Emerson College Promotes Professor Who Writes Racially Divisive Columns

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Just weeks after Emerson College suspended a conservative student group for alleged “bigotry” against China, a professor with a history of writing racially divisive, anti-white columns has been promoted to the new interim dean of graduate and professional studies.

Turning Point USA, a conservative activist group, is calling out the university’s hypocrisy after the school suspended TPUSA for distributing stickers with the phrase “China kinda sus” — “sus’ meaning “suspicious” — alongside a hammer and sickle image,  but chose to promote creative writing professor Kim McLarin, who has argued that black women and white women can’t be “true friends.” 

In an email to students on September 30, the university’s interim president, William Gilligan, condemned “anti-Asian bigotry” and said that the Emerson chapter of TPUSA would be investigated after its members distributed the stickers a day earlier. In a later letter to the group’s leadership, the school’s director of community standards served notice that the group had been suspended from its usual activities due to the “Bias Related Behavior” under investigation, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is advocating for the students.

However, Emerson TPUSA vice president Kjersten Lynum said in a video posted to Instagram that the stickers were to draw attention to the Chinese government’s well-documented human-rights atrocities, including the Uyghur genocide. “It has nothing to do with Asians or Asian culture. I am Chinese-Singaporean myself, and I’m offended by people who suggest I have hatred toward my own race,” she said.

Meanwhile, the college is apparently comfortable with promoting McLarin, a black woman who has authored several columns that advocate for division between races.

In a 2019 column for the Washington Post, adapted from her book Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life,” McLarin asks, “can black women and white women be true friends?”

McLarin — who is a novelist, essayist and playwright — ultimately decides that no, they can’t be friends and explains, “Generally speaking, it’s not that I dislike white women. Generally speaking, it’s that I do not trust them. Generally speaking, most black women don’t.”

She notes that black women have said it is “too much trouble” to be friends with white women, or that white women don’t see them, pointing to invisibility and an imbalance of power as reasons why black women and white women can’t be friends.

“Put simply, white women have power they will not share and to which they mostly will not admit, even when wielding it,” she writes. “Think about all the white women calling the police on black women and men for capital crimes such as grilling near a lake, driving through a neighborhood, bumping a leg on an overcrowded plane.”

In the same excerpt she describes being disappointed with white students while teaching a survey class in African American literature each fall when she teaches Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. She writes that while students can understand the “physical, psychological and sexual terrorism of slavery,” as well as the “hypocritical Christianity of the South,” that students cannot accept Jacobs’s criticisms of white women. 

McLarin describes her classes: “Without fail, at least one young white woman will raise her hand, eyes determined, chin quivering: ‘Yes, but all women were property back then.’ Or: ‘Gender discrimination has always been a bigger problem than racism.” Or: “Well, white women didn’t have it much better than slaves.’ Which is simply untrue.”

“I find these moments revealing, the student’s face both intense and needy as she mounts her defense of white women past,” she adds. 

McLarin then questions how the student “can grapple honestly with the power imbalances of today” and how she and her black classmate can possibly be friends if she “insists on believing that white women in 1850 were as oppressed as enslaved people.” 

In a separate piece for the New York Times’ Modern Love column, McLarin details her revelation that she cannot date white men. She writes about her divorce from her ex-husband, who is white, and says that she did not know whether “race arose as a problem because I am black and my ex is white or because I am a person who grapples with race and he is not.” 

“My ex believed I always went looking for race, but I didn’t; race came looking for me,” she writes. 

She argues that this — whether a person “grapples with race” or not — is a dividing line in America. 

McLarin again writes about teaching, saying she was irritable on a date after having a frustrating discussion with several white undergraduates in her Literature of Slavery class.

She writes, “All semester I had struggled to teach them to think critically about race and slavery and history, to have them challenge their assumptions. They insisted, for example, that racial divisions were as old as time and that the myth of African inferiority preceded slavery, not, as I suggested, the other way around. And they argued that racial genetics were more than skin deep, whether I wanted to believe it or not. How else to account for the way black athletes dominate some professional sports?”

Upon explaining her frustrations with her date, who was a white man, he questioned if the students didn’t have a point. 

“What about all those Kenyan marathon runners?” he asked. “Isn’t it possible there’s some genetic reason for that? Isn’t it possible blacks are just better athletes than whites?”

“A PERFECTLY innocent question,” she writes. “Yet something small and painful flickered inside my chest. Logically, if one accepts a genetic physical superiority of blacks, one must also accept the possibility of intellectual superiority in whites. Did he not consider that notion? Did he reject it out of hand, or subconsciously believe it? And if I wondered these things aloud would he, like my ex, judge me bitter or oversensitive?”

After her date said he did not believe everyone is racist but “maybe racialized, but that’s not a bad thing,” she writes that her hands were “trembling”

She decides that a black person who grapples with race cannot be with a white person who doesn’t – though whether a black person who grapples with race can be with a black person who doesn’t “is a different and unresolved question for me.”

McLarin then tells her date that she can’t see him, Because you’re white, and it costs too much for me to date a white man. It cost me to be married to a white man for 13 years. I can’t do it again.”

Meanwhile, in a more recent column, McLarin argues that “in America violence is for white people.”

“The only acceptable stance for Black folks in nonresistant suffering,” she said.

In response to McLarin’s promotion, which was announced last week, the Emerson TPUSA chapter’s president Sam Neves told National Review, “Unfortunately, we’re seeing a pattern. Distributing stickers that criticize a tyrannical foreign government is racist, but advocating for actual racial segregation gets you promoted.”

“President William Gilligan can weaponize racism and reward it in the same month,” he added.

National Review has reached out to McLarin and Emerson College for comment.

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