Monday, January 04, 2021

Cursed Words in the Brandeis University Press

The end of 2020 brought on a burgeoning academic controversy involving the reprint of Marc Dollinger's book Black Power, Jewish Politics (which I happen to have on my desk). The gist is this: in preparation for a new edition, Dolligner authored a new preface which included language about how Jews have begun to reckon with the  "elements of white supremacy in their own lived experience." Dollinger's editors at the Brandeis University Press didn't like the linkage of Jews and White Supremacy. So they refused to print his preface, and allegedly sent the book to the presses without consulting him on their decision. This generated an outraged letter by a good number of eminent Jewish Studies scholars in Dollinger's field, and the BUP's newly installed editors wrote a rather vague reply suggesting potentially that they may revisit the decision.

Like others, I recognize that the linkage of Jews with my background and White Supremacy is a fraught endeavor. I wrote a lengthy two-part blog series trying to tease through this very topic. I haven't read Dollinger's preface (since, you know, it was never published), and it's possible I'd disagree with what he had to say about "White supremacy". But discussing the topic is well within the purview of academic inquiry into the relationship of American Jewry and the Black community, and it is not a healthy thing if the very phrase is treated as cursed words. The people who are praising the editors' censorial cowardice regarding a book that already passed muster in peer-review are doing a disservice to the project of open academic inquiry (not that I think they care). Give them 30 minutes, and they'll be back to complaining about "cancel culture" soon enough, but for the time being they're gleeful as all get-out that an academic press was afraid to even allow the phrase "White supremacy" to be uttered in a preface.

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