An Extremist Comes to Brooklyn

The year of the extremist continues at CUNY’s Brooklyn College. Fresh off the anti-Israel BDS fiasco, the college has announced that the prestigious Charles Lawrence Memorial Lecture will be delivered by the chairman of Duke’s sociology department, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Such high-profile figures as John Hope Franklin, Eugene Genovese, William Julius Wilson, and Herbert Gans have given the lecture in the past.

Bonilla-Silva’s is a familiar name to those who followed the Duke lacrosse case: of the 88 faculty members who signed an April 2006 statement affirming that something “happened” to false accuser Crystal Mangum and thanking protesters who had among other things urged the lacrosse captains’ castration “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard,” Bonilla-Silva was perhaps the most ideologically extreme.

A taste of his academic discourse:         

In one course, Bonilla-Silva informed students in the written syllabus that the class would explore events in the “United States of Amerikkka (I will remove the three Ks from this word when the USA removes racial oppression from this country!).”

Bonilla-Silva slightly modified this wording in “The 2008 Elections and the Future of Anti-racism in 21st Century Amerika.”  In an example of the type of nuanced insight that can earn a professor not merely a department chairmanship but an invitation to deliver a prestigious lecture, Bonilla-Silva predicted that “Black and progressive America” would learn that Obama isn’t sufficiently leftist “after this neomulatto rents the white house for a short while and does not do any renovation—I bet he will not even repaint the freaking house!” [Emphasis in original.]

Dismissing (wholly reasonable) concerns that he’s hopelessly biased against whites, Bonilla-Silva compared those who might “have some reservations” about contemporary racial preferences to the “many good people [who] supported slavery and Jim Crow.”

The Lawrence Lecturer also has expressed contempt for the students whose tuition has helped pay his salary. At Texas A&M, Bonilla-Silva wondered if he were really teaching at “Crackerland,” and urged students critical of his in-class biases to transfer to Bob Jones. And a student in one of his Duke classes wrote that Bonilla-Silva “hates duke students (called us ‘spoiled private school kids’).”

Unlike the improper decision of Brooklyn’s Political Science Department to formally affiliate itself with an anti-Israel political event, Brooklyn’s Sociology Department (which coordinated the invitation) and the college itself clearly had a right, under established principles of academic freedom, to confer such an honor upon Bonilla-Silva. The question, of course, is the wisdom and judgment about this move. Imagine the appropriate outrage if a distinguished lectureship went to someone with equally rigid, ideologically extreme views as Bonilla-Silva, but on the far right rather than the far left (a militia leader, perhaps). That a figure such as Bonilla-Silva could nonetheless receive the lectureship with nary a peep in the process testifies to the hollowness of intellectual culture in too many quarters of the academy.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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