This post is a commentary on the controversy around Saida Grundy’s tweets. Recently, Grundy, posted tweets about the legacy of racism. The gist of Grundy’s tweets was that there is a legacy of racism and privilege that is not addressed in American society. At the AAUP blog, Arianne Shavisi summarizes the tweets well: “Grundy … an incoming sociology faculty member at Boston University, tweeted a set of remarks and rhetorical questions regarding white supremacy, slavery, and misogyny in the US.” The tweets generated controversy because they were written in an informal fashion and were interpreted by some as racist.
I want to focus on a few issues that have so far have not received much attention. Before I do, I want to be explicit about my own views. There is nothing wrong in asking if the majority in this country have enjoyed privilege or if people have truly acknowledged the history of racism in America. It is also not controversial to note that some ethnic groups, such as Whites, may be over represented on some issues. In terms of style, I would have been more careful. Twitter is the type of media where things can easily be taken out of context. What is funny, or witty, in person can go bad online. There is also a bit dispute over the administration’s response. My view is that university administrators should support an environment of academic free speech, but remain agnostic on particular faculty members.
There are two issues that I’d like to address: the history of controversy in African-American Studies and internet shaming. I’ve written previously in the Teachers College Record, and a little in my book, about the pattern of controversy around African-American Studies. This is relevant since Grundy is jointly appointed in African-American Studies and sociology. Since the beginning, the field has been the target of conservative critics who periodically use African-American Studies as an example of all that is wrong on higher education. During the 2012 Naomi Schaefer Riley incident, a journalist plucked titles of incomplete dissertations and made fun of them. One can go through the pages of conservative opinion journals and books to see periodic critiques of African-American Studies from the likes of John Derbyshire and Dinesh D’Souza (see page 238p, note 5 of the book). In an earlier era, scholars like Martin Kilson would go to the mainstream press to air complaints.
What is new is that these critics now have access to the social media output of African-American Studies scholars. An enterprising critic could comb Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to find the most outrageous things. They can quickly go viral and trigger a wave of outrage overnight. Still, one should keep in mind that it still fits an overall pattern of external critics obsessing over African American Studies as a symbol of the liberal rot of academia. The only difference is the speed at which this can happen. Thus, as I noted above, it is wise to exercise prudence in such a hostile environment.
Second, there is an element of Internet shaming happening here. The journalist Ron Jonson has a new book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” that describes how in the modern age people can use comments and social media to instantaneously tarnish a person’s reputation. The normal punishment for an off-color joke or poorly worded remark is a mild reprimand. Now, the very same minor offense can lead to losing one’s job and a potentially irreparable mark on one’s reputation. Jonson also notes that Internet shaming often is highly unequal in that Internet rage is often directed at women. Here, the insult is compounded. Grundy is an early career scholar and this incident has already been a serious burden.
This incident reflects a number of factors coming together. Twitter can translate wit into rancor; social media magnifies mistakes; and there is a ready to go outrage machine just waiting for the jarring statement from an ethnic studies professor. I hope in the future that we can better deal with this phenomena and that this scholar can start a fruitful research career.
In this post, I’d like to explain why you might want to adopt open borders as one of your issues. First, open borders is an issue that affects all people. Any one of us might want to travel to another country for work or enjoyment. For millions of people, migration represents the only plausible avenue out of poverty.
Second, open borders is a “common grounds” issue. It is a policy position that is consistent with most political ideologies. Liberals should favor free migration because it is the easiest way to address poverty and global inequality. Conservatives should support it on the grounds that moving to find work is an example of self-reliance. Conservatives should also support any policy that allows families to be reunited. Libertarians should support free migration because they favor open labor markets. Marxists should support any policy that allows poor workers to travel freely to be in places with the strongest labor practices.
Third, open borders is cheap. No need to build schools, roads, tanks, or anything. All you need to do is tell the border guards to take the day off and go protect things that need protecting.
Fourth, open borders is easy to understand compared to most policy topics. Honestly, most people don’t understand climate science or Keynesian macro-economics. In contrast, most arguments about the pros and cons of migration can be understood by nearly any educated person. The empirical evidence is also relatively straightforward.
If you have ever wondered how you can change the world, adopt open borders as one of your political issues and tell other people.
As usual, the Junior Theorists Symposium has an amazing line up. Day before the ASA. Check it out!
Junior Theorists Symposium
University of Chicago
Social Sciences Room 122
Fellow guest blogger Ellen Berrey asked in a previous post how “powerful, elite organizations” can “lessen inequality” or “advance broad progressive causes like social justice.” As someone who has studied the progressive consultants who produce public engagement processes on behalf of corporations, governments, and non-profits, I’m excited to take up her challenge to go beyond cataloging wrongdoing and “foreground power and meaning making.” I think one reason people have trouble understanding the good work organizations do is because it’s complicated. We bring in lots of cultural assumptions about where and when “good” work should be done, and by whom. See, for example, this piece on the EPA’s complicated relationship with “public comments”– the political stakes here are high.
In presenting my research on public engagement consultants and how they make sense of their everyday work to bring democracy inside powerful bureaucracies, audience members have a tendency to want to label top-down public engagement as universally bad or good. Is it an empowering win-win for all involved? Or is it just cooptation? Sometimes public participation practitioners themselves talk about their evolution from adversarial practices to engaged interaction within “enemy” institutions.
In Chapters 3 and 4 of DIY Democracy, I explore how practitioners live within these tensions differently in different moments. Sometimes, they look like entrepreneurs, adeptly negotiating competing and contradictory logics to reform organizations. This coincides with the agentive views of “inhabited institutions” scholars. At other times, they perform a great deal of work to perform rituals that integrate their challenger identities with their elite status as management consultants. Instead of these contrasting practices demonstrating “institutional indeterminacy,” as some scholars have argued, I think that we must link micro-level institutional work to its macro-level consequences to understand how power fits in. At what times do practitioners use either of these strategies to produce democratic authenticity? What are their concrete consequences? Answering these questions can help us to understand meaning-making within organizations as capable of both politicizing and depoliticizing “good” work— sometimes at the same time.
Below: a suggestion wall from a dialogue and deliberation practitioners’ conference
My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press), is officially out today. Yay! The book is about diversity—that word, diversity—the organizational politics that coalesce around it, and the implications for the struggle for racial justice. I’m going to paste some excerpts here that highlight the main (empirical) argument. I’m working on a variation of this for an op-ed. Reactions welcome!
Talk of “diversity” is ubiquitious in the twenty-first-century United States, from the Oval Office to celebratory neighborhood festivals. A national sociological survey found that nearly all respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Popular diversity interventions include affirmative admissions policies, mixed-income housing programs, and corporate training.
I have spent more than a decade answering these questions through ethnographic and historical research. My investigation has taken me to various settings—a university, a neighborhood, and a corporation—that all proactively identify as diversity champions. There, I found that some of the most passionate advocates of diversity are CEOs, university presidents, elected officials, and other leaders with stature and power. This presented a riddle: what, exactly, do decision-makers accomplish when they take on the goal of diversity?
In the post–civil rights period, many decision makers face a new race problem: racial representation and the potential stigma of not representing race properly. They confront a widespread expectation that some people of color, especially African Americans, will be present in a predominantly white context, measured either numerically or by racial minorities’ visibility or authority. Having at least one token person of color on a governing board has become, in many places, crucial for an organization’s legitimacy. Just as racial representation has become an issue—and, in part, because racial representation has become an issue—the representation of other marginalized groups has become important as well, particularly that of women.
The decision makers in this study have responded by advocating diversity. They have constructed identities for their organization or community as distinctive for its diversity—as one of its distilled, essential features and compatible with other fundamental characteristic of that locale. University administrators, for instance, touted the University of Michigan as “excellent and diverse.” At Michigan and elsewhere, leaders have deliberately cultivated a diversity image in hopes of shaping other people’s views and experiences of cross-racial interaction. They may be sincerely trying to improve intergroup relations and increase minority representation or just creating the appearance of such. These leaders certainly hope to create the impression that they, themselves, can manage group differences successfully.
There are both promises and pitfalls in treating race as diversity. The drive for diversity disavows discrimination. It helps to justifies some organizational policies, like affirmative action, that are proven to be effective at moving racial minorities and women up the economic ladder. It also affirms a basis of commonality—a shared, self-reinforcing commitment to social cohesion—across group-based differences that normally divide Americans deeply.
But diversity advocates’ efforts to minimize group divisions and expand the bounds of social membership have focused on symbolism more than on social causes. They have resisted fundamental change in the structures, practices, or cultures that guide day-to-day interactions and shape determinations of merit and value. The push for diversity is, by and large, a mechanism of containing and co-opting equality, as it largely leaves untouched persistent racial inequities and the gulf between rich and poor. This is the taming of the civil rights movement’s provocative demands for racial justice.
I recently reviewed a paper for Social Problems. The decision letter noted that they accept 8% of papers. That is roughly in the ball park of ASR, AJS and other journals. On the Facebook page, I asked if Social Problems is so competitive, then why doesn’t it get the same profile or respect as ASR/AJS in the sociology job market/promotion system? Some answers make sense. For example, there could be self-selection and people send stronger papers to the association’s journals. Another issue is that Social Problems simply accepts different types of papers. For example, Social Problems does not publish “pure theory” as would be found in AJS or Sociological Theory and it rarely publishes methods papers, which can be big citation generators.
Still, it seems like there is quite a bit of overlap between Social Problems and AJS/ASR/SF. See for your self. Can you identify which papers are Social Problems from the following list?*
- Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse
- Is Love (Color) Blind? The Economy of Race among Gay and Straight Daters
- The Best Laid Plans: Social Capital in the Development of Girls’ Educational and Occupational Plans
- Work-Family Context and the Longevity Disadvantage of US Women
- Executive Compensation, Fat Cats, and Best Athletes
- The Dynamics of Opportunity and Insurgent Practice: How Black Anti-colonialists Compelled Truman to Advocate Civil Rights
- Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940
- The Paradox of Legitimacy: Resilience, Successes, and the Multiple Identities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey
My point isn’t to say that all journals are publishing the same stuff, but even a casual perusal of the journals suggests a lot of overlap. I think self-selection and the prestige orders creates different pools that lead to actual differences in quality. My point is more modest: the difference between AJS/ASR and other journals is probably exaggerated. I’d like to see sociology move to a system of top 4 journals (or more), like most other disciplines.
* Answers: SP, SF, SP, SF, ASR, ASR, AJS, SP.