Grant Farred

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Grant Farred, a native of South Africa, is a professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University. He has previously taught at Williams College, the University of Michigan, and Duke University. He has written several books and served for eight years as editor of South Atlantic Quarterly, and is a leading figure in contemporary African-American Studies, Cultural Studies, and Postcolonial Studies.

Early life and education[edit]

Farred received a B.A. from the University of the Western Cape in 1987 and an Honours B.A. from the same institution in 1988; an M.A. from Columbia University in 1990; and a PhD from Princeton in 1997.[1] At Columbia, he studied under Edward Said, whom he has described as his mentor and as "a model for being engaged in political activities outside the university."[2]

He received a Fulbright fellowship in 1989, was a Du Bois-Rodney-Mandela Fellow at the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan in 1994–1995, and was a fellow of the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke in 2002–2003.[3]

South Atlantic Quarterly[edit]

Farred was editor of the South Atlantic Quarterly from 2002 to 2010. When he left this position, he was described as having "widened the journal's theoretical and geographic scope while keeping it rooted in its long history of political engagement." In a discussion of the history of the journal with current editor Michael Hardt, Farred called his editorship of SAQ "the most important political thing I have done in this country in the twenty-one years I've been here." During his tenure, SAQ published special issues entitled "Palestine America," “Racial Americana," and "Ambushed: A Critique of Machtpolitik.”[4] Farred also edited a special issue marking the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. "This issue," according to the publisher, "revitalizes Fanon's canonical status as Third World theorist by asserting that the main imperatives of Fanon's work remain as urgent as ever: combating the psychic and physical violence of colonialism, achieving real forms of liberation for colonized peoples, and ending the degradation of people of color.”[5]


Farred's books include What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals (2003), Midfielder's Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (1999), Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA (2006), Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football (2008), and In Motion, At Rest: The Event of the Athletic Body (2014). Farred also edited Rethinking CLR James (1996).[6]

The subject of Farred's short 2006 book Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA is described by its publisher as follows: “After a recent playoff loss, Houston head coach Jeff Van Gundy alleged that Yao Ming, his Chinese star center, was the victim of phantom calls, or refereeing decisions that may have been ethnically biased. Grant Farred here shows how this incident can be seen as a pivotal moment in the globalization of the NBA. With some forty percent of its players coming from foreign nations, the idea of race in the NBA has become increasingly multifaceted. Farred explains how allegations of phantom calls such as Van Gundy’s challenge the fiction that America is a post-racial society and compel us to think in new ways about the nexus of race and racism in America.”[7]

Farred's 2008 book Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football describes “how 'football' opened up the world to a young boy growing up disenfranchised in apartheid South Africa. For Farred, being a soccer fan enabled him to establish connections with events and people throughout history and from around the globe: from the Spanish Civil War to the atrocities of the Argentine dictatorship of the 1970s and '80s, and from the experience of racism under apartheid to the experience of watching his beloved Liverpool team play on English soil.”[8]

Farred most recent book, In Motion, At Rest: The Event of the Athletic Body (2014), examines the "infamous events" of basketball player Ron Artest and footballers Eric Cantona and Zinedine Zidane, arguing that "theorizing the event through sport makes possible an entirely original way of thinking about it. He shows how what was inherent in the event is opened to new possibilities for understanding ontological being by thinking about sport philosophically.[9]

Duke lacrosse scandal[edit]

Farred was one of the most outspoken members of the so-called "Group of 88," a group of 88 professors at Duke who signed an advertisement in the Duke student newspaper, The Chronicle, shortly after white members of the university's lacrosse team were charged with raping a black woman on the night of 13 March 2006.

Controversy over "bitch" comment[edit]

An article by Lawrence Lan that appeared in the Cornell Sun on 12 April 2010, noted that Farred had "invited two of his advisees – both female graduate students who wish to remain anonymous – to attend a Feb. 5 and 6 conference at the University of Rochester entitled 'Theorizing Black Studies: Thinking Black Intellectuals.'” After the two students arrived late for one panel at the conference, Farred said to them: “When you both walked in, I thought, ‘Who are these black bitches?’”,[10][11] They told him that they found the comment offensive, and he apologised. The students later informed others at Cornell about the incident, ultimately leading to a university investigation, to expressions of "concern and outrage by "members of the Africana and larger Cornell community," and to "an open letter signed by 39 alumni...publicly condemned the actions of Farred and the inaction of [Salah] Hassan," director of the Africana Center. In fact Farred, who at the time of the incident was Director of Graduate Studies in the Africana Studies and Research Center, "was promptly removed from his position" and "was asked to not participate in the 40th anniversary of the ASRC occurring this week.”

“'What really tore at my heartstrings was to hear [one of the two female students involved] admit that she feels uncomfortable walking into the Africana Center and that the incident has created enormous tension among graduate students and faculty,' La TaSha Levy M.P.S. '06, who has been advising the two students about the incident, said....Another professor, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retributive action, denounced Farred's alleged comment to the two graduate students as an '[extremely] racist and sexist' remark that projected an image of patriarchy."[10]

Cornell's Student Assembly passed a resolution in October 2011 asking the Cornell administration to "formally reevaluate" Farred's appointment as chair of the faculty search committee for Africana studies at the university. "The resolution was introduced by Dara Brown, a junior who is chair of the Student Assembly's Women's Issues Committee. Her objections to the Farred appointment are due to the professor's remarks to two African-American graduate students, who he allegedly called 'black bitches.'" Brown said, "The appointment of Farred indicates that we don't have the support of the university in reversing sexism on campus."[12]

Noting that Farred "has now become a target of a rabid campaign that has all the hallmarks of a politically correct witch-hunt – four years after he was at the forefront of a similar campaign at Duke University,"Cathy Young of Reason Magazine suggested that Farred had been "hoist with his own petard."[13] In a letter to the Cornell Sun, a Cornell student made a similar point, writing that "It is quite ironic that after engaging in a premature, disproportionate and unjust response to a controversy on his former campus, Professor Farred now has similar injustices levied at himself."[14]

Azhar Majeed of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote that "Punishing Farred for his speech may indeed be an example of 'poetic justice,' but as actual justice, it is sorely lacking. Farred's case serves as a reminder of the importance of affording due process to the accused, of presuming innocence until the accused is proven guilty, and of ensuring that any punishment is proportionate, if discipline rather than moral indignation appears to be justified. The actions of the Group of 88 were reprehensible, as longtime Torch readers well know. Now, one of its members faces a similar scenario in terms of due process. Farred may be suffering from the kind of regime of intolerant political correctness that he himself seems to support. Yet, the principles of free speech to which Cornell pledges fealty should protect him whether he wants to be protected or not."[15]

Professor Riche Richardson, a colleague of Farred's at Cornell Africana, has also spoken out on the issue, explaining that "I do have a sense of what was said and know how deeply sorry he is that he said what he said, regardless of the colloquialisms that he attempted to invoke, perhaps, I suspect myself, in light of his intellectual and cultural interests in vernacular forms.... The perspective provided by Hortense Spillers in her now classic essay "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe"[16] sets the standard for me in thinking through the historical and deeply ideological relation of epithets to black women.... I do not feel that he meant what he allegedly said in the malicious sense of the range of epithets invoked in this brilliant critical piece." [17]