Dr. Brittney Cooper is an assistant professor of Women’s Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University and founder of Crunk Feminist Collective. Dr. Cooper doesn’t bite her tongue when it comes to writing about disparities about public scholarship, as well as the differences between the attention bestowed upon white intellectuals and black intellectuals.

In a recent piece for Salon, Dr. Cooper discusses what she calls the “war on black intellectuals”.

From Salon:

Since January, white male journalists have spearheaded a public lamenting of the dearth of American public intellectuals, by which they mean, academics who write accessibly and make an attempt to stay “in touch” with the masses who exist outside the Ivory Tower. First Dylan Byers at Politico lampooned Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates for calling Melissa Harris-Perry America’s foremost public intellectual. Then Nicholas Kristoff wrote “Professors, We Need You” in the New York Times, in which he argued that “Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” Moreover, he inexplicably proclaimed that “academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook.”

Which academics does he mean, exactly? I joined Twitter because a disproportionate number of  young professors of color had taken up residence there. Melissa Harris-Perry herself built a significant public following before she ever had a TV show by blogging and tweeting on a regular basis.

Then late last month, Joshua Rothman published a defense of Kristof with a piece at the New Yorker called “Why Is Academic Writing So Academic?” Rothman argued that the problem is not a lack of engaged scholars but rather with the academic enterprise itself: “Academics may write for large audiences on their blogs or as journalists. But when it comes to their academic writing, and to the research that underpins it — to the main activities, in other words, of academic life — they have no choice but to aim for very small targets.”

Dr. Cooper goes on to explain that, like herself, many of the black people who are considered public intellectuals are balancing not only trying to do work to achieve tenure but also trying to gain an audience, similar to their white counterparts.

The fundamental problem with Byers, Kristof and Rothman, then, is not lack of sufficient academic models, but rather that when they say “intellectual,” they mean “white male intellectual,” and in a few instances, white women, too. The refusal to acknowledge that white men are not the only folks responsible for creating knowledge makes it easy to run roughshod over the histories of black women knowledge creators and academics who tried to hip us to the political realities of academese long before some of these people were even born.

Continue to Salon to read more of Dr. Cooper’s.


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  • Yay!!! My professor!!!

  • No Thanks

    Black intellectuals? She means over educated blacks with boarder line useless liberal arts Phd’s in black (pro victimization) studies, woman (pro feminist, pro lesbian) studies sociology, psychology, ect. who are kiss ass extreme liberal, water carry blacks who agree with 99.9% of what ivory tower white liberals write and say. No thanks I’d rather read something written by someone with a Phd in pastry making. lol

    By the way. A Phd in pastry making probably is worth more if you’re looking for a job.

    • rena215

      I wouldn’t be too quick to put down those with “boarder line useless” liberal arts degrees. It looks like you could have benefitted from a few more English classes yourself.

    • Bitter much?

    • P Kennedy

      Thanks for assuming that no one other than whites could possibly be capable of majoring in the “hard” sciences like Physics, Biophysics, Chemistry or Math.

      Your attitude is the reason why when some of us nonwhites out here who DO get degrees in the STEM fields we can’t get JOBS in them because we can’t get taken seriously past the color of our skin at EVERY STEP IN THE PROCESS.

      This is the kind of mentality that leads to me getting asked “can you even DO Math” sort of rubbish when I set foot in a high school Math classroom – with my Secondary MATH teaching license.

      Go play on the freeway.

  • P Kennedy

    This “war” seems to have successfully kept American nonwhite minorities out of the STEM fields, that’s for sure. There’s an automatic assumption that if we do get college degrees at all they “must” be in the fluff majors. And it’s people’s attitudes toward nonwhite (dark skinned Latinos and dark-skinned Native Americans, too) abilities to even, as people tell me to my face all the time, “do Math” that keep this fire alive.

    When people stop associating dark skin with “inability to do Math” automatically the way AmeriKKKans and KKKanadians seem to do, then and only then will we WIN this war.