right, particularly the neoconservative right. All that political correctness and multiculturalism. All those students reading Foucault when they don't even know who started World War II. All of that namby-pamby socialist theory. The humanities - oh, the humanity! For the neocons, notoriously, those working in the public sector form a 'New Class' of intelligentsia that is hostile to American values and the business class. Their intellectual production, so folks like Kristol maintain, is chiefly about providing ideological legitimacy for their class ends. And multiculturalism? A ploy by demagogues and hate preachers and PC thugs aimed at suppressing intelligent, technocratic solutions, and augmenting their own power. By both implication and explication, the neoconservatives maintain that the subordinate position of non-white 'races' in America is a logical and plausible result of the actual distribution of talents and value-creation, however glibly construed. Those who imagine that the present system is meritocratic are simmering with resentment at every concession made. Affirmative action: don't they get enough already? Isn't it reverse discrimination? So when a few years ago there was a row between Lawrence Summers and Cornel West, with the latter accused of poor scholarship, there was an explosion of furious, sarcastic, sneering commentary. Summers, known for his rank misogyny among other things was hailed by The Economist and the Harvard Crimson and the National Review and so on as a no-bullshit captain of the intellect, a chamption of meritocracy, who - shock, gasp, horror - insisted that all staff, even if they were black, had to produce adequate scholarship. Finally, someone said it, the neocons gasped. Finally someone stood up to all that black power socialistic PC shit and got tough on West and his rap albums. Exultations from Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Hilton Kramer and the rest of the neoconservative crew. They, of course, are intellectual flyweights when compared with Cornel West. As Manning Marable wrote:

In the Spring 2002 issue of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education published a detailed analysis of Cornel West’s record of scholarship, and how it compares to the records of other prominent scholars in terms of the number of scholarly citations of the number of scholarly citations of their work, according to the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia. The Institute’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Index, for calendar year 2000, listed 205 separate citations of West’s works in scholarly publications, placing him second only to sociologist William Julius Wilson among black American scholars throughout the United States. In the Institute’s Arts and Humanities 2000 Index, West ranked sixth behind only Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Toni Morrison, Paul Gilroy, Alice Walker, and August Wilson. It is interesting to compare the number of citations between West and those neoconservative African-American intellectuals that the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream publications insist are actually producing “real scholarship.” Condoleezza Rice, former Stanford University Provost and currently the Bush Administration’s National Security Adviser, had only one fifth of the total references in scholarly publications in the social sciences than Cornel West did in 2000. Shelby Steele, whom in 2001 I had the pleasure of debating in Newsweek over the issue of black reparations, was cited in only one seventh the number of social science publications as West. What’s truly extraordinary about these rankings is that West is not a social scientist. That his scholarship lends itself to research across a variety of fields is the best standard for excellence to which one could aspire.


Despite this, for reactionaries, the very fact that he could do something as degrading as record a hip hop album was itself an outrageous example of a lax academic culture promoting the undertalented and underqualified to attack the ideological foundations of American cohesion. Eurocentric education, with its reproduction of racist idiocies and historical fallacies, is by contrast an ideal system of enlightenment. In fact, it is seen as a repository of inconvenient facts with which to confront those who still oppose slavery. Those who try to subvert that paradigm are the real aggressors (and if the rightist commentator has special chutzpah, they were also "the real racists"), and those who try to defend it are the real victims.