Noel Ignatiev

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Noel Ignatiev
EmployerMassachusetts College of Art
Known forCritical Race Theory
Jump to: navigation, search
Noel Ignatiev
EmployerMassachusetts College of Art
Known forCritical Race Theory

Noel Ignatiev is an American history professor at the Massachusetts College of Art. He is best known for his work on race and social class, and for his call to "abolish" the white race, which he defines as "white privilege and race identity." Ignatiev is the co-founder and co-editor of the journal Race Traitor and the New Abolitionist Society. He also has written a book on antebellum northern racism against Irish immigrants, How the Irish Became White. His publisher bills him as one of America's "most controversial" historians.[1]


Early life and career

Ignatiev was raised in Philadelphia, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia.[2] He attended the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out after three years.

Under the name Noel Ignatin, he joined the Communist Party USA in January 1958, but in August left (along with Theodore W. Allen and Harry Haywood) to help form the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (POC). He was expelled from the POC in 1966.[3]

Later he became involved in the Students for a Democratic Society. When that organization fractured in the late 1980s, Ignatiev became part of the Third-worldist and Maoist New Communist Movement, forming the group Sojourner Truth Organization in 1970. Unlike other groups in the New Communist Movement, the STO and Ignatiev were also heavily influenced by the ideas of Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James.

For 20 years, Ignatiev worked in a Chicago steel mill in the manufacturing of farming equipment and electrical components. A Marxist activist, he was involved in strikes by the mostly-African-American laborers of the steel mill. In 1984, he was laid off from the steel mill, approximately a year after an arrest on charges of attacking a strike-breaker's car with a paint bomb.[2]

Academic career

Ignatiev set up Marxist discussion groups in the early 1980s. In 1985, Ignatiev was accepted to the Harvard Graduate School of Education without an undergraduate degree. After earning his master's, he joined the Harvard faculty as a lecturer and worked toward a doctorate in U.S. history.

Ignatiev was a graduate student at Harvard University where he earned his Ph.D. in 1995. He taught courses there before moving to the Massachusetts College of Art, where he teaches as of 2012. His academic work is linked to his call to "abolish" the white race, a controversial slogan whose meaning is not always agreed upon by those who debate his work. His dissertation, published by Routledge as the book How the Irish Became White, was advised by prominent social historian of American race and ethnicity Stephan Thernstrom. Ignatiev is the co-founder and co-editor of the journal Race Traitor and the New Abolitionist Society.


Views of race

Ignatiev is part of a group of social scientists and geneticists[specify] of the late 20th and early 21st centuries who view race distinctions and race itself as a social construct, not a scientific reality (however, the idea of "race" in the sense that Ignatiev wishes to challenge developed in the 17th Century and has been disputed and rejected by scientists and scholars for much of the 20th Century.[4][5])

Ignatiev's study of Irish immigrants in the 19th-century United States argues that an Irish triumph over nativism marks the incorporation of the Irish into the dominant group of American society. Ignatiev asserts that the Irish were not initially accepted by native-born Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent as white. He claims that only through their own violence against free blacks and support of slavery did the Irish gain acceptance as white. Ignatiev defines whiteness as the access to white privilege, which according to Ignatiev gains people perceived to have "white" skin admission to certain neighborhoods, schools, and jobs. In the 19th century whitness was strongly associated with political power, especially suffrage. Ignatiev's book on Irish immigrants has been criticized, however, for "conflat[ing] race and economic position" and for ignoring data that contradicts his theses.[5]

Ignatiev states[specify] that attempts to give race a biological foundation have only led to absurdities, as in the common example that a white woman could give birth to a black child, but a black woman could never give birth to a white child. Ignatiev asserts that the only logical explanation for this notion is that people are members of different racial categories because society assigns people to these categories.

"New Abolition" and the "White Race"

Ignatiev's web site and publication Race Traitor display the motto "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity". In response to a letter to the site which understood the motto as meaning that the authors "hated" white people because of their "white skin," Ignatiev and the other editors responded:

We do not hate you or anyone else for the color of her skin. What we hate is a system that confers privileges (and burdens) on people because of their color. It is not fair skin that makes people white; it is fair skin in a certain kind of society, one that attaches social importance to skin color. When we say we want to abolish the white race, we do not mean we want to exterminate people with fair skin. We mean that we want to do away with the social meaning of skin color, thereby abolishing the white race as a social category. Consider this parallel: To be against royalty does not mean wanting to kill the king. It means wanting to do away with crowns, thrones, titles, and the privileges attached to them. In our view, whiteness has a lot in common with royalty: they are both social formations that carry unearned advantages.[6]


Harvard tutorship

From 1986 until 1992, Ignatiev served as a tutor (academic advisor) for Dunster House at Harvard University. In early 1992, Ignatiev objected to the University's purchase of a toaster oven for the Dunster House dining hall that would be designated for kosher use only. He insisted that cooking utensils with restricted use should be paid for by private funds. In a letter to the Harvard student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, Ignatiev wrote that "I regard anti-Semitism, like all forms of religious, ethnic and racial bigotry, as a crime against humanity and whoever calls me an anti-Semite will face a libel suit."[7]

Dunster House subsequently declined to renew Ignatiev's contract, saying that his conduct during the dispute was "unbecoming of a Harvard tutor." Dunster co-master Hetty Liem said it was the job of a tutor "to foster a sense of community and tolerance and to serve as a role model for the students," and that Ignatiev had not done so.[8]

Encyclopedia of Race and Racism

In 2008, the American Jewish Committee objected to an encyclopedia article on Zionism that Ignatiev wrote for The Encyclopedia of Race and Racism.[9] In the article, Ignatiev described Israel as a "racial state, where rights are assigned on the basis of ascribed descent or the approval of the superior race" and likened it to Nazi Germany and the Southern United States before the civil rights movement.[10]

The American Jewish Committee cited numerous "factual and historical inaccuracies" in Ignatiev's article. The American Jewish Committee also questioned why the encyclopedia included an entry about Zionism, stating that it was the only nationalist movement with an article in the encyclopedia.[9] Gideon Shimoni, Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, criticized the article as a "litany of errors and distortions of fact."[11]

On Dec. 17, the publisher respond to "concerns from several organizations" over "the accuracy of, and support for, certain statements in the Zionism article" by announcing the appointment of an independent committee to investigate "the factual accuracy, scholarly basis, coverage, scope, and balance of every article." In a further response to the Ignatiev article, Gale published a 10-part composite article, "Nationalism and Ethnicity," which includes evaluations of cultural nationalism in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Middle East, and Pan Arabism in addition to having a new article on Zionism available free of cost to all purchasers of the encyclopedia.[12]


See also


  1. ^ 978-0-415-96309-1 "How the Irish Became White". 2008-09-11. 978-0-415-96309-1. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  2. ^ a b Joyce Howard Price (September 4, 2002). "Harvard professor argues for 'abolishing' white race". The Washington Times. Retrieved September 20, 2009. 
  3. ^ Noel Ignatin. "The POC: A Personal Memoir". Theoretical Review #12. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  4. ^ Smedley, Audrey (2007-March-14-17). "The History of the Idea of Race... and Why It Matters". presented at the conference "Race, Human Variation and Disease: Consensus and Frontiers" sponsored by the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Sober, Elliott (2000). Philosophy of biology (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 978-0813391267.
  5. ^ a b Arnesen, Eric (2001). "Whiteness and the Historians’ Imagination International Labor and Working-Class History No. 60, Fall 2001, pp. 3–32
  6. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  7. ^ No Writer Attributed (1992-03-18). "No Toaster Subsidy". Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  8. ^ "Dunster Dismisses Vocal Tutor". 1992-05-11. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 
  9. ^ a b AJC: Withdraw Zionism chapter in race book, 10/12/2008, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
  10. ^ "Zionism," Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, Macmillan Press, 2007, pp 240–244.
  11. ^ Gideon Shimoni, A Comment on the Entry "Zionism" in the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, December 1, 2008.
  12. ^ "Gale to Commission Independent Board to Conduct Thorough Review of the Encyclopedia of Race and... – STAMFORD, Conn., Dec. 17 /PRNewswire/". Connecticut: 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2010-04-08. 

Further reading

External links