A few months ago, Duke University professor Jerry Hough made headlines with an ill-advised New York Times comment wherein the elder political science professor bizarrely claimed:
Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.
Over the long weekend, Victoria Razzi — a sophomore at Syracuse University and writer for The College Fix — resurrected this story with a poorly-researched article (“Asian American studies professors stay silent on Asian vs. Black integration“) apparently designed from start-to-finish to inflame the AAPI community.
This article is the height of shoddy journalism. It is Internet-age pseudoscience at its finest.
Inspired by Hough’s statement that “Asians who were oppressed did so well and are integrating so well, and the blacks are not doing as well”, Razzi claims that she set out to survey Asian American Studies professors for their opinions on Hough’s comments throughout the month of June. Razzi says she “repeatedly” emailed more than 30 AAS professors over the month of June.
When she received only one response to her email spam, Razzi smugly declares this to be evidence that Asian Americans are indeed highly assimilated model minorities, so cowed by our own skin privilege that we are silent on issues of racism. “The overall silence of some 30 professors speaks louder than words,” writes Razzi, before going on to quote Pew Research Center at-length about the aggregate economic achievements of the AAPI community that are then poorly juxtaposed against inner city Baltimore.
“Typically, if someone is an expert in a certain field and another person makes an uneducated or false statement, it would be very simple for them to rebut the argument. However, in this case, dozens of professors chose not to publicly reject the claims made by the Duke professor.
A very plausible cause for the silence could be that while the way in which the professor from Duke stated his claims was brash, the basis of his accusations hold some truth.”
Forgetting for a minute how the patronizing comparison of the Asian American community against the Black community is wedge politics at its finest, Razzi commits a second fatal rhetorical sin: she makes the self-centered presumption that her emailed interview questions were of such immediate priority to her potential interview subjects that she interprets the lack of response as deliberate. She fails to consider several alternate possibilities to the fact that she emailed a bunch of people and they didn’t response back: that perhaps, there was something wrong with Razzi’s methodology, or that perhaps Asian American Studies professors might have other things to do with their time than reply back to every solicitation for an interview.
Unfortunately, Asian American Studies is a struggling academic field that survives despite limited administrative and academic support, entirely through the tireless efforts of member professors who are forced to cobble together a major or minor degree through cross-listed courses. Some are lecturers or adjunct faculty, who receive minimal payment for work that often far exceeds a standard 40 hour work week in class time, office hours, lecture preparation, and grading.
Razzi says she contacted a list of 30 AAS faculty throughout the month of June. This is a time when most colleges and universities are on break for the summer, and when access to faculty — particularly faculty who are primarily responsible for teaching classes — can be reduced. Full-time faculty may use this period to travel for their research, which they cannot do during the school year. Adjunct faculty may also become focused on teaching summer classes at a different institution in order to earn additional income, which may cause them to shift their attention elsewhere.
Or, since faculty are also people with families, many might take the month of June to rest, disconnect, and recuperate from the draining exercise of teaching classes for nine consecutive months.
It is also unreasonable for Razzi to expect interview subjects to enthusiastically participate in a story that appears it will be written by a biased reporter operating in poor faith. Razzi fails to consider the possibility that her email interviews went unreturned because her questions might have just been bad.
All that being said, Razzi was also wrong to assert that that the AAPI community was actually silent on Jerry Hough’s troublesome and divisive comments. For one thing, the AAPI blogosphere was all over this story. I wrote a post. So did Scot Nakagawa of RaceFiles. As did Jeff Yang for CNN.
But the nail in the coffin for Razzi’s piece is the fact that within days of Hough’s statements, 28 Asian American faculty and student organizations at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill penned an open letter lambasting Hough.
Given this, I have only one question for Ms. Razzi: what silence, exactly?