April 2, 2024
Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor argued in an op-ed for The New Yorker that arguments from the right against DEI are largely centered on if Black people belong at institutions of prestige.
Conservative political activist Christopher Rufo first came to national prominence due to his crusade against critical race theory, but has recently expanded that fight to encompass another crusade: exposing what he believes constitutes plagiarism from Black academics. Some have referred to Rufo’s tactics as a political hit job.
Rufo has folded his concerns of plagiarism from Black academics into his larger fight against diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Rufo, as he writes in his best-selling book, believes that those initiatives exemplify and coincide with a liberal takeover of higher education.
As Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor argued in an op-ed for The New Yorker, the arguments from the right against DEI have centered on whether Black people belong at institutions of prestige, which carries a connotation of racial animus.
As Taylor writes, “The latest campaign against anti-racist programs is intended to cast aspersions, or, at the very least, doubt, upon the presence of any Black person in a position or place they are deemed not to belong.”
Kimberle Crenshaw, the scholar who coined the term critical race theory, told The New Yorker that the argument against CRT from conservatives, most clearly evidenced by Rufo’s assertions, was never made in good faith. 
“It should go without saying that what they are calling critical race theory is a whole range of things, most of which no one would sign on to, and many of the things in it are simply about racism.”
Crenshaw also said she believed much of the success of Rufo’s campaign could be attributed to a post-George Floyd backlash. “This is a post-George Floyd backlash. The reason why we’re having this conversation is that the line of scrimmage has moved.”
Rufo also told The New Yorker that his aim in challenging the merits of critical race theory was to “politicize the bureaucracy,” and Rufo has succeeded at helping to politicize a fight over higher education, which has, at times, featured bureaucrats. 
Rufo is candid about both his motivations and his belief that he is owed some credit for the ouster of Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University, over concerns of plagiarism. Rufo told Politico in January that he was given a boost by platforms like The New York Times after he and other right-wing journalists covered the plagiarism accusations. Rufo then lambasted those to his left, antagonizing them to cover it.
 Rufo also described his motives to the outlet, appearing to refer to DEI as a form of racialist ideology. “My primary objective is to eliminate the DEI bureaucracy in every institution in America and to restore truth rather than racialist ideology as the guiding principle of America.”
Though Rufo’s playbook was successful in generating the resignation of Gay, he has been so far unsuccessful in repeating the same success he had in his campaigns against Sherri Charleston and Shirley Greene, both Black women academics at Harvard University. 
In his most recent accusation against another Black woman academic, Harvard sociologist Christina J. Cross, Rufo appears to have gone at it alone. His right-wing media allies did not publicize his claims, nor did the national media, and Cross’s colleagues have staunchly defended her from what they have termed false allegations. 
Issac Kamola, director of the Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom at the American Association of University Professors, told Inside Higher Ed that he sees the attacks on Black academics as a “coordinated attack” that is “fishing for misconduct.”
Kamola continued, “If it’s being done through an anonymous complaint process, then that indicates to me that it’s a political hit job. It’s a mockery of academic peer review.” Plagiarism, Kamola said, “needs to be evaluated outside of a right-wing ecosystem that is committed to destroying the careers of Black scholars.”

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