For those who haven’t been following it thus far, Horowitz wannabe Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a screed about black studies as a paid blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education, following up on the Chronicle’s generally positive news story about the discipline. There’s nothing particularly special about the screed; it’s garden-variety right-wing anti-intellectualism, peppered with a well-honed tone of marginalized sanctimony. Given its subject matter, it’s clearly racist too, but as far as I can tell the racism is not the primary cause of the argument but a result of its defiant ignorance.Following the uproar about the blog entry, Riley posted a follow-up not just admitting but bragging that she hadn’t actually read the scholarship in question. More uproar followed, and then the obligatory editorial statement that they love vigorous debate and those who disagree should feel free to do so loudly and often.
Then, yesterday, the editors change their tune and fire Riley from the blog. The reactions, like the rest of this sordid affair, are predictable and vacuous. Right-wingers howl about free speech and the “race card,” and it goes without saying that Riley will feed off the firing to take her place among the canon of right-wingers who take pride in having been marginalized from academia because they don’t like thinking.
The whole thing is sort of revolting and enticing, in the same way as a road accident might be.
I do think the critics made a tactical mistake by highlighting the racist component. The blog entry would be about as objectionable if it were without racist overtones at all — complaining, say, about string theory in physics or new translations of Greek classics without actually paying attention to the scholarship at all. Emphasizing the racism of it provides an easy out for Riley and her ilk to complain about how academics are so “sensitive,” and gives a free pass to the more general, insidious, toxic theme: right-wing anti-intellectualism.