Volume 31, 2015
Power, Protest, and the Future of Democracy
“Sacredly Cultivated Ignorance”
Attacks on Anti-Racist Instructors as a Form of Academic Repression
A pattern of attacks against instructors of color, often untenured and female, has emerged in recent years. A democratic society depends, for healthy functioning, on an educated citizenry. The attacks on education, especially on race and ethnic studies programs, are a part of a systemic movement to suppress radical thought within the university. I argue that this pattern of repression is a form of white ignorance and fits into Charles Mills’s analysis of the epistemology of ignorance. Moreover, this ignorance of systemic racism on the part of white people is as James Baldwin called it, ‘sacred and sacredly cultivated.’ To counter this pattern of repression, those of us with a measure of protection under the principles of academic freedom must be attentive to the ways in which efforts to address racial injustice in the university, such as work on diversity committees, can be turned to support institutional goals that conflict with the goal of racial and other forms of social justice.