What the article didn’t include: on whiteness, medieval studies, and the adulation of creeps

Yesterday, a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education contacted me, and my co-bloggers, for an interview for the Rachel Fulton Brown situation. I begged off, because I’d just arrived back in NYC at 6am and needed the day to try to sleep a little and to prep for several hours of teaching. But, being a creature of words, I wrote a long email in response to the reporter’s initial set of questions. I won’t include the questions, because they’re not mine to share, but you can surmise what they might have been easily enough.

I’m sharing my response because, for better or worse, none of this was included in the article. And I’m sharing it here rather than at ITM for what should be obvious reasons of not centering me in this situation. A shorter version of the argument is available here, on twitter. And, it should be needless to say [edit] anyone who’s now defending Milo “Feminism is Cancer” Yiannopoulos ought to stop for a while, and reflect.

Lightly edited, my email response to the reporter follows:

Online debates in the academic blogosphere date at least from what we might call the “heroic era” of blogging. In the Middle originated in this period, joining blogs like The Valve, Crooked Timber, and Michael Berubé as a place for engaged, theoretically sophisticated humanities discussion. We joined an already existing vibrant medievalism blogosphere, and distinguished ourselves, eventually, by simply outlasting the other members of our online community. Debates about the “unprofessionalism” of blogging date from this era as well: many scholars, established and otherwise, warned that blogging would be a career killer, a distraction from careful academic work, which was always said to require more space than afforded by whatever medium was being sniffed at, whether this was a blog post or the microblogging platforms of facebook or twitter.

All of this is to say that in a sense none of this is new. From my perspective, what’s new is an extremely well-organized on-line radical right, able to transform online noise into real-world political action. Political blogging in the era of Townhall, the Volokh Conspiracy, Pandagon, Daily Kos, Eschaton, and so on was noisy and ridiculous, but effectively [edit] intramural. Political blogging in the Breitbart era, with the online political right embedded in the White House, is a different, and far more dangerous animal. Stormfront used to be a fringe movement; now, frighteningly, it isn’t.

Which is to say, what distinguishes this latest blogging argument, between In the Middle and its allies and Rachel Fulton Brown and her allies, is that RFB has sought and received approving attention from this Right Wing activist online world. This attention has transformed the stakes of the argument, and also transformed the nature of the competing set of allies. Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, for example, were the stars of the right in the Heroic Age of Blogging, but their profiles never rose to what Milo Y possesses now. Furthermore, ITM remains largely within the community of academics, mostly medievalists, whereas RFB has moved outside this world to draw on the approval of politically very well-connected nonexperts. That’s key.

The other key new element is a new public voice of antiracist activism. While ITM has always complicated unscholarly notions of race and racialization, from my perspective, Ferguson and the rise of the so-called Dark Enlightenment, both in 2014, radically transformed the nature and force of the discussion at ITM about racism, racialization, and misappropriations of the Middle Ages by white supremacists. RFB is a kind of photo negative of our work on this topic.

In sum, very little of this is new – the charges of unprofessionalism, the acrimonious debates, and even the occasional unbalance – but what may be new is the on and offline nature of online Right Wing activism and the new urgency in antiracist activism.