By Dr. Christopher Metzler
There has been considerable debate among my colleagues about Black scholars and the production of Black scholarship. On the one hand, some White academics complain that Black scholars spend too much time on “ghetto scholarship.” This usually refers to Critical Race Theory, Africana Studies, and the impact of racism on our lives, both historically and contemporaneously. On the other hand, some Black scholars argue that we have a responsibility to study, analyze and write about the continuing significance of race in a thoughtful and substantive matter.
The reality is that the halls of academe are dominated by many White, imperialistic scholars who are rarely taken to task when they write about cultural issues of their choosing, i.e., feminism, essentialism, etc. Yet, many of them see no problem with marginalizing Black studies. Moreover, many of the same ones proudly call themselves liberals and, as such, believe that their White privilege endows them with the inalienable right to judge African diaspora studies by ostensibly neutral standards. Of course, since they set the standards, they determine neutrality.
For all its talk about diversity, the academy lags shamefully and unapologetically behind corporate America in this regard. One only need be a member of the academy to experience the contradiction between what the members of the “ivory tower” say and what they do. So then, does this mean that if Black scholars take to heart the responsibility to interrogate the ways in which racism affects our people, we will have no recourse but to join the faculties of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s)? Does it mean, moreover, that a generation of Black scholars will be discouraged from the pursuit of “black scholarship” if they expect promotion and tenure? Will we take the bait of imperialistic “liberal” scholars and model the segregated American society? For at least two reasons, the answer is a resounding no.
First, we have an obligation to study the continuing significance of race, whether on the faculties of majority institutions or HBCU’s. Second, in my experience, we need to confront the arrogance of so many White liberal academics who preach inclusion, yet routinely “Jump Jim Crow,” as they say. If we do not, we will do a disservice to academic freedom and the civil rights movement, both of which are critical to the advancement of our scholarship.
We should define for ourselves what scholarship is and then rigorously pursue it. I, for one, am tired of the academic institutions that airbrush Black faces onto their Web sites, while far too often relegating Black faculty to the institutional margins. Or they attempt to hire chief diversity officers, as if a CDO alone could change the deeply embedded culture of denigration and disrespect that many Black academics face.
When all is said and done, the goal posts for achievement are set up by the dominant culture in the academy. Many of us reach those goal posts, only to find that they have been moved. So, we have to ask ourselves, is this about “Black scholarship” or about the imperialistic, hegemonic nature of the academy?
Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University.