Peter Gordon probably isn’t travelling to West Virginia any time soon. While being interviewed about his research on the Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon, for The New Yorker, the Teachers College Speech and Pathology prof made an unfortunate reference to one of America’s most persistent regional stereotypes. “If there is some kind of Appalachian inbreeding or retardation going on,” he said, defending the tribe from such charges, “you’d see it in hairlines, facial features, motor ability. It bleeds all over. They [the Piraha] don’t show any of that.”
Now, Gordon is under fire, and Columbia has been targeted as well. “The quote splattered against academic computer screens in Appalachia this week like a large cud of chewing tobacco,” wrote the Lexington Herald-Leader (we’re not quite sure if they were trying to be ironic or not). A professor at Daemen College had this to say to Gordon: “Shame on you and on the institution you represent for perpetuating such ugly and untrue stereotypes”. Ohio University prof Jack Wright compared the gaffe to “cultural strip-mining”.
For his part, Gordon has apologized, and called the experience “humbling”. After receiving complaints, Provost Brinkley said that he disagreed with Gordon’s sentiments, but that the prof would not be censored.