Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Prejudice Wins

The editors of the Washington Post ridicule the idea that racism underpinned Harvard University President Lawrence Summers' notorious criticisms of Cornel West. The episode resulted in Harvard University losing its status as the best place in the country for a young person to pursue Afro-American Studies. For that reason alone Summers deserves to be criticized. We don't know exactly what words were exchanged between Summers and West, but we do know what West has said about the affair, and we know that West and Anthony Appiah packed their bags for Princeton, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. had said he considered doing so as well. I find it hard to believe that such a move would be undertaken lightly, on the basis of a simple misunderstanding, or prejudice against white people, which the Post implies.

Summers and West represent two very different models of the public intellectual. West represents the kind of public intellectual who gets beat up on by media polemicists, without regard, it seems, to whether he's speaking wisdom or folly on any particular matter. Summers represents the kind of public intellectual who gets hugs and kisses from media polemicists, no matter what kind of crazy statements he makes, like "I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted." Poor Larry Summers, destined to be misunderstood.

So when I see the Post piling on, saying that the problem with Larry Summers is the problem of "loud and unreasonable minorities," I'm thinking they haven't made the case for unreasonable. And with regard to women, "minorities" needs a bit of explaining. That leaves loud. Apparently, the Post now equates prejudice with raising one's voice. The Washington Post claims to have more than six million online readers, "affluent, educated, and influential" readers at that. On those terms, then, I'd have to agree that prejudice wins.

posted by Fido the Yak at 5:42 AM.


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