I still don’t have a firm opinion about, or anything much to add to, the case of Jessica Krug, who resigned her history professorship at George Washington University yesterday after revealing that she wasn’t really the Afro-Latina woman woman she’d pretended to be her whole academic career, but a white Jewish woman from Kansas City. During that career, she wrote a highly regarded academic book and several scholarly articles centering on race, as well as articles for mainstream venues like Essence.
Apparently Krug didn’t expose herself willingly, but, as the New York Times (below) and Wikipedia articles on her case note, confessed to the duplicity when she realized she was about to be outed by colleagues. George Washington University, after it read her confession on Medium (see below), asked her to resign, and so she did. She’s toast, singing with the choir invisible. She is an ex-academic.
Here’s Krug’s confession, which pulls no punches. She attributes her charade to mental illness resulting from childhood trauma, but makes no other excuses, nor does she ask for forgiveness. She knows she’s a goner, for the uproar against her has been deafening, and she asks that she be “canceled”:
Note that Krug couches her duplicity as “Anti-Black Violence”, which is arrant hyperbole in several ways.
I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-Black people continue to use and abuse Black identities and cultures — but I have formed intimate relationships with loving, compassionate people who have trusted and cared for me when I have deserved neither trust nor caring. People have fought together with me and have fought for me, and my continued appropriation of a Black Caribbean identity is not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial — but it means that every step I’ve taken has gaslighted those whom I love.
. . . I believe in restorative justice, where possible, even when and where I don’t know what that means or how it could work. I believe in accountability. And I believe in cancel culture as a necessary and righteous tool for those with less structural power to wield against those with more power.
I should absolutely be cancelled. No. I don’t write in passive voice, ever, because I believe we must name power. So. You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.
This abasement and apology wasn’t good enough for some people; one angry Ph.D. candidate has called for “reparations”!
Krug’s case has been compared with that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who passed as black, eventually becoming the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. (She was outed when her parents revealed her background.)
But there appears to be an important difference between the two women. As far as I can see (and I’m willing to believe this), Dolezal really wanted to be black; she was the racial equivalent of a transgender person (i.e., “transracial”)—a parallel that got philosophy professor Rebecca Tuvel in big trouble when she merely pointed out the philosophical similarities between transgender and transracial identities.
Krug, on the other hand, seems to be more of a race grifter: somebody who never felt they were black or Latina but used that identity to advance herself professionally. The only parallel is that both Dolezal and Krug pretended to be women of color. I thus can’t feel much animus for Dolezal, but feel a lot more of it for Krug.
But the Krug case does bring up some uncomfortable questions:
If race is a social construct, what’s the problem with assuming membership in another race? The social constructionists assume that there are no meaningful biological differences between race; like gender, it’s basically a persona you take on. (The “no biological differences” trope is, of course, misleading: even a difference in pigmentation rests on a difference in genes.) This is why, if Dolezal really felt like a black person, and wanted to be black, I can’t fault her that much for trying to pass. Transracialism should be a lot less problematic for social constructionists than for people who see a real biological difference, based on ancestry, between races. But the woke don’t accept the existence of biologically different ethnic groups, and they’re still steamed at Dolezal and Kru.
Now the obvious difference here is that Krug’s motivations were dishonest: she wanted to avail herself of what we might call “color privilege”: the academic credibility that comes with being able to write about issues of race, particularly one’s own race, with perhaps a soupçon of victimhood status thrown in. It’s not clear to me whether Krug availed herself of minority positions and scholarships to work her way up the academic ladder.
But perhaps the disinction it’s not so clear, for Krug wasn’t really “appropriating down” if she was getting advantages of passing for black/Latina. If that’s the case, then what is the difference between her passing for black, and getting advantages, and black people who, historically, have sometimes passed for white for exactly the same reasons: to get “white privilege.” Is one of these pretenses okay and the other is not? Apparently so, though philosophically I can’t see a difference. After all, while you can argue that passing for white removes you from oppression, it’s still duplicitous and, at least these days, and for academics, comes with the same kind of gains that Krug got.
Clearly there’s something very wrong with passing for black, even if you feel you’re black and even if you construe blackness as a social construct, not a biological reality. This “wrongness” is even true for Rachel Dolezal, who—and I’m assuming that her blackness was taken on psychologically and honesty—was still excoriated by the black community as well as by many whites. This I don’t get at all, for, as Rebecca Tuvel pointed out, the moral boundary between transracialism and transgenderism is hard to discern.
On the grounds of duplicity, though, I can’t beef about Krug having to leave George Washington University, for she was in effect lying on her curriculum vitae.
This leaves one problem:
What do we do with Krug’s scholarship? It’s usual when someone is canceled to also cancel their works, or at least give a caveat when they’re discussed. In the case of Krug, I suspect that her books will be completely discredited and taken out of print. But is that the right thing to do? After all, she’s the author of several journal article and one book, Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom, that was well reviewed and nominated for two prizes (she’s holding it in the photo at bottom). Does the book become any less valid because Krug wasn’t really black or Latina? Should the work even be seen in a different light in view of Krug’s duplicity? (Of course, if she claims a false ethnicity in the book, that should be called out, but I’m talking about the scholarship here.)
The main issue I have trouble with is the rancor descending on Krug not simply for lying, but for assuming a “minority” identity when she was white. After all, people of color are taken to be oppressed, and so by taking on a “minoritized” persona you are supposedly subjecting yourself to all that oppression. But perhaps one can say that things are different in academia. And this is largely true: black and Hispanic professors are much sought after by everyone, and are in short supply. By claiming to be one, you have a leg up on jobs. For jobs and admissions to graduate school, we do have “color privilege.” But then what can one make of the claims that academics is infested with structural racism?