MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants Are an Embarrassment – Gregory Hood 10/24/23


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowships were once one of the most prestigious awards a scholar could get. The so-called “genius grants” are still a nice payout; winners get $800,000 over five years to spend however they want.

Prestige is declining along with the quality of the recipients. In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates got a grant. He went on to complain about Donald Trump and write comic books few people bought. However, he is a genius compared to 2021 award winner Ibram X. Kendi, whose reputation is in tatters after his “Center for Antiracist Research” blew through $43 million while producing almost no research.

We don’t know what 2023’s winners will do in the years to come, but what they have been up to so far is, to put it mildly, eye-opening.

Tendayi Achiume, originally from Zambia, says her goal is to reimagine structures that help us make sense of the world we live in. She is a “legal scholar” at UCLA. If the law can be “reimagined,” there is no law.

Her main interest is “immigration as decolonization,” meaning that Third-Worlders “decolonize” their own countries by pouring into ours. She says white people caused the climate crisis and got rich exploiting everyone else. Therefore:

I argue that granting people the right to move can be a way of conferring reparations to which they’re entitled and that so much of the movement that we consider illegal economic migration is actually acts of individuals who are trying to enhance their self-determination in ways that I think should be coded as decolonial acts of political agency and economic agency as well. And what we need is laws that can recognize and protect that.

Climate change is, of course, all about race: “What you have to realize is that every action that is taken in relation to ecological crisis — environmental, climate, and otherwise — has racial justice implications, and so every action becomes a site of undoing racial subordination.”

The professor was the first woman to serve as the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which means traveling around the world, looking for bad white people. One of her reports was on the “threat of nationalist populism to racial equality,” especially as it “successfully advances heteronormative, patriarchal visions of the nation and a version of ‘traditional values’ that leads to serious violations against marginalize social groups . . . .” She wants governments to outlaw “racist organizations,” of which there are many.

Another report called for firm action against “online hate speech ” — meaning deplatforming — and changing American laws so that “racist hate speech” no longer enjoys “the highest level of protection related to the right of freedom of expression and opinion under its constitutional law.” In a 2019 report, she called for reparations for slavery. NPR gave her a fawning interview the day the awards were announced.

Andrea Armstrong is an “incarceration law scholar.” Her “Incarceration Transparency” project tracks conditions in prison and deaths behind bars. She says prisoners are “artists, they are musicians, they are brothers and siblings and uncles and aunts.” So were their victims. Incarceration Transparency includes an online memorial for people who died in prison.

Miss Armstrong, who is black, naturally fights racism. Her November 2022 report says that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate because of “racism and lack of accountability.” She doesn’t mention that it had the highest murder rate in America in 2020 and the second highest percentage of blacks. Racism is “itself a driver of incarceration.” Mandatory sentencing based on prior offenses, “disproportionately incarcerates Black people and depopulates Black communities.”.

Miss Armstrong publishes in law journals. “Slavery Revisited in Legal Plantation Labor,” is against making prisoners work. She is horrified “when mothers see sons [prisoners] picking cotton on plantations much like their great-grandparents may have done.”

Racial Origins of Doctrines Limiting Prisoner Protest Speech” argues that the “Civil Rights movement may have achieved notable gains,” but the “locus of racial control and subordination shifted to our criminal justice system.”

Ian Bassin is white. He runs “Project Democracy,” which he says he says fights authoritarianism, but he’s really fighting conservatives. His group has lawsuits against Florida’s Stop Woke Act, Rudy Giuliani, and Dinesh D’Souza for his “disinformation film” 2000 Mules. The group praises the use of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 to sue Unite the Right organizers.

The organization wants proportional representation to defeat the “MAGAified GOP,” but there must be careful research to make sure proportional representation won’t hurt non-whites. Naturally, the project wants “voting rights activists to fundamentally rethink, and possibly reshape, American electoral structures of representation for a twenty-first century multiracial polity.”

Courtney Byran, a black woman, is a composer who combines various styles “in pieces that foreground the lived experiences of African Americans.” Her orchestral work Sanctum highlights Black Lives Matter protests after Michael Brown died. It doesn’t matter that a police officer shot Michael Brown in legitimate self-defense.

Yet Unheard is about the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody. There were many rumors about the case. One was that she was dead in her mug shot. Authorities released hours of video and a grand jury found no cause for action. Nonetheless, she remains a BLM martyr whom wealthy people can honor in the concert hall.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, another black woman, is a “multidisciplinary artist” whose work is about — could you guess? — slavery. The New York Times explains that “The Seven Powers Come by the Sea,” represents “orishas” — African spirits that “support, replenish, and enhance the survival of Black-descended people.” That’s the artist standing in the middle.

Spoken Softly With Mama combines sculpture, photography, and video to “explore her African/Cuban roots and to address themes of gender, race, family and history.” Secrets of the Magnolia Tree is a self-portrait and an “homage to the nurturing role of women, and black women.” “There is no other group of women that has exposed itself to much [sic] pain and suffering and given so much care and love in return,” she says.

Raven Chacon is a Navajo “composer and artist,” who says he is “looking at the histories of different places, the history of the United States, the land that the United States occupies. What kind of violence is being pushed upon the people who live in these places, upon the earth itself?”

His composition “American Ledger No. 1” has “moments of contact, enactment of laws, events of violence, the building of cities, and erasure of land and worldview.” You can watch a performance here. None of the musicians is reading from a score.

Sweet Land” is “a Manifest Destiny opera . . . opening with the arrival of settler-colonial visitors in the homelands of an Indigenous civilization.”

Voiceless Mass “gives musical form to the church’s history of silencing Indigenous expression and languages.”

Diana Greene Foster is a white woman. She is a demographer and reproductive health researcher who reports that most women who had an abortion were better off because of it. The Atlantic called her work “the single most important piece of academic research in American life at this moment.” The MacArthur people clearly want to tell progressives what they want to hear….

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