That’s the point. Race, like any other lens—sex, class, politics, whatever—is not always the appropriate perspective from which to identify and discuss what is centrally significant in a body of work. It is up to the instructor to make the choice on pedagogical grounds—the grounds of illuminating the material. To put certain topics front and center because society’s health requires that we address them—maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t—is to abandon the educational enterprise and turn the university into a frankly political instrument. Or so I would have argued in the talk the Seton Hall committee didn’t want to hear.
I want to say as loudly as possible that there is no free-speech issue here. I have no right to speak at Seton Hall, and I have not been silenced because I was disinvited. Any instructor is free to teach a course on these five poets devoted entirely to race. That would not be my choice—and I remain a skeptic about the possibility of doing it without distorting the poetry—but it is a choice one could responsibly make if it were made for reasons that could be defended academically.
Everything depends on the spirit informing the decisions instructors and universities make. The spirit informing the decision not to hear my views and the decision to boycott courses that don’t have race at their center are anti-educational and anti-intellectual.