For my fellow white academics: It is wonderful that we are all feeling a renewed sense of urgency around the important work to be done in our profession. But, here are a few thoughts about how to do that productively and in ways that don’t burden our PoC colleagues.
1. Be thought- and careful when contacting Black and PoC colleagues: You may want to reach out to PoC scholar that you know. Be careful how you do that. If you’re not already close with someone, popping up to ask how they are doing is going to be awkward and just require them to put energy into an crafting an appropriate response. This kind of “checking in” can quickly become about you. About your guilt or need to do something, anything, in the moment. And you can inadvertently become another source of stress and exhaustion.
This is where an ethics of care comes in. Is what you’re doing a form of care? Does it ease a burden or provide support? If not, interrogate your motives further. It’s not the road to heaven that’s paved with good intentions.If you want your PoC colleagues to know you are in their corner, consider ways you can demonstrate that publcly. You don’t have to email every PoC you know and tell them. They will see your social media feeds and your actions and know.
2. Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. A lot of us are feeling urgency, and that’s good bc racial oppression IS urgent. But, we need think about long term structural changes that are within our power. Shorter: keep that same energy 6 months or a year from now.
3. Balance making space for PoC voices with making more work for PoC scholars. Try to find ways that you can let PoC set the agendas, identify changes to be made, and speak their truths without forcing them to take on work they don’t want or need right now. Every time you ask a PoC scholar (especially Black folks right now) to help you write a statement, craft a syllabus, help with your personal growth, etc, you are asking your colleague to revisit trauma. So, it had better be the only option.
You’re going to want to put PoC in charge of these responses. But maybe they don’t want to be in charge. Maybe they’d like to know their white colleagues could craft a stmt or syllabus on their own. The bottom line is, give people a choice. Make opportunities for PoC leadership and make space for PoC voices. But make it clear that there is an option to say no. And if they say no, it will still get done and won’t be a disaster. PoC scholars are expected to spend a lot of time working on “diversity and inclusion.” It’s psychologically difficult under normal circumstances. It’s much much harder now.
We white folks need to be the ones to do the unglamorous daily grind of undoing structural racism. If we “don’t know” what needs to be done, then we haven’t been listening.
4. When scholar of color do want to take on certain roles, let them. Actually let them do it in they way they see fit. (Self-explanatory).
5. Mentor and network. This is particularly for senior folks. Making opportunities for people is important. But, you can do a lot to also make people feel like they belong (when so much is telling them they don’t). Go out of your way at conferences to talk to young scholars of color. Impressed by someone’s work? Send them an email. Those small interspersonal interactions can help a young scholar to known they are seen and recognized, and therefore belong, in their field. Give actual real feedback on people’s work.
There is this phenomenon of performative mentorship that is really insidious. An established scholar will support & mentor a marginalized scholar in publicly visible ways, but will never put in the work to help them develop. It’s great that you are bringing PoC scholars for talks and celebrating their work publicly. It’s VERY important.But, no one enters a PhD program with no room for intellectual growth. And PoC scholars need people to push their thinking, just like anyone else. If you’re not sitting with people’s work, helping them nuance and dig deeper, anticipating criticism they will get and helping them work through it, poking at places where the connections seem weak, then you’re not help that young scholar push their thinking.
You know how to position that scholar’s work in the field. You know how to strengthen an argument. You know what criticisms are most likely and can help them be preempted. If you’re putting a spotlight on young scholars of color without helping them make their work as strong as possible, you’re throwing them out into a hostile profession unarmored. Why make them figure out how to deal with this on their own.
6. You’re going to screw up. White supremacy is a centuries old system of domination that reproduces itself at every level society. It’s irrational to think you will somehow figure out a way to perfectly thwart it in your own actions.I’ve heard white people say that, when it comes to race, they feel like they “can’t win.” That no matter what they do, it is still somehow racist. CORRECT. That’s systemic white supremacy. It leaves you with bad choices and slightly less and choices.For example, you want to release a statement from your organisation in support of BlackLivesMatter.
- Scenario 1: Your all-white board writes and releases as pretty solid statement. Your org is criticized for issuing a statement on race that has no PoC authors involved. Or…
- Scenario 2: Your all-white board contacts several PoC members to get their feedback on the statement. Your org is criticized for making more labor for your member of color.
You cannot “win.” Correct. Because the problem is that there are no PoC members on the board. And even if there were, it would still be difficult for them to participate in writing the statement. And that’s structural. If you think you are going to be the white person to magically figure out how to make perfect choices that only resist and are never complicit in white supremacy, you’re naive. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try. It means you have to try harder.
7. Which all means that we white folks are going to just have to learn to absorb negative feelings and keep it moving. We WILL mess up. Every choice will make WILL fall short. If this deters you, then this was never about justice for you.White people have a long history of shallow engagement that primarily serves to make us feel better and doesn’t actually change much. We have a history of sudden flairs of urgency that slide quickly into complacency.
You might be criticized for not doing enough, or for trying too hard (and wanting recognition as “one of the good ones”), or for getting it wrong. Likely, all of these criticisms will be true to some extent. Listen, recalibrate, try to do better. Your feelings will get hurt. Your feelings are not the point.
This is why “Black Lives > white feelings” is a slogan. You’ve got to just take your low level discomfort and bruised ego and deal. Process your feelings and biases somewhere away from PoC and get back in the game. Because people are dying. I do not exclude myself from any of this. I guarantee there is someone reading this thread and rolling their eyes as they remember some f*ucked up thing I did. But, you just keep grinding. Or you decide to give up and tacitly endorse terror and genocide.
So, fellow white academics, if you ever want to talk, let me know. I’ve been there (hell, I’m still there). Let’s see if we can figure out more ways to do work with each other and let PoC rest.
The original thread is put into this post for a better shareability with permission of the author. Only minor edits are done (like replacements of emphasis from asterisks to bold or lengthening of appreviations.