Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a cover story called “Black Studies: ‘Swaggering Into the Future,’” in which the reporter described how “young black-studies scholars … are less consumed than their predecessors with the need to validate the field or explain why they are pursuing doctorates in their discipline.”
So last week, on the Chronicle’s “Brainstorm” blog (where I was paid to be a regular contributor), I suggested that the dissertation topics of the graduate students mentioned were obscure at best and “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap,” at worst.
In 1974, Thomas Sowell wrote that from the beginnings of the discipline, “the demands for black studies differed from demands for other forms of new academic studies in that they … restricted the philosophical and political positions acceptable, even from black scholars in such programs.”
Thirty-five years later in a piece for the Minding the Campus website, former Berkeley Prof. John McWhorter noted that little had changed: “Too often the curriculum of African-American Studies departments gives the impression that racism and disadvantage are the most important things to note and study about being black.”
My critics have suggested that I do not believe the black experience in America is worthy of study. That is not true. It’s just that the best of this work rarely comes out of black studies departments. Scholars like Roland Fryer in Harvard’s economics department have done pathbreaking research on the causes of economic disparities between blacks and whites. And Eugene Genovese’s work on slavery and the role of religion in black American history retains its seminal role in the field decades after its publication.