U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Solidarity with Saida Grundy!

On May 12, 2015, Robert A. Brown, President of Boston University wrote a public letter to the “Boston University Community.”

Those familiar with the language of power will recognize the rhetorical posture (it is the wind of passive aggression that contemporary capitalism breathes through its teeth):;

Many members of our community are aware of comments made on social media by Dr. Saida Grundy, who on July 1st will become an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology with an additional appointment in African American Studies. Dr. Grundy’s comments are receiving extensive coverage in the media; we are also hearing from alumni, friends, and others about them. Many have expressed the view that some of Dr. Grundy’s comments are offensive and/or racist.

Robert Brown

Brown goes on to champion the mission of “maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions.” From this position, condemnation flows:  “We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.”

Interested readers can easily find the tweets in question elsewhere. I will not reproduce them here, because doing so automatically summons into being the very seedy and demoralizing situation that right wing demagogues wish to normalize. The reactionary academic activist longs for the bygone supremacy of the white male critic. He wishes to see 10000 men cool-headedly sitting back in their chairs, analyzing the data: the Twitter “outburst” of this Palestinian American radical, the Facebook essay of that African American woman, concluding the operation with an up or down hand gesture, like a Roman emperor in a sandals-and-chariots Technicolor spectacular.

To understand the rage of those who would sift through the social media messages of a scholar of color, looking for evidence of thought crimes, one must recall the wounded, aggrieved, bathetic self-pity of those who feel that the academy has been overrun by so many others, who wish to find some way to role-play (as “public intellectuals” allegedly once did) as eagle-eyed judges swathed in robes, performatively uttering approbations and handing down punishments.

Against this project (and its legions of creeps) we must insist: it’s none of our business. To the relentless monger of hypotheticals (what if it was a call to kill babies? what if it was a celebratory ode to Jeffrey Dahmer?) we say: we’ll deal with that when it happens. But to compare this to that is to have embraced a willful and arrogant vapidity and to have served oneself up as a useful idiot to the very worst tribunes of hatred and anti-intellectualism that this country has ever seen.

Thus, solidarity with Saida Grundy ought to be voiced not merely as a formal reflex (defending the articulation of unpopular viewpoints), but as part of a more global critique of the place of these rituals of selective scrutiny and condemnation, hand-wringing and empty speechifying, after which every scholar of color, researcher in the disciplines brought into being by the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, and heterodox philosopher becomes more vulnerable to attack, more likely to be passed over by a hiring committee or dean because of the anticipated trouble. We must reject the whole sordid ritual structure, and refuse the “he said/she said” format so beloved by the David Horowitzes of the world. Most of all, we must do whatever we can to express solidarity with Saida Grundy, and to build an infrastructure within our professional organizations so that nobody ever has to go through this again.

10 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Great post. The way most people think about racism–outside of a given power structure–is absurd. It is part of the liberal fiction that there can be such a thing as neutrality; that history, for example, could be written without an agenda.

    • Thanks for this comment, Eran. I think you are absolutely right that the nasty treatment of Grundy speaks to a much larger presupposition of scholarly neutrality, selectively applied only to certain scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Imagine a business prof who was neutral about whether corporations should seek to maximize profits! Or a medical researcher neutral about whether cancer is good or bad.

  2. I’m coming late to this story/affair. There are so many anti-Grundy tweets that I can’t find a story on Twitter that is remotely basic–i.e. just gives the basic facts. Of course I’ll sign the petition on principle, but I’d like to know the bare-bones narrative. -TL

  3. Saida Grundy’s trendy, militant tweets do not obscure that she exhibits the same ethical laziness & spiritual indigence which she projects onto the objects of her scorn. Neither guilt or resentment should have roles in determining how this nation adresses its social ills. Let’s hope that Dr. Grundy capitalizes on her brief notoriety by now offering her utopian solutions to the injustices she rails against.

    In the short view of civilization, bigotry and hatred may sometimes conquer nations, but minds can never be taken by force…

  4. In solidarity. And I applaud this post, in these troublesome times interventions like this are urgent, neutrality is the ideology of the status quo.

  5. On the basis of this post and the Jezebel article Kurt linked in the thread (which is all I’ve read about this), this strikes me as quite different from the Salaita case, where he was de-hired for his tweets.

    Grundy has apparently not been de-hired or otherwise sanctioned beyond this rather blandly wrist-slapping, tut-tutting bureaucratic statement by the pres. of BU (perhaps an unfortunate statement, but not an indictment for “thought crimes”). Grundy got some nasty reactions on Twitter, and she apparently took her Twitter account private. That’s evidently all that happened. I find it hard to get too outraged. Presumably she can continue to voice her opinions elsewhere than Twitter. Since it’s difficult to say much of substance in 140 characters and Twitter seems mainly good for “hey did you see this?” sorts of alerts, I’m not sure too much is being lost here, frankly.

    As for “rituals of selective scrutiny and condemnation,” I guess there may be something to that. But I would want to know more about who started the fuss. According to the Jezebel piece, it wasn’t “reactionary white male academics” driven by (in the words of the post) “rage” and “bathetic self-pity”; rather, it was some right-wing blogger who stirred it up.

    I do agree with Kurt that these kinds of tweets are “none of our business” and that the pres of BU should not have issued a statement of any sort. If a newly hired asst professor of sociology and African-American studies wants to waste her time writing 140-character indictments of ‘all white people’ (presumably including the likes of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison) for slavery, who gives a ****? I certainly don’t.

    And are these actually unpopular views, as Kurt suggests, or are they rather the pieties that now pass for conventional wisdom in certain corners of certain fields?

    I have much respect for Kurt and his often very erudite posts (which I don’t always read, not because they aren’t good but because they are sometimes well over my head). That said, I find it hard to get very exercised over this particular case. YMMV, needless to say.

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