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English Departments in the Ideological Thrall of Identity Politics

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In July, the English Department of the University of Chicago posted an odd statement on its website. In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the supposed “thousands of others named and unnamed who have been subject to police violence,” the department announced that, “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies.” What is the motivation for the targeting of that particular area of study now? The statement, in the tortured language academia is so adept at generating, explains that English as a discipline “has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness,” and is “responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why.”

Apparently, the Chicago faculty believe that it is part of the mission of the English Department to mobilize its intellectual resources to address social problems and that the work of “undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere,” as the statement pretentiously proclaims.

While some observers lauded the department’s decision to focus graduate study on Black Studies, critics, including the University of Chicago’s own president, Robert Zimmer, were quick to question a department committing itself to a political movement and activism supporting it. “[S]ome members of the University community have expressed concern that the exclusive disciplinary commitment effectively represents a political test for admission,” Zimmer wrote, in responding to the controversy, and “[t]he idea or even implication that there would be a political criterion applied to admission to our doctoral program would be incompatible with the fundamental principles of our University.”

Indeed, the language of the department’s statement is clearly political, pledging that the faculty “are committed to the struggle of Black and Indigenous people, and all racialized and dispossessed people, against inequality and brutality” and that “our commitment to the struggle for Black lives entails vigorous participation in university-wide conversations and activism about the university’s past and present role in the historically Black neighborhood that houses it.” With such language, they revealed that the department would be mobilizing to align itself with a political and social movement outside the university walls, and whether or not that is appropriate in the first place is the central question.

The University of Chicago’s English department is not alone, since the death of George Floyd in May, in articulating a commitment to anti-racism and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and participating in this type of collective virtue-signaling that typifies woke academics falling over themselves in an effort to show how very tolerant they are. A stunning open letter written in June by Rebecca L. Walkowitz, the chair of Rutgers’ English Department—steeped in the language of social justice, racial equity, white supremacy, and racial oppression—for example, announced that the department will “stand with and respond to the Black Lives Matter movement . . . create and promote an anti-racist environment . . . and . . . contribute to the eradication of the violence and systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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