Joejoe1 1 hour ago in reply to AmarWright
I'm not really sure why Naomi was fired. The only thing that usually works with businesses like CHE is threats to the bottom line, so I assume the rumors about threats to ad revenue or loss of subscriptions have some truth to them.
My beef with Naomi was the fact that she hadn't read the dissertations she criticized and then wrote a hit piece calling for the abolishment of African American studies based on the titles of these dissertations alone. Naomi's piece was clearly a reaction to an earlier CHE article on the African American studies program at Northwestern. The original article contained a sidebar where 5 graduate students and their dissertation topics were showcased. The dissertations were unfinished and the descriptions in the sidebar were sketchy.
Therefore, it was obvious that Naomi had not read the dissertations: they were not finished yet. However, in her title, she implies that she has read them: "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations." People outside CHE might indeed assume Naomi had read these dissertations (as her title suggests) and take her more seriously than she should be taken. Remember, the blog content (where Naomi's posts appeared) is free, but the serious articles (like the one on Northwestern's program) are by subscription only. Therefore, outside readers without subscriptions had no way to reference the original article in its entirety and know that Naomi was being misleading in her title. That is an ethics issue here that bothered a lot of us.
Since none of the content for Naomi's blog post came from the dissertations, it could only have come from the sketchy information from the original article and from Naomi's own preconceived notions or prejudices. Therefore, her attack on African American Studies was easy to debunk. I wrote a comment at the time debunking her shoddy work and showing her how the three dissertation topics connected to other published research in academia and by HUD. Other commenters highlighted other shortcomings of the piece. It was an easy thing to do. The article had no intellectual weight to it, and was, quite frankly, an embarrassment. Then again, Naomi was known for writing lightweight blog posts seemingly from the hip. She was always easy to debunk as a result and many of us did not take her seriously.
However, with this post, Naomi pushed a lot of buttons:
1. Since her opposition to African American studies was clearly uninformed by fact, many decided that this opinion could only have come from her intrinsic dislike (actually disdain) for African American Studies. Many perceive this kind of disdain as stemming from racism.
2. Naomi's message to African American studies scholars that their entire field is worthless and that they shouldn't be a field at all was experienced by many as the desire to silence the Black voice in academics, which already has a limited place. Most of our academic disciplines are centered on the white experience as the default, with the Black experience (if mentioned at all) being a special case. Essentially, many CHE readers felt that Naomi was in essence telling Blacks academics to "shut up."
3. Naomi clearly did not understand the kind of research being done in African American Studies departments in general. At the end of her diatribe, Naomi demands that Black scholars should focus more on "high incarceration rates, low graduation rates, and high out-of-wedlock birth rates" and claims, "But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments." Of course, this is absolutely factually wrong. Many comments addressed this specific issue and gave references to such work. Once again, a lack of research leads to unsubstantiated claims, or as some might call it, "lies."
4. Naomi's arrogance in the article is palpable. She feels free not only to dismiss African American Studies but tell Black scholars what they should and should not be researching. The fact that such a wildly uninformed blogger should feel entitled to give orders to an entire academic field smacked of arrogance and privilege, and to many "White privilege" specifically. I can't speak to whether this is Naomi's "whiteness" at work or simply her extremely nasty personality, but this arrogance was one of the major elements of her piece that led to firing. In a follow up post, Naomi arrogantly and proudly admits to having not read the dissertations and not having to read them in order to writing an article. She further claims that she is allowed "as a journalist" to avoid such research. Nonsense, of course, but her arrogance is such that you couldn't even tell her otherwise.
5. Naomi's argument centered around the titles of graduate student dissertations. For many people here, that was below the belt. Graduate students are just starting out, have no professional networks or long term support built up in a field. Now, Naomi was taking their names and holding these scholars up for contempt and ridicule online. Many expressed fears that Google searches on the names of these scholars would bring up Naomi's article and her horrific "reviews" of their work:
"The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them. That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could
Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It
began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were
largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into
historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite
experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is?
It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in
America, not to mention academia."
"Then there is Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “Race for Profit: Black
Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” Ms. Taylor believes there
was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s
promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest
of the 1960s. Single family homes! The audacity!"
Naomi Implies that the work of these graduate students is irrelevant, silly, and irrational conspiracy theory. A graduate student (and his/her dissertation committee) might rightly fear a Google search. And here again, a future employer searching on Google might read Naomi's title and assume that she had read these dissertations. Future employers might not understand that Naomi's nasty swipes were based on a precious few sentences in a sidebar of another article plus a lot of preconceived notions.
For many on CHE, this targeting of graduate students and potentially ruining their careers before they even got their degrees in hand was the worst thing Naomi did.
At any rate, this gives you an idea of why people got so angry. This isn't just about an honest debate on African American Studies. It was about shoddy workmanship, implications that are misleading (lies), preconceived notions about Blacks and African American Studies, unmitigated arrogance and a sense of entitlement, and, finally, an attack on the vulnerable to score political points.
Naomi's leaving is not the end of it. I am hoping that the graduate students are exploring their legal and media options for the time when Naomi's article hits Fox News. (It's already hit some mainstream conservative papers). Being called a conspiracy theorist, for example, needs to be countered directly.
Amar, this post is long, but I want you to see how many different facets this issue has. This was not a simple case of a disagreement over ideas