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Right’s version of politically correct drives attacks on black studies

Cathy Young grossly distorts the field of African American Studies and the vast majority of the responses to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations” (“The academic left’s intolerance,” Op-ed, May 12).

I was among the thousands who responded to Riley’s post. It is not simply that Riley did not read all of the dissertations she attacked; she did not read any of the works in question or talk to the authors before writing her piece in one of the most widely read journals in academia. This is not acceptable in either journalism or academia. I would suggest to Riley and Young that they, at the very least, take seriously Riley’s admonition in the title of her piece and “just read the dissertations” before rushing to judgment.


Beyond objections to violations of professional standards in journalism and scholarship, and to offhand cruelty to scholars at the beginning of their careers, I was disturbed by an uninformed attack on the field. Scholars in African American Studies have many times heard their field described as an anti-intellectual bastion of “identity politics” that tends, as Young wrote, “to promote predetermined conclusions and agendas, which is anathema to true scholarship.”

It makes many of us suspect that there is a right-wing “political correctness” at work, which makes all African American Studies departments and programs, and all the scholars in the field, seem as if they were all cut from the same intellectual and ideological cloth without considering our actual efforts and achievements.

James Smethurst
Professor of
Afro-American Studies
UMass Amherst