OPINION: Leftist academics could learn something from Tyler Austin Harper

Hopefully, more academics will adopt Harper’s approach.

Harper highlights how the concept of 'color-blindness' has transitioned from a virtue of civil rights-era progress to a point of contention in today's discussions on racism and equality.

Leftist academics could learn something by reading Tyler Austin Harper’s latest piece in The Atlantic, “I’m a Black Professor. You Don’t Need to Bring That Up.”

Harper, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Bates College in Maine, delves into the changing landscape of anti-racist discourse and its implications on interpersonal interactions. The piece highlights how the concept of “color-blindness” has transitioned from a virtue of civil rights-era progress to a point of contention in today’s discussions on racism and equality.

Opening with a recount of a chance encounter between two academics at a conference hotel, where the conversation evolves into a discussion about the challenges of their respective positions—one being a temporary white teacher searching for a tenure-track position and the other a Black tenure-track professor – Harper says the conversation suddenly turned into a conversation about race. 

This interaction becomes a launching point for Harper to examine the evolution of “anti-racism” as the prevailing ideology in progressive circles.

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The current trend of anti-racist culture, characterized by an emphasis on acknowledging and centering racial differences in everyday interactions, has created a distorted view of racial dynamics in society, leading to the widespread belief that being “color-blind” is no longer sufficient or appropriate and that White liberals feel obligated to constantly remind Black individuals of their awareness of their racial identity has become more about virtue signaling.

Harper argues that “acknowledging” racial difference often manifests in two ways: White individuals attempting to showcase their awareness of racism, or striving to make marginalized individuals feel “culturally” comfortable, often resulting in awkward interactions, such as the author’s own interaction with the White professor at the hotel. 

Harper traces the evolution of this shift, exploring how early initiatives like racial-sensitivity training have evolved into the contemporary emphasis on confronting “whiteness” and admitting “implicit bias.”

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Even at Harper’s own institution, faculty introduced the “Race, Power, Privilege, and Colonialism Curriculum” in April, aiming to integrate discussions of these topics into all disciplines. Similar ‘anti-racist’ initiatives have been adopted across the country, such as the anti-black racism minor at the University of Maryland. 

Though his position is unpopular in academic circles, Harper says ‘anti-racism’ does not actually solve racism, but rather allows ‘progressives’ to demonstrate their so-called ‘moral high ground’ through virtue signaling. 

Instead, he calls on others to embrace the essence of “good color-blindness” from the past, which envisioned a world where racial differences didn’t play a significant role in interpersonal interactions, and advocates for a more nuanced approach that rejects both the oversimplified “color-blindness” of the past and the current trend of hyper-consciousness regarding race.

Hopefully, more academics will adopt Harper’s approach. 

Follow Jared Gould on Twitter for more stories like this. 

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.