Intellectual racism, in its cultural and pseudoscientific guises, is having a bit of a renaissance of late.
Andrew Sullivan, who published excerpts of Murray’s work as editor of The New Republic, recently went out of his way to make a case against the persistence of racism and for black pathology at the end of a much-read piece about Hillary Clinton. Within the last year, white nationalist sites like VDARE, American Renaissance and Radix have become part of the political landscape.
I’ve written elsewhere about the trap of intellectualized racism, which cuts against the common assumption that racism is rooted in ignorance and provincialism, that it can only be crude and passe. Thus when Richard Spencer, the face of the alt-right, shows up in a natty suit, he is treated as an unusual curiosity. When Charles Murray shows up brandishing a Ph.D. and some regression tables, he is treated as a sober-minded scholar.
But it’s not just journalists who make this sort of mistake. Academics do, too. In the February issue of the American Historical Review, one of the history profession’s flagship journals, Raymond Wolters reviewed Ansley Erickson’s new book, “Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits.” Wolters seemed to have the right credentials to review Erickson’s work on desegregation and busing in Nashville: emeritus professor at the University of Delaware, author of several books on race and education.
Oh, and also an active proponent of racist pseudoscience.
The list of white nationalist publications Wolters has written for is extensive: American Renaissance, VDARE, the Occidental Quarterly, Taki’s Mag, the National Policy Institute (Richard Spencer’s organization). He credits John Derbyshire and Jared Taylor for influencing his transformation to a “race realist” (that is, “racist”). Taylor is the founder and editor of American Renaissance.
Derbyshire and Taylor have provided Wolters with an intellectual framework for his racist analysis, but he had settled on the underlying sentiment much earlier. His most famous work, published in 1984, was “The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation,” which argued that desegregation was a failure and that the legacy Brown v. Board was mostly negative. In the book, he placed the blame for desegregation’s failure not on white racism but “the ignorance and uncivilized behavior of many blacks.” The book generated a good deal of controversy, though it also garnered some awards.
The surprising thing here is not that a college professor would advocate for racist ideas – well-credentialed people can have racist belief systems – but rather that a respected journal would solicit him to write a review. So why did one? When the editor of the AHR, Robert Schneider, apologized for the review, he explained that Wolters had all the markings of a legitimate scholar. He had a university webpage, a “long and solid” list of publications and had published in credible venues.
Indeed, he had. Perhaps even more surprising than the AHR’s decision to publish Wolters is that he had been published in other leading journals, including a 2012 review in the Journal of American History of another book on race and education.
We need to pay more attention to the institutions, organizations and publications that provide a veneer of respectability to people who promote racist pseudoscience and hold them accountable for that role.
[Editor’s note: Readers can find the excellent writing Prof. Wolters here.]