The Life of a Black Professor in America

Prof. George Yancy says it’s an ugly nightmare. Is it?

White racism must be everywhere for the Racism-Industrial-Complex to function

George Yancy is a black professor of philosophy at Emory University whose research interests are almost entirely racially-oriented.

Recently, he published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, “The Ugly Truth of Being a Black Professor in America.” 

In response to “Dear White America,” an op-ed that Yancy had published in The New York Times and in which he implored whites—all whites—to accept that they are “racist,” Yancy claims in his most recent editorial to have been besieged by emails, letters, and phone messages filled with “racist hatred.” 

On December 24, 2015, Yancy warned his white audience that being “neither a ‘good’ white person nor a liberal white person will get you off the proverbial hook” for “the ways in which you perpetuate a racist society, the ways in which you are racist.”  Whites must “face” the “racist history which…has formed” their “own racism” and do “battle with” their “white self” by acknowledging “the racist poison that is inside” of them.

A few responses are in order here.

First, assuming that Yancy truthfully reproduced in his most recent essay the messages that he claims to have received in the wake of “Dear White America,” such messages must be condemned by the decent.  They were indeed virulent.

Second, while it is certainly understandable that Yancy should be upset by the ugliness of the messages with which he claims to have been bombarded, he must assume responsibility for angering a good number of white people who, justifiably, take offense at his proclamation that they are all “racist.”  The latter, after all, is among the most serious of charges of which a white person can be convicted today in the court of public opinion. 

Third, the Yancys of the world—leftist “anti-racists” generally, black “anti-racists” specifically—most definitely do not take responsibility for the quality of either race relations or, for that matter, their own lives.   

From Yancy’s vantage point, all that is wrong in black America is the fault of white people and, even when things go not so badly—like when a black man is hired to make a lucrative living teaching philosophy at a prestigious American university and writing tirelessly about the “racism” of the white majority—things could still have been better had it not been for this “racism.”

Fourth, Yancy claims to have written his open letter in a spirit of “love.”  But as is known by anyone and everyone who has ever been in a loving relationship, a relationship in which one party is forever accusing the other of being, in effect, a moral inferior, of being the reason for all of the sufferings and hardships that the accuser has been made to endure, is most emphatically not a loving relationship.

It is an abusive relationship, an oppressive relationship.  One could even argue that it is a hateful relationship. 

Outside of politics, we have no difficulties recognizing this.

Fifth, though my suspicion is that Yancy knows all of this, I can’t be sure.  To be truthful, I am more disposed to pity Professor Yancy than I am to be angry with him.    

A left-leaning, white male colleague of mine said to me that no one has a right to judge Yancy on the emotions that he expresses in “The Ugly Truth of Being a Black Professor in America.” I suggested in return that perhaps we do have such a right. 

Yancy, along with many others (like my colleague), look upon emotions as the products of “triggering” events.  Yet while the latter certainly contribute to some extent to the production of feelings, one of the most influential psychologists of all time, Albert Ellis, is among those who insist that it is actually a person’s beliefs or thoughts about the events that bear directly upon the feelings that ensue. 

Ellis’s approach is certainly not the last word.  There is, though, definitely something to the idea—endorsed by, among others, the classical Stoics, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, and Cognitive Therapy founder, Aaron T. Beck—that it is our interpretations of events that are productive of the emotions that follow.

And interpretations—thoughts, beliefs—are susceptible to criticism, for they are either rational or irrational.

Professor Yancy, I submit, is at once a product and purveyor of a comprehensive narrative, an ideological creed that serves as the pretext for the Racism-Industrial-Complex (RIC), a sprawling industry, especially salient in academia, with vast psychic, material, and professional rewards for those, like Yancy, who perpetuate it.

Yancy, a black American male, must see and portray himself as a perpetual victim of White Racism.  His professional life and social standing depend upon it.  So, to legitimize the benefits that he reaps from assuming the persona of a victim, Yancy has imbibed an all-encompassing narrative of Black Suffering and White Supremacist Oppression, a conceptual lens through which his experiences are filtered and shaped.

Thus, Yancy sees, and has no option but to see, white “racism” everywhere: Whether it is good white “liberals” like those whom Yancy meant to address in “Dear White America,” those whites who responded angrily and offensively to the latter, or those whites who self-identify as Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi members, every white person is a “racist” to Professor Yancy.

So, George Yancy is not entitled to emote as he does about being a black professor in America, for his emotions are rooted in (and, in turn, reinforce) beliefs regarding race relations and his own station in life that, in addition to serving his professional, economic, and psychic interests, are rationally unwarranted.

His place in the Racism-Industrial-Complex secured, though, I suspect that Yancy will continue to find “racism” in every nook and cranny of the cosmos.