Grant Farred

Grant Farred


* Associate professor of literature at Duke University
* Trained under Professor Edward Said

Grant Farred, an associate professor of literature at Duke University, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Western Cape (South Africa) in 1987; a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1990; and a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1997. Before joining the Duke faculty, he taught at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he also coached the soccer team.

Farred has authored several books, including: Rethinking C.L.R. James (1996); What’s My Name?: Black Vernacular Intellectuals (2003), which purports to “extend” the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s “concept of the organic intellectual” in an examination of the lives of “individuals who challenge social injustice from inside and outside traditional academic or political spheres”; After the Thrill Is Gone: A Decade of Post-Apartheid South Africa (2004); Midfielder’s Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (2004); and Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA (2006).

In Phantom Calls, Farred addressed the topic of Houston Rockets basketball coach Jeff Van Gundy’s complaints, during a 2005 playoff series, about what he perceived to be unfair officiating against his team’s star center, Yao Ming, a native of China. Farred argued that the critical aspect of the story was not Van Gundy’s claim of an anti-Rockets conspiracy, but instead his use of the phrase “phantom calls” to describe what the coach considered foul calls that were unwarranted. According to Farred:

  • Van Gundy’s remark indicated that “the politics of the NBA is once again fraught with the ghostly presence of race, now reflected through the Asian body.”
  • “[T]he referees’ ‘phantom calls’ unleashed a racial politics that was foreclosed during the rhetorical skirmishes that erupted around the ‘fouled’ Asian body.” As a result, “through Yao’s body, race is reconstructed as an anti-imperial category with significant consequences for the local (USA; NBA) discourse about racism.”
  • “By positioning Yao as the symbolic victim of the American racial phantasmatic and his refusal to name the race or racism, by ‘mediating’ Yao, in Kundera’s sense, Van Gundy makes possible a discussion about the condition of racial politics as it pertains to African-American players in the NBA.”
  • “The contradictory, contingent nature of racial articulation can be identified in those moments when the figure of discursive initiation (here, Van Gundy) speaks from a disjunctive—or, non-raced—place, as in those racist Phantoms released into public circulations in sites where their presence and articulation are not expected.”
  • “The ‘phantom calls’ reveal how the migrant Asian subject of globalization is, in the moment of crisis or the experience of direct address, precariously close to the kind of non-belonging with which the raced subject perpetually lives.”
  • The United States would not be able to use the “neo-liberal, imperial imaginary” to hold back China: “Yao represents the spectral presence of Chinese capital within America. He is, precisely because of his complicated ideological heritage, the most profound threat to American empire.”

Farred trained under the late anti-Israel scholar Edward Said, and recalled his mentor as “a model for being engaged in political activities outside the university,” a figure who, “while his primary focus was the Palestinian cause … was able to extend the struggle for justice far more broadly.”

Farred was one of the Group of 88 Duke professors who signed and published a full-page “listening statement” in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Duke Chronicle, in support of a local black stripper who had accused three white student-athletes of rape. (Her charges would later be proven entirely false.)

In October 2006, Farred published a Herald-Sun op-ed whose theme was the “secret racism” underlying the Duke lacrosse case. He denounced—without citing any evidence—“the lacrosse team’s reputed tendency toward arrogant sexual prowess.”

When large numbers of Duke undergraduates began registering to vote in the upcoming November 2006 elections — in an effort to vote Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong out of office for what they perceived to be his irresponsible handling of the rape case — Farred lamented: “What Duke students becoming Durham citizens does is displace the problem of racism from the lacrosse team and the university to Durham’s political system.” Farred further charged that his institution’s undergraduates wanted to exercise “their right to the franchise without any other sense of civic responsibility.”

This profile is derived largely from the article “Grant Farred’s ‘Phantom’ Insights,” written by KC Johnson and published by Durham-in-Wonderland on November 15, 2006.

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