Silenced By My Peers – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome; art/poetry/video also welcome. Due to overwhelming response, new submissions will go up Aug-Sept. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]


This author chooses to remain anonymous, but shared a photo.

As a black woman I am used to occupying spaces where I would be the only black person in the classroom. This reality did not scare or deter me, however, it made me much bolder in the classroom. By bolder, I mean less afraid to speak my mind, even if I knew I would be isolated. Being in a PhD program, I believed that some of the issues of racism and implicit bias would be less, or better checked in academic spaces. I was primed by advisers throughout my undergraduate studies that racism was still very much part of academia, often sheltered and protected by its supporters who upheld academia as a space of “free thought” and a space to “challenge” each other. This may have been true, but not for students of color. 

I thought I was strong – I was not.

The second year of my doctoral studies, I took a course focused on the prominent theories and principles of my field – public administration and policy – and was frequently engaged in civil discourse with my classmates. We had just finished readings on a core theory to the field – representative bureaucracy theory. The theory states, simply, that the demographic of an organization should mirror the demographic of the community it serves. The theory provides many examples of people of color providing better services and positive policy change for their communities through roles such as teachers, social workers, and other “street-level bureaucrats” who have frequent contact with the community. 

However, like any scholar, I had issues with the theory. 

I voiced these concerns in the classroom, citing the assumptions the scholars made regarding a minorities perceived identity about themselves and how that influences their decision-making process. More importantly, I did not agree with the theory’s assumptions about organizational culture and diversity in hiring practices. Though I was only in my second year, I felt my opinions regarding the theory were just as important as my colleagues. 

It was clear, this was not the case.

I received prompt backlash from other students in the class for disagreeing with the core tenets of the theory. I understand that we were all junior scholars at the time, but instead of engaging with me on this theory, I was almost scolded into believing that my understanding and opinions were baseless. My predominantly white colleagues, who an hour before were speaking with me collegially and friendly, had turned on me. I was not sure why. Was it because they wanted to show their own understanding of the theory? Did they want to impress the professor? Or did they honestly think I was wrong? Nevertheless, after about a fifteen-minute debate – near dehumanization – I stopped. I was done speaking for the day and remained quiet through the remainder of the class.

We had submitted an essay on the theory a few days before. My only reprieve that day, what helped me sleep at night, was that I scored an A on the paper. I knew I wasn’t crazy! I knew my opinions were valid! 

I vividly remember this story as a prime example of how being Black in academic spaces means that I am often the only one. I used this example in job interviews and discussions with other academics or administrators to emphasize the challenges black students go through in their classrooms. I carried this experience throughout my PhD coursework and later involvement in university initiatives on diversity and inclusion. I wanted people to know what happened to me, but I also wanted them to know that this was not an isolated event. Stories from other black academics confirmed my feelings and experiences. Tenure-track faculty had the same experiences I had. This trauma of isolation in spaces that are supposed to be welcoming and inclusive often kept many black academics from engaging with their colleagues and departments.

The long-term gains from that day have been in my favor. The professor who taught the course became my advisor and strongest advocate, helping me to publish papers and connect with scholars in the field. She remains a great resource to this day. I also am submitting a paper for publication, stating my exact issues with the theory that I iterated in class that day. Prior reviews of the paper have confirmed that these insights are critical to the field. Representative bureaucracy theory has also become a major research interest of mine and has led me to my current work of diversity, inclusion, and Human Resources. 

When I see other black academics being silenced, it is not surprising. This silencing often happens during the early stages of study and continues through an academic’s career. It is times like this, that I feel that black academics are valued as a statistic – a number- but not as a voice. 

I will continue to work towards justice for all black people in their respective spaces. While I am hopeful the situation changes, I am remain vigilant and active in the work. 

Personal Trauma and Black Linked Fate on the Tenure Track – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art/poetry welcome. Please see the wondrous #BLM content already published here. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Dr. Ana Ndumu is an Assistant Professor at the UMD, College Park College of Information. Her research and teaching center on the role of libraries and information in the lives of Black, immigrant, or underserved communities. Her forthcoming edited book is entitled, “Borders and belonging: Critical examinations of library approaches toward immigrants. She hopes her journey empowers someone and is happy to keep this conversation going at andumu@umd.edu or @AnaNdumu.

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By Dr. Ana Ndumu

I joined my current institution in 2018 as a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, a program designed to strengthen faculty diversity at research-intensive universities. Serendipitously, I was also offered an assistant professor position at the same institution. I felt fortunate on many fronts. The job market in my field remains fraught and, generally speaking, there is seldom guarantee of permanence when it comes to postdoctoral positions. Though fully aware of problems at the institutional level – for example, the racist, on-campus murder of Lt. Richard Collins III – I joined a college that embraces social justice-oriented scholarship. I dove into my research while acclimating to the campus and enjoyed a fruitful, studious year.

Transitioning to being a first-year assistant professor was an altogether different matter. What is typically a year of considerable protections – reduced course load, light committee work, and ample mentorship – rapidly escalated to a time of phenomenal overwhelm. In early August, my dad faced a medical emergency and was ultimately diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I ended up making five trips to be with family in Miami before the semester ended. It was a blessing to be instructing an asynchronous online master’s course that allowed some flexibility. However, I was also running a grant-funded project to promote census participation among immigrants. The last day of a project-related event, which happened to be my birthday, brought tremendous relief. Worn out, I briefly called dad and promised to see him in a few weeks during Thanksgiving break. He said he understood and wished me a happy birthday. He passed away a few hours later. The weight of grief was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Spring semester turned out to be equally difficult as a result of COVID-19. Though I taught another online graduate course, I along with most of my students struggled to adjust to sweeping changes. I also recognized my vulnerability in that I live with lupus. Even then, as airports emptied I flew down to Miami during Spring Break to care for my mom after she injured herself. At the time, I was the only one among my siblings who could telework and, thereby, care for mom. I again felt incredibly grateful to be in a profession that affords reasonable flexibility.

I plowed through all of these emergencies with the resilience I learned from my no-nonsense, fiery mom and the practicality of my consistent and sanguine dad. None of the disruptions felt inherently unfair. The loss and care of elderly parents is often a part of adult life. The pandemic is a once-in-a-century plague. I have lived with lupus for several years. And I knew exactly how stressful being a professor would be. I signed up for this. University policies are in place to assist with personal setbacks. Grief therapy, my supportive spouse, compassionate colleagues, along with a loving network of sister scholars were available to help me persist until the summer.

By the time that nationwide shelter-in-place orders were enforced and our university moved to a completely virtual environment, I was already burned out. In April, a family friend and fellow lupus warrior died of COVID-19. President Trump casually touted hydroxychloroquine as a remedy. Those of us who live with autoimmune disorders can attest that it is a brutal medicine. Tangential to this, the racial and socioeconomic disparities associated with COVID-19 fatalities started to become apparent. The chronicles painted a grim picture of a social caste system. 

As a librarian, demographer, and professor, I know the power of substantiated information and large-scale population statistics when presenting a narrative. Credible data continues to bear witness. Across the U.S., Black communities are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19. Queens, New York – one of the country’s poorest and most ethnically diverse congressional districts comprised of remarkably hard-to-count census tracts – became the virus epicenter. Nationwide, seventy-five percent of exposed frontline service workers are people of color. This is unadulterated, staggering truth-telling. 

Among Black diasporic immigrants, the specific segment of the population that I research and identify with, many are disadvantaged by acculturative stress and allostatic load which catalyze disease, a phenomenon widely understood as the immigrant health paradox. This reality coupled with poor medical care, underemployment, and subsequent reliance on survival jobs points to social barriers. Black immigrants predominantly belong to a category of newcomers who arrive with prior vocational training (in health fields, particularly) and are native English-language speakers. Yet, bureaucracy prevents many immigrant professionals from integrating and re-credentialing, especially when it comes to the 314,000 highly-skilled, medically trained refugees who could have helped our communities during the pandemic.

Then Ahmaud Arbery’s racist homicide occurred in Brunswick, Georgia.

And Breonna Taylor’s slaying in Louisville, Kentucky.

And Christian Cooper’s racist encounter in New York City’s Central Park.

And George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I understand what drives the very people who are most susceptible to a deadly virus to eschew social distancing practices in order to protest: exhaustion.

Unlike the personal crises I faced, witnessing racist violent acts feels wholly unfair.

I, too, had long been on edge and am now simply exhausted. I find myself disgusted and drained by being in constant conversation about race. I am tired enough that I will no longer excuse unawareness. Feeling exhausted means being cynical that Whites in power will ever adopt a new mental model. It is knowing that a seismic shift is happening but being too depleted to offer any substantive or positive idea at this moment. It is questioning whether the phrase “equity, diversity, and inclusion” is just as platitudinal as “thoughts and prayers.” Exhaustion is attempting to preserve my peace by resigning from activities that are not truly challenging the status quo. Without question, it manifests as chronic fatigue attached to meeting the demands of a higher education landscape built on patriarchy and white supremacy. Professional autonomy aside, the academy was not intended for faculty like me. Exhaustion is shunning plasticity, optics, and anything less than that which is rooted in racial realism. It means resisting the notion that my peers need my help with unlearning biased conditioning and polishing statements in response to the current uprising. Unless an effort deals with systematizing the advancement of marginalized groups and reframing EDI as liberative and anti-hegemonic practice, I remain uninterested. 

Social science theory presents us with the concept of Black linked fate, or the belief that a fellow community members’ racial experiences inevitably impact us. Though there is no evidence to suggest that I am correct, I like to think that the idea of Black linked fate is inspired by the African ethic of Ubuntuism, a philosophy that posits I am because we are. Black linked fate is what makes racism feel deeply personal. My desire is to educate, write, and speak on the role of information in the well-being of Black, immigrant, and other subjugated communities. However, the constancy, predictability, and damage of racialized structural inequities leaves little confidence that this line of work actually works. Instead of being inspired, I am exhausted. The scary part is that I am only one year into the professoriate.

5 Anti-Racist Practices White Scholars Can Adopt Today – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Marius Kothor is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History at Yale University. She has broad research interests in 20th century African history, gender, and Black Internationalism. Her dissertation research has been funded by the Fulbright Program and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Kothor has published essays in a number of periodicals, including The New York Times, Black Perspectives and The History News Network. 

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By Marius Kothor

We are facing a historic moment of reckoning. The violent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited a movement that has engulfed the entire country. As people demand companies and organizations to account for their complicity in systemic racism, Black scholars are shedding new light on the anti-Blackness embedded within academic institutions. 

Black scholars such as Dr. Shardé M. Davis and Joy Melody Woods, for example, have started the #BlackintheIvory to bring renewed attention to the Micro and Macro level racism Black scholars experience in academia. A number of white scholars, on the other hand, are using this moment as an opportunity for hollow virtue signaling. Many have taken to social media to publicly declare that they are allies of Black people. It is unclear, however, if these performances of “woke-ness” will translate into efforts to address the systemic racism embedded in their departments and universities. From my experiences as a graduate student, it is unlikely that it will. Yet, for white scholars who are genuinely interested in using this moment to begin the process of unlearning the racist practices common in academia, there are a few practical steps that they can take. 

Below is a list of 5 things I think white scholars can do to begin to address racism in their day-to-day encounters with Black scholars. 

  1. Publicly Articulate Solidarity with Black Scholars 

I have been in countless meetings where I was the only Black person. When conversations in these meetings touched on topics of race and racism, I was often the only person speaking up about how certain policies or actions impacted Black people. These encounters often leave me feeling alone and vulnerable because no one speaks up in support of my positions. Inevitably, however, a white graduate student or professor will send me an email, or corner me in the hallway to express how much they agreed with my points and how “sorry” they are about the way I was treated. This behavior is not only unhelpful, it is a betrayal. It presents solidarity with Black people as a secret, something that has to be whispered in the corner of hallways and private email exchanges. Solidarity is not solidarity when it is hidden. Show your support in the meeting; publicly stand in solidarity with Black scholars when the stakes are high. You may lose friends and professional allies in this process. Anti-racism work has real material costs. 

  1.  Stop Calling the Black People in Your Institution by the Wrong Name

I recently learned from one of my colleagues that white people in our institution confuse her with me and another Black woman. I could go on about how we look nothing alike, but it’s not about that. It is about the fact that when people see us, all they see is our Blackness. As psychologist Kareem Johnson explained in a 2017 article in The Atlantic, “if we just identify someone as a ‘Black person,’ then that is how we are going to see them.” Black people often laugh about this. My friends and I joke that we could go to meetings in each other’s place and no one would notice the difference. All jokes aside, the frequency of these events indicate that white scholars do not take the time to see us as individuals. Constantly mistaking one Black person for another communicates to them that all you see when you look at them is their skin color. This is toxic and demeaning behavior that can easily be stopped by making an effort to get to know your Black peers, staff, and students as individuals.

  1. Do Not Talk to Black People as if You Know their Realities Better than They do

As an African and a scholar of African history, I have had white scholars explain the history of my community to me in condescending ways. They assume that they know something about me because they know these histories. To be sure, white scholars can be experts on a certain moment in Black history, or know a specific set of facts about certain Black communities, but it is quite literally impossible for them to be an expert on the lived experiences of Black people. Like any other group, we are made up of individuals who navigate the world within the context of our lived experiences. Positioning yourself as an expert on a Black person’s lived experiences because you know a set of facts about their communities is a colonial way of understanding knowledge. 

  1.  Cite Black Scholars in the Body of Your work, Not Just in the Footnotes 

Citation practices are political statements. The choices scholars make about who and how to cite reflect their attitudes about whose work is worth serious intellectual engagement. Over the years, initiatives like  #citeblackwomen have highlighted the ways in which white scholars marginalize their Black peers, particularly Black women scholars, by not citing their work. Yet, the ways in which white scholars cite their Black peers is just as important as whether they cite them at all. Too often, the work of Black scholars is buried in the footnotes instead of being highlighted in the body of the text. Citations are a matter of equity. It is important to read and engage with the intellectual labor of your colleagues instead of relegating them to the margins of your text.

  1. Don’t Try to Get Black Scholars to Validate Your Problematic Project 

Sometimes, white scholars feel uncomfortable with the work they are doing in Black communities. Instead of interrogating their discomfort, however, they look to Black scholars to validate their projects. The violence of this behavior cannot be overstated. Black scholars already face numerous institutional challenges to their very existence, making them do the additional labor of soothing your anxieties and discomforts is unbelievably corrosive. If a white scholar thinks their work is problematic, it probably is. Instead of burdening their Black peers with that emotional labor, they should rethink the project itself.  

No Peeing In Missouri: A Video of My Journey to Grad School – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Maya Edwards is a PhD candidate in Spanish Literature at Texas Tech University. Her primary research is focused on nineteenth-century Spanish Peninsular literature, centering on intersections of gender, mobility, and affect. Other research interests include cultural studies, social justice, digital literacies, and study abroad.

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By Maya Edwards.

My story, while a personal narrative, is but a single piece of a much larger historical narrative that has not been spoken about often enough in our country. It underlines issues of race that persist, and speaks to the different (almost liminal) human experiences in common spaces. It speaks to the weight of fear and trauma carried into new experiences, invisible to many people occupying the same space. My story speaks of navigating a world with an ever-present fear of the possibility of confronting police violence and other threats, and a rehearsal of what to do in case it happens to you. These days we hear a lot about “the talk” that black families have with their children to prepare them for such situations in order to survive. 

There is another talk: one about education. This other talk is intended to prepare black children for the inevitable moments ahead when people will question their worthiness to take up space. It begins something like this: “to be successful, to make it in school and in life, you’ll have to work twice as hard just for it to be noted that you’ve completed your task.” We are prepared to engage with people along our educational journey who are surprised that we occupy the space we are in. And yes, it continues into graduate school. 

The iterations look something like this:

    -“You’re so articulate!” (I’m surprised that you are eloquent and well-spoken.)

    -It’s “the look” when you mention that you are presenting at a conference, or that I’m researching…

    -It’s “the look” when it is known that you are the Spanish teacher. I’ve not seen my white (also non-native) peers get the same look…

    -It’s having been told by a superior that to be successful, I should not wear my hair as it naturally grows from my head. 

    -It’s discovering massive salary disparities that do not align with experience and preparation. 

    -It’s being one of few, often times the only, in a space of academics. 

I do not share this to paint myself as a victim. This is not to say that I consider my graduate school experience to be negative. Truly, I’m surrounded by and supported by incredible people, for whom I will always be grateful. I do share this to acknowledge a facet of my life experiences that I’ve internalized and do not often discuss. Experiences have made me stronger and even more determined to be part of the change I’d like to see in the world. Indeed, as a black woman in graduate school and in life, I carry fears, frustrations, and trauma that others don’t see. Nonetheless, as stated in my digital story: I am bold. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m an agent for change on a journey about education: “the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” -Nelson Mandela.

A College Degree is Nice, But It Won’t Protect You From Police Violence – #BLM Guest post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Poetry/art/video/song welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Nehemiah Bester received his bachelor’s degree in media studies with a minor in political science from Radford University in Radford, Virginia. He received his master’s degree in Journalism from the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Nehemiah has worked within his graduate program as a graduate assistant for Morgan State University. He has produced content for radio stations in WHCE 91.1 FM in Richmond, VA and WEAA 88.9 FM in Baltimore, Maryland. Additionally, he has worked as a fellow for the Wall Street Journal Journalism Exchange Program, a video and audio producer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, a columnist for Colors VA Magazine, a consultant for OVP Management Consulting Incorporated, a communications specialist at the Corporate Headquarters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., contributor to the Sphinx Magazine, and directed and produced 4 mini documentaries. Nehemiah currently lives in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @_nehhemiahh and he can be reached for inquiries at Nehemiah.elijah.2014@gmail.com.

by Nehemiah Bester

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I recently graduated with a master’s degree, so what? What should have been a celebratory moment is now a somber one. To be honest, it has been difficult wanting to celebrate and it’s not because of quarantine, but because whenever I look at the news and see that someone who looks like me has been murdered or accosted by those who wish to dim the light of our brilliance and existence, I don’t see anything to celebrate about. While I was tremendously grateful for this moment, to me it means nothing if people who share my phenotype, culture, and history continue to be the victims of systemic racism and police violence. This is more important than a piece of paper in formatted in old English; this to me is personal.

I have known since I was 18 years old that no matter how intelligent you think you are, or what you have planned for your life, they can use privilege, power, and terror to destroy it in an instant. As proud as I thought I would be knowing that I have 2 degrees at 24, I also know that won’t save me if I’m confronted in the wrong space at the wrong time, by the wrong individual. A 4.0 won’t save me, a graduation assistantship won’t save me, a fellowship wouldn’t save me, a new career won’t save me. It’s scary to think about but this is the world we live in today and it’s not-so-distant relationship with the past. No matter how many degrees I or anyone who looks like me obtains in their lifetime, it will not help us escape the harsh and unfair reality of being Black in America. We are often told that education is the way out of trouble with the law and while education is critical in dismantling a racist environment, our black lives are just as vulnerable and important as those afford higher education. That at any moment any of us can be taken from our families, a degree isn’t stopping a bullet, chokehold, or a knee.

I perfectly comprehend the desire to break a stereotype, but I promise it doesn’t matter how ordinary you are or how extraordinary you appear, they don’t care. To them, it doesn’t make a difference because before anything we are Black first. Black men and women are dying just to breathe. Our ability to breather should never be up for debate. Then they wonder why there is lawlessness in the streets. They question and minimize the rage we feel and act immediately to quell its quaking. The very reason there is lawlessness in the streets is because there is lawlessness within the police. A police system whose origins evolved from vigilante slave catching and made into federal law by way of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon in the black community, it just wears a different badge.

To put it into perspective, Michael Brown and I would have been the same age. We were the same age when he was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. We even graduated from high school mere months apart. The only difference is that after high school I got to go to college while Michael Brown who was set to go to Vatterott College, died at the hands of a trigger-happy cop. I do not know Mike personally, but his passing is something I have taken personally. A tall, Black, 18-year-old who had dreams of furthering his education, yeah that’s me. I looked at the newspapers, and the reports on tv, I said to myself “That’s me.” Looking at his face, his dark eyes, with his red stole overtop his turtle green high school cap and gown with his chin held up as he clutches his high school diploma, “yeah that’s me.”

Seeing his face and eyes looking back and me, I didn’t see anyone threatening or scary, how can anyone look at this young man and see danger? Mike looked like we could have been friends like somehow I knew him, but instead, I only knew him in death. And I couldn’t stop this sudden pain in my heart or the tears that ran down my face because of it. I have never found relief for that hurt or the rage that came after when the St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson and the U.S Department of Justice’s decision that Wilson shot Michael in self-defense. He was an 18-year-old who deserved to go to school, he deserved to live his life but was robbed the same way some of these young boys and men who looked like me were robbed of opportunity and a freedom called life.

When I see the riots and protests happening across the country, I understand the frustration. I get why people are angry and want to express that pain. For 400 years Black people in this country have been subjugated and oppressed by a system that perpetually refuses to give us the same rights, liberties, and freedom that America was founded on. Since 1619, we have been tired, and as Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The rage Black Americans, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, and White allies and others feel right now comes from centuries of disenfranchisement and the intentional violence that is chronically brought upon Black lives. Black Lives Matter, and because for so long this nation has created legislation and modern-day black codes that would appear to say otherwise, our anger in this movement needs no explanation. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others deserved life, and because their lives were cut short, we will continue to say their names, so the world won’t forget what happened as we persist in the fight for what’s right and dispel all that is wrong. That is our hope, and that is the solidarity and love for one another the world can never take away.

I didn’t cry for graduation this year, I cried for those we lost. We cry because we care. We cry because as we experience this pain, we cannot hope to imagine the pain our brothers and our sisters felt as they were slain. I take every Black life lost to police violence extremely personal and have since the passing of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin two years before him. It was that moment that I realized I will never be immune to this plague as long as it exists, there is no vaccine.

So, what can I do, and what can we do to see this reoccurring nightmare’s conclusion? Defunding the police is one, along with the removal of statues honoring Confederate statues and slavers, economic and educational investment in Black and Brown communities, reformation in our prison and criminal justice system, restorative justice, and reparations for the land that was stolen from indigenous people and reparations for the descendants of the 12.5 million Africans that build this nation, that would be a reasonable start.

It’s 2020 and racism still maintains its relevance. Imagine being in your 20’s and witnessing enough trauma and generational damage upon people that look like you to last a lifetime. That’s what my generation is currently dealing with. So as I take a moment to acknowledge the accomplishment of a master’s degree, which by the way does nothing to define me and won’t protect me from police violence, I hold it in solidarity with those we have lost and use it as a proxy to do what I can to make this world better for people who look like me and for those who share an all too similar and scary existence.  

You May Be Your Black Colleagues’ Amy Cooper – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts related to academia. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art/poetry welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Dr. Zaneta Rago-Craft (@ZanetaMarie) is a social justice scholar and practitioner with over 10 years experience in the field of higher education administration and campus cultural centers. Her day-to-day work consists of cultivating individual, collective, and institutional change to improve sense of belonging, recruitment, retention, and success of historically underrepresented students, faculty, staff, community members, and alumni. She also plays a mean ukulele. 

An Amy Cooper Higher Ed Self-Reflective Checklist

  1. Have you ever accused a Black colleague of being aggressive or intimidating when they are passionate about doing what’s right?
  2. Have you ever “picked the brain” of a Black colleague but then went on to take credit for an idea or initiative without acknowledging the partnership? 
  3. Have you ever served on a search committee and centered your critique of BIPOC candidates on “fit?”
  4. Have you ever served on a search committee that did not include a single Black candidate in the pool and honestly tell yourself they were just none out there, rather than reexamine how you wrote the posting, where it was posted, or the lack of employee support networks on your campus? 
  5. Have you ever realized that the higher your organization goes in seniority, diversity becomes less and less existent? Have you ever voiced this concern to those in said leadership hierarchies, or have you only left this to your Black colleagues? 
  6. Have you ever been on a committee or project planning team and not had a single Black person on the team? Perhaps even worse, have you only ever had tokenized Black individuals on your project teams? Perhaps even more worse, is it always the same tokenized Black person asked to serve on special teams because there are so few on the entire staff? 
  7. Have you ever been challenged on your behavior or given critical feedback by a Black colleague and only gotten defensive/focused on your intent instead of changing your behavior? Do you not even realize the risk that Black colleague took to bring the impact of your behavior to your attention? 
  8. Have you ever expected your Black colleagues, and only your Black and BIPOC colleagues to “handle diversity” as opposed to realizing equity work belongs to all of us?
  9. Have you ever been completely silent during a moment of injustice or bias in a work context and forced your Black colleagues to be the only ones to take risk by calling out the discriminatory behavior?
  10. Have you ever labeled yourself a champion of “diversity” in front of your students, while actively undermining the tenure process, authority, or work of your Black colleagues? 
  11. Have you ever used theoretical intersectionality as a way to not have to center and confront racism? 
  12. Have you ever centered your own need to be seen as an advocate by others over the actual lifting up of your Black colleagues’ needs, labor, and voices? 
  13. Have you ever asked your Black colleagues to explain, in detail, why people are so upset about a national happening instead of at least starting with some of your own self education? 
  14. Have you ever continued on your day, during national tragedies, without even asking your Black colleagues how they are coping, feeling, or if they need any support? 
  15. Do you only worry about the state of wellbeing of your Black colleagues and students during intense national tragedy as opposed to when you are writing grants, choosing whose scholarship to highlight in your curriculum, or whom your fundraising efforts support? 

…you may be your Black colleagues’ Amy Cooper. 

I share this list in full snark AND in all seriousness, and hope that it is used for actual changed behavior. For many,  it is easier to show righteous condemnation against systematic and state-sanctioned violence than to realize our own daily complicity in the destruction of Black lives. And I do mean destruction. In the past few days, an incredible twitter conversation blessed our timelines which I think aligns strongly with item seven on this list.  #BlackintheIvory, started by the incredible @DrShardeDavis and @SmileItsJoy, is full of gifts that your Black colleagues and students have taken a risk to share. Read them. Believe them. Thank them. Amplify them. Intervene. Do better. 

I leave you with one more question, and it is one that is painfully important: 

  1. Do you even have Black colleagues? Does the answer ignite a fire inside you?

What Can You Do: Being Black and Tired in Academia – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

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This writer chooses to remain anonymous. She is a Black queer woman from the west coast who is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

~~~

I write this post sitting in my apartment, a place I have spent most of these past few months, and as I write I feel compelled to take stock of my feelings to center my mind. Like many of my Black friends, family, and colleagues, I feel anger, grief, exasperation, fear, and tiredness. As a graduate student, I should be writing my papers for my Ph.D. qualifying exam. Instead, I am having to meditate every couple of hours to calm my nerves.

I am signing petitions and attending protests to ensure my family, or I won’t be the next person murdered by police.

I am helping my sister figure out how to explain the world to her four Black sons.

I am attending virtual City Council meetings to try and convince them NOT to increase the police budget.

And instead, I am sitting with other Black academics at my University to plan a way forward.

This last task is what infuriates me the most.

I am infuriated not because these meetings are happening. Not at all. These meetings, while the reason for them is unfortunate, avoidable, and never should have happened, are a relief in some ways. Sitting and working through my feelings with other Black people in the same or similar spaces as me can be cathartic in a way that soothes both my mind and my soul. No, these meetings infuriate me because we are not meeting to just check in with our fellow Black folks but to fix a problem that we did not create. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests, University and student leadership approached a few Black faculty or students from the meager amount of Black faculty and students on campus to ask the age-old question: “What can we do?”.

What can we do to help our Black faculty and students?

What can we do to fight racism and anti-blackness?

What can we do to ensure another George Floyd (or countless other deaths) doesn’t happen on our campus?

What. Can. We. Do.

I am tired of this question. I am tired of this question because I have received it a lot over the last two weeks from my well-meaning white friends and family. I didn’t fault them at first because, as a Black woman in America, I was taught to give white people the benefit of the doubt on issues of race because they just don’t know any better. I am used to educating white people on racism. Countless scholars and people of color have written about how expecting Black people to educate you on anti-Blackness and racism is white privilege.However, soon I started to become exasperated with this question. Then, last week, when I began attending these meetings with other Black academics, I realized it wasn’t just my white friends and family asking this question but our University and student leaders as well. What can we do? They came to us, who make up less than 4 percent of the student body and less than two percent of academic faculty, and asked: what can we do?

In the first meeting that I attended, the general graduate student council reached out to the Black graduate student group to ask What Can We Do and to seek help with writing a statement condemning the deaths of the last couple of weeks. Though my first inclination, on hearing this, was to join the necessary letter writing committees, a point brought up by another student gave me pause. The student asked why we couldn’t just send them the letter and list of demands that was written ten years ago when an event so racist took part on campus that the Black student group was compelled to declare a state of emergency to address it. An event that, moreover, sparked other racist acts aimed at Black students. Occurring during the winter of 2010, this time period would eventually become known as Black Winter and would inspire parts of Justin Simien’s movie Dear White People. In the second meeting, our focus was more on checking in, but eventually the question of what the University can do came up. A question that was posed by University leadership to Black faculty. The demands from Black Winter emerged once again. We, both then and now, were being asked to bear the brunt of racism and the bear the weight of fixing it.

After Winter 2010, Black students and faculty sent the University a list of demands that focused on increasing the admissions, retention, and on-campus support for historically underrepresented minorities like Black students. Not only were the Black students, and students of color in general, who were the victims of these racist acts, tasked with fixing them, but only the bare minimum expectations were met by the University. The admission of Black undergraduate students increased from approximately 2% in 2011 to nearly 3% of the student population in 2019-2020; diversity, equity, and inclusion courses became mandatory for undergraduates in Fall 2011; and a Black Resource Center was opened in 2013. Several demands, like an increase in accountability for discriminatory behavior or more focus on improving retention rates for Black students and faculty, were not fully met.

So, what can you do?

Well, we told you. Every time something like Black Winter or George Floyd occurred, we asked and demanded to stop being treated like second-class citizens. And yet, here we are. Again.

What can you do?

Why do you come to us for the answers? Many of you are researchers and academics yourself and there are countless books, articles, blog posts, research reports, etc. that have been written about how to address racism and anti-Blackness.

What can you do?

Why do you come to one of the smallest minority groups on campus to do this work for you? Can’t you see that we are tired? Can’t you see our anger, our sadness, our fatigue?

What can you do?

Someone on twitter joked that the academic version of “thoughts and prayers” is “we will form a committee”.

What can you do?

You can let me breathe! Let me be a student without having to fight for my right to exist at every turn.

What Can You Do?

Do your own research! Stop making Black people at this University fix problems that we did not create. Or, at least, do not expect us to do this labor for free. Pay us.

What can you do?

 You can leave me the hell alone.

Sincerely,

A tired Black woman just trying to get her Ph.D.

Dear Dr. (All Lives Matter) – #BLM Guest Video Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

~~~

Video by Trinity C. Johnson (Bio and pic below)

.

Trinity C Johnson, MPH, was raised in Atmore, AL. She holds a BA in Psychology from Stetson University, and a MPH from Rollins College. While pursuing her MPH she taught middle school math for two years with Teach for America in Orlando, FL. She is currently a second year PhD student at the University of Central Florida studying Integrative Anthropological Science with a concentration in medical anthropology. Her research has a specific concentration of maternal health access for Black women in rural America. She plans to complete her dissertation in her hometown of Atmore and in Birmingham, AL through completing an ethnographic study on healthcare utilization and comparing healthcare infrastructure of the cities. Along with her academic work, she is a diversity, equity and inclusion expert. She has created and facilitated DEI trainings for 3 years professionally.

Note from Karen: Trinity and I discussed potential risks of putting this content online and she confirmed her commitment.

Black Boy Trials: Killing Black Boys By the Court – #BLM Guest Post (Poetry)

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art also welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

DeFINEd is a spoken word artist, author, and speaker from Dayton, Ohio. She is a first generation scholar, graduate of The OSU with a dual degree in Philosophy and Psychology as well as dual minors in Theatre and Africana Studies. Most recently, she attended and matriculated from The United Theological Seminary where she received her Masters of Divinity and has begun community workshops for Getting To Know Grief. DeFINEd has authored 3 books of poetry, Shhh…, There Are No Right Words, and Questions of Blackness. Her award winning poem “My Heroes” about little black boys as action figures was inspired by an art project which contrasted the plights of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin plus stories in between of black boys denied justice. 

My Heroes

by DeFINEd

~~

Little black boys

are da most valuable action figures-

where I come from

We run da fastest!

 (shooms)

 super speed!

We jump da highest, stand da tallest!!!

We are stronger den everybody

(uhhh uggh)!

We think da mostest!

We are da best at EVERYTHING!

Our death rates even da highest,

(slump, snore)

just playing, I still ‘live hehe.

Dey don’t make many models of us tho,

Momma say it cost too much

and white folk only see one color- green.

BUT dey make us life sized!

5’2 to 6’9

erybody fit dat description!

and since one skin tone has to represent all,

dey just make us da nigga hue.

Okay, dat don’t sound like much

but erywhere we go,

we get more den 1 look.

We are da coolest!!!!

I prove it!

I had dis one,

he had da purple and black jersey

he played basketball

and he was strong

he beat da hulk…

at one on one!

He was like crossover, crossover,

going right SYKE! going left

driving down the lane

MONKEY DUNKED ON DAT HULK!

Hulk a sore loser,

He tore up the court

but dat’s cuz he knew he wouldn’t score no way

HA

and der was dis one

he had all dese long gold chains

and da fast red car!

Mercedes benz vroom vroom!

He got all da barbies…yeah

I mean, I ‘ont play with barbies

my sister she told me

see she was always talking bout

she couldn’t never find one

so I gave her one of mine,

my momma said I had to share…

wait, where was I?

oh yea

Black boys, why we da bestest

They age us 12-20

well cuz most of us get recalled by 21

our shelf life not dat long

But if you’ve ever been

Black Boys ‘R Lynched

you know dat from the moment

was first manufac, minyfac

from the moment we was first made

we had targets on our back

That’s why we run so fast,

it’s our onliest hope

of escaping those that try to cell us.

We jump high and stand tall

well, because we rather be typecast than shot at.

And we are stronger den erybody

cuz dey beat us everyday

try to whip us into character,

when we say we not da same.

Scottsboro 9, Jena 6, Emmett Till

My cousins back at home,

Death immortalizes the young.

It takes courage to be one of us,

Little Black Boys don’t live too long.

We make da best action heroes tho,

everybody want one…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Black Boy Bullets

by DeFINEd

~~

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root

Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees” (Strange Fruit excerpt, Billie Holiday)

Black Boy Bullets

have replaced nooses made for niggers

no more strange fruit

hanging from poplar trees

Brass badges got farmer’s markets

That pop up in our streets

where blue black lives hold tight to triggers

squeeze out Black Boy Bullets for bebe guns

resurrect little boy blues

little boy little boy

BLACK BOY

when blue shoots

assume the position

hands up

back open

can’t breathe

inhale Black Boy Bullets

the new jim crow

the same sad tune

No more nooses hanging niggers

strange fruit stolen from poplar trees

brass badges profit off farmer’s markets

placed in walmarts

With just one phone call

Blue black trigger fingers

Dial home

Smile for the camera

Point and shoot

black boy bullets humming little boy blues

Momma

why can’t I

go out and play too?

Why sidewalks hold funerals

and swimming pools too?

Why you beat us

but we scare you?

Crying black boy bullets

assume the position

nooses made for niggers

backyards target practice

Blue lives pull the trigger

But black lives hold the gun

Only the guilty would run

Strange fruit stolen from poplar trees

To fund farmer’s markets with prison sheets

and trash bags

Ever since

Blue Black lives

Agreed to

donate their backs

To black boy bullets

cement body bags

6 by 8 cell burial plots

Farmer’s markets

Ran by

brass badges

no more strange fruit

on they poplar trees

Too many flies

They want us fresh

They want themselves alive

Crying blue lives matter too

This one fit the description

He had a history

Don’t shoot me

I’m just the messenger

I wasn’t on duty

NO INDICTMENT

I was doing my duty

NO INDICTMENT

I was standing my ground

NO INDICTMENT

They music was too goddamn loud

…no indictment

And they wonder

why we call it

a holding pattern

Context:

My Heroes and Black Boy Bullets are poems I wrote between 2014 and 2016 which speak to a question which has been hauntingly  articulated in 2020  but echoes throughout racism’s deep and pervasive history. When do I go from being cute to a threat?

From 2013 – 2014 I was finishing my final year of undergrad at Ohio State. In the year prior Trayvon Martin was murdered.[1] During my final year a Public Safety Notice went out from campus police describing a suspect as being a black male between the ages of 16 and 22 with variable heights as well.[2] In the midst of working on an art final I had requested to do which showcased the deaths of young boys like Emmett Till and Trayvonn Martin and the subsequent defamation of character after their murders, I wrote My Heroes. As I began listing the ages of the Scottsboro Boys, Jordan Davis, and a number of others for whom the judicial system had failed them, or worked as designed I should say, my despair grew.[3] The persecution of black males, black females, black trans people, black lgbtq+, of the black existence is an old and still very present epidemic, a truth some are just now accepting.

While I expressed this in my chalk rendering, I did so in my writing also.  I wrote this poem out of a place of deep exhaustion, anger, and frustration that my brothers, friends and strangers alike that I looked up to, could not walk our campus and classrooms which they paid and worked hard to attend without being accused of not belonging and fearing for their lives. I wrote it out of frustration and weariness of feeling the need to call my biological brother and suggest he not visit any time soon for his safety.

 “My Heroes” is a spoken word poem which lives in the tension of the collectible action figure, profitable within its box and label thus assigned and a threat outside of it. It is written in the voice of a young black child calling out the stereotypes of black boys admired and sought for their athletic attributes and prowess but feared and killed for it when white supremacy feels threatened and stands their ground. Their bodies must either be for sale or put in cells, otherwise their life is not valued.

Similarly, “Black Boy Bullets” written in the wake of John Crawford, Mike Brown, and Walter Scott reimagines the reality of lynching today previously captured in the Strange Fruit poem of Abel Meeropol and popularized by the soulful sounds of Billie Holiday.[4] Rather than the lynching characterized by nooses from trees, modern day lynchings are apparent in the wake of rampant police brutality which leaves our bodies in the streets for hours, and refuses to indict in the court months or years later. This reality is captured through the farmers market by brass badges, phrases I coined in this ode to black boy blues. I call them black boy blues because a bebe gun in the hand of black man in a Dayton area Walmart “justified” his murder in the same way a toy gun in the hands of a 12 year old in a Cleveland park “justified” his murder.[5]

Ultimately, the reality is we are not just now tired. We been tired, and some of us numb, even. Our accolades, suits and ties, degrees, respectability politics, none of it can protect us from a world offended by being asked to respect, at minimum, Black Lives Matter, These poems speak the victimization black boys and men, but I’ve also written about the violence enacted against black women and black girls as someone who sees herself in the tales of Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, and, most recently, Breonna Taylor; as someone who fears for her life at home and on the road.[6] Yet I question who will read and listen to the tales of black girls and black women, there rarely seems to be a right time to talk about us.


[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/florida-teen-trayvon-martin-is-shot-and-killed

[2] https://dps.osu.edu/2014-04

[3] https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/scottsboro-boys

[4] https://www.litcharts.com/poetry/abel-meeropol/strange-fruit

[5] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/tamir-rice-and-americas-tragedy/amp

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/breonna-taylor-birthday-george-floyd-protests-louisville-a9551946.html

Translating an Uprising…. And Other Things That Are Not My Job – #BLM Guest Post

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

Leah N. Crowder is a doctoral candidate and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. In June 2020, she and Mimi Borders founded Black Grad Mentors to connect aspiring Black graduate students with scholars in their field. Leah teaches Introduction to Humanitarian Aid at The University of Arizona, where she is a Visiting Scholar of Human Rights Practice. Connect with Leah on Twitter or LinkedIn

Note from Leah: This post should not distract from ongoing work against police violence. For a fresh, reliable voice on the abolition movement and the roots of American policing, please follow @MsChelsea_J on Twitter.

I am one of two Black researchers in my department. But I’m light enough to pass. Not as white, but in that ambiguous way that shields me from the targeted comments you see in #BlackintheIvory

I don’t think my colleagues knew or thought about my background until I wrote a think piece on criminology’s race problem. After living through a brutally suppressed uprising in Turkey as an exchange student, I focused my research on the Middle East. Some acquaintances assumed my family was from the region. Most (rightfully) didn’t care. But, surprise! I’m *descendant of slaves and sick of this BS* Black. 

Passing in criminology means seeing how people discuss race-dependent issues when they aren’t pushed on questions of anti-Blackness. Four hours before I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder, I sat through two research presentations on how to increase trust and legitimacy in US policing. Race did not come up once. This was right after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery sparked nationwide calls to action.

I came up with a list of questions about participant demographics, the collective grief of police violence, police reliance on petty fines from predominantly Black communities, and the impact of mass incarceration on police-community relations. We ran out of time in the Q&A and none of these issues came up.

I do not research any of these issues. They are just part of life in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In a Zoom call full of professional policing, sentencing, and incarceration experts, nobody mentioned that race may be relevant in a conversation about police trust. I do not believe any individual on that call is actively racist. But the collective blind spot made it clear that my academic field reinforces institutional racism.

After I publicly stated my Blackness on the department blog, a few scholars and media outlets asked for my “expert opinion” on how to fix policing in the United States. I declined and referred them to longtime activists because I don’t represent all Black Americans and my work does not focus on US policing. Still, a few white academics replicated my arguments and spoke for the entirety of Black America. They were lauded as “insightful” and “brilliant”. 

Nothing in my piece was new or rooted in “expertise.” I repeated the same points we have been making since Black women launched #BlackLivesMatter in 2013. Since LAPD officers beat Rodney King in 1991. Since the NAACP took on Jim Crow in 1909. The people who live this reality are too often left out of the conversation. My cousin, who lived through Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, explained the uprising better than I ever could. Nobody is asking for her expert opinion.

Last month, I was discussing Black liberation texts in an all white reading group. I argued that the revolution the authors discussed will not come from the academy. Instead, it will come from people who are tired of being spoken about and not having any institutional power. Just last month, this was a controversial opinion. Today, people around the world are rising up against the institutions that reinforce oppression, toppling monuments, and burning police precincts known for dehumanizing practices. In Oxford, England, 3,000 people showed up for the first of many Black Lives Matter protests and #RhodesMustFall is trending again. 

I am a palatable Black face that, until now, has just been grateful to have a seat at the table. But what is the point of sitting at a table built on the exploited trauma of marginalized communities?  Where everyone who got there, myself included, translated human suffering into career progression? Where “giving back” means sending research participants a book copy but doing nothing to address the issues we write about? 

At this point, I will probably never have a Black professor. But I have worked with a long list of scholar-activist mentors who encouraged me to translate my anger into both academic work and advocacy. If you want to be that person but you’re not sure how, please read the list of action items I’ve included below.

How non-Black academics can make the ivory tower a little more welcoming: 

  1. Continually open discussions and listen to Black students and faculty before grievances become a collective list of demands. 
  2. Don’t assume that Black students would be better off with mentors who look like them. It is not fair to expect the few Black faculty members to do the unpaid labor of supporting every Black student who comes through the university. 
  3. If students have questions about race in academia that you just can’t answer, refer them to @blkgradmentors for a free one hour discussion. Please try to offer general support first.
  4. Center Black works and embrace messy discussions about race. Saying the wrong thing can be embarrassing but silence leaves a deeper impact.
  5. Support your colleagues if they get reported for discussing race in class. This happens frequently and most department heads just tell them to apologize.
  6. Don’t expect Black students and faculty to be experts on all race-dependent issues. Many of us welcome respectful requests for personal reflections, but a quick google search will get you the statistics you’re looking for.
  7. If you have ever used the word “oppression” in your research, help dismantle the structures you study. Not as an academic. As a person. 

Special thanks to Prof. Mary Bosworth, Prof. Maha Nassar, Prof. Maggy Zanger, and Prof. Julia Clancy-Smith for encouraging me through obstacles. They are what inclusive mentorship should look like. 

______________________________