Category Archives: Academia

The Economist and American Slavery

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Oh no he didn’t!

 

By now you have certainly all read, or at least become aware of, The Economist’s rather scathing review of Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. If not, I’ll just point out that the unsigned piece ends with an unfavorable, “Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.” (Sept 6-12, p. 86-87)

I have not read Baptist’s book, though I plan to – perhaps because of the review…so I suppose he has The Economist to thank for that. But because I have yet to read the study, I do not feel like I can reasonably comment on either the book or the review. I have noticed the veritable shit storm across most social media platforms attacking The Economist for running a questionable (read: problematic that leans toward racism) review. The Economist has since removed the piece from its web component and issued a retraction – what reads as an apology for insensitivity.

But still…there is a word that keeps coming up in the attacks on the review that I find troubling…or at least slippery: victim. If slaves were not victims, suggest many incensed readers, what were they? I think it would be foolish to imply that black people were not victims of a reprehensible system. In the most obvious sense, they certainly were. But is the reductionist victimization position doing the history of slavery a disservice? Is it indeed demeaning the slaves themselves?

I would suggest this: to reduce a living breathing human being  to the status of victim robs that individual of the very humanity that slavery failed to destroy. It’s been a long time since we understood slavery as social death – but the notion appears to have been oddly resurrected in the many missives launched against The Economist.

Let me remind you – I say this without having read the book. So before you come at me, remember – I am just looking at a word. One word that keeps coming up…repeatedly. And I am wondering if another word choice might better suit those enslaved.

With compliments,

Keith

The Americanist Independent

Reject the Academic Job Market

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The tipping point came for yours truly last summer. As I faced yet another season of the academic job search – applying for anything that fit my qualifications, perhaps scrambling for an adjunct position near where I live – I simply said enough.  We all know the near hopeless status of the academic job market: zillions of qualified candidates (and more getting pumped through the system every year) for a mere handful of tenure-track positions, the dismal and poverty-stricken life of the adjunct, and the overall suckiness of rejection. So there is really no point in rehashing what prospective professors have been complaining about for years. These are simply the facts. And we all know it. The system has failed.

So I call for a revolutionary measure. Reject the academic job market. Do NOT apply. Do NOT accept an adjunct position (unless of course, you enjoy earning 24K a year). And most important, do NOT try to be the catalyst of change within the existing institution. There comes a time when we must admit that trying to “fix” a broken system is along the lines of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. So don’t bother.

Here is my advice: become an independent scholar and do what you love. Do you need to pay the bills? Then funnel that energy, creativity, and skill toward a position outside of the conventional job track. Think about making your own way. For God’s sake – you have a freakin’ Ph.D., which should indicate that you are a reasonably intelligent person. Do it. And don’t stop.

This is my micro-manifesto. To convention I offer the proverbial middle finger and ask that others rally to my banner. I know that I am not alone – and that many of you have experienced my frustrations and are tired of the associated bitterness. I am happily over it. And I hope that you will be too. Join the revolution.

With compliments and hasta la victoria siempre!

Keith