A friend asked for my thoughts on a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Ugly Truth about being a black professor”. It is written by George Yancy, a professor at Emory University and it is here if you want to read it. In it the author recounts hate mail and death threats he received after writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times in 2015. Another version of his response to the backlash is here. The op ed piece is here if you want to read it. He is writing a book about the reaction to his New York Times essay called  Backlash: What Happens When We Honestly Talk About Racism in America, My friend presumably asked me to comment on it because I spent 30 years as a black professor at a predominantly white institution. I have been trying to get my thoughts together in some sort of coherent fashion so I can comment on the situation.

First of all I was certainly not the black public intellectual that Dr. Yancy is, and did not write op ed essays for the New York Times. We are now in the Age of Trump where some people feel it is not only permissible to smack down uppity blacks, but that it is their duty to do so. However this did not start with Trump’s election. For decades even ordinary and banal things have provoked racial incidents that lead to the mistreatment, arrest, and even death of black folks when fearful whites or police officers respond based on stereotypes. Black folks have always asked a simple question when one of these incidents take place: Would it have been handled the same if it were a white person instead of a black person involved? Such incidents have always happened be they at restaurants like Starbucks or police killing unarmed black suspects on suspicion of even minor things. As Wil Smith says racism has not increased it is just being filmed. The internet has provided a medium where people can express their racism at a distance, often anonymously, and without fear of consequences. Social media have provided “silos” in which people can find others who share their racial views, amplify their fears, embolden their vitriol, and provide a outlet for its expression. It has also provided a way for news about racial incidents to spread like wildfire, encouraged people to organize against it, and created a way to do so.

The first interesting thing to me about this incident is that it the original essay and its backlash appeared in December, 2015 before Trump started winning primaries and eventually the election. In other words it pre-dated the Trump era. In a real sense Trump didn’t create this racial anger; the racial anger created Trump. Trump was able to tap into this anger and ride its wave into the highest political office in the land without any political experience; no knowledge of law, the political process or even the Constitution; and even though he actively represented the economic interests of his class rather than the very people who elected him. This tells me that he isn’t a passing fancy but the embodiment of a racism deep within the bedrock of American society: a racism that has been there for hundreds of years.  Social scientists are now putting the lie to the narrative (now popular among the Democrats and the media) that economic issues are the key to Trump support. The typical Trump supporter earned $72,000, was not being displaced by immigrants, and indeed had very little experience with them before seeing them as a threat. You can read articles about it here, here and here. This racism is now threatening the well being of whites as well as people of color. It is allowing the 1% to solidify its hold and increase the inequality in our country. I will keep saying this until the day I die: hatred against or fear of other groups, sexism and racism are tools used by those in power to stay in power. At least some whites are now realizing this.

In examining the backlash against Professor Yancy I identify at least three things. The first is a doubt that African Americans could be intellectuals at all. This confounds and threatens the stereotypes that these people hold about people of color. This claim to intellectualism must be attacked through charges that blacks succeed only through affirmative action rather than merit. Going back to Yancy’s original argument the second group of vitriolic comments concern the analysis of racism that he presents. The third category is the objection that to talk about racism is racist in itself. Yancy is accused of “hating” whites and promoting discord. I will take up each of these things in subsequent blog entries.

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