Providence Journal: Group claims Brown University has hired ‘biased’ Nigerian author

by Andrew E. Kurtzman on October 9, 2009

Subsequent to yesterday’s press release, the Providence Journal today published a short feature about the Foundation.

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, October 9, 2009

By Richard C. Dujardin

Journal Staff Writer PROVIDENCE — The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity has assailed Brown University’s hiring of a Nigerian author who the group says is known for denouncing British author Joseph Conrad as a “bloody racist” and says Brown should “rethink” its plans to expand its Africana studies program.

“It is unfortunate that Brown continues to buy into this empty notion of diversity based on race, sex and ethnicity,” said Stephen Beale, the foundation’s president.

A 2004 graduate, Beale said the foundation’s board of directors is made up of Brown graduates who would like to see more intellectual diversity at Brown and other college campuses.

He said the hiring of Nigeria writer Chinua Achebe to the faculty of the Africana studies department was aggravating because Achebe, besides calling Conrad a racist, claimed that Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness celebrates the dehumanization and depersonalization of African people.

“We urge the university to consider more creative ways to teach its students about the classics of Western literature than calling them racist. Students deserve to appreciate great books on their own merits without having them cut down into caricatures of European colonialism.”

During the last two days, calls to Brown’s Africana studies department and to the assistant to the president for a reaction to the foundation’s criticisms were not returned.

The Web site for the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity is idiversity.org

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nwefo, Magnus Emmy October 10, 2009 at 12:17 am

“The Heart Of Darkness” is simply a literary de-humanization of the black man.It’s mission is to perpetuate “racism” and “inherited prejudice” towards the people of African descent.It’s picture of Africa as a dark and dangerous jungle leaves a scare on the author.Conrad’s view of the black man is clear in this quotation:A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in haiti fixed my conception of blind,furious,unreasoning rage,as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days.Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards”.Is this not too racist to be celebrated.For an elite group like ‘The foundation For Intellectual Diversity’ to defend and celebrate such a writer shows how deeply enshrined racism is in todays society.It shows that racism is still alive.Yes,Conrad was a great writer but when his works are aimed at de-humanizing a particular section of the society,should we still accord him that honour.Literature is the best tool for contributing to the development of a more sane,civilized and human society.

Andrew E. Kurtzman October 10, 2009 at 8:25 am

Dear Emmy,

Thank you for writing. We appreciate your perspective.

One critical mark of a great writer of fiction is truly enlivened characters; characters who hold a distinct perspective, not necessarily that of the writer himself. You quote one of Conrad’s characters. Conrad was a great writer, and the setting of his book was during the period of colonial exploration. Should we expect his characters to be liberal multiculturalists?

You argue that, if Conrad was at all racist, it is by extension racist to celebrate his work. To make such a claim is to assume that there is nothing to Conrad’s work other than racism that one might celebrate. You have blinded yourself in the analytical framework of “racism,” which, for the reasons stated above, we would contend is inaccurate in the first place, when applied to Conrad.

Best,
Andrew

Fred Houston October 28, 2009 at 12:42 am

Achebe’s statements are clearly more of an attack on the brutality and dehumanization of European colonialism than Conrad himself. Conrad is a mere conduit by which the beliefs of black inferiority are reified and used to justify injustices against people of African descent. The excuse of The Heart of Darkness’s historical context fails, in that the conflict is not only over the story’s dialogue but rather over Conrad’s framing of the natives as merely otherized savages –an impediment to white progress – to be repressed and disposed of. The very cogitation of black personhood in Conrad’s novella is subject to nothing short of denial. If Conrad is not to be judged as a man or scholar because of his writings/opinions surely the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity cannot justify doing the same to Achebe.

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