More on Roxanne Shanté.

With all due respect to Jeff Chang and Wayne Marshall, their argument about the impure motives of Ben Scheffer, the journalist-cum-attorney who wrote that Slate piece exposing the Roxanne Shanté  thing as a sham, is kind of a reach.

But what of her education? Sheffner makes a big point of alleging Shante did not receive her Ph.D. and is not listed as a practicing doctor. Gotcha again! (Sheffner seems to fetishize this “Doctor” thing. Maybe he’s sharpening his knives for Dr. Dre next?) But according to her, Shante has received her BA and MA degrees. Her passionate message in her talks to hip-hop youths across the country is about the importance of education. Clearly much more of the story here is begging to be told.

Most importantly, Shante said she attended college under another assumed name — not even her birth name — because of a domestic violence situation. Sheffner didn’t follow up on, we think, a reasonable, relevant, and obvious lead here. If she was right, he must have known at that point the story might have required real investigative reporting. Yet Slate’s editors didn’t put the brakes on the story even at this point. Instead, the piece ran with Sheffner’s slander that she failed to “substantiate such claims.”

So what did we learn here? One, Warner Brothers didn’t, but perhaps someone in the industry did fund Shante’s education. Two, Shante may not have a Ph.D.

We think that’s all pretty thin for a so-called exposé.

“Thin”? Those two nuggets that Sheffner pretty thoroughly debunked constitute the whole damn story that she’s responsible for propagating. From what I’ve gathered from my coterie of friends who’ve written (or are writing) their dissertations, it’s the kind of grueling, hurl-shit-at-the-wall-in-anger experience about which you’re not going to flub pretty basic facts — like where the hell you got your Ph.D. from or if  you even received one in the first place. The weirdest argument Marshall and Chang make is that  it’s possible that she did attain those degrees at some college on some label’s dime under an assumed name. Again, that doesn’t explain why she wouldn’t have simply named those institutions in the original Daily News story.

Again, Sheffner’s past as a contracts lawyer on copyright issues for big record companies is the crux of their argument against the validity of the Slate piece. (He weighed in the comments over at Alyssa’s spot, saying that he’s far removed from anything involving this case.) But even if you buy their argument that he’s a suit with an agenda, that’s not really an argument for the validity of her story.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • But why wouldn’t Chang and Marshall put more energy into reporting which schools Roxanne Shante actually attended? What purpose does it serve them to believe that Scheffer’s Slate story was a hatchet job?

  • There’s something unsettling about the belief that protecting the fiction of an icon is more important than the truth.

  • i mean, you could see something similar in the reflexive defense of Serena Williams the other day. She threatened a line judge, and my twitter feed was full of people talking about white privilege.

    People have a vested interest in her success. I get that. But she fucked up.

  • Ron

    She did mess up. But in the context of the sport and how things happen, I don’t think it was that big a deal. That said, the penalty on the court was appropriate. And had she not gone back AFTER the line judge, she’d have been fine. So yeah, she messed up bad and the attention she’s getting is well deserved.

  • Ron

    I don’t really understand why she’d lie about something like going to Cornell in the first place. I mean, it just seems like a bad idea. There was an article on Cornell’s site from PR that had her there for a presentation on hip-hop with some others and it specifically didn’t list her year or degree as it protocol in such matters, which was my first alarm that things might have been what they seemed.

    It’d be great if she’d just clarify the matter or someone else would, so we can go back to appreciating some semblance of the story for what it is. But maybe she feels like she shouldn’t have to. Meh.

  • I figured out why Chang and Marshall’s response to the Shante story rankles me so much. It’s as if they are so willing to allow Shante to be infantilized. I mean, we wouldn’t expect this type of fabrication from a doctor, lawyer or co-worker, right? Why is it okay for Shante’s lies to be excused and blamed on someone who debunked them?