Inside Higher Ed reports this morning with a straight face that The English Department at the University of Chicago, whose web page declares the it is “ranked first among English departments in the US,” wants you to know that it — yes, the Department itself — “believes that Black Lives Matter.” (Emphasis in original)
It believes that black lives matter so much that “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies.” (Emphasis in original)
This decision seems to be an academic form of kneeling, of atonement.
English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why. And while inroads have been made in terms of acknowledging the centrality of both individual literary works and collective histories of racialized and colonized people, there is still much to do as a discipline and as a department to build a more inclusive and equitable field for describing, studying, and teaching the relationship between aesthetics, representation, inequality, and power.
In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere.
The University of Chicago English Department, like any department, is of course free to offer instruction in whatever it wants and to admit whomever it wants — unless its commitment to rooting out anti-blackness means that it gives such strong preference to black applicants that Asians, Hispanics, whites, etc., are practically excluded. “Diversity,” after all, is the slim reed on which such discrimination must rest, but who would be there in class for the preferred blacks to provide “diversity” to?
Finally, here’s a question for the University of Chicago English Department: If it’s true that “English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction, and anti-Blackness,” that the discipline “is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why,” then why haven’t taxpayers been chumps all these years for subsidizing such rottenness in their public universities?