The lacrosse case unintentionally exposed the extent to which shoddy thinking passes for insight in the contemporary academy. Dozens of professors at one of the nation’s finest universities rushed to judgment based on highly incomplete information—and then when evidence emerged that contradicted their preconceived biases, they resolutely clung to their original opinions.
Such behavior had to raise questions about whether Group members—who, after all, represent the dominant pedagogical approaches in most humanities and social sciences departments—also poorly evaluated evidence in their own scholarship. Addressing that question was a central theme of the blog’s series of Group profiles.
Yet a closer look at what passes for scholarship among the Group also revealed some zany (to borrow an adjective from the current presidential campaign) assertions—such as Grant Farred’s claim that former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming represented “the most profound threat to American empire.”
A recent blog post ("'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town': Some Thoughts on Christmas and State Surveillance") from the self-described “thugniggaintellectual,” Group member Mark Anthony Neal, reached Farred-ian levels. Indeed, as one correspondent noted, it read as if it were intended as a caricature of the most ridiculous type of academic discourse.
The post opened with a warm holiday scene—the Neal family getting into the holiday spirit by listening to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (The Temptations’ version, of course, given that in the Group member's “youthful nationalist days, it was easy to reject the idea that some ‘fat white man’ would be honored for providing gifts that hardworking black women and men, like my parents sacrificed to provide for their families.”) And as this happy scene proceeded, Neal’s daughter tossed in a comment: “Santa sounds like a stalker.”
This . . . insight . . . prompted Neal to pause and reflect on “the more troubling aspects of Santa Claus.” He ultimately concluded that his “daughter was on to something. Every holiday season millions of American embrace a seemingly innocuous symbol, that is in truth a powerful reminder of the reality of State surveillance in everyday life.”
Santa as a latter-day J. Edgar Hoover, all courtesy of a professor's child! Who knew?
It also seems that parents who invoke Santa in a desperate attempt to get their kids to behave need to turn in their ACLU cards—for, as Neal explained, “Santa Claus is but a user friendly symbol of the State’s capacity not only to engage in blatant forms of surveillance, but to essentially police behavior in the absence of actual surveillance . . . How many parents have exploited their children’s knowledge that Santa ‘knows when you are bad or good’ as a means of reigning in bad behavior.”
Neal then proceeded to more flights of fancy, moving on from surveillance to a critique of Santa-themed Christmas TV shows, which “portray Santa Claus as a benevolent patriarch. Benevolent, that is, as long as children (and presumably adults) adhere to some State sanctioned notion of normal and legal behavior.”
The “thugniggaintellectual” provided his own unique brand of insight into Santa’s “disruptive outlaw figures.” BurgermeisterMeisterburger in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, according to Neal, “reproduced anxieties” not about Nazism (don’t be fooled by the German-sounding name) but instead “about Soviet-styled Communism.” As usual with the Group, why let evidence get in the way of a good argument, in this case proving American society’s reflexive anti-leftism? Or take two of my favorites—the Miser Brothers of The Year Without a Santa Claus. In Neal’s reality, they “are used to gently chide the kinds of male flamboyance often associated with homosexuality(!!).”
Neal’s post concluded by meandering from his reflections on Santa to commentary about the “State sanctioned assassinations of Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.” Of course.
It’s easy, and wholly understandable, to laugh at this type of drivel. But it’s worth recalling Neal’s valued place within Duke. Indeed, the revelation of the “thugniggaintellectual” moniker came from Duke's public relations office itself; Duke Magazine published an interview with Neal in which he asserted that “my intellectual alter ego is thugniggaintellectual—one word . . .I wanted to embody this figure that comes into intellectual spaces like a thug, who literally is fearful and menacing. I wanted to use this idea of this intellectual persona to do some real kind of ‘gangster’ scholarship, if you will. All right, just hard, hard-core intellectual thuggery.”
Those remarks appeared in print just after the dean of students, in a public forum on the university’s response to the lacrosse case, worried that Duke students had created a "culture of crassness.” No worries about how a professor who said that he engaged in “hard-core intellectual thuggery” contributed to a “crassness” of discourse on campus.
But why bother confronting the hypocrisy of the academic powers-that-be when we can speculate on Heat Miser's sexual orientation?