Letter: Faculty says Walter Block’s claims were, once again, untrue and offensive

Loyola Faculty Members

Dear Editors,

As Loyola faculty members in the African and African American Studies program, Center for Intercultural Understanding, Twomey Center and Jesuit Social Research Institute programs at the forefront of Loyola’s longstanding dedication to racial and social justice, we have devoted ourselves to teaching students about the violence, cruelty, and humiliation inflicted upon black people during the more than four centuries of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the civil rights movement and the legacy of that injustice today. Given this commitment, we are outraged over the views espoused by Loyola economics professor Walter Block in a recent New York Times article. In a Jan. 25, front-page story on the libertarian political philosophy of Sen. Rand Paul, Block not only attacks the legitimacy and constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act but also dismisses the institution of slavery as “not so bad.”

While Block might have the academic freedom to teach such ahistorical and hostile beliefs in his own economics classroom, these claims – expressed to a reporter for a nationwide newspaper article – are an insult to millions of African Americans in this country as well as to the pain and suffering incurred by both black and white people in their struggle to gain the same basic American freedoms that Professor Block enjoys today as a privileged white male.

Indeed, Dr. Block might educate himself on the reality of American slavery beyond his understanding that the lack of free association was the major problem with slavery.

“The slaves could not quit. They were forced to ‘associate’ with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory,” said Block in his “Reply to the Scurrilous, Libelous, Venomous, Scandalous New York Times Smear Campaign” on LewRockwell.com

Significant scholarship on slavery illuminates quite a different experience and set of problems related to slavery. Traders in human flesh kidnapped men, women and children from the interior of the African continent and marched them in stocks to the coast. Snatched from their families, these individuals awaited an unknown but decidedly terrible future. Often for as long as three months enslaved people sailed west, shackled and mired in the feces, urine, blood and vomit of the other wretched souls on the boat. For many, their desperation became so deep, they deemed suicide and infanticide as viable alternatives to a life of enslavement. After arriving in North America, labor, coercion and violence always occupied the same space.

While the lack of free association did indeed characterize antebellum slavery in the U.S., the ownership of humans as property is merely one of the incontrovertibly unacceptable aspects of slavery. The violation of human dignity, the radical exploitation of people’s labor, the brutal violence that slaveholders utilized to maintain power, the disenfranchisement of American citizens, the destruction of familial bonds, the pervasive sexual assault and the systematic attempts to dehumanize an entire race all mark slavery as an intellectually, economically, politically and socially condemnable institution no matter how, where, or when it is practiced.

At a time when Loyola University New Orleans is working diligently to recruit every qualified freshman student it can attract and enroll this fall, Block’s indefensible comments, printed in the national edition of the Sunday New York Times no less, hampers the university’s efforts to recruit the most accomplished and diverse students it can from across the U.S.

Moreover, this is not the first time that his disregard for socio-historical truth has proven to be an embarrassment to many of the faculty at this institution.

We the undersigned urge the university to take the long overdue and necessary steps to condemn and censure Professor Block for his recurring public assaults on the values of Loyola University, its mission and the civil rights of all Americans. In so doing, Loyola University must reaffirm our commitment to pursue truth, wisdom and virtue – and most importantly to work for a more just world. 

THIS LETTER TO THE EDITOR WAS SUBMITTED BY:

Laura Murphy

Chair of the African and African American Studies Program

Assistant Professor of English

Anthony E. Ladd

Professor of Sociology

Barbara Ewell

Professor of English

Charles Corprew

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Laura Hope

Associate Professor of Theater

Kathleen Fitzgerald

Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology

Angel Parham

Associate Professor of Sociology

Ashley Howard

Assistant Professor of History

Trimiko Melancon

Assistant Professor of English

Alex Mukulich

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Patricia Boyett

Visiting Assistant Professor of History

Julie Thibodaux, J.D.

Interim Director,

Women’s Resource Center

Nicole Eggers

Assistant Professor of History

Ted Quant,

Director, Twomey Center

for Peace and Justice

Susan Weishar

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Alvaro Alcazar

Twomey Center and Loyola Institute for Ministry

Lisa Martin

Director, Center for Intercultural Understanding

Department of Communications

Judith Hunt,

Associate Dean,

College of Humanities and Natural Sciences Department of History