I am Not My Hair (or skin)

I happen to teach at a great College with qualified faculty and strong student-teacher relationships. Honestly, I never knew that faculty members could be so united. But here, it is very common to find at least 5 faculty hanging out together well after work hours and on weekends. This may sound like a bit much to some, but on such a small campus, strong collegial ties make for a strong power base. In essence, we have each others’ back.

While I’m grateful to have good relationships not only within my home department, but also across disciplines, I’d be remiss not to point out a gaping hole in that social web: lack of faculty of color.

This is of course not a surprise given that so few people who get PhDs are of color and even fewer choose to work at small liberal arts colleges. That said, I am still troubled by the isolation I feel as I walk across campus, eat in the cafeteria, and attend all faculty meetings.

Anyone who has ever been the ‘only’ can cosign on my next point: I am t.i.r.e.d. of representing an entire demographic. This problem is exacerbated in academia because I am not only representing the African American community, but I am viewed as the sole authority on all issues ‘diverse’ and ‘urban’. No matter the discipline, scholars of color are always sought to voice the narrative of ‘oppressed’ and ‘marginalized’ populations. And frankly, I (we) am (are) sick of it.

Yes, my skin is chocolate brown and I have an afro. But my physical appearance does not qualify me to speak on behalf of an entire ethnic group. I can only speak on behalf of myself and my experiences. Is that the information you want? If not, I suggest you read scholarship about issues in minority communities and listen to the narratives of members of minority communities. And for the love of God, STOP STOP STOP trying to ‘help’ by doing week long community service projects wherein you bring YOUR solutions for what you PERCEIVE to be ‘their’ problems. If you want to help, open your mind, educate yourself, and try to think beyond your own experiences.

I digress. My major point here is that every day I struggle. I struggle with the hypocrisy of my course listings. Why, even though my degrees are in Psychology do I teach courses on Urban Education and Diversity and Equity in Education? My efforts to read, listen, and experience have ensured that I am well qualified to teach such courses, and I strongly believe in their importance (especially on a campus where over 70% of the students come from families whose yearly income is higher than $250,000).

But like other scholars of color, I am faced with the lasting question: If I don’t teach it, who will?

The story of my life

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6 comments on “I am Not My Hair (or skin)

  1. […] Let me be clear: I am not stating there is a racial difference in the academy. What I am stating is that it appears to be a racial difference when in fact, I theorize it is a power difference. Scholars of color at top-tier institutions are more likely than scholars of color at lower ranked (not low ranked) schools to be addressed by their first name; however, they are still less likely than White scholars in that realm. This is because even when you are a faculty of color at a highly ranked school/program, you still struggle with power dynamics (especially women of color). Reminding your colleagues that you too are highly qualified and an expert is sometimes necessary when they underestimate your knowledge and skills (or when they encourage you to teach classes about diversity. See my post I am Not My Hair (or Skin) ). […]

  2. […] or Learning? ) in academe, the modest pay (The Price of Pedagogy ), lack of faculty diversity (I am Not My Hair ), and the arduous journey toward a PhD (Academia is a Lonely Place). My points in those posts […]

  3. […] clock. I also wrote a post about my tokenism in the academy and being the ‘only’ (I am Not My Hair ). What is notably similar despite our vastly different fields are our perceptions of gender-based […]

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  6. […] class.  A few examples (of many great, honest posts) worth checking out are on the exhaustion of being the token minority, dating (or at least hoping to!) as an academic, and maintaining personal boundaries in […]

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