Monthly Archives: May 2009

Reframing the School Safety Debate (Notes from AERA, Part 1)

by Dr. Emery Petchauer

petchauerLast month I participated in the 2009 American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting along with thousands of other educational researchers. Each year the meeting is an incredibly stimulating time for me, especially since it comes late in the academic year. One element of the meeting that always stimulates my own intellectual work is hearing research that is a bit outside of my own area of expertise, but that asks piercingquestions and attempts to answer them in creative ways. In this two-part entry, I want to give attention (albeit streamlined) to two researchers’ research agendas from AERA that are doing just this.

If the ideological lines within the issue of school safety could be drawn to create two camps, one would be those who believe that hard-nosed, zero-tolerance policies (including surveillance cameras and metal detectors–as modeled by correctional facilities) are necessary to keep schools safe and remove the “bad apples” when necessary. On the other side of the ideological line would be those who share the same ultimate goal but believe that such policies criminalize youth, make schools look more like prisons, and create dehumanizing learning environments.

Dr. Decoteau J. Irby’s work on school safety and violence emerges from a penetrating understanding of the competing ideologies and discourses on the topic. With such an understanding, he de-politicizes and reframes the issue in a way so that educators, researchers, and policymakers on both sides can see it in common ways and actually work together to make schools safer and more humanizing.

Dr. Irby does this by framing school safety according to the concepts of net-deepening and net-widening. His recently completed dissertation at Temple University applied these concepts in an empirical examination of the changes in the Philadelphia Public School behavioral codes and system of punishment over a 15-year period. Essentially, the study illustrates (a) how over time and according to recent educational initiatives aimed at urban schools, the behavioral code expanded to define and include more student behaviors as deviant (net-widening), and (b) how the penalties for infractions have became more severe (net-deepening). As an example, the study illustrates how a behaviors such as running in the halls were not classified as deviant in the past, and how other behaviors such as cursing at a teacher can now receive more severe punishments through classification as verbal assault instead of simple disrespect.

An approach such as this that gives us new ways of seeing also makes research easily translatable and transferable into the public domain—a quality that is too lacking in educational research. As the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have to make some clear decisions with No Child Left Behind in the near future, it is research of this nature that they should review to inform their decisions.

For more information about Dr. Irby’s work, I invite readers to contact him directly at decoteauirby@yahoo.com.

In part 2 of this entry, I will give attention to Dr. Bree Picower at New York University and her work on the “Tools of Whiteness” explaining how White teachers in urban settings maintain dominant racial hierarchies.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

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Are a Boy’s Chances Better at Becoming a Sports Star or a Doctor?

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by Dr. James Ewers

I often ask young children, especially boys, what they want to do when they reach adulthood. One of the most repeated answers is that they want to become professional athletes. The two primary sports that they have an interest in, and not to my surprise, are basketball and football. It seems that basketball almost has turned into a cult sport. Many boys want to, in some way, identify with Dwayne Wade, Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant. The goal of being a sports star is expressed by students as early as elementary school. So it is not shocking to hear some of the same answers coming from boys at the middle school and high school level.

I have often wondered what is the appeal to being a professional athlete? When I was coming of age in North Carolina, I don’t believe I thought once about being a sports star. My friends, as we mused about what would be our life’s work, didn’t mention athletics as a possible career field. Is the draw to being a professional sports star linked to money, fame or  visibility? I suspect that it is a little bit of all of these things. My professional career goal I considered when I was young was either to become a lab technician or a lawyer.

Professional sports stars are all around us as they fill our airwaves daily. I would suggest that today you can find a professional sports team on television 24  hours a day, every day of the year. Now, that is what I call sports overload but that is the current state of affairs. So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised when we hear our children say they want to be the next LeBron James instead of the next Dr. Benjamin Carson. By the way, you may want to read his book entitled “Gifted Hands” which chronicles the life of this gifted surgeon.

Professional athletes, even retired ones, have been getting a lot of attention lately. Let’s just take the case of Brett Favre, who for many years was the star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. He “retired” in a tearful ceremony just a few years ago only to come back last season and play with the New York Jets. He then announced after the season that he was going to retire “again”. Now at this moment he is being courted by the Minnesota Vikings. So some young boys see this kind of scenario playing out and they think that in some way this is cool and this is what living “large” really means. They say ‘maybe I want to be like Brett.’ What young boys don’t understand and what adult men don’t emphasize enough is that professional athletes live in an unreal environment. In the real world, you just can’t jump from job to job, and think that it’s okay.

It is my opinion that the hero worship given to athletes begins at a tender age. Over time, I have watched a number of sports being played by young boys and girls. I have had to smile as I listen to parents urge their children on to score the next basket, or hit the next ball. Don’t get me wrong as I think it is very important for us as parents to encourage and support our children. When my children were young I did the same thing. However, I wasn’t in the coach’s face demanding that my child get more playing time or, worst yet, trying to be a sideline coach. When a child is six or seven years of age they don’t really care if they score a goal. They aren’t looking for their name in the newspaper the next day. They simply want the “happy meal” at the end of the game. The winning and losing doesn’t stay with them very long. It ends when they get in the car. As a result of the emphasis on winning at an early age, it is not a wonder that some kids want professional sports careers.

Professional sports careers, in my opinion, are simply overglamorized. There aren’t many stores where you can’t find a jersey or a cap with your favorite player or team on it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful in some way if we couldn’t just “flip the script”, and put the names of successful people and businesses on jerseys and caps. Just for starters, maybe we could walk around with a Ben and Jerry’s (ice cream company) jersey or a Colin Powell cap. Yes, it is farfetched but we must balance a young person’s perspective about professional sports stars with a heavy dose of reality.

As adults, we know that there are only a limited number of opportunities in professional sports. In reality, a young boy has a better chance of becoming a doctor than he does of becoming a professional sports star. Planting early seeds about various career interests will help to broaden our children’s horizons. Providing them with information, taking them on excursions will also increase their confidence and broaden their minds. The next Dr. Benjamin Carson is out there!

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.

Black History, No More?

By Pamela Reed

pamela-reed08Now that Barack Obama is President of the United States, why don’t we just pretend that America wasn’t built on slaveholding?

If the spate of recent “post-racial” articles suggesting that we need no longer commemorate the African American struggle for freedom and equality in this country is any indication, this seems to be where we’re heading.

This is a classic case of the phenomenon called selective history/memory, or as some have termed it, historical amnesia.

We’ve been bombarded with calls to end affirmative action and claims of reverse racism. Indeed, it seems like just yesterday I was writing in defense of Black History Month, which is now deemed racist, counterproductive, and/or irrelevant by some prominent African Americans, as did Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist (and former editorial page editor) Cynthia Tucker in a commentary earlier this year.

Most recently, Corey Dade’s Wall Street Journal article “Civil-Rights Gains Test New Memorials’ Relevance,” poses the following curious question: “Does the America of 2009, led by an African-American president, need any more museums or monuments to the struggle for civil rights?”

Dade’s piece details the fundraising hurdles confronting the organizers of the proposed Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) in Atlanta. According to Doug Shipman, would-be executive director of the future CCHR, primary among them is the question that is apparently uppermost in the minds of some potential donors: “Why does it [the Civil Rights Movement] matter today?”

Perhaps this explains why, presently, public and private pledges total less than half of the $125 million needed for the completion of the historic 100,000-square-foot museum, scheduled to open its doors in 2011.

Hopefully, this problem will not carry-over to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which is moving toward its groundbreaking, and is tentatively set to open on the National Mall in 2015.

In an effort to broaden the pool of contributors, CCHR organizers have had to rethink their original vision of a monument dedicated solely to the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., housed in the city of his birth–and widely considered the seat of the movement.

As it were, there are still many who are in denial about the ugliness of America’s past. This segment of the population doesn’t want to even hearabout lynchings, cross-burnings, or the Ku Klux Klan, let alone see exhibits about them.

Says Lonnie King, a member of the CCHR planning committee (but not the MLK family): “There are people who wanted to turn it into a museum that will glorify a lot of things other than civil rights.” Consequently, although the 10,000-piece collection of King papers will be the centerpiece, only one-third of the facility will focus on King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Another third of the building will be devoted to early American history, particularly the enslavement period and the systemic discrimination that followed in the Jim Crow era. The remaining tierce will highlight the “modern era” of human rights struggles of other American groups since the 1970’s: primarily, women, Hispanics, and gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

This is a recurring theme in the African American saga.

Even the advisory council of the NMAAHC had to fight for its placement on the National Mall, which was built by enslaved Africans. The New York Times reports that BET founder Bob Johnson threatened to resign from the council if the long-awaited museum had not been built on the Mall. “To have relegated this museum to another site,” he said, “when people are looking to it to answer everything from the need for an apology for slavery to reparations, would have been the ultimate dismissal.”

Especially since at no time since the abolition of the “peculiar institution” of American enslavement has there been any program or initiative intended for the sole purpose of attempting to make whole the formerly enslaved–and their descendants.

Not one.

Not the Freedmen’s Bureau, formed during Reconstruction, and charged with rebuilding the lives of the newly “freed”–and the war-torn south, and poor Whites, andthe former enslavers who, by the way, were compensated for their lost “property.” In stark contrast, the Black Freedmen (and women and children) were–by and large–given nothing but the clothes on their backs…and a hard way to go.

Not affirmative action, which is routinely pointed to as a form of reparations for African Americans for centuries of enslavement. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Granted, because of affirmative action, many African Americans have made tremendous strides in the areas of business, education, government, journalism, etc.

But, let’s be clear. It is White women, as quiet as it’s kept, who have reaped the lion’s share of affirmative action benefits. And, I hasten to add, there’s nothing wrong with that, as they outnumber all other “minorities.” I’m just saying…let’s keep it real.

And, without question, women have suffered–and continue to suffer–grave injustices in this country, but that is a separate issue from that of the African American. By the same token, Hispanics have also been–and continue to be–treated as second-class citizens in America. The same is true for the GLBT community.

But here’s the problem. There is this constant effort to lump the Black American story under the “civil rights” or “human rights” umbrella. Moreover, the tendency to dismiss the singular experience in this country that is the African Americans’, like yesterday’s news, is downright disrespectful.

It’s like there is an expiration date or statute of limitations on Black history, after which it will be deemed irrelevant–or dead, even.

Frankly, I find insulting the suggestion that just because the American people have elected an African-American president, the past 400 years of American hegemony are no longer relevant.

This is simply not acceptable. Nor is it credible. It would be just as ludicrous to suggest that we should one day cease telling the story of the Trail of Tears, or other chapters of the near annihilation of the Native American peoples because one Native American crossed a certain threshold previously reserved for White Americans.

I mean, there’s a reason why we study past events, and why history is one of the oldest and most venerated of the disciplines of the academy. As Malcolm X observed in 1964, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.”

Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who is faced with the admittedly awesome task of bringing the CCHR to fruition, reasons thus. “If this center only looks backward it won’t be successful.”

While, I agree that we must be forward-thinking and embrace and promote racial and intercultural harmony, I believe that, in the long-run, we will do more harm than good to race relations by attempting to water down –or bury–the past.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic, and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

A Litmus Test for Commencement Speakers?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerEvery President since President Eisenhower has been invited to speak at Notre Dame’s commencements. So, why has President Obama’s invitation created such a row? It depends on who you ask.

First, many of those who oppose his invitation do so ostensibly based on Catholic social teaching and a doctrinal dedication to Catholicism.  That is, they claim that one who supports abortion rights and stem cell research and thus oppose Catholic teaching should not be honored with an invitation to speak at commencement or with an honorary degree. As a practicing Catholic I say fair enough. I would assume then that any President who opposed any tenant of Catholic teaching would not be granted this honor. My assumption is incorrect and thus the argument is flawed.

To be sure, the Obama commencement controversy is not the first. One wonders though why the amount of vitriol did not reach a fermented brouhaha when Bush41 was given the honor to deliver the Notre Dame commencement address. After all, Catholic teaching extols  the sanctity of human life without exception and makes no distinction whatsoever.  Yet Bush41 supported the death penalty and thus made the decision that “the sanctity of human life has exceptions.”  Ignoring the life question, he said in his address, “Today’s crisis will have to be addressed by millions of Americans at the personal, individual level for governmental programs to be effective. And the federal government, of course, must do everything it can do, but the point is, government alone is simply not enough.” So perhaps the vitriol depends on the political content of the speech as well as the political leanings of the protesters.

Bush 43 faced protest because of his stances on, among other things, labor and the death penalty. He said in his speech, “This University is more than a community of scholars, it is a community of conscience.” Neither Randall Terry nor Alan Keyes was present with gallows in tow.

Second, the analysis and discussion concerning the President’s invitation proves the power of the chattering class to define Obama’s Presidency in “post-racial” discourse. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, unlike all of his predecessors, the President is Black. Thus, if Notre Dame did not extend the invitation; the punditry would have certainly accused Notre Dame of being racist for refusing to extend the invitation.   “Post-racial” discourse is powerful because of its ability to ignore race and elevate “value-based” twaddle.

Third, let’s not forget that the very nature of a university is that it provides a platform for discourse even when all in the university community do not agree with the views of the speaker. Are those in opposition to the invitation suggesting that there should be a litmus test for commencement speakers? Should that litmus test be that no speaker should be invited to speak at commencement unless the speaker is in complete agreement with each and every tenet of espoused values of the University? Commencement then would be relegated to an intellectual merry-andrew buttressed by politically correct indoctrination.

 Moreover, universities would have to engage in a purging of “intellectual and community miscreants” where each and every member of the University community who does not agree with those espoused values are asked to unceremoniously  exit the University. The University then would create a list of those in opposition and then “burn them at the proverbial stake.” To be sure, Notre Dame is both Catholic and a university. Thus, the fundamental question is whether Notre Dame and others like it are Catholic universities or universities that happen to be Catholic. This is not merely an academic question nor is the difference a distinction without a difference.  Perhaps, some doctrinal and dogmatic soul searching may be in order.

The fact is that there is no university community in which all members live the espoused values of the university without deviation. To suggest otherwise is intellectually bankrupt at worst and unrealistic at best.  I am not suggesting that religious universities should not have the freedom to invite those who share our religious values to celebrate commencement. In fact the opposite is true. I am suggesting that religious universities in modern day America live, work and teach in an America that is increasingly secular, political and diverse. I am also suggesting that if we’re honest, we would admit that economics dictate that we cannot survive and thrive in an increasingly secular America if we do not find a way to interrogate secularity.  So, perhaps, the question is at what cost.

Fourth, the reality is that the Republican Party is in ataxia and they have used this invitation as a way to rally social conservatives. Both Randall Terry and Alan Keyes were arrested as part of the protest against the President’s invitation. My research did not indicate that Terry and Keyes are members of the Notre Dame University community.  Their pushing dolls in carriages despite it comic relief prove this fact. Let’s not forget that Keyes is the proverbial political bridesmaid and self-promoter.

Finally, abortion is a social and political issue that continues to divide modern day America much like slavery did. Thus, while I do not question the religious devotion of anyone involved in this debate, I do question the motives of those who have sought to politicize this invitation while pretending not to do so. The reality is that this invitation is shrouded in religion, politics and policy; I just wish that all sides would admit it rather than adopting the supercilious “holier than thou, post-racial” moniker buttressed by pretentious posturing that prevents serious debate in modern day America.

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University and the author of The Construction and Reticulation of Race in a “post-racial” America.

Slam-Dunking Sports Myths: Thoughts from a “dumb jock” professor

By Robin Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesAs a professor, one of my major jobs is to choose or follow something called a research agenda. Once chosen, we devote lots of time learning about that particular area, becoming somewhat of an expert and parlaying the information back to larger audiences (in theory, although some of us, quite frankly, do not). I study people, students-athletes in particular. They are a fairly easy population of folks to study, since athletes make up a large portion of the student population on most campuses — specifically Division II and Division III schools. In fact, I would assume that many of my colleagues in the behavioral sciences, education and the like would have similar interest and focus. Au contraire, mon frère.

I am often asked, why study student-athletes and who really cares? My knee-jerk reaction is to play the academic dozen. After all, I grew up in Stop Six, Texas, and many of us could take on the winner of that television show, “Yo’ Momma.” Somehow, however, I have been able to contain myself. Instead, I offer my standard intellectual answer, if I must call it that, “Why do we care about how any student experiences college?” While I am quick to speak up to such nonsense, I often wonder why this question tends to arise when I teach my class focused on student athletes, and never seems to take place when I mention that I teach a course on student developmental theory. The focus of both courses is on the student! I would venture to say, I am a real scholar dependent upon the title of the course. When I mention the word athlete, I become a dumb jock professor. I become what Dr. James Satterfield and I termed “Athletisized” or legendary creations of the institution, complete with the suburban myths. For athletes, unlike other student groups who participate in outside activities, say, like a musician or an actor, these myths tend to besmirch their character. Like all myths, however, there is some truth, but there is also whole lot of untruth.

Myth one – They do not graduate

One of the most troubling myths is this notion that student-athletes do not graduate, and their graduation rates are just too low. OK, well, the graduation rates are low. However, let’s be clear; they are not the only folks who are not graduating. When we really tease through the statistics about graduation rates, we find out that on many campuses, student-athletes not only graduate in general, but they are more likely to do so at a higher rate than or at least at close to that of all students.

Before the tomatoes are thrown, let me explain. There are other factors, which quite frankly, are typically not considered. Traditionally, we do not consider who is compared to whom. For instance, the graduation rates tend to be reported as a single data point for all groups. Those who participate in revenue-generating sports, like basketball and football in most states, and those who do not are lumped together. Single participant sports (like golf or tennis) make a big difference when calculating the overall graduation rates (another story – and quite interesting). In addition, when reports do disaggregate the data by sports, they tend not to sort by race. Can you recall having seen a report that compares the graduation rates for Black males who do not participate in athletics to the graduation rates of Black males who play revenue-generating sports. If you did, you might be surprised. In other words, the statistics can tell a thicker story. In the case of Black males who do not participate in sports, the data tell us that unwelcoming campus environments have something to do with whether a student stays in school. We (yes, us folks in the ivory tower) also fail to mention that the campus climate tends to be warm and sunny over in the athletic department. This leads me to the question: just what are they doing in athletics that we need to replicate on the rest of college campuses?

Myth Two- they are not so bright: The dumb jock

Athletes are supposedly less intelligent than other students. We hear; “they are only here to play ball.” They are just dumb jocks. They do not study, and they have lower “test scores.” Sadly, some folks still believe that standardized scores are the ultimate academic predictor and crystal ball of knowledge.

Never mind that research supports the fact that there are not only 7 or 8, but multiple intelligences. There is something called Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence — or the ability to use one’s mental abilities to coordinate one’s own bodily movements. There is also significant research that suggest that athletes have fined-tuned spatial awareness. Their brains are better wired spatially than the average person — similar to that of mathematicians. Again, Satterfield and I have argued that not only does the research support an athletic intelligence, but we also argue that elite athletes clearly must possess some mental and physical calculator. Otherwise, as Dr. Michael E. Dyson has suggested, how would elite athletes be able to effectively create the illusion of defying the laws of gravity by hanging in air? Borrowing from Dyson, if one is mesmerized by the musical genius of a Itzhak Perlman, and Wynton Marsalis, they too should be equally mesmerized by Michael Jordan’s ability to appear to hang in the air and sip a cup tea.

Myth three – it’s just not in the odds

Typically we hear that athletes should be cautious about pursuing professional athletic careers. The likelihood to land a position in professional sports from Division I sports is about 1 percent. This figure is supposed to serve as a deterrent. However, I would have to say that I like those odds, especially if I were thinking about playing the lottery. I would suggest that we just need to find another statistic to report. Better yet, why not report the odds of most hard to secure jobs out there? For instance, post the number of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or the odds of anyone who has an interest in becoming the president, or the odds of becoming an astronaut or an actor. Could you imagine, posting the odds of the many seemingly impossible careers and feats out there? Should we tell folks to give up that idea of president — it’s just not in the odds. So you want to become a brain surgeon? Well, it’s not in the odds. We could kill all kinds of dreams in one fatal swoop. I must say, I am elated that we do not post those statistics, and I hope we never do. Lastly, I would hope that we never post the number of Black professors who teach at institutions like mine. That figure is about 1 percent — one in one hundred — about the same odds to make it to the NBA from Division I ball. Hey, perhaps that’s why my students often ask me whether I ever played ball — the odds seem to be about the same.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

 

Ain’t I A Professor?

Ain’t I a professor?
Living an Authentic Academic Life as a Black Intellectual

By Robin Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesIn the last couple of months, I have mulled over an audience participant’s comment, which occurred during a national conference. To put it mildly, it has been quite bothersome. The comment/question was directed towards me. I took it as what seemed to be a passive aggressive assault on a paper that I had presented. During that presentation, I noted that it was a waste of time engaging in what some professors refer to as “playing the game”. I went on to state that other colloquialisms need to be reconceptualized as well. I stated that as scholars, we should not play games. We should care less, instead of being careful. We should consider tipping the boat over, instead of not rocking the boat, and that we should blow up the bridge instead of not burning any. My point being that these colloquialisms have influenced academic life, research, writing, and service to such an extent that it continues to mimic and perpetuate the same “mainstream and meaningless” jargon with little variation or voice from marginalized or underrepresented individuals. The audience member went on to state that he really wanted to learn about what he should be doing to keep his job. He asked what he should be doing in his present job. “ I want my job,” he lamented, in an almost sing-songy sort of voice. He laughed as if he had some great secret that he wanted to share with the rest of the peons. “He, he, he, I just want to get along…and plus, you cannot possibly be taken seriously or make it without some game playing.” In other words, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do in order to fit in.’ I took it to mean, ‘if you must publish in certain in places, then so be it. If you must write in a certain way, then so be it. Shut up until spoken to, otherwise your word is just mud.’ I play that day over and over again.

I had to ask myself, do I play games as a professor, and if I do, what do they look like? I have come to the conclusion, for now anyway, I guess in a sense some political maneuvering might be necessary—I think. However, I still refuse to endorse the boot licker, which he, the inquirer, clearly wanted me to support. So, following several months of mulling, I must conclude that playing the game, as he described, is still an indignant game. Now, instead I ask, why should I or anyone for that matter have to play games? Now, I am not saying that there are not certain things that you must do while a professor, but my contract, and interpretation of the promotion and tenure document, which I have now read several times, still does not list boot-licking as a criteria for personal and academic growth. I ask, ain’t I a professor? Ain’t we professors?

Now there are certain things that are expected of a faculty member in order to live in an academic space. However, I also know that one can live in an academic place and maintain one’s integrity. I would argue that the real question becomes somewhat close to the very question with regards to women that Sojourner Truth asked. I ponder, ain’t I a professor, and what does being a professor mean? In order to live in an academic place must your life be predicated by others who dictate exactly what you should be doing, writing, saying, thinking, publishing, teaching? I cannot help but refer to chapters one and four of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and think that this very notion sounds vaguely and grotesquely reminiscent of Freiere’s philosophies—a little Pedagogy of the Oppress’ish to me. However, many of us are inclined to follow those perceived rules of engagement. We make like Nike, and just do it. I would argue again that we do “it” because it is too risky to do otherwise. We all fear being pulled over for thinking, engaging and just plain old writing while black?

Think about requirements for tenure? Be prepared for folks to tell you exactly where you should write, submit to tier one journals only, and how you should write, use certain theoretical frames and write in a jargony fashion and you will be assured of tenure. I wake up some early mornings from the same frightmare that goes something like this: A full professor in sunglasses, driving a 1960’s model car with flashing red lights, pulls me over and says, “Keep your hands on the wheel and let me see your license to profess.” He hands me a citation. I am quickly reminded that I better keep to the rules of the academic police lest I getpulled over for writing while Black (WWB).

A student actually informed me that she was told to write stuffy in order to get published in certain journals and wanted me to help edit to make the piece stuffier. I cringed. I also said, no. I asked her what she meant by stuffy. You know, she replied, scholarly. I imagine that stuffiness to sound a little like Professor Henry Higgins forcing Eliza Doolittle to talk like civilized “folks” in the 1950’s scene from My Fair Lady. The result now, however, is even more comical and utterly ridiculous in many instances. Stuffiness might sound like, if you could imagine, a new-aged Cruella Deville, the dog napper from the Disney movie, a fiendish and “stuffy” accent coached by Professor Henry Higgens. Followed by of chorus, a long song and dance number to the tune of “The Rain in Spain” lies mainly in the plain, yadda, yadda, yadda……. I can’t help but ask, what is the purpose of higher education? I am under the assumption that at its crux is that of affecting change. However, some of our very students, the ones with whom we are to train, think that one purpose is to serve as a repository for garbally, gookish, gunky educational crud? I suddenly hear the annyoing voice of Steve Urkel, did we, faculty, do that? When in fact we know that the purpose of higher education, and education in general, is supposed to be much more. Admittedly, I, too, must be brought back to earth after seeing one’s name in lights (a hit on a CV). That is really not the goal. I often seek refuge in the writings of other scholars, those who assist me in the sanity and humanity of it all. One such scholar, Cornel West, writes:

“The academic system of rewards and status prestige and influence, put a premium on those few black scholars who imitate the dominant paradigm . And if one is fortunate enough to be a spook who sits by the door, eavesdrops on the conversation among the prominent and prestigious, and reproduces their jargon in relation to black subject matter, one’s academic career is set.”

It is clear from West’s writings as well, that assimilationist intellectualism and garbally, gookish gunk are not the intention of living an academic life. Much like W.E.B. Dubois advances with the idea of the talented tenth and the double conscious, he presents educators with the very real concept of living an authentic intellectual life. We, academicians, have just seemed to get it all confused. We get authentic scholarship and intellectualism sort of confused with reproducing the status quo, intellectual work which typically does not push the envelope and only scratches the surface of bigger social problems. Some how, the notion of living with a double-conscious and the talented tenth have become associated with Black bourgeois’ preoccupation with mainstream run of the mill, academic, good old folks network affirmation. This affirmation makes us too hungry for status to be angry (Cornell West) or to be cognizant that we have not only sold out to black heritage, but just sold to getting ours—whatever the ours maybe—White male affirmation so it seems. This affirmation clouds our thinking, and ability to live an authentic academic life.

W.E.B. Dubois’ philosophy of the talented tenth spoke to notions of exceptional people who would help to uplift Black America. He talked about folks like Ben Banneker, Phyllis Wheatley, and Sojourner Truth; men and women who strove to uplift their people. Somewhere along the line, however, many of us misinterpreted Dubois intention. A man who spent his last few years out of the public eye and in exile for his strong views, he was not talking about assimilating one tenth of the population of Black folks so that they could drive a Black man’s wish (BMW), wear tweed jackets, and walk the “forever fall campus” (a term by Diana Natalicio, president of University of Texas El Paso). His intentions were well spelled out, keeping strong ties to Black culture, performing service to Black communities, and working to uplift Black folks. In the talented tenth, he described living an authentic life as an American—yet remaining authentically Black and American in a racist world, and how those two things play out or if they can play out.

I still ask myself, can there be a happy marriage between the two—in the academy. I think so. But how does this happy marriage play out in the academy? How does one remain authentic, writing and professing while black? Can you live in certain spaces comfortably and remain authentic?

Yes, and I would argue that it begins the minute that future academicians set foot on the door step of the ivory tower–during the interview. I tell folks that you better know what you are saying yes to, before you sign on the dotted line. Because once you have made your promise to do and be a certain type of person, then that is who folks expect to see in the office come Monday morning. You cannot be Angela Davis in the morning and fill-in-the-blank, right-winged, identity-confused Black scholar in the evening. You have to know which face you are going to wash every morning, and living a double, assimilationist life might become a little confusing. Besides, once you have gone pseudo-Black, it’s hard to go back. But, my dear audience member would more than likely ask me, how many folks do you know who have been successful at not playing the game? I can name a few—a lot.

There are many scholars in the field who remain authentic, and have enjoyed fruitful careers. Think about the folks with whom you know and respect in the field. Think about what they write about, and ask what got them there. What got them through? What are they doing? Who respects their scholarship? Who respects them? There are a host of usual suspects who write from a critical framework, an Afrocentric framework who have been able to live an authentic academic life. Although I am quick to name full professors and associate professors, those who we consider to be pretty well-protected; there are others. There are junior professors whom we respect for “getting there” as their authentic selves, for daring to take a stance, to ruffle some feathers. There has been an influx of newly minted assistant professors, who at the time of writing of this article, convened several edgy presentations, and who dare to introduce Critical Race Theory to conference audiences, and traditional publishing houses, and to those who may never have the opportunity to indulge in such experiences (or who have ignored the writings and thus the experience). There has been a critical appearance of junior professors to the academy, who are speaking up about how they should write, to what audience, unique theoretical frames, teaching styles, content and authenticity and where they live academically. This is the talented tenth to which DuBois spoke. The talented tenth, who at times appears to be the talented 99% (actually I think everyone is talented—not all authentic though), is beginning to walk through the doors of the ivory tower, letting everyone know not only where they will publish, and to whom, but how they will teach and what. And , most importantly, how and where they will live in this academic space and the importance of an intellectual life and authenticity.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

The Perils of a “post-racial” Presidency

metzlerBy Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 A recent New York Times/CBS poll concluded that race relations are improving in the wake of the election of President Obama. According to the survey, about 66 percent of Americans said that race relations are generally good compared with 53 percent in July of last year. Fifty-nine percent of African-Americans – along with 65 percent of whites – now characterize the relationship between Blacks and Whites in America as ‘good,’ The New York Times proclaimed with glee, “Barack Obama’s presidency seems to be altering the public perception of race relations in the United States.” The Huffington Post also chimed in claiming that “Obama’s race relations effect is real.” 

 It seems that the single event of the election of President Obama has erased America’s racial transgressions in one fell swoop and has improved the relationship between Blacks and Whites overnight. The problem, however, is not relations between Blacks and Whites; there is no evidence yet that the election of President Obama has had more than a symbolic (but important) effect on America’s still unresolved and conflicted relationship with race.

 Obama’s election has not changed the fact that in this economic downturn, Black unemployment is at approximately 15 percent while White unemployment is at approximately eight percent. Since his election, racial profiling has not stopped, the educational achievement gap between Blacks and Whites has not narrowed. In addition, the President did not attend, nor did he send a delegation to the World Racism conference in Geneva. Thus, it can be argued that Obama’s election has had nothing but a symbolic effect on race. The difficulty with this argument is that it suffers from the same flaw in logic that is inherent in the New York Times/CBS News poll.

 First, the question in the poll was about race relations. That is, the interpersonal relationship between Blacks and Whites. But, the issue is not race relations, it is whether the President will use his bully pulpit to eradicate the substantive racial inequalities that afflict Blacks in America. Much like he will use it to bring peace to the Middle East.

Thus far, the President has been reluctant to do so in any meaningful way. He did chide Attorney General Eric Holder for stating that on the issue of race, America is a nation of cowards. The President said, “I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions.” The issue, Mr. President, is racial progress, not racial tension. Moreover, it is about action, not talk.

 The President has given no major address on race since his election nor has he implemented any policies that suggest a more inclusive approach to substantive racial equality than any of his all White predecessors. The President’s foray into the question of race came only when as a candidate the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail his ascension to the presidency. Is this a racial harbinger of things to come?

 In a “post-racial America”, the fact that Obama is Black restricts rather than expands his ability to implement racially substantive policies. The racial calculus in America means that the President must tread lightly on race lest he lose the support of those Whites who claim to be “post-racial.” Some Whites voted for Obama because he is not in the “radical” mold of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Rather, he is in the “acceptable” role of Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Second, some will argue that he can’t do all things immediately and that he should be given more time. Fair enough. He did, however, immediately decree the closure of Guantanamo Bay, ordered a halt to torture, and rescinded several executive orders by the Bush Administration. Thus, the question, is does a “post-racial America” mean that on the issue of race, his presidency will be relegated to a symbolic footnote? Or that while he was elected to solve America’s economic and international problems, he was not elected to solve its racial problems?

Third, the United States is fascinated with grading our Presidents on their progress in their first 100 days in office. One can argue as to whether or not this is an appropriate barometer. As the pundits and analysts pontificated and analyzed, noticeably absent from the discourse was any analysis of his progress on substantive racial equality efforts. Does this suggest that the chattering class have adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the issue of race? Or does it suggest that America understands and accepts that the black community is willing to trade symbolic victory on the issue of race for substantive victory? Thus, we are willing to avoid the critique of racial avoidance that we have leveled against his all White predecessors.

Fourth, regardless of the “post-racial” moniker attached uncritically to the President’s election, there is racial reality. There are four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that are dripping in racial verisimilitude and, which, depending on how the Court rules, can set the racial clock backwards. Assuming, for example, that the Court castrates affirmative action or renders the Voting Rights Act pointless in the age of Obama; will the President sit on the racial sidelines? And if he does, will this solidify the notion that the single event of his election is proof positive that America has moved beyond race? As a candidate, if these issues threatened to derail his candidacy, would he have acted? If so, how?

Fifth, perhaps it is a question of expectations. That is, why should we expect a Black President to be more racially inclusive than a non-Black President? Or is the question whether he is a Black President or a President who happens to be Black? The fact that these questions are being asked at all suggests that despite the desire by some to “move beyond race”, it is not as simple as it seems. Thus, dismantling racial discourse and substantive racial inequality requires a shift away from the “post-racial” claptrap that has debauched the descant of the Obama victory.

This means that Black advocates for substantive racial equality should not cower in fear of interrogating the first Black President about how he plans to deal with race. It also means that Whites who support the President should ask themselves whether that support is in exchange for his not engaging in any meaningful way on the issue of race.

 Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University and author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a “Post-Racial” America.