Things in 2016 That Make These 2 Black Faculty Members Go Hmmmm - Higher Education


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Things in 2016 That Make These 2 Black Faculty Members Go Hmmmm

by Robin Hughes and Natasha Flowers

The year 2016 took us back some 20 years to Arsenio Hall’s shade-filled monologues. He would begin with a particular for instance, something that didn’t make sense to him within his own construction of reality and context. He would then follow up with the most beautifully laid out deconstruction of such an illogical or nonsensical moment.

Dr. Robin Hughes

Dr. Robin Hughes

Back in the day, those shade-laced monologues began with the simple worlds, things that make one go hmmm. Today, young folks would begin similar monologues with “When you …”

We found ourselves going hmmm or “when you …” even more so today in wonderful 2016 with all its post-modern, post-racial, 21st century glory, making America great—for some people—rhetoric. This afternoon, we started tweeting our own racialized “instances and situations” that made us go hmmm in 2016. When those tweets became too character laden, we started penning this piece. What do you do…?

  1. When you have to engage in self talk before attending a meeting with other faculty, students or parents to prepare for a racially charged conversation—no matter what the topic.
  2. When you are referred to as a Black professor similar to the Black in front of quarterback, setter or engineer or medical doctor, but then reminded that “people” absolutely don’t see color.
  3. When you think you have to submit to certain journals and submitting requires that you check the editorial board for conscious people of color and critical White scholars. Then you have to go into the journals database and count how many articles they have published with the words critical or Black or Latinx, or Native, or Indian or Asia, or gender or … . Then you have to look at the phenotype of the authors to find out whether they actually publish people of color. (Yes, I said that. I count number of Black people specifically.)
  4. When publishing houses and presses seem to be able to or would rather publish work from White scholars about Black lives mattering or Black experiences than those Black folks who have lived those experiences as Black people for 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years.
  5. When you have to listen to faculty gush over the older White male scholar for being so prolific, thoughtful and profound, and no one seems to be able to connect the dots that clearly indicate that particular groups all publish in the same places, serve on the same editorial boards, are reviewed by their mentors and mentors’ friends, and are mentored by the same folks on those very boards, etc. Sprint used to call it the “friends and family plan.” In the academy they are constructed as The GOATs (greatest of all times). However, has anyone actually considered that the White prolific scholar made it because an entire world made sure that this scholar made it?
  6. When you have yet to hear anyone say of the same profound and prolific scholars in number 5, “Uh, you should be doing that and more because your whiteness as property perpetuates White supremacy—especially in the #academysowhite.”
  7. When people of color (POC) are even gushing over the same White faculty members listed in 5 for saying and doing and writing about what POC have written about and lived for centuries. They cancel out decades of pre-emancipation, pre-Affirmative Action, pre-Barack Obama revolutionary writing that did not garner global sponsorship or respect. Yes, the pathology is sick.
  8. When folks are calling for healing and even national days of healing, without taking responsibility for, talking about, dismantling, or thoughtfully eradicating the violence that is the root cause of the healing. Start with recognizing that many of us, Black folks and POC, have never lived in or recognized a post-racial world and are deeply offended every time we hear that proverbial cow hockey. And we have neither rested nor healed since we got here or since other folks land was taken.
  9. When you write about Black schools, Black space, Black lives, Black sexuality, Black hiring, and just being Black and the next great White professor writes about one topic in one article that you and other POC have written about for decades and the New York Times and a number of other places AP the article, as if it were the newest line of research or, better yet, the second coming of whomever.
  10. When those same scholars in number 9 argue, “Must I be a member of that group to study a particular group?” We would say, let folks tell their own stories—back off, then think about how colonization and gentrification work, because that is what you are doing. Also read some bell hooks, she writes, White scholars, please write about the ethical issues of White race privileging and supremacy that allows one to colonize the experiences of people of color. And please for the thousandth time, see Thompsons work, Tiffany, Friend of People of Color and, of course, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.
  11. When you enter your classroom or your own office, and folks are still asking who you are, whether you have seen the professor, or look frazzled when they lay eyes on you. They do a Three Stooges, “spit take” when you respond that you are the professor listed on the course or on the door. Who knew that Black people could heal colorblindness?
  12. When you serve on a committee and none of the applicants are POC and no one notices or has a problem with an all-male and all-White pool of candidates. Yet OEO encourages POC and women to apply.
  13. When everyone still claims closeness to the one highly favored person of color who worked on that institutional statement on the value of diversity; you know the one (see Christie, Colored friend of Tiffany)
  14. When folks are still using coded and structurally racist language like “tier one” and flagship to refer to your state’s university. You just wish folks would say traditional White and exclusive journal (TWEJ) and you secretly wish they would play Parliament and Funkadelics and reference the mothership to describe your institution.
  15. When you are constantly reminded of the same lone POC who is considered to be so smart, “exceptional and articulate” and you want to say not only no, but curse word to-the-no they ain’t. They are more palpable because they are safe and affirm whiteness as property. Most of all, they ain’t woke. Go read Christie, colored friend of Tiffany.
  16. When your response to racial pathology is referred to as resilience and you really want to take two aspirins and tell them do not call you in the morning. Because you know that resilience is a code word for how conscious and woke POC respond to the daily pathology of racism. It is also your deficit modeled code for a POC who made it despite your own self-described “self-inflicted adversity” and your own description of our “dreadful life circumstances” that seem to plague colored folks. (It can’t have anything to do with the violent nature of racially pathological people and structurally racist institutions.)
  17. When the one White person who is the resident Blackspert, Latspert, Indigiospert, or POCdemician has been socially constructed as the scholar who knows more about you and your people and is never checking for the next generation of critical White scholars to mentor.
  18. When Blackademicians and Blacksperts specifically spend less time mentoring critical White scholars and more time soaking up the praise and labels of allyship in comfortable communities and organizations of color and none in racist White communities where the racism is profound.
  19. When you get exhausted every morning because you can add an incident or situation to the list 15 minutes into the day.
  20. When the list kept going on and on and we keep asking why we are still going hmmm to the same racialized academic, intellectual, and life situations that have occurred over the last, oh, 50 or so years?
Natasha Flowers

Natasha Flowers

Arsenio would never deliver a fresh monologue given this predictable refrain. And we know that this tune will become longer and more repetitive as we are all lumped into and accepting of a category of thinkers, who fit neatly into a White monolithic construction of intellectualism.

In other words, the leather patch wearing, Schwinn bicycle with the bell riding, pipe smoking, Birkenstock sporting, hound’s-tooth jacket rocking, straight gray-haired combing, two-hour lecture giving, big word using, boring lecture delivering, all-White journal publishing, structurally racist institution upholding, plantation like working , academic work colonizing, White affirmation wanting, forever fall constructed professors might just be etched into our historical memories and current ways of knowing and living in this academic space for some time to come.

Unfortunately, our tea sipping, mint julep drinking, coffee club having, Plato and Aristotle loving selves will forever be sitting under some big shade tree in the quad—still going hmmm. How quaint.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes is interim executive associate dean in the School of Education and Faculty Athletic Representative at Indiana University. Natasha Flowers is a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University.

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