Resentment watch: Professors and pool boys!


What counts as racial resentment: Presumably, there’s quite a bit of “racial resentment” in this country. Given America’s brutal racial history, it would be strange if there weren’t.

Possible examples:

Last Sunday, at Forest Hills, Serena Williams may have expressed a bit of racial resentment, or something in that ball park. George Vecsey wrote about the incident in Monday’s New York Times.

To our ear, Vecsey may have been expressing a bit of resentment himself.

Did Williams express a bit of “racial resentment” when she called that umpire a “hater?” If so, were her judgments/ feelings/ assessments/ impressions justified, accurate, on-target, reasonable? Due to our brutal racial history, race is a very important part of our culture. Its manifestations ought to be assessed with great care.

Many people do make such careful assessments. Sadly, that’s when the professors arrive, with their embarrassing list of questions and their low-IQ thoughts and assessments.

(For background, see yesterday’s report.)

Nothing that follows will make much sense unless you can imagine the following: Over and over, again and again, our professors just aren’t all that sharp. They fumble about with their various projects; after that, they treat themselves to a year of rest in France. Again and again in the past thirty years, they’ve been AWOL from the society’s struggles. Tomorrow, we’ll try to explain why they’ve done so little to challenge the disinformation campaigns surrounding Social Security.

We know, we know—it’s hard to believe. But again and again, our greatest professors just aren’t all that sharp! And we don’t think the professors have been very sharp with their “racial resentment scale”—with the silly list of questions they use to measure that trait. Given the nation’s brutal history, race is a very important topic. In our view, we’re being quite dumb—and quite disrespectful—when we claim to measure “racial resentment” on the basis of the professors’ four questions.

What a country! Respondents are asked if they agree or disagree with these four statements:
Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.

Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.

Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
As a measure of “racial resentment,” that survey strikes us as quite dumb—and quite disrespectful. We’ll offer just a few thoughts:

Many African-Americans have feelings of something like racial resentment. Given America’s brutal history, why wouldn’t that be the case? But to our utterly hapless professors, “racial resentment” can mean only one thing; it can only refer to resentments people may hold against blacks.

And yes, RACIAL RESENTMENT SCALE is the professors’ chosen heading. It’s right on their questionnaire.

We think their questions are pretty dumb even for the limited purpose of measuring racial resentment against blacks. But those questions can only hope to measure resentment which flows in that direction.

Guess what, professors? Many black Americans feel various racial resentments too! If you’d get your asses out of the south of France, you might ingest this point.

What a weird, peculiar survey. Now, the basic question:

Can answers to those four survey questions produce a measure of “racial resentment?” From the professors’ Olympian point of view, anyone can quickly see what the “correct” answers are. But from the standpoint of “racial resentment,” do those questions really have right and wrong responses?

Consider just the first question—the question about “special favors.”

Good god. The term “special favors” is a major buzzword in American politics. Surely, even a gang of professors must understand that fact. It’s hard to imagine that any conservative would ever agree to any plan to confer “special favors.”

And sure enough! When the professors presented that question as part of their Election 2010 survey, 80 percent of tea party supporters agreed with that statement, thus recommending no “special favors.” (We’re getting our agreement/disagreement data from Table 3 in this paper by Alan Abramowitz—from the man who thought, in 2006, that Candidate Gore was not attacked by the press for allegedly saying that he invented the Internet. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/4/08.)

According to the professors, this answer was a marker of those respondents’ “racial resentment.” We think that assessment is basically dumb, and disrespectful of the brutality of our racial history. On the bright side, it does produce an outcome we liberals enjoy discussing at cocktail parties. Two points:

Eighty percent of tea party supporters agreed with “no special favors.” But for what it’s worth, so did 48 percent of everyone else! Overall, roughly 55 percent of all Americans gave the “incorrect” answer to the professors’ first question—the answer which signals “racial resentment.”

(Added note: 23 percent of respondents in the October 2010 survey identified themselves as tea party supporters.)

Granted, there’s a lot of “racial resentment” out there. But just as an intellectual matter, are we really sure we’re on the right track when we make such bald assessments?

By the way: How many African-American respondents also gave the incorrect answer to that first question? Abramowitz doesn’t say. But don’t worry, many did. Apparently, they're feeling "racial resentment" against black people too!

Second by the way: When people disagreed with that statement, were they saying that blacks should get “special favors?” Is that the current liberal position? We think the professors’ first question is very dumb, except as an inkblot exercise. We wouldn’t know how to answer that question; this verbal conundrum is one of the reasons why.

For the record, tea party supporters gave the “wrong” answers to all four questions more often than non-supporters did. That said, the political content of those murky questions made that a fairly obvious outcome. But with all four questions, large percentages of non-tea party supporters gave the wrong answers too; the percentages ranged from 36 percent up to that 48. We’d love to see the percentages of black respondents who gave the wrong answers to those questions—and we’d like to see a straight match-up among whites respondents only. The professors’ pool boys ran to proclaim the high rate of resentment among tea party supporters. We’d be curious about the levels of resentment found among everyone else.

More than anything, we’d like to see the professors sail to France and consider staying. Who knows? Their questions may serve some modest purpose, perhaps in comparisons over time. But in our view, the professors are being extremely dumb when they affix that label to those answers. Race is a very important topic; we think these reliably lazy thinkers should show a bit more respect.

Often, these people just aren’t very sharp. Why won’t their pool boys just say so?


  1. In making your point about these particular professors you really do approach unfairly slandering an entire profession, and you keep doing it again and again. What about such contemporary professors and scholars like Paul Krugman? George Stiglitz? Nouriel Roubini? Martha Nussbaum? Andrew Hacker? Simon Johnson? Mary Frances Berry? K. Anthony Appiah? Noam Chomsky? Johnetta B. Cole? Manning Marable? Howard Zinn? Akhil Reed Amar? Randall Kennedy? Brian Greene? Stephen Hawking? Are you claiming they "aren’t very sharp"? Really? Do you really believe all or even most professors while away a year in France? Come on, Mr. Somerby! This approaches the sort of right-wing slander that really does terrible damage to the great work that comes out of American higher education, which remains the best in the world. Yes, some professors make mistakes. Yes, this particular survey is terrible. Yes, liberals and everyone else should criticize it. But please be a bit more judicious about criticizing all individuals in a vast field, which the professoriate is, based on the failings of a few.

  2. I read it as comic hyperbole trying to shoot down the all too common judgement that if one is a professor, then brains come with the bargain.

  3. In addition to the spot-on point made by Anonymous above, I would also recommend that Bob do some reading into the political economy of higher education in the United States. Like other industries, and other sectors of American society, higher ed now effectively has a two-tier system. Yes, at the top, there are the professorial elite. As Anonymous suggests above, some of this elite is very good at what they do and very good at trying to use their standing to better inform the wider public. As Bob also correctly suggests, some of this elite is extremely bad, pampered, lazy, etc.

    But, the more important point is that the entire professorial elite is a small subsection of the entire profession. Rather, what is much more common now is "professors" who are not tenured professors at all. They are contract hires teaching many, many courses (sometimes at multiple institutions). They generally make very low wages without benefits. This is the reality of the profession now. If you're a graduate student trying to get into the profession this is the type of appointment you will likely get, if you can find work at all. So, no, most of us are not flying off for a year to the south of France while doing lazy research. Instead we are teaching multiple classes to hundreds of students who are all going into debt to pay enormous tuition. If you'd like to find out about this majority of professors, I can recommend some reading on the subject.

  4. This new line, against the professors, has me slightly worried. Not because I think it's wrong [full disclosure: I am a professor] -- Somerby's right in that the professoriate is full of weak and muddled thinkers, drunk with the thought of their coming sabbaticals, impervious to logic or evidence (though, of course, exceptions, like Krugman, abound -- but make no mistake, they are exceptions).

    But because the professoriate, as a whole, is very weak, wielding little political power (and, of course, happy with this, content to diddle themselves in their ivory towers), and consequently a target not worth spending much time on (and even where the professors seem to be in clear, and, from an outsider's hazy perspective, correct, consensus, they are utterly worthless, politically -- the climate scientists spring to mind, completely ignored as their descriptions of the coming period become more and more hysterical).

    As an aside, even Krugman (absolutely our MVP) shows a startling lack of political skills, as he, a bit humorously (of a grim sort) continues to use, silly him, evidence. As though that is what matters on the national political front.

  5. By the way: How many African-American respondents also gave the incorrect answer to that first question? Abramowitz doesn’t say. But don’t worry, many did. Apparently, they're feeling "racial resentment" against black people too!

    You write as though it were simply impossible that African-American respondents would ever harbor racial resentment towards other African-Americans.

    If so, you are simply wrong.

  6. An Iron Law of the Howler: Bob gets to call people names and generalize. The rest of us must behave and be rigorous.

    The list of "our professors" who study and address every one of the Howler's concerns --- with great care, integrity, and rigor --- is lengthy enough to induce carpel tunnel typing it.

    Bob cherry picks a few whom he doesn't like, makes them representative of the entire group, and then calls them names. This is the very conduct he devotes this site to excoriating.

    This is how we move past The Dumb?

  7. "I read it as comic hyperbole"

    Ah, I see. Well, that's how some folks read Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins, or hear Rachel Maddow.

  8. Prof M - I think that's part of the problem. Professors have a role in the political process, and the fact that most are "happy" not to participate, leaving a yawning vacuum in our public discourse that instead gets filled with belly button lint, is the problem. It's easy to make fun of those that follow the stupidity of the career slacktivist/media world, but the source of the problem, as I see it, is that so few participate in the national discourse that they can't make room for actually intelligent discussions to be had. And, of course, this is related to the internal politics of academia, which I'm sure you know a lot more about than I do, that I've heard have a tendency to keep certain, more outspoken people out. But I'm not in the academe.

    I'm wondering along the same lines of anon - just how many black people answered those questions with the Tea Partiers? "Many" can mean a lot of things, and if the number is small enough I'd be able to believe that it is from the self-hating. My guess is that the number is too big for that, implying there was a lot of confusion about the questions, but I don't see the number in the article.

    Also wondering why no one cares about racial resentment against latinos and asians, but maybe that's a can of worms not worth getting into.

  9. Good discussion. I agree with Geoff about the nominal hypocrisy of Bob decrying generalizations then arguing in a general fashion, but since the Howler works on inductive reasoning, and it's goal is to persuade, I'll forgive Bob for not sticking "with some exceptions" onto the end of half is sentences. I also agree with Bob and Professor M that as a general matter the professorate is feckless, fatuous and corrupt, based on my personal experiences and the sorts of things Bob points out. Once again, this is inductive reasoning, and the question is whether the pieces Bob drags in make up an accurate mosaic--what is the big picture? I vote for "pile of crap with a couple diamonds lodged in there," rather than "field of diamonds with a little bit of crap on them."

    Of course, that we should treat people as individuals and not prejudge them is a lesson that bears frequent repeating.

    To open up the discussion a bit, I think the question of the professors is the same question that comes up when examining many, many sections of "the left" these days: the question of deadweight. We can look at the professorate, the unions, various single-issue organizations, the "activist" subculture that's stuck in a time-warp, and the fecklessness of the population as a whole, and see folks who simply lack any sense of coherent strategy, any sense of needing to build a large-scale political movement that can get things done.

    Professor M suggests that the professorate be considered deadweight, a problem section that is stuck in its ways and not worth trying to pressure to reform because of its limited influence. But we could consider any dysfunctional part of our society to be deadweight. I'm in Portland, which is chock full of the time-warp type of folks, and I almost have to look at them as deadweight just to keep my tolerance. These are dedicated folks who, with useful direction, could have a big impact. But we can say that about almost any section. So the question is, where should energy be focused?

  10. Isn't there a profound difference between using a generalization to present a view opposing commonly held beliefs, than using one to support prevailing prejudices? Normally people don't think of professors as dim.

    Is "Black is Beautiful" racist?

  11. In my experience, about 7 years as a student and TA at 3 different institutions, there are all kinds of professors preaching all kinds of narratives. The radical I became as a grad student back in the day (mid 90s) is thanks to guys like Terry Eagleton, Edward Said, Chomsky et al. Want to understand how elites prey on subaltern groups or how US foreign policy has been an abomination since the War with Spain, go to uni. Are there some daft wankers peddling narrow bill of goods, yup. Are they naturally the ones the corporate media picks up on, yup.

    Think of the authentic liberal or left voices you know in the blogosphere--how likely are they to be hired as op ed contributors at the Times etc? The same holds true of academia--just b/c you're not regularly hearing from brilliant, committed professors doesn't mean they don't exist. It means that you're outside the ivory tower and there's no platform for their voices to reach you--like the blogosphere it's a closed discourse, as as far as the media goes for a reason.

    Instead of slanging them, we ought to be seeking ways to partner with them, looking for an alternative, expanded discourse that might reach the great unwashed. Though, as you've said, calling them stupid is working out so well.

    Any reason why I can't post as jcapan from home--from work I have no trouble.

  12. PATAKI was wrong when he callled SS "an underfunded entitlement program." It's essentially unfunded. There is a SS Trust Fund, but it's miniscule compared to unfunded liability.

    Of course SS isn't literally an illgal Ponzi scheme, but because it runs on a pay-as-you-go basis. Like in a Ponzi scheme, the money a worker puts in isn't saved and invested to pay that worker's benefits. It's used to pay current benefits.

    BTW noted economists Paul Samuelson and Paul Krugman have referred to SS as a Ponzi scheme.

    BTW I am an actuary.

  13. Krugman addressed that in a blog post, essentially retracting that statement.

    There is a big difference between a pay-as-you-go social insurance program and a ponzi scheme. One is a pay-as-you-go social insurance program, which in the case of Social Security has made an enormous difference in the quality of life for millions of elderly people, while a ponzi scheme is used to enrich a few people at the expense of many, as with Bernard Madoff. There is just no comparison, unless you will reach to any depth to attack the New Deal.

    And given that almost every worker contributes payroll taxes to the social security system, I wonder how you justify your claim that the system is "essentially unfunded." That seems totally wrong.

  14. The conclusion drawn seems to be that there is racism outside the Tea Party. Big news, but that does not change the fact that racism and other forms of bigotry are major motivators of TPers and certain others, probably to the point that they vote against their own material interests. Are they really constitutional originalists and diehard opponents of income and capital-gains taxes on rich people, or have their more visceral feelings about race and other things been diverted? Those who think that might be the case would like to learn more about the psychology of the whole thing.

  15. SS is totally funded, by payroll taxes. All the money it pays out comes from those taxes and there is no borrowing (it can't, by law). In fact it is overfunded - it has taken more in that it has paid out and the rest of the government has borrowed from the Trust Fund. High-income people want to repudiate this debt because they will have to pay income taxes for its repayment. People who say it is unfunded or a Ponzi scheme either don't know how it works, or are just looking to discredit it with inapplicable pejoratives.

  16. Anonymous wrote:

    "You write as though it were simply impossible that African-American respondents would ever harbor racial resentment towards other African-Americans."

    Have you considered the possibility that people might harbor resentments towards privileges granted to others without those resentments being racially motivated?

  17. I have to go along with what the later anonymous said. What gets into the mass media is through a process of "unnatural selection", whereby the dumb survives at the expense of the smart.
    Op editors really don't want to inform people. They, like the broadcast media, want their fans to keep coming back. Treatises with footnotes won't accomplish that. How many people will read Naomi Klein when they have highly trained professionals like Robert Samuelson to turn to?
    It is the style of expression that appeals to editors, not the relevance or accuracy of the material.

  18. skepto said: "Big news, but that does not change the fact that racism and other forms of bigotry are major motivators of TPers and certain others."

    Even if the 4 questions were accurately assessing the existence of racism among TP members, it would measure absolutely nothing about motivation, much less their "major motivators." That's the other invalid part of the media/blog commentary surrounding the recent article. It's a pretty big step to skip to zoom right to racism as the "major" motivators for TP members (as opposed to, say, they're unemployed, they lost their homes, they believe the standard Republican propaganda that Obama's a socialist, etc etc).

  19. Folks don't like these academic studies. Fine. Then look no further than the architects of the very successful Southern Strategy; and read what Lee Atwater had to say on using race as a wedge issue (which he did successfully); and then review and study the relentless, deliberate (and successful) use of code words during the post civil rights era.

    I don't like name-calling any more than anyone else, nor do I engage in it. But to deny the central role race has played in our politics, since the civil rights era and, really, since the founding of the republic, is to painfully, and rather embarrasingly, avoid the obvious.

  20. Coming to this late, after several hours since dinner of class prep and email exchanges with colleagues and students about every manner of thing (and also, believe it or not, after an hour of going to a lecture by Chomsky -- that part definitely not routine!) -- this after getting up at 7:00 and going all day today, with a tomorrow that starts bright and early, all sight of my own research gone with the summer's warmth and floods, and ahead of me a weekend of report-writing about assistant prof's and class prep and some quiz grading and maybe, if I'm lucky, some attention to my weed-filled-since-it's-been-so-very-wet garden -- my schedule being no harder or easier than most others', I am sure (and mine definitely being easier, and better remunerated, than my husband's, who teaches at a state college):

    I'm really struck by the raw nerve bob s. sets off in those of us among the professoriate (and its vassal class, the part-timer and the "visiting assistant professor/instructor..."). Even more, I'm struck by how many of us academic types seem to drawn to bob s., nonetheless! I'm too tired now to expand on this (and could I find the energy, I need to save it for tomorrow and those bright-eyed young ones I am so fortunate to have greeting me in the morning).

    Bottom line: I think I, maybe a bigger we, like the way bob somerby cares absolutely about those children wending their way to school on a street in Baltimore. And the way he insists on a connection between those children and things as heady as the poor journalism of the NYT.

  21. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post in which you outline why the academics have been relatively absent, and when they do step forward into the opinion pages, they often fail to clarify. This isn't exactly a question of what goes on in their journals which aren't widely read outside the profession. Or whether or not they teach 2 courses then fly to France. I remember a post of yours from a few years ago where an academic was asked to answer the question as to whether or not there were "Death Panels" in the ACA, and the answer seemed to be 8ndjajcnuc 834un50c. 84cjad85 385mc8s seems to be the answers I get in many columns I read, but one should expect better from the scholars, especially when they write on the areas of their expertise.

  22. Where is all this coming from, Mr. S?

    “Over and over, again and again, our professors just aren’t all that sharp. They fumble about with their various projects; after that, they treat themselves to a year of rest in France.”

    “Guess what, professors? Many black Americans feel various racial resentments too! If you’d get your asses out of the south of France, you might ingest this point.”

    “More than anything, we’d like to see the professors sail to France and consider staying.”

    “As a group, the professors have basically sat out the last thirty years—although, in fairness, they've often been away on sabbatical, likely in France.”

    Is Pat Buchanan guest-hosting this week? Or are you just engaging in a little "mind reading" yourself?

  23. "Have you considered the possibility that people might harbor resentments towards privileges granted to others without those resentments being racially motivated?"

    I think the infamous questions would garner the same infamous "incorrect" answers from the type of person who felt that African-Americans were granted "privileges" in American society.

  24. In the current Atlantic (October 2011), there's an interesting piece by a former professor, Marshall Poe, who left academe to work for a major journalistic periodical, then thought he had a great idea for a book on Wikipedia only to realize that when he undertook careful research on the topic he ended up not with the sort of book that editors want, with one mega-idea that's elevated to an organizing concept, but rather a more complex, hedged, nuanced book that the editor figured might not sell, and then, before he knew it, others had rushed similar books into print.

    I was thinking of this in terms of most of scholarship I read in academe and some of the commentary by professors that makes it into the mainstream. Professors, especially scholars, are trained to be careful, judicious, precise, etc. in their research, and to write accordingly. Of course there are theorists and critics who are far less so, who make overarching claims, extrapolate wildly, and so on, but among the Anglo-American professoriate, the majority of the better scholars across a range of fields in the humanities and social sciences, but also in scientific fields, follow this trend. Also when writing for one's field, it's important to use the discourse of that field, which requires jargon and so forth. To translate this, to hedge less, to make the kinds of leaps Poe was wary of doing (and realized he couldn't) is a skill not all professors, not all scholars have. Some do, but many do not, which is not a knock against them. But often they do have very important knowledge and information that could be helpful. I have watched liberal MVP Krugman learn to drop the jargon more and more, but he still sometimes reverts to wonkish language, and for whatever reason cannot shed that awful, metaphorically problematic (toxic) term "entitlement."

    As one of the posters above notes, figuring out a way to partner with them to get this information to the wider world would be helpful to all of us. Interestingly enough, one area of the humanities that the right disdained for a long time but now seems to have adopted wholeheartedly is post-modernism, and its suspicion of traditional authority, the Enlightenment and its heritage, a skepticism about universal value or values, and so on. I sometimes wonder if some on the right realize this, but then I remember that whether they do or not, they are putting it to (dangerous) use every single day with their attacks on science, scholarly expertise, the law, etc.

  25. FWIW: "According to a 2008-09 survey by the American Association of University Professors as shown by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for full-time faculty was $79,439."

    "According to the BLS, as quoted from the AAUP 2008-09 survey, the average salary for professors was $108,749; associate professors earned $76,147; assistant professors earned $63,827; instructors earned $45,977; and lecturers earned $52,436."

    And, for the record, social sciences faculty are near the bottom of the list.

    And yes, Bobby, those numbers are essentially the same today, with no inflation adjustments. Yeah Bobby... we're all taking sabbaticals in France.

    The professors who wind up on the teevee news programs and in the papers you so rightfully disdain made it there for a reason? Could those reasons be the same ones you've been harping on regarding journalists?

    Comic hyperbole? Sure... only in the lazy, carping, Maureen Dowd sense. Dumb.