T.F. Charlton: With the NSR debacle I’ve been thinking about the over-scrutiny of Black Studies and black scholars (and black people in general). It seems to me that in public and scholarly discourse we’re always on the defense, while by comparison whiteness is under-examined both in the public sphere and in academic circles. What are your thoughts on that?
Tressie McMillan Cottom: To the binary of offense-defense might I also add the third, implicit position: taken-for-grantedness. The idea that there is some knowledge whose superiority is assumed and, thus, is never engaged in playing either defense or offense is particularly interesting to me. In this way, Black Studies shares a similar subordinate position with many other disciplines (liberal arts, Ethnic Studies, language studies, etc.).
Charlton: I’ve also been thinking about who has access to important platforms like CHE and how they use them, who’s visible and has the weight and credibility of established media outlets behind them (like NSR taking her crocodile tears to Fox and WSJ, e.g.).
McMillan Cottom: This is what I really want to explore. It’s what I try to get at in my latest (and last!) post on the whole situation. I will add that I think the current decline of traditional media offers a narrow, but nonetheless present, opportunity tio reconfigure the distribution hierarchy.
Also interesting: the way the framing of the story became about one white woman’s aggrieved feelings. I’m not sure if that is a function of modern media essentially cutting and pasting every previous story and calling it “news” or if it’s the phenomenon bell hooks and others term “white woman victimhood.” It’s likely both. And, again, those with different opinions have no recourse in reshaping the narrative.
Charlton: My sense is that scholars need to go more on the offensive in making a positive case for general audiences about the value of black audiences (and alternatively, questioning the privileged positions of “neutrality” and “objectivity” that white scholarship and “traditional,” usually disproportionately white departments get) rather than always having to answer the question of its legitimacy, which is a debate on white-centering terms. I think this ties in to the conversations you’ve had since this all blew up about creating independent media platforms for marginalized scholars and disciplines.
McMillan Cottom: I would agree. But going back to the issue of taken-for-grantedness, I’d also add that Black Studies scholars and scholars who value the scholarship of the discipline need to be present. There are things people have a harder (albeit not impossible) time saying about you when you are in the room. So let me go there: I continue to be saddened by the reticence of some black (Studies) scholars on this issue. Perhaps they’re long tired of this argument, but I think there’s still room to engage, to be in the room for these conversations.
—I’m glad T.F. Charlton and Tressie McMillan Cottom dialogued about the implications around CHE-Naomi Schafer Riley’s attacking Black Studies doctoral candidates Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, La TaSha B. Levy, and Ruth Hays on the R today. Check it out!