U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Post-Trump Teach-In, Week Six: Revisiting Lipsitz on Ferguson and the Failure of the Humanities

For much of the election season––and throughout the period since November 8––I have returned again and again to a lecture by one of my teachers, George Lipsitz. It was  given last year at Princeton’s Department of African American Studies. Chronologically, it is prior to the rise of Trumpism (strictly speaking), but Lipsitz anticipates with characteristic foresight and wisdom the mutation of colorblind racism into a reactionary anti-immigrant, antiblack, and misogynist parliamentary politics.

Discussion in the comments section when and as people wish to exchange ideas or ask questions. (For those who come across this post and series weeks or months in the future: please jump in! This is a long-range project, operating on a week-to-week basis, but also as a conversation to which we can return free from the pressures of following the news cycle).

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. In a development that would not surprise readers of Lipsitz’s books, a course being offered at the University of Wisconsin Madison (incidentally, Lipsitz’s alma mater) on whiteness is now in the crosshairs of some flanks of the conservative media and GOP lawmakers:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/dec/21/university-of-wisconsin-madison-problem-of-whitene/

    (Some venues, such as the Daily Caller, and smaller right-wing outlets have framed the story via headlines like–“UW REFUSES to cancel class on whiteness” etc. As always, the devil is in the details–watch for the normalization of the idea that cancelation/firing is the proper response to any left academic initiative that is remotely controversial).

    My prediction is that we will see more and more of this.

    In our Teach-In, here, we have emphasized the absolute centrality of the politics of whiteness to the rise and triumph of Trumpism, and we consider it crucial that the enterprise of Critical Whiteness Studies be defended and expanded.

    As part of that project, we will want to reckon with some of the deeply misguided critiques of whiteness-oriented working class historiography (such as the bromides of Eric Arnesen in that esteemed journal of white supremacy, The New Republic, and the late and quite pathetic jeremiads of Christopher Lasch). That brand of rejectionism in regard to the salience of the politics of whiteness to history (recent and not so recent) has a toehold in the contemporary Left, particularly within parts of the Jacobin magazine bloc, and takes the old and feeble objection to Roediger et al (“they are blaming the working class!”) as a mandate for ignoring “identity politics” and romancing the “white working class.” Historians might have some things to say about past struggles in this mode and about the profoundly misguided notion that the prioritization of whiteness translates simply into the equation “whites are racist, and therefore X, Y, and Z happened.” This was precisely the vulgar reductionism against which the analysis of the politics of whiteness––from Du Bois and Hubert Harrison to CLR James and Chester Himes to Richard Wright and Frantz Fanon to George Rawick and James Boggs and on through the New Left historians of whiteness and labor–always sought to militate.

    We will follow news around this course an the controversy as it unfolds, and will update readers on any actions that are being taken to support and defend our colleague in Madison.

  2. Kurt, thanks for these posts, and for this link. The right-wing assault on the academy is…not even past.

    Have been doing a lot of re-reading over the break, and one of the books I re-read but didn’t mention at my blog is Foner’s *Reconstruction.* (Confession: I read the abridged version this time!)

    Given current political commentary, including Mark Lilla’s (asinine) essay in the NYT the day after the election, I was struck by Foner’s account of the political aims of Black citizens in the Union Leagues, and how — especially in the rural south — freedmen were calling for equality irrespective of color. The “identity politics” of Reconstruction (to use an anachronism) came from Southern whites who were not interested in “colorblind” justice or equality. (Discussion on pp. 127-128 of the abridged Foner.) And yes, “identity politics” drove this most recent election as well, and are driving the assault on the university — the identity politics of aggrieved whiteness and hyper-fragile white masculinity.

    Plus ça change…

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