Selwyn Duke
Claudine Gay isn’t the first, or worst, example of black plagiarism privilege
By Selwyn Duke
December 22, 2023

“Why is Harvard giving Claudine Gay ‘plagiarism privilege’?” asked the New York Post editorial board Saturday.

It must be a rhetorical question. Professor Carol Swain, who was ripped off by Gay and complains, “I feel like her whole research agenda, her whole career, was based on my work,” has some idea.

“A white male would probably already be gone,” Swain, a black woman herself, told journalist Christopher Rufo recently.

Instead, Gay, who assumed Harvard’s presidency just this July, is being retained and defended by her Ivy League school. Never mind that investigation has thus far “left four of her 11 peer-reviewed papers flagged for possible plagiarism, plus her thesis,” relates the Post. Never mind that Swain isn’t the only academic upset about Gay’s appropriation of their writings. Never mind that Harvard has frequently expelled students for plagiarism. The accountability Gay must endure is that she’s being allowed to “correct” her work so she can continue enjoying a position obtained via academic fraud.

It’s a bit like robbing a bank, letting smarter people invest the money for you and parley it into a fortune and then, being caught 25 years later, being allowed to return the original sum (without interest) and continue enjoying the opulence your thievery has granted you. It’s what a different Ivy League president might’ve said was “an example of ‘inverse racism’ by a bunch of white liberals ‘embarrassed by... [their institution’s] makeup.’” And that man, ex-Columbia head William McGill, did say that more than two decades ago about what may be the mother of all cases of black plagiarism privilege.

In fact, if there is a defense of Gay, it’s that she has countless co-conspirators: A woke (mostly) white world that has for decades helped enable left-wing-favored blacks’ plagiarism. For example, early-20th-century black author Pauline Hopkins’s rampant plagiarisms, the Journal Oxford Academic suggested some years back, were perhaps just “inspired borrowings.” (Hmm, if she was only “borrowing,” when did she “give them back”?) There’s also “American Nigerian” scribe and serial transgressor Jumi Bello — who, among other things, plagiarized an essay section about the history of plagiarism(!) — but was defended by fellow black writers who complained that their “industry is not safe for Black neurodivergent writers….” (Yeah, that’s the problem.)

Then there was Martin Luther King, Jr. He set the pattern for Gay by using in his doctoral dissertation significant portions of others’ material without attribution, which even left-wing Snopes calls “an act which constitutes plagiarism by ordinary academic standards.” (Implication: King should be held to below-ordinary academic standards.)

What’s more, below-ordinary standards will become ordinary if University of Cincinnati assistant professor Antar A. Tichavakunda has his way: He wrote last year that anti-plagiarism policies “disproportionately harm Black and Latinx students.”

(Hat tip: commentator Monica Showalter.)

But then, even with yesterday’s standards, there was a man for whom black plagiarism privilege reached a level never seen before — or since.

Most of us children of the ’70s remember the television event that was the eight-night mini-series Roots. Approximately 135 million Americans, more than half the population at the time, were mesmerized by the 1977 phenomenon — meaning, it drew the largest viewership of any TV series in history. Based on author Alex Haley’s 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, it was the compelling story of how the writer’s ancestors were enslaved and brutalized and recounted the lives of six generations of his family.

Or, so we were told.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “history is a series of agreed-upon myths,” and it is only in this most cynical sense that Roots could even begin to be conceptualized as history. Haley, to this day one of America’s most celebrated black writers, was not just peddling friction-causing fiction dressed up as fact. Rather, he was as black commentator Stanley Crouch bluntly put it, a literary Tawana Brawley, a “ruthless hustler” and “one of the biggest damn liars this country has ever seen.”

This is not hyperbole. Left-wing journalist Philip Nobile had the opportunity to study Haley’s private papers prior to their being sold at auction. “The result was featured in a devastating 1993 cover piece in the Village Voice,” wrote the New York Post in 2002. “It confirmed — from Haley’s own notes — earlier claims that the alleged history of the book was a near-total invention.”

The kicker is that even more damnably, it wasn’t Haley’s invention. In fact, the fraudster had lifted approximately 81 passages from a 1967 work of fiction titled The African — written by white author Harold Courlander. So egregious was Haley’s trespass that a judge found him guilty of plagiarism, and he was forced to pay Courlander a reported $650,000 ($2 million adjusted for inflation) out-of-court settlement.

(Note: Late black author and college professor Margaret Walker Alexander alleged that Haley had plagiarized her work, too.)

The bottom line is that “Haley was a ‘literary rogue,’ an ‘impostor’ whose ‘prose was so inept that he required ghosts [ghost writers] throughout his career,’” related Jack Kerwick at The New American in 2012, quoting Nobile. “Upon reading Haley’s posthumously released private papers and interviewing one of his original editors for Roots, Nobile was able to determine that the Roots’ real author was Murray Fisher, Haley’s editor from his time at Playboy. Fisher was also, incidentally, white.”

There’s much more to Haley’s fraud, too; the articles linked above provide the rest of the story.

True White Saviors

These damning revelations, however, didn’t stop liberal whites from lining up to whitewash Haley’s misdeeds. Despite admitting in a later-years BBC interview that the writer “had perpetrated a hoax on the public,” the judge who presided over Haley’s trial, Robert J. Ward, had allowed him to quietly settle because, as he put it, “I did not want to destroy him.” The Pulitzer Prize board, which had granted Haley their award in 1977, refused to rescind it, prompting the aforementioned William McGill to make his remark about “inverse racism” and guilt-ridden, value-signaling white liberals. And in 2016, the History Channel released a remake of Roots. “Agreed-upon myths,” indeed.

Haley’s defenders agree that this agreement is good, too. They “insist that the literal truth of ‘Roots’ is less important than its larger truth,” writes the Post. What might this be? As Haley friend and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates — who concedes Haley’s failings — put it, Roots “‘is a work of the imagination’ that was ‘an important event because it captured everyone’s imagination,” the Post continues. And it certainly did capture people’s imagination.

So did Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini.

The problem is that Roots was an abusive captor. It portrayed whites as stomping around West Africa’s interior with impunity, kidnapping and enslaving happy but hapless and helpless natives. Conveniently, states Stanley Crouch, this leaves “out the crucial role of the cooperative and profiting Africans.”

In fact, before modern medicines’ birth, black scholar Dr. Thomas Sowell once pointed out, whites feared even entering Africa’s interior because they had no immunity to its endemic diseases. European slavers’ goal was to buy their slaves from African traders on the coast — and leave posthaste.

While we shouldn’t even fixate on slavery (as I’ve explained), an honest portrayal of it demonstrating Europeans’ and Africans’ shared complicity could perhaps have an ameliorative, unitive effect. One-sided Haley-like fiction that places the sole onus on whites, however, divides us further and stokes hatred. So-called “revenge attacks” on whites are sometimes the result, too.

So what can be said about black plagiarism privilege? Considering Herbert Spencer’s observation that the “result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools” makes obvious that leftists want to — or are at least willing to — enable black foolishness and thus elevate black fools. So it’s ironic: Leftists took the old sitcom Amos ’n’ Andy off the air because, they said, its amusing black stereotypes stigmatized black people. Now, apparently, they think elevating gangsta’ rappers and plagiarists is a better look.

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© Selwyn Duke


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