It's a huge loss.  I had the great fortune of being a student of Rhonda at the
New School.  I was among the last group of students to pass through her two
course sequence in Race and Class, which was really Race, Class, and Gender.  My
fellow students can attest to the fact that at the time I claimed Rhonda was the
best teacher in the Economics Department, a department that included such
fantastic teachers as David Gordon, Anwar Shaikh, Ross Thompson, and John
Eatwell.  I hold to that judgement.  I was the last student to do a field in
Race and Class with Rhonda in the department (maybe the last to do a field in
Race and Class with anyone in Economics at the New School, as she was never
replaced).  When Rhonda decided to leave the Graduate Faculty and move to the
University of Maryland at College Park, with a dual appointment in Economics and
Afro-American Studies, I was aghast that the Department and the University
seemed to do nothing to try to keep her (and in fact students led to her being
interviewed to return to the New School a couple years later).  She wanted more
diverse students and colleagues.  At the time, she was the only African American
in the entire Graduate Faculty.  She once shared with me that when she first got
to the Graduate Faculty and went to some kind of reception attended by most of
the faculty, she thought that there must have been a meeting of the Black
faculty scheduled at the same time that she was not informed of.  She went
around asking people if they knew anything and they were all just raising their
eyebrows and looking around and saying "uh-h-h-h-m...I'm not sure..."  She was
shocked to find out that she *was* the Black faculty.  She felt extremely
marginalized in the New School's Economics department, made all the more
frustrating by the department's 'radical' reputation.  For example, she was
assigned an office that was separate from all the other faculty offices in the
Department (which were all in the same location).  She was amazed that no one
seemed to think anything of this.  Of course, not only was she African American,
she was one of two women in the Economics Department at that time (the other,
Gunseli Berik, was also untenured), and she was openly gay.  The challenges
facing a Black Lesbian Marxist Feminist in a white supremacist capitalist
heterosexist patriarchy, from the daily personal bullshit to the institutional
exclusion, are severe.  And this was all the more frustrating due to the fact
that her personal and professional adversaries were not just (or perhaps even
primarily) white heterosexual capitalist patriarchs; it was also the racism and
classism and heterosexism among 'feminists', the racism and sexism and
heterosexism among the working class and socialists and 'radical political
economists', the racism and classism in the gay community, and the sexism and
heterosexism and classism in the African American community and in Civil Rights
and Nationalist groups.  But she never turned cynical or had a defeated
attitude, had a fantastic sense of humor, was a living example and role model to
everyone who knew her.  And wherever she went she set the very highest standard,
never tolerating one injustice in the name of another.  Her standards concerning
how to grapple with the theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues were
also the highest, equally critical of radical political economy that accepts
standard method and epistemology or is sloppy empirically and avante-garde
methodological explorations that fetishize laissez-faire or make logical errors.
She also took on pop journalism and was an astute analyst of cultural trends.

She told me before she the New School that if she couldn't get tenure at
Maryland she would leave academia.  She had already served for many years as an
Assistant Professor at U. Texas at Austin, Yale, and the New School. In fact,
she was not happy with the Economics Dept at Maryland (surprise!), and was
ultimately tenured in Afro-American Studies only, where she became the Chair.
Speaking with her after her move, she was so excited about her students, to whom
she was selflessly devoted and who respected and adored her.

Rhonda earned her Ph.D. in Economics from MIT, and was long associated with a
group of economists who, first, exposed the mainstream approach to the
'economics of discrimination' and to otherwise analyzing wage and employment
differentials to devastating deconstruction and critique, and secondly proposed
a return to 'Classical' Marxism for analyzing wage and employment differentials
by race and gender, and the articulation of capitalism, racism, and patriarchy
more generally.  In fact, Rhonda and Sandy Darity may be said to have been the
originators of this approach.  Here, 'Classical' Marxism means a Marxist
economics that (to crudely oversimplify) accepts the labor theory of value,
rejects the Monopoly Capital school view of competition, has an important focus
on the reserve army (or armies), and recognizes the importance of both inter-
and intra-class competition.  Interestingly, Rhonda and Sandy appear to have
formulated thier approach before, and developed it independently of, the
publication of Willi Semmler's _Competition, Monopoly, and Differential Profit
Rates_.  But Semmler's work, following Shaikh's lead, offered a considerably
developed formal framework for pursuing the project.  Rhonda went some way in
developing the approach to differential wages and employment before Howard
Botwinick finished his Ph.D. dissertation, _Wage Differentials and the
Competition of Capitals_, ultlimately published as _Persistent Inequalities_.
But Rhonda viewed Botwinick's extension of the Shaikh-Semmler approach as an
extremely important contribution that reassured her she was on the right track
and provided a further developed formal framework for expanding and extending
her approach.  Rhonda subjected David Gordon's work (along with Edwards, Bowles,
and especially Michael Reich) to sharp critique, which didn't please David at
all, to say the least.  But her ideas and energy had an impact on the New
School's department long after she had departed, as evidenced in the work of
later students, including David's, e.g. Heather Boushey.

Not only did Rhonda have formidable formal mathematical and econometric skills,
and know mainstream economics inside and out, she was also extremely well read
in politics, philosophy, methodology and the history and philosophy of science
and social science, gender studies, history, and critical 'race' theory, and
published widely in these areas.  I probably learned more in every one of these
areas from two courses and an independent study with her than in all my other
courses combined (including the econometrics--she insisted on giving me a crash
course since I took her class before I studied advanced econometrics).  Her
approach was novel in the way it combined Classical Marxism with an
anti-essentialist, anti-reductionist epistemology, insights from critical race
and feminist theory, and careful attention to the history.  Classical Marxism
provides the theoretical framework, but it must deal with the traditional
Marxist tendency to undertheorize race.

Rhonda was scheduled to be on a session I organized for last year's ASSA
meetings, and had to cancel because she wasn't feeling well.  Again I organized
a session for this year's meetings in Jan in New Orleans on American Apartheid
with Rhonda, Samuel Myers, Sandy Darity, Heather Boushey, Gary Dymski, Bruce
Western, and Steve Steinberg.  For sure we will dedicate the session to her
memory and hopefully the papers can be published in a memorial symposium. Surely
there will be other tributes to her life and work.  Her memory must be
celebrated and her work must be continued.  I will definitely begin to explore a
fellowship here at UMKC in her name.

I will put together a bibliography of her papers and I also have her syllabi
from her Race and Class courses.  When I get time I'll write up something more
detailed on her work and vision.


Mathew Forstater

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