So far this week we’ve met a couple of college professors who, not realizing they were being videotaped, browbeat their students after Donald Trump’s election victory – and ended up going viral. Today we’ll pay a quick visit to an academic who went public himself with his reaction to the election results.
His name: Matthew Hughey. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut (he’s also on the Adjunct Faculty of the Africana Studies Institute and American Studies Program), he’s written several books with titles like The White Savior Film; Race and Ethnicity in Secret and Exclusive Social Orders; White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists, and the Shared Meanings of Race; The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America?; and 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today.
Plainly, the red thread running through his work is race. According to him, all of his scholarship is guided by a single question: “What is the relationship between the heterogeneous interpretations of race and the long-term staying power of racism and racial inequality?” We’re not sure that we entirely understand this question, but let’s not allow that to distract us. In order to probe his guiding question, Hughey explains, he studies “race and ethnicity as a dynamic and ongoing practice with an emphasis on racism, meaning-making, and asymmetrical relations of power.” So race and ethnicity are practices? Or, rather, a practice? Welcome to academia. “A thorough scholastic comprehension of race,” Hughey maintains, “must move beyond views of static identities or ideologies. Rather, an understanding of the processes and contexts that produce race, how race is imbued with particular meanings, and how race constrains and enables pathways of human action and order, is necessary.”
Um, what? Hold on, his next paragraph is quite a bit clearer:
I situate my worldview against concepts of social life that are entirely individualistic and which analyze society only in terms of psychological make-up, skills, and atomistic behaviors. These assumptions gesture toward a belief that social structures will magically change via one’s hard work, good intentions, or education. History affords too many examples of participation by the “righteous,” “educated,” and “hard-working” in structures of oppression to allow any objective observer of social life to accept that notion that equitable or just social arrangements are based entirely on the redemption of the individual without direct attention to external social forces.
Simply put: black people are still held back by racism, no matter how skilled they are and how hard they work. There’s a degree of truth in this, of course. Prejudice has held back all kinds of people in every society throughout human history. The main point, however, should be that America today is less racist than virtually any country at any time, ever. Four years ago, as it happens, the World Values Survey found that the U.S. is one of the least racist countries on earth. Check out this map, which suggests that a serious, scrupulous scholar who was genuinely interested in exploring racism would do far better to study India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia – in fact almost anywhere outside of the Americas, the Anglosphere, and Scandinavia – than to focus on the U.S.
But to the likes of Hughey, racism in the above-named countries – racism everywhere other than in the West – is invisible. Or irrelevant. Or, perhaps, attributable, via some contorted academic logic, to Western colonialism and/or American imperialism. For the whole point of the kind of “scholarship” that people like Hughey pursue is to prove, for the millionth time, that America is Ground Zero for all human iniquity. Again, yes, there is abundant iniquity in the U.S. But there’s more of it almost everywhere else on the planet. And to ignore that fact as systematically as Hughey and other academics in the social sciences do today is to give a pass to a great deal of outright evil.
Which brings us to Hughey’s take on Donald Trump’s election. He wasn’t happy with it, of course – and he blamed it on (what else?) white supremacism. When confronted on this assertion by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Hughey readily added that Trump’s ascendancy was also the fault of three other vices: sexism, heteronormativity, and capitalism. But the main cause of Trump’s win, he insisted, was race – because America is and has always been afflicted by white supremacy. There was, to be sure, one little detail Hughey didn’t explain: how had an electorate so thoroughly and permanently poisoned by a white supremacist mentality managed to elect a black man to the presidency twice in a row?