Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What do they call a Black Person with a Ph.D?. . . or Why I sit on the Sidelines.

It has come to my attention that the move to rid ourselves of Dr. Watson has taken an uncomfortable turn.  While I completely agree with the prevailing complaints made against Watson during his tenure, I was also put off by much of the rhetoric of the anti-Watson campaign.  For me, the racial subtext of the debate was a huge turn off.  Starting with a discussion of a (draft) letter that called the President, a man with a PhD from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States an “anti-intellectual”; to the personal attacks about the president in front of students; to the assault on the African American clergy (an imperfect group, to say the least, but one who proves to be an all-too-convenient target highlighting all that is corrupt within the black freedom struggle). I was uncomfortable.  It was also not lost on me that the tenured African American faculty has not taken the lead in much of the movement against the Watson regime. 
I thought this needed to change and, in spite of my reservations, I assured a colleague that I would consider a more active role. I thought about what I could do all morning.  Before I made any solid commitments, I sought counsel from those I trusted.  What I heard disturbed me and prompted this post.  I was told by more than one person about an exchange between a junior faculty member and another faculty member working to remove Watson.  In this exchange, the junior faculty was told (and I am paraphrasing here) that the black faculty was “chicken-shit” for not actively calling for Watson’s ouster.  How about that “chicken shit”?
This exchange reminded me of a famous exchange where Malcolm X famously asked in a television interview, "what do you call an educated negro with a B.A. or an M.A., with a B.S., or a PhD?" The answer? "You call him a nigger, because that is what the white man calls him, a nigger."  Now, I am not going to go as far as to accuse my colleague of using such a vile word as there is no evidence that he did.  Nor am I willing to posit that this notion was driving this attack on my fellow black faculty members.  What I am charging, however, is that such sentiment is both paternalistic and divisive.   Black intellectuals, as Malcolm argued, have been among groups who have constantly had to prove our worth within the academy.  In too many cases, no matter what they did, their efforts, degrees, opinions were degraded in the ivory tower.  It still goes on and it’s too bad that this seems to going on here.  
The way you chose to frame your frustration was discriminatory, distracting, and bordered on race-baiting.  Your use of race to hold African American faculty to a higher standard is analogous to the classic trope of the field slave versus house slave. Black faculty who choose to either not participate, or worse, disagree with YOU, apparently are brain-washed and, by extension, part of the problem.  What’s ironic is that, we as faculty, have criticized the Watson camp for dodging culpability by resorting to name-calling and innuendo to disparage their enemies and YOU have done the same thing.  I have shared my opinions about this process.  Have you even bothered to survey all us chickens to ask why we do not speak out? Maybe, just maybe, it is exactly this attitude that keeps us on the sidelines.  And some of you ask why I do not participate!
How dare you insult an entire community, with the same credentials as you, and imply that we, they, I don’t get it.  How dare you?!? Who made you the king of common sense? Would you insult the Latino faculty?  I haven’t seen many of them at the anti-Watson phalanx.  What insults await them?  I can only imagine what you call the white faculty members who refuse to speak out against Watson. I’m not sure but, we, they, and I get chicken shit! You, my friend, owe EVERY African American faculty member on this campus an apology. However, I would settle for making amends to the aforementioned junior faculty member whom was insulted to his face.  I can tell you this: such statements will guarantee that I, a card-carrying-member of the chicken shit coalition, will continue to stay on the sidelines.
Too often during this campaign black folk who choose to campaign behind the scenes are either chastised for not speaking out or falsely accused of being a Watson apologist for merely asking a question regarding protest rhetoric. If I don’t agree with you then I am your enemy, right?   I know the answer to this one because I asked it on one another occasion.  The answer, of course, was “yes”.  My question to my colleague is “who died and made you keeper of my indignation?”  
Corday likes to frame the activities occurring on campus in historical context.  I think this is a good idea because, as a historian, I think that protest movements can learn much by studying the predecessors.  In that vein, I would like to include my own example from history.  In the years of the French Revolution the Committee of Public Safety was de facto government of the new France and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion.  The power of the Committee peaked between August 1793 and July 1794. In December 1793 the entire power of government come to rest in the Committee and a virtual dictatorship was established. To defend France and suppress internal uprisings, the Committee raised fourteen armies, while to ensure supplies the Committee instituted a partial system of maximum prices and fixed wages. To repress domestic opposition, it instituted the Reign of Terror, in which those deemed enemies of the revolution were executed with the guillotine.  Now, we are insulted!
I want to make this clear, I am a union man.  I come from a union family.  Watson’s disregard for us as workers is immoral and his violations of federal law (his attempts of suppressing free speech) and alleged state ethic laws with the employment of his romantic partners are egregious and he should be removed from his post.  He is, in sum, the wrong man, for the wrong job, at the wrong time.  I have never wavered on my position here.  However, I will always be a race man, first and foremost.   Anyone who finds it that easy to insult the entire body of African American intellectuals on this campus is not, and will NEVER be, okay with me.  If you are going to be a leader of a movement and fight this good fight, be sure to remember who you are fighting for.  Until that time, I’ll keep watching from the cheap seats.

This just in:  In the latest development, now we have GRADUATE STUDENTS insulting tenured FACULTY on the blog!  I've seen enough.  APATHETIC he says?  How about tired of have our integrity questioned? 


  1. When one has been trying for 17 years to see this "diamond in the rough" this place of "so much potential" turned over and over and over again to political interests masquerading a "educators" at some point one says enough. And enough with lanuguage that pussyfoots around issues. What you might interpret as disrespectful language in regards to our now all-powerful and unrestrained president, others will interpret as just blunt speaking.

    I have watched enough committed African American faculty leave, no flee, this place as soon as a much better opportunity arose for them and I don't doubt that many of your colleagues on the sidelines with you are hoping for just such a thing to happen to them. Others of us don't have such hopes or options. Call us all racists, those of us who dare to speak bluntly (and we're not all white, here by the way)--is Gary Rozier? is Glenn Meeks? --if that helps you. "Chickenshit" may outrage you, the actions and clear political maneuvering of Emil Jones and Wayne Watson may not. But do you have the same reaction to the terminology that Langston Hughes used in his essay “Cowards from the Colleges: An Essay"? You probably don't remember, but you turned me onto this essay some long time ago.

  2. Doc, I'm a racist? Lonza Fruitree is a racist? polo Dockery is a racist? Phil Beverly?

    Doc, by the time I'm done getting my MA next year, I'll be $60,000/in debt and will have invested 4yrs of my life into getting that degree.

    If the person or people threatening that sizeable investment were PLAID, I'd be just as against them.

    And YES, many faculty ARE reacting to this travesty with bovine indifference, both faculty AND students, as I posted earlier. Did I say JUST black faculty and students? No. Did i criticize you any any way? No. Why? Because you are NOT apathetic. I've heard you speak to your students about the mismanagement of our school.

    Speaking up does NOT mean HAVING to go to BOT meetings and/or wall papering the school with flyers for a sit in.

    As for Watson not being an intellectual, George W Bush has freaking degrees from TWO Ivy League Universities. I doubt even W thinks he's an intellectual.
    I respectfully say that you're reading WAY too much into this.

  3. I never said that anyone was a racist and if you can point out where I said that it would be news to me. My frustration stemmed from the constant inattention to subtle social, cultural, and religious sensitivities in some of the attacks on the President. I grew up in a political family and have close friends who are elected officials and have benefited from some of these relationships when I tried to find work. Am I like Jones? I like both of the new faculty in Criminal Justice. Am I part of the problem with the Cook County Friends and Family Hiring Plan? One of our colleagues, I believe, is an ordained minister. Would we cast her in the same lot as the Watson folks? I hope not. If you look closely, the name calling on both side of the Watson Wall was exactly one of the things I was critiquing.

    Indeed, my problem specifically is with ONE faculty member who not only insulted a close friend and colleague of ours to his face (not once, but twice during the same exchange), but felt comfortable insulting all (his exact word) of the Black faculty on this campus! This, in my opinion, points to a problem of message. If a key member of the committee to get rid of Watson can allow his frustrations to so overtake him that he lashes out at an ENTIRE segment of the population, perhaps there needs to be some discussion within the core group about exactly what is the face and voice of the campaign. Being a bully here is hypocritical, common, and violates so many of the basic values of intellectual discourse that we were trained in, does it not? We make that argument that Watson has no idea what we as faculty do, but when convenient we act just like him and minions.

    I also NEVER said that the coalition was devoid of non-whites. But, it seems that neither the public presence of people like Bradbury or Beverly, nor the talks that I constantly facilitate with my student made any difference in the mind of this ONE person so willing to paint all us black folk with a broad brush. Black folk, in this instance, was judged by the "worst" of our group. Come to think of it, this belief appears to be a classic definition of racism (but again, this is not part of the larger argument I am trying to make).

    If one chooses to call themselves a leader of a movement, then that person must acknowledge that there are just some lines that should not be crossed. This is especially true if they have any aspirations of securing the moral high ground and winning the hearts and minds of the people. Scorched earth campaigns do not work and are usually employed by armies to retreat in the face of an enemy or an invader. This tactic was used with good results but also severe suffering on the civilian side. In other words, this attack on our colleague stinks of desperation. Is that what our message is? We're desperate, so all bets are off?

    The second thing that came to mind was a question that has largely been asked of U.S. foreign policy but I feel may fit here. That question is, "how do you make a terrorist?" The short answer: you bomb his village. Invade her country. Or, you kill his friends and family. When the United States looks back and we ask ourselves why ”they" hate "us", we have to take a long look in our collective mirrors and ask whether or not we have taken the appropriate measures to garner their loyalty. Last I checked insults don’t work.

    As to Gerald, I mean Tom, I am by no stretch calling Watson a Noble Laureate. However, earning a doctorate is difficult and earning a doctorate in the Black community, in particular, is a huge deal, right? So, when he was called anti-intellectual (to be fair this language was quickly abandoned), for me and other African American faculty who read the draft this was akin to a slap in the face. Indict the man for the things he has done to the detriment of the University and stick to this issues that confront us all. We still have to work with each other once Watson is gone.

  4. Sounds good to me, Doc. I'm on campus tomorrow, and I need to talk to you on various issues. See you them.

  5. Do you know where I can find that original quote? I've been doing some digging and so far no luck