By Michael Nam
Saida Grundy is a newly hired Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at Boston University, but even before her first day, multiple conservative media outlets took their cue to brew up controversy from a University of Mass., Amherst student who recently mined her Twitter account to present the teacher in an unflattering light.
The student who gathered Grundy’s tweets, Nicholas Pappas, is a college junior and a member of the UMass Republicans who initially posted the story on SoCawlege.com, a college-audience website with an apparent conservative viewpoint.
A firestorm erupted when FOX News picked up the story, shortly after Pappas posted it on May 6th, with little more than parroting of the student’s talking points, additional tweet-mining and some flavor quotes from conservative sources such as David Horowitz, a far-right-wing advocate who infamously wrote that Blacks asking for reparations for slavery should be grateful for what they’ve received from America. One conservative outlet after another followed until even mainstream and “liberal” outlets joined in.
In terms of Pappas’ agenda, the author told FOX News he wished to “show the rest of America how nasty people on the far left can get at colleges.”
What he really did was present a series of impassioned tweets largely taken out of the greater context of the discussion of institutionalized racial disparity in academia and the nation with poorly sourced rebuttals to Dr. Grundy’s tweets.
FOX essentially repackaged a story that largely attributed its talking points to Wikipedia articles, particularly on the history of slavery. This seems unusual considering Wikipedia articles largely contain citations themselves.
But aside from the sloppy sourcing, as Daily Kos writer and friend of Saida Grundy notes, there is a lot of context missing from the narrative that Pappas, and a media hostile to critiques of racism, pushed in their stampede to attack “liberal” academia:
When Saida tweets about white male privilege inside of academia or how American slavery is a white people problem, it’s done with a very particular audience and context in mind. Sometimes the tweets that are now being criticized were a part of a series of tweets that must be viewed together to understand. Those tweets make perfect sense to me and the thousands of people who follow her. A white man inside of academia may be so unaware of his privilege that when he reads those tweets in the context of a hateful conservative blog, the entire meaning goes over his head.
Some of the choicest tweets that went over the heads of Dr. Grundy’s critics were her points regarding the problem of “white masculinity”:
While Pappas and FOX News felt affronted by the question, they missed the turnabout her comments actually represents, as TheGrio.com addressed in response:
When the media gets hold of video of white college students gleefully chanting racist songs or when white young men are found guilty of raping schoolmates, it’s portrayed as a “few bad apples” type of narrative as opposed to something being wrong with the white male population. Grundy’s statement essentially shifts that line of thinking to put those types of behaviors in context.
It’s common in the media to see “Blacks” as the problem, whether it’s Brit Hume wondering why Pres. Obama didn’t address “Black-on-Black killings” (he did) or former New York City mayor and FOX News contributor Rudy Giuliani proclaiming on Meet the Press, “White police officers won’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75% of the time.” The overrepresentation of Black men as violent criminals by the media is a well-studied phenomenon.
Additionally, the Pappas’ story highlighted Grundy’s tweets about patronizing Black businesses.
“That’s fine. But it does show a long-standing inter-generational racial grudge,” remarked Pappas in his own piece.
Rather, it shows a willingness to follow that which Martin Luther King exhorted his audience in Memphis to do in his final speech:
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
While the speech was specific to the time, asking Blacks to patronize Black banks and insurance businesses in Memphis in 1968, the need to build economic wealth in Black communities remains a modern problem. Grundy’s tweet expressed some frustration in how difficult it is to follow-through on a tactic of which Dr. King approved.
Grundy, in response to the uproar, ended up apologizing for the sometimes arguably crass social media posts.
“I regret that my personal passion about issues surrounding these events led me to speak about them indelicately,” she wrote in a statement. “I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve.”
Social media and Internet commenting can be a minefield for professionals under fire by those with an agenda, and her usage could be characterized as ill-advised since 140 characters per post very much limits context and nuance.
On the flip side, Jerry Hough, the white male Duke Professor currently under fire for his comments on a New York Times article about Baltimore’s unrest, used the model minority myth in order to show, once again, that Black people are the problem, comparing them against a fictionally monolithic Asian American culture. While he himself was admonished by his university, like Saida Grundy, he stood by his noxious comment.
Unsurprisingly, FOX News continues to hound Saida Grundy regarding social media posts, this time on Facebook, with a good chunk of the thread’s context removed, alleging that her comments attacked a white rape victim.
Meanwhile, her new place of employment is being pressured by FOX News and others to rescind her hiring despite Boston University’s own issues with a lack of diversity in their undergraduate and faculty ranks and an admissions officer who claims that “the pool of academically qualified black students is slim.”