Bruin Alumni Association
UCLA in Black and White:
Radicalism in the African-American Studies Department

Chapter 1 - Joining the Multi-Cult

Chapter 2 - More of the Same (Radicalism)

Chapter 3 - This Is Academics?

Chapter 4 - A Shallow Academic Pool

Chapter 5 - The Dynamic Duo

UCLA in Black and White
Radicalism in the African-American Studies Department

Chapter 2
More of the Same (Radicalism)

    Professor Cheryl Harris teaches African-American Studies C191, titled “Race, Equal Protection and the Law.”[1]  Harris assigns her own Harvard Law Review article, “Whiteness as Property” which expands on her suspect racial theories.  Also assigned is Omi and Winant’s “Racial Formation in the United States,” another pair of the usual suspects from the “Whiteness Studies” field of academics.  The two contend that “racial meanings pervade U.S. society,” and argue that “race in the United States [must be treated] as a fundamental organizing principle of social relationships.”[2]

    In that same vein is Harvard Professor Noel Ignatiev’s article “Immigrants and Whites,” from his celebrated – and intellectually lightweight – publication Race Traitor.  Ignatiev’s magazine, which caught the fancy of academic radicals when it debuted in 1992, trumpets the confused slogan “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”  Ignatiev himself states on the Race Traitor website, “It is not fair skin that makes people white; it is fair skin in a certain kind of society, one that attaches social importance to skin color.”[3]  Fair enough.  Since Ignatiev wants to “abolish the white race,” we eagerly await, albeit without holding our breath, the announcement of his desire to abolish the black race as well.  But don’t count on it.

    Professor Harris thinks highly enough of academic hacks like Omi, Winant and Ignatiev to assign their works in the limited ten-week duration of the class.  And while it’s bad enough that undergraduates are being force-fed such rubbish, it’s  far worse that Professor Harris, with her belief that race underlies everything in our nation, also holds the privilege of educating this nation’s future lawyers.

    For an academic field seemingly uninterested with classic areas of inquiry, another pop culture class in African-American Studies is hardly surprising.  Professor Paul Von Blum’s “African-American Film” “serves as an alternative vision” to the “dramatic disrespect,” and “racial distortions, caricatures, and stereotypes” of the white film establishment.  Films screened include blaxploitation classics “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song,” “Shaft,” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”  Von Blum also samples more recent, violent fare like Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” and John Singleton’s “Boyz in the Hood.”[4]  As with 1970’s funk, pop culture is fun, but hardly academic fodder.

    For a developing discipline, African-American Studies’ amateurish focus on music and movies does itself no favors.  This shortcoming, however, is inevitable. African-American Studies, like all multi-cultural studies, is simply too narrow a pedestal on which to mount an entire academic field.  In slicing and dicing the common American experience into color-coded segments, multi-cultural academics miss the forest for the trees, because the story of African-Americans is the story of America – and the story of America is history.   

    UCLA’s multi-cultural studies departments make a brave attempt to weave their separate, narrow threads into a common tapestry.  But the attempt backfires.  When multi-cultural studies intersect, the story is no longer even about the particular minority group as a whole – itself already too narrow by comparison to broad narrative of American history.  The intersections instead create, for example, tiny subfields like African-American women, African-American lesbians, transgendered African-Americans, and so on.  Does the transgendered Chicano have a different cultural experience from the transgendered African-American?  Possibly.  But what of it?

    Von Blum’s “African American Films” ignoring the obvious inanity, indulges this minority-of-a-minority obsession by spending class time on gay black filmmaker Marlon Riggs’ execrable PBS documentary “Tongues Untied.”  An almost indescribable pastiche of spoken-word drum-circle nattering and soft-core gay pornography, it served in 1989 as the catalyst for Senator Jesse Helms’ condemnation of National Endowment for the Arts funding practices.  Riggs bitterly dismissed the criticism as the work of “white arch-conservatives and religious fundamentalists,” but readily admitted the inclusion of “words like ‘fuck’…images of two black men tenderly embracing…[and] highly diffused, silhouetted nudity.”[5]  The film’s NEA funding and PBS distribution are clear evidence of these institutions’ cooptation by political radicals.  That a UCLA class would examine Riggs’ work with a straight face is abundant evidence that the same has happened to the African-American Studies department.

    “The Psychology of Race and Gender Among African-Americans,” cross-listed in African-American and Women’s Studies, has a promising title, one which might even indicate the possibility of an actual intellectual discussion on race issues.  But Professor James Cones’ inclusion of the radical author bell hooks [sic] tempers even this possibility.[6]  hooks is famous for her lesbian radicalism, manifested in an infamous essay in which she confessed to feeling a “homicidal malice” toward an anonymous white man on an airplane.  Defending her fury, hooks noted, “Blacks who lack a proper killing rage are merely victims.”[7]  Nihilism also characterized hooks’ remarks in her 2002 commencement speech at Southwestern University: “Every imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal nation on the planet teaches its citizens to care more for tomorrow than today.”[8]  

    Professor Cones, no doubt cognizant of hooks’ well-known radicalism, nonetheless assigned the radical’s book, “Where We Stand: Class Matters.”  The Library Journal notes that the work “illustrates how everyday interactions reproduce class hierarchy while simultaneously denying its existence.”[9]  Marxoid theorems aside, the Journal also praises the book’s “valuable framework for discussing such difficult and unexplored areas as…the ruling-class co-optation of youth through popular culture, and real estate speculation as an instrument of racism.”[10]  Knowing the specifics of the book, Cones could only properly have assigned it as an example of abnormal “Pyschology of Race and Gender.”  But if the syllabus is any indication, hooks’ work and its ideas are taught with the greatest respect, alongside other marginal works like J.L. King’s “On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of ‘Straight’ Black Men Who Sleep With Men.”[11]

    Professor Cheryl Keyes returns in a Winter 2005 class, cross-listed with Ethnomusicology, titled, appropriately enough, “African American Musical Heritage.”[12]  This predominance of music and film classes within the African-American Studies department serves to outline its narrow academic boundaries – race, music, film, and political radicalism.  Other notable – but distastefully conservative – aspects of the African-American experience, like evangelical religion, are denied a place at the table.

    Keyes’ survey of African-American music returns to her unfortunate fixation on rap with the caustically titled Ebony article “Why Whites Are Ripping Off Rap and R&B.”  Never mind that music is constantly evolving and is owned by no race, ethnicity, or individual.  Keyes’ readings teach her students otherwise.  Unfortunately, the endorsement of childish possessiveness of a universality like music is characteristic of the political radicalism and racial rage which permeates the department and its faculty.