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The New York Sun


Constantine Cries Wolf

June 27, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

When Professor Madonna Constantine up at Teacher's College at Columbia said, in the wake of a noose hung from her door last year, that she would not be deterred in her work, I liked it. To allow such gestures to hurt you is to give in to the smallness of the perpetrator.

But I am less impressed with her response to her suspension for allegations of plagiarism this week. According to Ms. Constantine, the culprit here is the same as the one responsible for the noose: racism.

"I am left to wonder whether a White faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner," she mused earlier this year, insisting that connected with her suspension is the fact that she is "one of only two tenured Black women full professors" at Teacher's College. More recently, she has blamed university politics in addition to race.

Now, just because racism is not what it once was doesn't mean that each and every charge of it must be dismissed out of hand.

But this time?

After all, we're talking about over a dozen instances over years' time, from students and a colleague. The case was vetted by a law firm, not simply decided by Ms. Constantine's colleagues.

Ms. Constantine's lawyer has it that she was the one plagiarized in all cases—but are we really to believe the law firm is so hidebound in its bigotry as to have simply ignored this rather than refuted it?

And wouldn't Columbia be pretty sure they had a rock-solid justification for something as drastic as suspension and dismissal when the accussee is black and a woman?

Presumably, to Ms. Constantine, academic culture's commitment to diversity is just window dressing, and a black woman still lives under threat of being thrown under a truck by racism.

But still: this black woman, who already made national news as the victim of a noose-hanging?

One senses in Ms. Constantine's responses a fundamental conviction that it is logically impossible that she may have been fired for a legitimate reason. The question is whether she lifted text on a repeated basis from others' work.

Yet she seems almost oddly uninterested in engaging that specific question. For one, there are her sideline charges that "politics" is the issue, the implication being that Teacher's College people are racist in dwelling in such politics to the extent of firing her. Rich indeed, but the question is: did she copy from others' work?

She calls the charges "premature"—even after a law firm has carefully gone over the evidence? "Vindictive"—which wouldn't be ideal, but suppose the revenge was taken on the basis of an actual offense, such as plagiarism? "Mean-spirited"—just possibly, but again: are the charges valid?

To Ms. Constantine, it is so evident that racism is the motivation that there is no argumentation necessary. However, there is an additional issue that makes it hard for me to grant her that leeway.

Two weeks ago I mentioned an article claiming that life as a person of color is enduring ongoing assaults of racist "microaggression"—such as having it said in your presence that America is a melting pot, which denies your racial identity. This article is one amidst a literature on "microaggression" and related notions, founded in a crusade against unwitting racist abuse by white psychologists against darker-complected clients.

I refrained from mentioning that Ms. Constantine is a key participant in this school of thought, having been the lead writer of more than one article on "microaggression" and co-editing two books with the head writer of the one I mentioned.

These articles are couched in an almost theological assumption that racism is still what America is all about. In one, she and her co-authors openly admit its research basis is "qualitative"—i.e., not based on scientific examination—and in a strange paragraph, openly admit their own bias toward smoking out racism.

Elsewhere is terminology such as "Africultural," and an interesting usage of the term color blind: to be color blind is bad because it means missing people's diversity.

So much for the content of our character and such. But what this means is that Madonna Constantine happens to be someone with a deep-seated, visceral worldview unreachable by argument, assuming that she lives in a country where most whites are Archie Bunkers under the skin.

As such, it will not be surprising if in her mind, crying racism is a more urgent response to charges of malfeasance than addressing the specifics of the charges.

My sense is that to someone of this orientation, the charges seem a mere matter of "cross-fertilization," none of which should attract more than a minute's attention given her larger goal of revealing that modern America is just a more polite version of "The Birth of a Nation."

So—just maybe Ms. Constantine is correct in arguing, in effect, that another noose has been hung on her door.

However, the case doesn't look great from here, and if Ms. Constantine is crying wolf on racism she might reconsider. It's the kind of thing that makes America tune out whenever the word comes up, which is presumably the last thing she would want.

Original Source:



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