Being a Black Academic in America

What does it mean to be hypervisible and hyper-invisible at the same time?

black woman in graduation robe holding diploma
Photo by Godisable Jacob from Pexels

A recent article in The Chronicle Review details the lives and narratives of several black academics and scholars in America. The article and the outpouring of stories comes after a scandal was revealed involving rich white people bribing many people to get their children accepted into rich white institutions in the country. In an attempt to make space for the voices usually seen as diversity quotas, or affirmative action recipients (by similar white people involved in this scandal), The Chronicle Review asked black academics to speak to themes raised by the admissions-bribery scandal. Some of the themes that arose were: feelings of undeservedness, the effects of diversity and affirmative-action on the college experience of black people, feeling out of place, and making it through, scars and all. The people interviewed ranged from graduate students, junior professors, and senior scholars. I was intrigued and excited to know that an article of the sort was written.

I think articles like the one in The Chronicle Review overlap with some of the goals of the research we do as a class. I haven’t come across many articles of the sort, especially on social media, that spell out some of the experiences of black academics. This admissions-bribery scandal highlights the plight(s) of black academics, in that, even while trying to abide by the system, while also actively working to make more equitable standards for marginalized people, black academics still aren’t granted the same access and authority as their white counterparts. White people evade this responsibility, and still cheat to get in. There is no space for black and brown people to mess up or cheat. White people are afforded the privilege to already have more access to these illustrious institutions simply based on white privilege alone, worry about students of color taking up spots, and pay their way in to ensure that their kid isn’t left out. Can you think about how nice it is to drop a couple millions to make sure your child goes to a certain college, even if they didn’t earn their spot? (Earn is italicized because I’m cautious to believe that anyone “earns” a spot, or if that should even be the case). Nonetheless, articles like this are important because it highlights that there are people who genuinely do have to work hard to access the same spaces white people, with generational wealth, can afford to pay for access to or simply just have access to. Gotta love structural inequality.

Note from Professor Wolfe: Here is the link to the article in the Chronicle bree is writing about. It is sad, ironic, and/or entirely predictable that only subscribers to the Chronicle of Higher Education can see the article. Our campus has such a subscription, but sincere apologies to any readers who do not. Here is a different article for further reading:

This is a special post in a series authored by students in Professor Wolfe’s Spring 2019 Research Lab. We are studying the experiences of students of color at PWIs.

1 thought on “Being a Black Academic in America”

  1. Bree, I love how you noted the ways in which the college admissions scandal reflects America’s structural inequality. While people laugh about the scandal because of how many celebrities were involved, I think many do not realize how impactful it actually is. I wonder how we can combat America’s obsession with numbers to define everything to give room to hearing & respecting other’s experiences as data. Hopefully our research is one of many in progress out there attempting to.

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