Disagreeing with(in) Antiracism | A Conversation with Erec Smith

A photo of Erec Smith's book A Critique of Anti-Racism in Rhetoric and Composition, sitting on a picnic table, with green leaves in the background

I sat down with Dr. Erec Smith, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at York College, to discuss his book A Critique of Anti-Racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment (Rowman and Littlefield 2019). While Erec, to be clear, opposes racism itself, he also opposes the forms of antiracism he believes constitute the current antiracism movement in writing studies. To be equally clear, I disagree strongly with most of Erec’s take. With one key exception: I agree with Erec about the value, the vital necessity, of disagreement itself.

In the preface, Erec writes: “I can only tell you that I seek truth and justice and I write this book solely from that interest. I genuinely hope people will read, engage, and critique it to their heart’s content. I want to know why they agree or disagree with my conclusions. One of the main motivations for this book is to encourage a productive and generative approach to disagreement and discourage attempts to silence, shut down, or shame others into submission” (viii).

My own desire to engage disagreement productively is specifically why I read Erec’s book and why I asked him to have this conversation with me. Now, I don’t think that all disagreements are automatically productive to engage with–and the topic of antiracism seems to draw more than its share of counterproductive ones. Indeed, when we reached the end of our talk, I felt uncertain about just how productive ours disagreement had been. (And Erec may well have felt likewise.) But nonetheless, I think, I hope, I want to believe, that the work of disagreeing together is and can be an important aspect of being and becoming more effectively antiracist. So this conversation is one effort at that, and, disagreements aside, I’m grateful to Erec for participating with me.

If you see the role of disagreement in antiracism differently, well, I’d love to talk with you about that.

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