The Corner

Culture

White Professor Under Fire for Quoting James Baldwin’s Use of Racial Slur

Ridiculous, but true: Laurie Sheck, a white New School professor in downtown Manhattan, is in trouble after she brought up for discussion James Baldwin’s use of the n-word. She pointed out that the acclaimed documentary about Baldwin is entitled “I Am Not Your Negro” . . . yet “negro” is not the n-word used by Baldwin in that remark, made on The Dick Cavett Show. She asked the class to consider why this bowdlerization happened. Sheck tells Inside Higher Education that a white student complained about her speaking the n-word aloud and that some sort of investigation ensued.

“With a new semester approaching, Sheck isn’t sure where she stands at the New School,” reports IHE. She’s heard almost nothing from the institution since a June meeting, during which she was accused of saying the N-word in class while quoting the black writer James Baldwin.” A faculty union advised/strongly hinted that she should take a “conciliatory position,” such as “by changing her curriculum, providing trigger warnings or having students read potentially offending passages themselves, instead of out loud,” IHE reported.

Sheck has impeccable credentials — she was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and has contributed to The New Yorker and The Paris Review. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she told IHE. “So what we’re trying to do here is get things out in the open. When these things are covert and people feel quietly intimidated into changing the syllabus, that’s not going to help students. It just feels like enough is enough.”

She has asked the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help clear her name. FIRE is asking the New School to drop its investigation. Recall that the chief communications officer for Netflix, Jonathan Friedland, was fired after advising employees that the word “retard” was just as offensive as the n-word, which he used in a meeting. In other words, just pronouncing these syllables aloud, without supporting or expressing racism in any way, is an excellent way to get yourself in hot water, whether it’s in corporate America or a university. The New School, by the way, has a proud history of supporting the Frankfurt School, so this is another instance of circular gunfire on the left.

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