If nothing else, a professor should be able to WRITE better than that

Self-described Duke professor Jerry Hough has stepped into deep don’t-don’t with his comments on a New York Times editorial headlined “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.” If you click on this link, you’ll see his comments.

What he said has been called racially “noxious.” And he’s taken a lot of heat for it.

I’ll let others judge whether Dr. Hough is, in his heart of hearts, a racist. One thing I know for sure is that he has a very poor command of the English language, to the extent that he lacks the skill to avoid sounding like a racist.

For instance, he doesn’t seem to get it that, if he’s going to make offensive (and extremely trite) generalizations comparing the experiences of Americans of Asian and African extraction, one does better (a little better, anyway) to refer to “blacks” and “Asians” than “the blacks” and “the Asians.” I mean, who doesn’t know that? Who is that tone deaf?

Dr. Hough has been castigated, unsurprisingly, for saying “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.”

I mean, let’s set aside the fact that I’d like to make the prof a bet that not “every” Asian student has a name like “John.” It’s the WAY he said it. Folks who are not racists have done a great deal of hand-wringing over the fact that if you have a “black-sounding” name such as “Tyrone,” you’re less likely to get a job interview than if your name is, say, “Bradley.” (Ahem.)

This is a point that can be, and often is, made in a non-offensive manner. Dr. Hough mentions it in a way that condemns “the blacks” as a group for not wanting to play well with others.

Anyway, here are his comments in their entirety:

This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.

But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white.The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.

In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.

So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.

I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existemt because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.

It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.

Wowee. I hate to show disrespect for “the old people” by saying this, but at 80, maybe the prof has lost a little zip on his fast ball in terms of being able to set out ideas in a way that he is heard, rather than making people want to shut him out. His writing is a blunt instrument that repeatedly taps on the sorest of spots, and does so with a startling lack of originality. Duke professor? He sounds more like Joe Blowhard in the local tavern after too many brewskis.

Of course, maybe he’s just racist. There’s always that possibility. But one expects even a racist Duke professor to express his views better…

7 thoughts on “If nothing else, a professor should be able to WRITE better than that

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Professor Fenner was just remarking the other day how many of his students’ first names were some version of Yong.
    Not Don or John….

  2. Harry Harris

    Two of the kinds of thinking I’ve tried to break myself away from and attempted to change in others involve statements like “What the (insert group name here) want” or “What THEY think” or What THEY do,” and “I’m not prejudiced, but …” One of my bosses years ago helped me to examine my own pronouncements when she purposely started a reply with “Most men – and I know most men, …” We would do well to acknowledge the unconscious attitudes and opinions (wired brains) ingrained in us by our cultural structures and possibly the nature of being human animals. Denying prejudices may well hinder our understanding of the important differences between prejudice and racism and inhibit our better desires to act toward what we want to become rather than what our culture has made us.

  3. Matt Bohn

    I learned very quickly that the phrase “you people” could be seen as insulting and biased to a class of rural Pee Dee teenagers when I was a 23 year old starting my teaching career. I thought about it and decided that it WAS insulting and I would try to never to say it again. I didn’t realize that it could be racially charged. I had the same experience when I called someone ignorant which means rude where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. If the professor is in North Carolina he really should know better than than to preface identities like that. How could he not realize the way he sounds?

  4. Barry

    I have quite a number of customers that are from India.

    Most of them are business owners. I don’t sense that they have an “American” sounding name to integrate.

    In my experience, they adopt an “American” sounding name for ease of doing business – to make it easier on their customers and employees. Sure, maybe some of it is to “fit in” better- but that’s not the reason for adopting or using a “regular” name like “Mike” or whatever.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The Indians I know usually shorten their really long names, if they have them, to one or two syllables. Sysundaraman becomes Sundar, Rajathnatham (or whatever) becomes Raj.


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