Emory professor: Watchlist is a “new species of McCarthyism”

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1950s)

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (1950s)

An Emory University professor targeted by an online conservative watchlist has penned an essay calling the website a “new species of McCarthyism.”

George Yancy’s “I Am a Dangerous Professor” was published in The New York Times, the same newspaper that published his “Dear White America” essay in late 2015 that asked white people to confront the ways in which they are racist. Conservatives pounced, and the philosophy professor was the subject of racist harassment. Yancy is black.

The Professor Watchlist, created by conservative student group Turning Point USA, purports to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” But the website provided no proof of discrimination or propagandizing by Yancy.

Yancy’s latest essay ties the list to the nostalgia behind President Elect Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” For African-Americans, those words signal “a return to a more explicit and unapologetic racial dystopia, he wrote.

“The new “watchlist” is essentially a new species of McCarthyism, especially in terms of its overtones of “disloyalty” to the American republic. And it is reminiscent of Cointelpro, the secret F.B.I. program that spied on, infiltrated and discredited American political organizations in the ’50s and ’60s. Its goal of “outing” professors for their views helps to create the appearance of something secretly subversive. It is a form of exposure designed to mark, shame and silence.”

Yancy said that the list could lead to self-censorship.

“If we are not careful, a watchlist like this can have the impact of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon — a theoretical prison designed to create a form of self-censorship among those imprisoned. The list is not simply designed to get others to spy on us, to out us, but to install forms of psychological self-policing to eliminate thoughts, pedagogical approaches and theoretical orientations that it defines as subversive.”

Yancy is one of two Georgia professors named on the list. The other is the University of North Georgia’s Matthew Boedy, who took a public stand during last spring’s legislative session against a bill that would have allowed students to carry guns on campus. It was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.


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