Image Alt Text: A Photograph of an empty classroom with chairs stacked on the desks. Image via Pixabay.
I follow Bomani Jones on Twitter (and you should too), and this morning his feed alerted me to a news story about the firing of a Black, non-tenure-track (NTT) professor in New Jersey, Professor Lisa Durden.
Durden appeared on Tucker Carlson’s TV show (omg, Durden must be a cool-headed woman) to talk about a Black Lives Matter Memorial Day celebration for Black people only. Tucker, all fake-innocence, wanted to know why white people couldn’t go, too, and isn’t that racist?
Tucker: I thought the whole point of Black Lives Matter was to speak out against singling out people based on race?
Durden: Boo-hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your ‘white privilege’ card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter all-black Memorial Day celebration.
Honestly, at this point, if there are white people who still cannot understand that the purpose of BLM is NOT about “singling out people based on race” but rather about how BLACK lives matter, then I don’t know what to do. Let me help you out, okay? Here’s a replay of the Tucker/Durden conversation using a “for dummies” translator:
Tucker: All lives matter, right? Blergity blerg reverse-racism?
Durden: This AGAIN?
Two days after the show aired, Durden was fired, mid-semester, from Essex County College in New Jersey where she was NTT faculty. Note: Never once on the air did she mention that she was affiliated with the college. All of her views were her own.
But that didn’t matter to the college. They fired her anyway, and they did it because of her speech on Tucker’s show. Here’s an excerpt from the statement on her firing from Anthony Munroe, Essex County College President:
The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion, and unity. Racism cannot be fought with more racism.
So now we have to talk about false equivalences, because we have one of the biggest of them all to deal with here: Tucker’s “but I thought” nonsense and then this near direct quote of Clarence Thomas by Munroe, “racism cannot be fought with more racism.” Both Tucker and Munroe are saying the same thing: “reverse racism is the same as racism” or “racism by Black people is the same as racism by white people.” Or however you want to frame it.
A false equivalence is a logical fallacy that happens you take two opposing viewpoints and claim they are equal—but they aren’t. False equivalence is a favorite of racists and racist arguments; it was the undergirding of “separate, but equal;” and it persists in racist arguments to this day.
“Reverse racism is equivalent to racism” is a false equivalence. It’s one of the oldest, in fact. My typical response to “But that’s reverse racism!” is “Go google, JFC” because the reverse racism argument has been debunked over and over. In my opinion, Comedian Aamer Rahman has the very best handle on this (embedded below, from FOUR YEARS AGO).
Here’s the deal: Racism is the tidal wave of history, social influence, governmental control, violence, wealth, white supremacy, and everything else that gives white people—AS A GROUP—power over people of color—AS GROUPS. In individual interactions, racism plays out in individual ways, sure. But there can be no “reverse racism” until there has been, say, half a century of racial oppression of white people by Black people.
Google it. JFC.
I can understand Tucker’s bullsh** because that is literally his schtick: to say offensive things to people who work hard to make the world a better place in order to provoke them. I have no idea how he sleeps at night.
But I cannot understand how a college president doesn’t understand the most basic of logical fallacies. I presume he took freshman comp. I taught it for a decade, and all my students walked out knowing how to spot a false equivalence.
At the very least, as a college president, Munroe must understand intellectual freedom and the First Amendment.
Durden’s situation is why I will never return to higher education, even when friends forward me promising jobs. We—all of us trying to make the world a better place—need to be able speak our minds, especially now. We can’t be, even unconsciously, holding our tongues because we’re afraid of getting fired, not if we have another option. Some of us don’t have another option. But some of us do, and we’ll carry that weight.
Unless you are a professor with tenure (and even then) higher education no longer cares about the duty of a professor to “profess”—from the Latin, to declare, publicly. Today’s university wants automatons who will toe the line of a consumerist model and keep their mouths shut.
Durden wasn’t fired because of reverse racism. She was fired because of plain old regular racism. She was a black, woman, NTT professor, the most vulnerable member of the professoriat, the most likely to be fired, the most contingent, the most likely to be criticized for being too loud or too disruptive.
Professor Durden, I salute you.