Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Harris-Perry, Race, & the Group's Legacy

In one respect, the lacrosse case was extraordinarily unusual: actions of campus extremists don’t often get much attention outside of campus walls. The national media doesn’t cover higher-ed ideological or pedagogical issues all that much; and when it does (as in the recent controversy over Title IX and sexual assault policies), it often covers the issue poorly. The behavior of the Duke faculty in the lacrosse case attracted so much attention largely for accidental reasons: the case itself was a media firestorm, and then the Group of 88’s inability or unwillingness to apologize for what they did seemed unjust.

Yet on the rare occasions when the world of higher-ed ideas does seep into the public consciousness, the result is an almost stupefied horror. The best recent example (about which I’ve written over at Minding theCampus) came when the American Studies Association formally endorsed a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education—a flagrant violation of academic freedom that the ASA justified, in Orwellian language, as the protection of academic freedom. (The other rationale: according to the ASA president, describing the organization’s penchant for boycotts that allegedly promote human rights, “one has to start somewhere.”) 

The ASA move earned widespread rebuke from editorial boards, politicians, and more than 100 college presidents—the people at universities whose jobs depend on dealing with the public, and therefore are particularly sensitive about their schools looking like hotbeds of out-of-touch extremism.

The Group of 88 statement, and the ASA anti-Israel resolution, exemplify the pernicious effects of groupthink—the phenomenon best described by Mark Bauerlein in which the position regarding commonly-held beliefs shifts toward the most extreme perspective, because of a lack of dissenting viewpoints on campus.

Since academics of the anti-Israel or race/class/gender types have little influence outside campus (they have, of course, enormous influence on campus), their actions get noticed only by their colleagues or their school’s administrators. And since tenured and tenure-track jobs are so precious in today’s academy, very few groupthink-type academics leave the academy to take non-academic positions. Their ideas, it seems, are hermetically sealed on campus.

One of the very few exceptions to this pattern, however, is Melissa Harris-Perry, the MSNBC host who has been much in the news lately. Harris-Perry holds a Ph.D., from Duke, where she studied under William Chafe and Wahneema Lubiano, and is listed as a full-time faculty member in Tulane’s Political Science Department. As I’ve noted previously, Harris-Perry has a very close relationship with several members of the Group of 88 (Karla Holloway actually appeared on her MSNBC broadcast), and offered a full-throated (and almost comically misleading) defense of the Group of 88 in a 2011 book. The book, indeed, faithfully reflects the extreme views on issues of race, class, and gender prevalent on campus but largely absent anyplace else.

But not on Harris-Perry’s TV program. The host recently did a segment on the Romneys, in which she, and two guests, mocked a Romney family photo that contained the entire Romney family, including a child of color adopted by one of the Romney sons and his wife.

It’s possible to imagine a segment on Romney and family values that would comport to the public policy focus that ostensibly characterizes Harris-Perry’s program. (For instance: Romney values the importance of marriage and family personally, but campaigned on a platform to annul, via constitutional amendment, around 100,000 marriages nationally, and leave kids in those families without married parents.) But Harris-Perry wasn’t interested in content.

The segment triggered widespread condemnation—as much for its sneering tone as for its content. (National Review claimed, in a report denied by MSNBC, that the network had instituted new editorial checks on Harris-Perry’s scripts.) Harris-Perry subsequently apologized via twitter, accompanied oddly by a hashtag, followed by a tearful apology on her program. But she demonstrated no problem at all with the content during the broadcast itself. The apology, therefore, seemed more than a little forced.

The backlash against the Harris-Perry segment reflects the media’s (and the public’s) predictable horror at getting a first-hand taste how issues of race are too often viewed behind campus walls.

As for one of Harris-Perry’s mentors on the issue of race in America? Here’s Wahneema Lubiano, offering her insights while speaking a few months back at Duke's "National Dialogue on Race Day":


If you can work your way through the jargon, the basic Lubiano argument is that racism is inherent in the capitalist system, and that referencing black-on-black crime is racist.

While Harris-Perry remains a moderate by comparison, the Harris-Perry/Romney vignette, like the far more substantial Group of 88 statement and ASA resolution, should provide a tip-off to journalists that they might want to pay a little more attention to just how extreme campus discourse in some quarters has become.

19 comments:

Walt said...

Wow, Wahneema certainly can flow out the jargon. I am not sure if she said anything though.

Walt-in-Durham

Anonymous said...

Has Wahneema considered this thought: If white, capitalist society is so anti-black and so hell bent on destroying people like her, how is it that she has a much-coveted job as a tenured professor at one of the most prestigious universities in this white, capitalist society?

Anonymous said...

Maybe she feels like a token.
Maybe she is.

Anonymous said...

Is Lubiano a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Professor, a good article:

The ASA controversy is getting a lot of play recently, the ASA getting pretty roundly condemned by even some very liberal "University" people. Alas, over time the Duke LAX case seems to be slipping from the collective memory. This is the first article I've noticed tying the two events together, and I thank you for that.

It wasn't only the jargon, but I couldn't make it through half of the Lubiano clip. I'm just too old for this bleep.

Lastly, you almost lost me when you used Ms. "Harris-Perry" and "moderate" in the same sentence. That was a first. Well, you saved yourself in my eyes by using "by comparison". But I do wonder in comparison with what.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Wahneema beautiful? LOL.

Keith Kornman said...

I agree with most of your statements on your site, but have to take issue with your remarks about Melissa Harris-Perry. Her original segment was horrible, but I don't think you can describe her apology as anything other than sincere and heartfelt.

You diminshed her apology based solely on the fact that she had no negative reaction at the time of the original segment. But that is exactly, what she was apologizing for, i.e., failing to stop comments that were clearly hurtful and inappropriate.

If you dismiss Ms. Harris-Perry's apology based on her prior actions only, then how can you expect anyone else to apply facts before reaching their conclusions. Indeed, why would anyone ever be expected to recognize the error of their ways and apologize at all?

I hope that in the future you base your statements and beliefs on facts, empirical evidence, just as you (and I) expect others to do.

Keith Kornman
Duke (Trinity) '91
Tulane Law '94

Anonymous said...

To Keith Kornman (@8:13):

Were "Prof." Harris-Perry even remotely sincere in her apology, she would have voluntarily resigned immediately. She diminishes herself pretty much every time she speaks.

Anonymous said...

And while we are on appearances, am guessing that either Professor Holloway or Melissa Harris Perry has been photo-shopped? No way they can be this attractive (hate to say it, but bet the images are altered to their benefits. KC can you include that image and footage directly on the blog? Interesting comparisons to be made.

Jay Knott said...

I am indebted to K.C. Johnson, the book, and this blog about the Duke case, pillars of falsification of the left-wing view that this is a white racist society. My one disagreement with him is when he tries to use his critique of political correctness to criticize critiques of Israel. I think, on the contrary, it's pro-Zionists such as the Anti Defamation League which use p.c. techniques (fear, blackmail, guilt) to defend the indefensible - the ethnic cleansing of Palestine - by shouting 'anti semitism' at every opportunity. The ASA's boycott of Israel is not like the Duke case, it's more like the anti-apartheid movement.

Anonymous said...

To Jay Knott, et al: The ethnic cleansing of Christians from Egypt is not on your radar, apparently. Need I point to the plight of Christians in Syria? When Pope Gregory proclaimed that Islam is a peaceful religion, he sactioned the killing of those that believe that Jesus Christ is the savior, i.e., "for from out of the tree of Jesse there will spring one who will save His nation, Israel". Thus, Christians and Jews are brethren, suffering the same fate from the followers of the prophet who proclaimed that non-believers are not to be tolerated in Islamic lands. Apartheid was the toleration of dissimilar people in a land ruled by descendants of British and Dutch settlers, not the cleansing of them from the land. The intolerance towards Israel is a manifestation of Islam which, when appropriate will be directed towards all those that refuse to bow to the prophet of death. I use this term because the slaughter of Muslims by Muslims still goes on, and will continue until, as the Christian nobility found out, the people became exhausted and the righteousness was replaced by reconciliation. The indignation of Palestine towards there being a state of Israel is farcical since there exists an intolerance of Sunni towards Shiite, and vice versa, which prevents the assimilation of like minded people in a peaceful coexistence, which exists in present South Africa.
Big Al

Anonymous said...

Where does the oil come into play?

carmen said...

I see Whaneema's point, and raise her: Not only is referencing black-on-black crime racist, but referencing references to black-on-black crime as racist is racist.

Anonymous said...

Correction to my earlier comment: it should be Pope Benedict XVI not Gregory. Sorry.
Big Al

Anonymous said...

People are only referencing black-on-black crime these days because there is always such a big uproar over white-on-black crime that totally ignores at the same time the same crimes or more done by blacks-on-blacks. People are tired of that.

In the Florida teen case: the killer was not white - he was part black and latino. Altho white could be in the mix - he is not really considered white. I mean - if he had to fill out a form and check a race box, he probably would not check white - unless he was tired of being nonwhite and just felt like it or something. Yet it became a huge white-on-black crime media event, even though it wasn't. That is what people are referencing when they complain about black-on-black crime vs. white-on-black crime because it is very racist to the whites in many people's eyes.

Why would she complain about that?

Anonymous said...

Wahneema is an embarrassment to Duke and deserves ridicule. The legacy of her and the 88 will haunt Duke for decades. I know many who will not give any money to universities thinking they are all like Duke. Duke is a perfect example of PC running wild and gross stupidity.

Anonymous said...

... to the point of beyond evil

... what they do to others is criminal

... what they want to do is deadly - for all

Anonymous said...

The real crime here is that parents willing send their children to be taught by such creatures, and that donors willingly support this toxic institution. Without their sanction, there's no forum for ilk like Holloway et al.

Anonymous said...

If you knew what they did to some of their patients you would surely barf, or at least never go there again. If you had to watch people all around you in your state being harmed by them continually, and know that that harm did not stop at the borders of NC, but premeated around the USA and the world, you might demand they be shut down completely and immediately - forever.