If I like it, it's data; if I don't like it, it's "anecdata."
No - whether you like it or not, it is neither dim nor racist to generalize on the basis of widespread and frequent events (i.e. both cop killings and Elect abuses).
We’ll get to the photo at the end; it’s the guy in the middle we might consider these days. But until then:
The people I call The Elect have a common way of dealing with criticism. When confronted with transparently egregious behavior committed in their name, they claim that the episode is a mere anecdote. It is supposedly unrepresentative of a larger reality in which what we really need to be talking about is that many of the people who stormed the Capitol are racists, and that if they had been black the Capitol police would have mowed them down in cold blood, and other empirical observations that apparently serve so directly to improve the lives of black people who need help. (To use a term The Elect like, I suppose these observations function to help black people …)
But the problem is that the same people treat a few episodes of, for example, cops killing black people as representative of a national phenomenon, no questions asked. And – let’s say that it is, although I find that analysis oversimplified. I would still not say that it is wrong to hear several stories from across the nation and start to generalize, to see a pattern.
However, the same must apply to episodes of Electness breaching common sense and morality. Multiple episodes cannot be dismissed as mere “anecdata,” as one sees it put. Especially when the episodes are as multiple as they are. There is a pattern, and it’s scary.
Hence I close out the week with some anecdata.
This just in – a young man with Ivy League degrees in biology and economics, already published in a serious academic journal, was accepted into a graduate program at a prestigious institution. He decided to decline, and I quote the letter he wrote (it was not to me):
“It hurts so much that I have to decline your offer and several other great offers that I have received from elite universities and programs that used to be the dream schools for young people like me. I am simply very frustrated by ideology masquerading as objective science in today's higher ed. particularly humanity fields. Universities these days are trying to make young people like me feel guilty because we are white and because the whole system is filled with white racists, and me included. There is such strong moralization in the academy that is so certain that it has Science on its side in all of its proclamations. Frankly, today's academy’s ideological dogmatism is one of my major fear and hesitancies for entering it. I fear any work I do, especially in developmental or evolutionary psychology, would be evaluated not on its merit but instead on what is perceived as my politics based on how politically convenient my findings are. I have decided to move to [foreign country] to join a group of very creative and young [subject area redacted by me] on a [ibid.] research project. I want to spend the last 5 years in my 20s on something scientific, not political. But it seems that it is simply impossible to accomplish that goal in my own country.”
This joins the now hundreds of missives that I have received from people similarly cowed by what Electness is doing to academic inquiry. I would include a talk I just gave for Heterodox Academy (of which I am part), after which I received quite the flood of emails from people who feel similarly. This is real, folks.
This just in – anthropology professor Robert Schuyler has been forced into retirement at the University of Pennsylvania. Why? Because during a meeting when he felt silenced by a doctoral student, he mockingly signalled “Sieg Heil” to suggest that the person was being unnecessarily authoritarian.
So, to do a Nazi salute even in jest, and even in response to feeling dominated, not as an attempt to dominate, disqualifies one as a viable colleague in an academic department? Criticism is one thing, but the idea that this man would have to leave his job would have stunned most people as recently as ten years ago. Schuyler is not a young man — but still; he wasn’t planning on leaving just yet.
Here is the same willful numbness to nuance and intent that we have seen with the firing (essentiallly) of Donald McNeil at the Times. And once again, the usual suspects may well say that there was “history” here, that Schuyler had been unpleasant in assorted ways long before (I for one do not know). But if he would still be working if he hadn’t done the “Sieg Heil” gesture, then the essence of this episode is clear. And let’s face it – he would still be teaching minus that one one-second-and-a-half action in a Zoom meeting.
I sense that for people who approve of things like this, the idea is that America is roiling with discrimination to such a degree that drastic measures are urgent. As such, apparently to resist The Elect is to be a white supremacist allied at least abstractly with people storming the Capitol. But no -- we resisters simply cannot look away from the issue of degree. That is, is America truly roiling with racist rot to the extent that we are told the enlightened person must suppose?
Here is someone who thinks so, here in Black History Month when brilliant and accomplished black people are often asked to write evaluations of how far we have come and how far we have to go. I will not link to this piece here, as I am not seeking to zero in on this person specifically. Anyone who is curious can find out where this is from but I am quoting it as representative of a general frame of mind.
It’s a frame of mind I question, despite that I am under no impression that people who write this way are hustlers or power seekers. Here is this person’s take on the conditions that prevail:
“The erasure is as stunning as it is thorough. The role of Black labor in building the Southern economic infrastructure has been routinely denied. The contributions that Black scholars have made in the humanities, the life sciences and the natural sciences have been lost because of segregated workplaces. The work of Black creative artists has been disregarded since it became appropriated into the national cultural apparatus.”
But we might take this apart:
The role of Black labor in building the Southern economic infrastructure has been routinely denied.
Okay, has been – but the use of the perfect here is subtle. Elvis has left the building – it implies that his leaving rings with import here in the present, unlike Elvis left the building. Just who, today, is denying black people’s role here? Which professionals? Which people anyone listens to? Or, if the denial was common coin in the past – which it was – then precisely what do we do with that in the today in which we live?
The contributions that Black scholars have made in the humanities, the life sciences and the natural sciences have been lost because of segregated workplaces.
Have been – okay. But which contributions of this kind are being “lost” today, anymore than, of course, those “lost” by pretty much all scholars, since none but a sliver of scholarship ever really sees the light of day? Would a trawl of the books covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The New Yorker actually reveal a downplaying of important black work?
The work of Black creative artists has been disregarded since it became appropriated into the national cultural apparatus.
Can we really say this especially of America since last spring, when so very much welcome attention has been paid to black art of all kinds? Does the current situation really justify this acrid judgment?
Note that in certain circles, my very posing of these questions – just asking questions – is considered deeply obnoxious, arrogant, inappropriate. That feeling is so deep-seated that you can forget that it isn’t normal.
To suspect a gaping chasm between reality on the ground and ringing passages like that one is not to be a white supremacist, but a human being. And I would venture to point out that in the America that passage supposedly depicts, a white Southern segregationist — my photo for this piece is of Richard Russell in the middle, arch-racist Georgia senator who helped keep black people in chains for 40 years — revived and taken on a trip through the nation and then forced to watch just an hour of what is on line would find themselves retching at how truly and deeply black people and blackness have permeated this society on all levels, in all ways since the 1960s. Literally retching – he’d possibly have a heart attack and die again.
Yet somehow that’s not supposed to matter? It is this kind of thing that leads me to classify this kind of thinking as something challenging and often disempowering, rather than the empirical prophecy that we are often taught to think it is. One is taught to say, write and applaud depictions of our racial progress of that kind, as a kind of civic duty – and meanwhile to pretend that stories like the one about the emigrating grad student and the professor cashiered for rudeness are just “anecdata.”
We aren’t seeing things plain.