Scholarship and Popular Culture: Necessary Boundaries

It makes a difference whether something is presented to our people as scholarship versus as general ideological documentary or entertainment. If someone produces a video on the community or its history that entertains and educates in the way of the former, fine. But if someone presents something as scholarship, it’s a different standard. I think of the Hidden Colors series which is more ideology than scholarship. As much as that series is useful for asking questions and raising curiosity, it is simply NOT accurate from a scholarly standpoint in a lot of ways. That means people who present it as 100% accurate, err and those who absorb it that way without critique will be misled. I agree that one does not need to cross the line into some perpetual cynicism where critique is made for its own sake. I do think though if we see error, we need to be able to point it out, without personal attack, because our people are so often presented, even by those who call themselves scholars, with information about themselves that is problematic. The opposite danger from criticizing everything is accepting anything society presents us as an accurate picture of ourselves and institutions and arguing that anyone who critiques it among us to be tarred and feathered as some traitor for not conforming to the generally accepted “feelgood” narrative. There is so much uncritiqued “mess” among the people and we don’t want to just validate it simply because it has good intent, or is presented as “ours”. I wrote about how the rhetoric of integrationism without an intra-communal economic base was and remains economically disastrous for our communities. In doing so, I have no personal disrespect for those who fought against segregation, but am raising a sincere argument that our collective post-segregation strategy empirically failed beyond political and civil rights. It’s an intellectual argument with a factual case. I hope that the popular psychological romanticism for the 60s movement would not preclude, for example, such critique, on the grounds that others are not “comfortable” with it or that it undermines the narrative as many would want to believe it.

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