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Eugene D. Genovese

The Betrayal of Black Studies

Academic discipline and political struggle.

Within the last quarter-century, academia has gone through a series of struggles, usually painful, often bitter, sometimes violent, over racial segregation, exclusion, and discrimination. Until well after World War II, the record of our universities, professional associations, and scholarly journals constituted a racist outrage, the extent of which has not yet been properly assessed. It should be enough to recall that even the great W. E. B. Du Bois could not teach at a "white" university despite his Harvard degrees and outstanding academic record; that his work and that of numerous other black scholars now recognized as of high quality went unnoticed or was denigrated; that the professional associations went to great lengths to exclude blacks from participation and promoted flagrant racist propaganda under the guise of science; that black authors and work in Black Studies were unwelcome in the leading professional journals. In short, the professions disgraced themselves, perhaps none worse than the historical profession.

Much has changed for the better, but some of the deepest problems remain not merely unresolved but undiscussed. Here I wish to focus on a problem that arose during the 1960s and 1970s and remains with us: Black Studies as an intellectual discipline and the programs instituted to promote it. Black Studies programs may not rank as the most important racially charged problem on our campuses, but it may well be the most revealing. For unless the stagnation and ghettoization of Black Studies programs are arrested, we shall, however inadvertently, condemn our universities and professions to many years of shamefaced complicity in an increasingly ominous resurgence of white racism and black despair.

The black experience in the United States has been unique, not in the trivial sense in which all historical experience may be judged unique, but in the special sense that it has no analogue in the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, or anywhere else. A caveat: I shall ...

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