Veteran SUNY New Paltz administrator rapped for raising “specter of racism”

Gerald Benjamin

A high-ranking official at SUNY New Paltz was forced to apologize this week for what critics called racially insensitive remarks in a New York Times piece about the election race in the 19th Congressional District.

Gerald Benjamin, a long-serving assistant vice president and former dean at the university and head of his eponymous regional public policy research center at the campus, issued the apology one day after the July 17 story by Astead W. Herndon (“A Congressional Candidate Used to Be a Rapper. Will It Matter?”) appeared in The Times. The story focused on criticism of Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado’s 2006 hip-hop album “Painfully Free.” In statements earlier this month the GOP super-PAC Congressional Leadership Fund and Delgado’s opponent, Republican incumbent John Faso, took aim at Delgado (who is black) for his use of the word “Nigga” on the album, as well as for expressing sentiments they called anti-American and anti-free-market. Faso called on Delgado to weigh in on whether he still holds the same sentiments expressed on the album.

That criticism sparked a backlash as Delgado and his supporters claimed Faso’s remarks were a racial dog-whistle intended to “otherize” a non-white candidate running in a largely white and rural district. Delgado defended “Painfully Free” as part of a hip-hop tradition of raising political and social awareness among inner-city youth using the vernacular of rap.

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In the Times article Benjamin, a friend of Faso’s, weighed in on the likely impact of the lyrics controversy, saying, “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” and “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.”

Benjamin’s remarks were met with a swift and severe denunciation from the university. The same day the article was published a statement from New Paltz president Donald P. Christian and chief diversity officer Tanhena Pacheco Dunn blasted the Benjamin’s comments, referring to him simply as “a campus leader.” “The quotes raise the specter of racism and marginalize members of our community, both of which are antithetical to our institutional values of inclusivity and respect,” the statement read.

On July 18, Benjamin issued his own statement apologizing for the remarks. In his statement, Benjamin said he was attempting to point out that race is always a factor in American politics and that Republicans were using Delgado’s hip-hop past to try to open “a cultural gap” between the candidate and many of his would-be constituents.

“I made these points badly,” Benjamin conceded. “My remarks were insufficiently precise, my points poorly articulated and my language very insensitive and therefore subject to multiple interpretations.”

Benjamin — who is quoted in The Times article saying that he did not believe rap was “real music” — added that his comments were off the mark in part because of his self-professed ignorance of the genre.

“I react negatively to racially charged, violence-inducing misogynistic lyrics I have heard, but knew virtually nothing about rap music as a form of affirmative artistic and cultural expression,” he wrote. “I was therefore particularly in error and professionally inappropriate in generalizing from a casually informed point of view, and in doing so turning what should have been an analytic statement into a very badly informed personal one.”

There are 8 comments

  1. Delgado supporter

    He was not forced to apologize; he did so willingly and with full knowledge of his grevious error. Also, this is the third article in this publication on this topic, none of which have advanced on the first. Your focus on the SUNY prof is a distraction from Faso’s race -baiting. He is the villain here.

  2. Come On Kids!

    Dear Ignorant Racist Morons,

    “RAP” is a wide genre bringing together elements of Jazz (the only authentic American music genre in existence); dance music, drum and bass, vocals, electronic, sampling and reinterpretation of previously existing genres including classical, rock and roll, and in some instances country music. It is performed by all manner of people from black to white to indian to muslim to christian.

    If you are going to be a racist just be honest and wear your t-shirt and name badge that says” Racist” – own it as proudly as an ignorant person can.

    Otherwise shut the eff up. You are boring. Pathetic. And irrelevant.

    1. W.C. Handy

      Rap is three-quarters crap, said Neil Young.
      Some very clever people produce that stuff, make a lot of money at it too. said Bob Dyan

      You missed the Blues as a musical genre, the very music invented to overcome minstrel shows.

      Like John Lennon I hate jazz, and I had hoped when New Orleans flooded, I would never have to hear it again.

      Gerry should have stick to his guns, as there is no accounting for taste.

  3. William Moeller

    SHAME on Gerry! As a veteran SUNY New Paltz administrator, he shows a shocking ignorance of the leftist group think that has been championed by our universities for the past half century.

    It’s a miracle he still has a job.

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