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Naomi Schaefer Riley, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Privileged White Woman’s Rage

May 8, 2012

It’s nice to know that racism and White privilege is finally finding a feminist streak. I remember a time when the only people belching prejudiced opinions in public were men like Rush Limbaugh or Mel Gibson.

But all of that has changed now; White female racists are now getting in on the act, openly expressing their bigotry, too. Gloria Steinem must be proud. The recent brouhaha over journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Chronicle of Higher Education is just the latest in this exciting new trend.

Riley has brought the wrath of the Internet upon her for a column she wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the inaugural class of PhD’s from Northwestern University’s new Black Studies program. Schaefer Riley, a veteran education journalist/commentator trashed Black Studies programs as a whole and called the new PhD’s out of Northwestern garbage on paper. Not because she read any of the new dissertations mind you, but because the titles and descriptions sound lame and ‘political’ to her. Her opening paragraph pretty much sums up her attitude:

“If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.”

When reviewing the dissertation TITLE (remember Riley never read the dissertations) of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” Riley had this to say:

“…..the entirety of black studies today seems to rest on the premise that nothing much has changed in this country in the past half century when it comes to race. Shhhh. Don’t tell them about the black president!”

Riley goes on and on slamming one dissertation and young scholar after another. Needless to say her article was pilloried by some and applauded by others on the Chronicle website and other locations. When she came back to the issue a couple of days later she of course doubled down on her original convictions characterizing her critics as crybabies and apologists for a pointless discipline.

I’m not here to defend Black Studies at Northwestern. The faculty at Northwestern can do that, as well as a slew of other academics who call Riley out in the passive aggressive way that only academics can. And there are plenty of cultural outlets that point out her ignorance of history and lack of professionalism.

I’m more interested in pointing that what she wrote is just the latest in what has been a growing trend in American political discourse over the last few years.

Riley’s article is just the latest in an increasing wave of open bigotry from (occasionally conservative) White female political and cultural commentators.  Many of these women have come down with an acute case of Privileged White Woman’s Rage, or PWRR for short. The disease has been around for years, but there has been a steady rise of cases since Obama beat Hillary in the primaries four years ago.

There was a time when conservative White women pretty much avoided race issue in public discourse. Old school White female political commentators like Phyllis Schlafly, and 90’s talkers like Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Ann Coulter stuck to code speech about welfare queens and focused on feminists and liberals, leaving the heavy race lifting to guys like Pat Buchannan.

But that was before they caught PWWR.

PWWR is a frothy mixture of White privilege, a sense of entitlement and near universal belief that the worldview of educated affluent Whites is the default – and everyone else (including poor Whites) is whining or misinformed.  It’s that dark basement of thought Where the Wild Things Are.

Then add a dash of oppression that comes from being a woman in society where you often have to work harder than a man just to make 70 cents on every dollar he makes.

And once that starts to simmer, light it up with the rage of seeing Hillary Clinton beaten by a BLACK MAN (it was OUR TURN! Many PWWR yelled) and you have a grotesque rage and bigotry that permeates popular culture. Let’s not forget that many conservative women privately lit a candle for Hillary too, and have been furious ever since 2008. Where have we seen PWWR? It’s Dr. Laura suddenly going racial after avoiding the issue for almost 20 years; it’s Governor Jan Brewer sticking her finger in Obama’s face; it’sdefending the “The Help and raging against Black women who critique the film, it’s Hipster Racism from Girls writer Lesley Arfin associating Obama with a piece of s**t, and now Riley. It’s all the same theme, all the same narrative, we just haven’t heard it so loud and so viciously before.

Riley has a right to critique the existence of a new program. The problem is the snark and disdain with which she writes about the discipline – without even investigating the content further. It’s the arrogance of an education reporter savaging an entire discipline but knowing in her Privileged White Woman Rage that she’ll still have a job somewhere when this is all over.

Riley hates Black Studies because she feels that White Women have not gotten their due yet, that until such time as women like her are running things, any discipline that dares investigate the experiences and history of others is an affront to her status as the embodiment of womanhood. I wish I could say that she was an outlier but she’s not.  More of this bile and rage will be common as this country goes through its current upheaval. We just have to hope that women like Riley keep talking so we can at least know who they are and deal with them accordingly.

This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.

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