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From: Len Gutkin
Subject: The Review: Critical Race Theory Redux
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about critical race theory and the attempts by various state legislatures to constrain or prohibit its appearance in public universities. I’m going to risk redundancy by returning to the topic because recent developments are, I think, extreme enough to merit it. According to David Perry, who tweeted a screenshot, on June 2 a provost at Pittsburg State, in Kansas,
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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about critical race theory and the attempts by various state legislatures to constrain or prohibit its appearance in public universities. I’m going to risk redundancy by returning to the topic because recent developments are, I think, extreme enough to merit it. According to David Perry, who tweeted a screenshot, on June 2 a provost at Pittsburg State, in Kansas, emailed department chairs as follows:
Good evening. I have received an email this evening from Dr. Pomatto inquiring for the Provosts (sic) office if Critical Race Theory is being taught in any PSU classes. The specific information would be 1. yes or no and 2. if yes which course(s).
The response needs a short timeline as I need to have this information to the Dean’s office by the end of the day. Please reach out to the faculty within your programs and have them, or you, get back to me ASAP by the end of the day tomorrow.
Kansas, interestingly, does not seem to have proposed any legislation relevant to critical race theory, so it’s hard to know why the provost should be so urgently concerned. Meanwhile, at the end of May, a fully enrolled course at Oklahoma City Community College was canceled “in light of the new HB 1775 law,” which prohibits teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive,” as well as that “an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.”
Such vague language might be used to ban an almost limitless swath of theory, philosophy, history, and even poetry, to say nothing of the enormous sociological literature on stigma and privilege with which some critical race theory is aligned. Here, for instance, is Erving Goffman on identity, privilege, and stigma, from 1963: “There is only one complete unblushing male in America: young, married, white, urban, northern, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports. Every American male tends to look out upon the world from this perspective. Any male who fails to qualify in any of these ways is likely to view himself — during moments at least — as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior.”
Or James Baldwin on racism: “White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want.”
Or Simone de Beauvoir, on the uneven relationship between the sexes: “Men profit in many other more subtle ways from woman’s alterity.”
Or, for that matter, Freud, who, in an essay titled “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,” insists that “for women the level of what is ethically normal is different from what it is in men. Their super-ego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so independent of its emotional origins as we require it to be in men.” (Indeed, the list of male thinkers convinced that “an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by … sex” is more or less endless.)
The point is not that any of these authors are right. But if the humanities and social sciences were stripped of them, it’s hard to know who would be left.
I’m grateful to my colleague Emma Pettit for bringing me up to speed on recent developments in the political controversies around curricula.
- “Yet Kawakami is interested neither in demonstrating what makes people good nor in delighting in their antisocial perversities. Rather, her project is, like Nietzsche’s, a genealogical one. Her novels trace how terms of moral value evolve — how ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ or ‘pain’ and ‘pleasure,’ get affixed to ordinary interactions: becoming friends or becoming enemies, fighting or refusing to fight, falling in love or falling into indifference.” At The New Yorker, Merve Emre on Mieko Kawakami’s new novel, Heaven.
- “Gorey’s imagery, as Dery notes, is in debt to the Surrealists, and, at times, in its use of line, to Aubrey Beardsley, but insofar as Gorey belongs to a genre it is the Romantic picturesque with its mood of inbetweenity; his favoured time is twilight and the recurrent mood is a shadowy, autumnal melancholy.” At the London Review of Books, Rosemary Hill on Edward Gorey, occasioned in part by Mark Dery’s new biography. (And in the Chronicle Review, check out Dery’s recent profile of Mark Crispin Miller.)
- “We may be deluged by ironic radicals or we may become them ourselves.” At Bookforum, Christian Lorentzen on irony, sentimentality, and the gothic in the current American novel.
- “Physical material alone can be pretty boring. Of course a real work of art has an aura.” That’s the experimental filmmaker Michael Snow, being interviewed at The Brooklyn Rail.
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