Opinion

Defiant Duke professor defends black names comments, slams accusers for being too sensitive

A veteran Duke University professor is firing back at national criticism for an online post that criticized how American blacks name their children and said sniping he’s gotten from inside the North Carolina campus “hurts Duke more than it does me.”

Political science professor Jerry Hough, who has taught at Duke since 1973, responded to a May 10 New York Times editorial, “How Racism Doomed Baltimore,” by slamming the apparent unwillingness of many contemporary blacks to integrate into mainstream society and compared them unfavorably to Asians.

In The Times comments section, the 80-year-old Hough criticized the editorial itself as being part of the problem, and panned Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s handling of the city’s riots, stating that “her resignation would be demanded if she were white.”

But the remarks that got Hough in the most hot water were those that compared blacks to Asians.

He said Asians were “discriminated against as least as badly as blacks” but, “They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.”

Hough went on to say that “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.”

ABC 11 contacted Hough and got the following response via email.

“Martin Luther King was my hero and I was a big proponent of all the measures taken at the time, including Affirmative Action. But the degree of integration is not what I expected, and it is time to ask why and to change our approach. I am, of course, strongly against the toleration of racial discrimination. I do not know what racial intolerance means in modern code words and hesitate to comment on that specific comment.

“The issue is whether my comments were largely accurate. In writing me, no one has said I was wrong, just racist. The question is whether I was right or what the nuanced story is since anything in a paragraph is too simple.

“I am strongly against the obsession with “sensitivity.” The more we have emphasized sensitivity in recent years, the worse race relations have become. I think that is not an accident. I know that the 60 years since the Montgomery bus boycott is a long time, and things must be changed. The Japanese and other Asians did not obsess with the concentration camps and the fact they were linked with blacks as “colored.” They pushed ahead and achieved. Coach K did not obsess with all the Polish jokes about Polish stupidity. He pushed ahead and achieved. And by his achievement and visibility, he has played a huge role in destroying stereotypes about Poles. Many blacks have done that too, but no one says they have done as well on the average as the Asians. In my opinion, the time has come to stop talking incessantly about race relations in general terms as the President and activists have advocated, but talk about how the Asians and Poles got ahead–and to copy their approach. I don’t see why that is insensitive or racist.”

On Monday, in an email to the Associated Press, Hough continued to defend his statements.

“I only regret the sloppiness in saying every Asian and nearly every black,” Hough wrote. ”I absolutely do not think it racist to ask why black performance on the average is not as good as Asian on balance, when the Asians started with the prejudices against the `yellow races’ shown in the concentration camps for the Japanese.”

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government affairs,released a statement to several media outlets over the weekend stating, “The comments were noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse.”

“Duke University has a deeply held commitment to inclusiveness grounded in respect for all, and we encourage our community to speak out when they feel that those ideals are challenged or undermined, as they were in this case,” he said.

Schoenfeld said Monday Hough’s status as a professor remains unchanged and cited the school’s handbook stating a professor is allowed “to act and to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.”

But in his email to the AP, Hough shook off the criticism.

“Except for Schoenfeld’s email, which I think hurts Duke more than me (it only helps me spread my ideas and maybe get more book contracts), Duke has been fine through this,” Hough said.

Related:

Boston U stands by racially hostile professor’s attack on ‘white masculinity.’

Professor who made racially charged tweets in more trouble for what she did to white rape victim on Facebook.

Carmine Sabia

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