Noel Ignatiev  

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"My concern is doing away whiteness. Whiteness is a form of racial oppression, sure. The suggestion is that it is somehow possible to separate whiteness from oppression and it is not. There can be no white race without the phenomenon of white supremacy. If you abolish slavery you abolish slave holders. In the same way, if you abolish racial oppression you do away with whiteness, treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity." Interviewer: "Your views are fairly well received in academia" ... "Yes the they are legitimate, not to say that everyone agrees but sure ... I could not point to any examples where it has provoked political censorship ... whiteness is an identity that arises entirely out of oppression ... whiteness is not a culture ... it's not a religion, it's not a language, it's simply an oppressive social category .... Blackness is an identity that can be plausibly argued, black studies is a study of a people that has formed itself in resistance to its oppression. The task is to bring this minority together in such a way that it makes it impossible for the legacy of whiteness to continue to reproduce itself."

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Noel Ignatiev (December 27, 1940 – November 9, 2019) was an American author and historian. He was best known for his work on race and social class and for his call to abolish "whiteness". Ignatiev was the co-founder of the New Abolitionist Society and co-editor of the journal Race Traitor, which promoted the idea that "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity". He also wrote a book on antebellum northern xenophobia against Irish immigrants, How the Irish Became White. His publisher billed him as "one of America's leading and most controversial historians".


Ideas and controversies

Views of race

Ignatiev viewed race distinctions and race itself as a social construct, not a scientific reality.

Ignatiev's study of Irish immigrants in the 19th-century United States argued that an Irish triumph over nativism marks the incorporation of the Irish into the dominant group of American society. Ignatiev asserted that the Irish were not initially accepted as white by the dominant English-American population. He claimed that only through their own violence against free blacks and support of slavery did the Irish gain acceptance as white. Ignatiev defined whiteness as the access to white privilege, which according to Ignatiev gains people perceived to have "white" skin admission to certain neighborhoods, schools, and jobs. In the 19th century, whiteness was strongly associated with political power, especially suffrage. Ignatiev's book on Irish immigrants has been criticized for "conflat[ing] race and economic position" and for ignoring data that contradicts his theses.

Ignatiev stated that attempts to give race a biological foundation have only led to absurdities as in the common example that a white woman could give birth to a black child, but a black woman could never give birth to a white child. Ignatiev asserted that the only logical explanation for this notion is that people are members of different racial categories because society assigns people to these categories.

"New abolition" and the "white race"

Ignatiev's web site and publication Race Traitor displayed the motto "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity". In response to a letter to the site which understood the motto as meaning that the authors "hated" white people because of their "white skin", Ignatiev and the other editors responded:

We do not hate you or anyone else for the color of her skin. What we hate is a system that confers privileges (and burdens) on people because of their color. It is not fair skin that makes people white; it is fair skin in a certain kind of society, one that attaches social importance to skin color. When we say we want to abolish the white race, we do not mean we want to exterminate people with fair skin. We mean that we want to do away with the social meaning of skin color, thereby abolishing the white race as a social category. Consider this parallel: To be against royalty does not mean wanting to kill the king. It means wanting to do away with crowns, thrones, titles, and the privileges attached to them. In our view, whiteness has a lot in common with royalty: they are both social formations that carry unearned advantages.

In September 2002, Harvard Magazine published an excerpt from When Race Becomes Real: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories, edited by Bernestine Singley, about Ignatiev's role in launching Race Traitor. In the excerpt, Ignatiev wrote that "[t]he goal of abolishing the white race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition other than from committed white supremacists". He wrote that the magazine's editors were frequently accused of being racists or part of a hate group, to which his "standard response" was "to draw an analogy with anti-royalism: to oppose monarchy does not mean killing the king; it means getting rid of crowns, thrones, royal titles, etc." Ignatiev also wrote that "[t]he editors meant it when they replied to a reader, 'Make no mistake about it: we intend to keep bashing the dead white males, and the live ones, and the females too, until the social construct known as "the white race" is destroyed—not "deconstructed" but destroyed'".

Some conservative critics, particularly David Horowitz, saw the excerpt as an example of institutional racism against white people at Harvard, in "progressive culture" and in academia. On his website, Horowitz wrote: "Suppose ran a headline 'Abolish the Black Race'? What do you think the reaction would be? But at Harvard, where demonizing whites is merely the standard curriculum, an article like this can appear in a glossy magazine whose cover story is 'Whither the Art Museum?'".

Toaster controversy

From 1986 until 1992, Ignatiev served as a tutor (academic advisor) for Dunster House at Harvard University. In early 1992, Ignatiev objected to the university's purchase of a toaster oven for the Dunster House dining hall that would be designated for kosher use only. He insisted that cooking utensils with restricted use should be paid for by private funds. In a letter to the Harvard student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, Ignatiev wrote: "I regard anti-Semitism, like all forms of religious, ethnic and racial bigotry, as a crime against humanity and whoever calls me an anti-Semite will face a libel suit".

Dunster House subsequently declined to renew Ignatiev's contract, saying that his conduct during the dispute was "unbecoming of a Harvard tutor". Dunster co-master Hetty Liem said it was the job of a tutor "to foster a sense of community and tolerance and to serve as a role model for the students" and that Ignatiev had not done so.

Encyclopedia of Race and Racism

In 2008, the American Jewish Committee objected to an encyclopedia article on Zionism that Ignatiev wrote for The Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. In the article, Ignatiev described Israel as a "racial state, where rights are assigned on the basis of ascribed descent or the approval of the superior race" and likened it to Nazi Germany and the Southern United States before the civil rights movement.

The American Jewish Committee cited numerous "factual and historical inaccuracies" in Ignatiev's article. The American Jewish Committee also questioned why the encyclopedia included an entry about Zionism, stating that it was the only nationalist movement with an article in the encyclopedia. Gideon Shimoni, Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, criticized the article as a "litany of errors and distortions of fact".

Subsequently, the encyclopedia's publisher Gale announced the appointment of an independent committee to investigate "the factual accuracy, scholarly basis, coverage, scope, and balance of every article". In addition, Gale published a 10-part composite article, "Nationalism and Ethnicity", with a new article on Zionism and evaluations of cultural nationalism in across the globe. The composite article was free of charge to all customers. In response to the findings of the independent committee, Gale has eliminated Ignatiev's article from the encyclopedia.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Noel Ignatiev" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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