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Monday, July 10, 2017

invisible worms in roses


There's a bit of relief to be had from the intense heat of Trumpism by coldly reading The Death of White Sociology (New York: Vintage, 1973), edited by Joyce A. Ladner.  It is a matter of common sense.  Conflicting premises, murky motives for doing one kind of research rather than another, blind spots sprawling in humanistic and social science projects in 2017, the rainbow colors of methodologies ----these all highlight the rightness of Ladner's claim in 1973 that "sociology, like history, economics and psychology, exists in a domain where color, ethnicity, and social class are of primary importance.  And as long as this holds true, it is impossible for sociology to claim that it maintains value neutrality in its approaches" (xix).  It is equally impossible for humanities to possess value neutrality. As Trumpism ups the ante for indigenous knowing as well as convoluted theoretical interrogations and interventions, being cold matters greatly.  We are not detached from our thinking.  And after four decades, I suspect that white sociology in the USA is not sufficiently dead.  As I work on Reading Race Reading America: Literary and Social Essays and another project on ideological shuttling between democracy and fascism, I find the cautions in The Death of White Sociology to be at once helpful and troubling.  I ask myself if intellectual projects are somewhat quixotic, permanently incapable of detecting invisible worms in roses (see William Blake's magnificent poem "The Sick Rose," 1794).  I will not be denied the "true fact" of the worm, the "magic" of Trumpism notwithstanding.

A fellow writer notified me yesterday about a survey of nomenclature in Black Studies ( )) )proposed by Nolan Kopkin and Erin N. Winkler, members of the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A butterfly zoomed through my mind.  Is there a Department of Europology at any institution in the USA?  Would such a department undertake a survey of nomenclature in White Studies or Jewish Studies as subsets of American Studies?  The butterfly asked and would not stay for an answer.  Why do I smell a worm I can't see?

Why at just this moment does Kopkin, who uses econometric techniques to pursue his work in political economy and public policy, racial prejudice and entrepreneurship, and substantive black political representation, express interest in nomenclature or identity-naming?  And why has his colleague Winkler, who uses the qualitative methods of Africology to study (among other things) childhood and learning about race, partner with him in the undertaking?  In the name of digital humanities, I am deeply interested in where to locate the value investment of their motives and their enterprise.  Why do I smell the familiar aroma of the rose that once studied the Black Subject into near oblivion and bloomed without giving a nanosecond of notice to its own compromised subjectivity?  Perhaps a cold rereading of The Death of White Sociology can help me discover an answer.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            July 10, 2017

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