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Melania Trump’s plagiarism: heteronormative, white supremacist, and ‘toxically racialized’ profs say

One of the big media moments of this past week’s Republican National Convention was the revelation that Melania Trump’s speech snatched a significant amount of material from First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech.

The “big moment” is that virtually to no one’s surprise, the mainstream media pounced on the scandal almost as if Melania’s husband had vowed to cede Alaska to Vladimir Putin.

Also virtually to no one’s surprise, the media thought a presidential candidate’s wife’s plagiarism was worth more coverage than that of an actual presidential candidate.

But what follows are some interpretations of Mrs. Trump’s misdeed that you probably hadn’t considered, courtesy of who else — college academics:

As Alex Corey, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Colorado’s English department, observed in a post, “Maybe we could also talk about the broader acts of copycatting within the official political sphere, like the fact that at every national convention and throughout campaigns and periods of holding office, partners in marriage (most often women due to the political environment) must take the stage to speak as symbols of the candidate’s/officeholder’s ‘values’ and subtly remind everyone that the most legitimate kind of adulthood — the most ‘capable’ of representing the public — is the one that also heads a two-partner family. So maybe heteronormativity is the more pernicious plagiarism on display here?”

Jason Payton, an assistant professor of English at Sam Houston State University, comments, “Ms. Trump’s speech enacts the ambivalence toward black culture that Eric Lott has argued has conditioned white America’s experience of its whiteness for centuries.

MORE: Pew: College plagiarism is at an all-time high

“Ms. Trump affirms the American values of ambition and industriousness, but in failing to credit Ms. Obama for her inspiration, Ms. Trump also constructs a racial fantasy wherein the advocacy for American values can be divorced from the history of critique and resistance by people of color.”

In a similar vein, Crystal Feimster, a faculty member in the department of African studies at Yale University, points out that “white folks have been stealing/ventriloquizing black people’s words to their benefit for centuries, so why should Trump be any different? It is white supremacy at its best. I especially love that she cribbed the hard work part and the expression commonly used by black youth that your word is bond …. The fact that we can laugh about it, act astonished that she borrowed Michelle Obama’s words or dismiss it as trivial without connecting the dots is part of the problem we face as a nation — our inability to recognize the way racism and white supremacy function beyond overt racial slurs and violence …”

Further, UC-Santa Cruz’s Kirsten Silva Gruesz describes “the defense of Melania as already so toxically racialized. Good vs. bad immigrant, for instance.”

It seems some commenters at the article, too, thought these analyses were just a bit of a stretch:

“As far as I can tell, this essay belongs on the pages of the HuffPo opinion section and has nothing to do with Higher Education — which is what I come here to read about. Nonetheless, I read it, but found it difficult to sift through recitations of stretched accusations of heteronormative stresses and white supremacy.

“Is this the type of content in today’s sociology classes? That is the essay I’d like to see here on Higher Ed.”

Read the full Inside Higher Ed article.

MORE: More than half of UNC academic dishonesty cases involve students of color

MORE: UNC Athlete plagiarized 11-year-old

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.