I’m chasing the last week’s news here. Naomi Schaefer Riley thinks that Black Studies PhDs are out of touch. I think she’s the one out of touch and most certainly deserves to be fired. Just look at the opening of her offending post at The Chronicle of Higher Ed:
That’s what I would say about Ruth Hayes’ dissertation, “‘So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth.” It began because she “noticed that nonwhite women’s experiences were largely absent from natural-birth literature, which led me to look into historical black midwifery.” How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in “natural birth literature,” whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.
Why is Riley picking on Black Studies? I doubt there is a Women’s Studies Department in this great country of ours that is not green with envy on the account of this brilliant dissertation not written on its premisses. Or Anthropology, or English, or History, or anything “interdisciplinary” which really includes everything “humanities”. I mean, seriously, we have a black feminist here; not just a woman, a black woman, marginalized by racism, patriarchy, classism (why not classism?) and, as she so ably shows us, by the women’s movement. Whatever she writes, they’d eat it up with the placenta! If Riley wants to criticize the quality of Hayes’ scholarship, she has to take it up with the whole academia.
Ms.Hayes is not the only one who noticed that “natural birth literature” is primarily an upper middle class neurotic white women’s playground, in other words a late 20th-early 21st century feminist shtick. Christian Lander found “natural” childbirth to be very Caucasian, and put it in “Stuff White People Like”. How are the black women supposed to make it into American middle class if not by imitating the silliness of the white college grads, I ask. (Sure they can follow the example of everyone else who made it — study, work hard, marry and stay married — but that would be no fun.)
Of course, when white homebirth midwives reject modern Western obstetric care and everything capitalism, they also embrace the exotic other’s way of “birthing” and parenting. Hence the interest in “natural” 3rd world practices, like cloth baby carriers or homeopathy. Some midwives do internships abroad where they intend to pick up the authoritative ways of traditional midwives. The whole culture might smack of condescension, neurosis and patchouli, but it’s disproportionally influential, considering that it’s often out of sync with science. It is pretty much impossible to pass through the doors of the Labor and Deliver Department of a hospital without coming across the “natural” childbirth propaganda and related topics.
Riley says of Hayes and other Black Studies PhDs:
[T]here are legitimate debates about the problems that plague the black community from high incarceration rates to low graduation rates to high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But it’s clear that they’re not happening in black-studies departments. If these young scholars are the future of the discipline, I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America.
But in reality, she doesn’t seem to know or care about the kind of female empowerment entertainment white women invent for themselves. Clearly, she’s the one out of touch.