Racism in the US Academia

Dr. Boyce Watkins* wrote two years ago about how he had “never taken a class from a black professor” until he “actually became one”. He attributed this to the fact that many universities in the US did not hire black scholars. Watkins says when a university hires one, “they enjoy getting rid of them after concluding that they are not as qualified as the white faculty members”. Really?

This, need I say, is happening or happened in the US, nogal.

Watkins says – and trust me I somewhat agree with him – that if you are in the US and have attended a College there, chances are that you have interacted with a professor. However, you are lucky if you happened to “run into a black one”. He says “chances are, you probably never had a black professor in college.

A member of the finance faculty at Syracuse University, Distinguished Scholar with the Barbara Jordan Institute for Policy Research, and previously a Visiting Fellow at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics and the Centre for European Economic Research (Mannheim, Germany), Watkins says Shanghai University had a “horrible history when it comes to hiring black people who don’t dribble a basketball”.

Writes Watkins:

“I’ve had battles on this issue with my own school, Syracuse University, which has a horrible history when it comes to hiring black people who don’t dribble a basketball. Even Historically Black Colleges and Universities have this problem. Have you ever counted how many black professors there are in the sciences and business schools of HBCUs? The numbers might surprise you. Your kids are not being taught by black professors as much as they might lead you to believe.

“What is saddest, however, is not the racism of academia. Even more shocking is the manner by which many intellectuals (black and non-black) are “dumbed down” by the way scholars and professors are trained to think.

“Rather than exploring the world and engaging in high-action scholarship, we are trained, like monkeys, to sit inside our man-made bubbles within the ivory tower, focusing on minuscule, insignificant problems. Once these problems are solved, we are told to publish the work in academic journals, which are read by a very small number of people in our tiny little niche. We become like some Baptist ministers who are so caught up with the collection plate that they no longer care about God. Professors are here to share knowledge, and we’ve lost the desire to educate anyone other than ourselves.

“The academic bubble for black scholars is incredibly comfortable and inviting, and as destructive as a crack house next to a day care center. Throughout history, the best way to conquer a people has been to murder the scholars and intellectual leaders. African American scholars have not been killed in body, but in mind and spirit. We are lulled into a sense that “you’ve made it….you are the chosen negro,” which means that you can then leave behind all the problems of blackness in exchange for your comfortable seat in the ivory tower.

“If you are well-behaved and perpetuate the white power structure, you get to keep your position. When a black man gets shot by police, that’s not your problem. When Hurricane Katrina leaves dead bodies in the street, that’s not your problem. When significant black organizations go bankrupt and you have the expertise to save them, that’s not your problem. Your focus is on writing that research paper for the academic journal that only 30 people are going to read.

“After that, you take your vacations to Martha’s Vineyard and sip iced tea on the front porch of your summer home. That becomes your mission in life. The same way that Chinese citizens were controlled by Opium exported by the British during the 19th century, the spirit of the African American scholar has been neutralized by the comforts of the academic bubble.

“Most black scholars don’t come to academia pre-trained to have such a meaningless existence. You must be fully brainwashed to accept your new and impotent reality. Your first two years of doctoral study are spent asking your professors why they are discouraging you from doing meaningful work. They then explain to you that in “the academy, we only do things that are scholarly.”

Keeping it scholarly becomes the rule of the day, the same way some brothers in the hood choose to “keep it gangsta.” This means keeping a firm distance from those people in the “real world” whose opinions don’t matter nearly as much as your own because you are educated and they are not.

“If you’ll notice, most of the members of black academia do not engage in much professional association with people outside the ivory tower, the same way that some churches don’t want their members speaking to people with a different perception of God. Interacting with those who think differently becomes a threat to the psychological incubator you’ve created for yourself, making your ideas vulnerable to alternative points of view. I even recall hearing a prominent black management scholar tell me that my ideas were “dangerous” for young black scholars to hear because they would lead them to think about other career paths. When the suppression of ideas becomes the answer to your problems, that usually means that you, yourself, have become the problem.

“In much of academic research, whether your theory actually works in the real world is far less important than whether the so-called leading experts in your field have signed off on it. I would even dare to say that it was the reliance on many of these flawed theories that led to the collapse of our global financial system. People thought that because professors teach finance at Harvard, they actually know how financial markets work. Believe me, I’ve spent a great deal of time with black scholars in business and management, and I honestly wouldn’t trust them to manage a Burger King, let alone the world’s financial system. This is not to say that they are not well trained, rather, the lack of real-world experience makes their work incapable of having effective practical implications.

“The only logical way to rationalize the decision of black scholars to ignore the masses in exchange for journal outlets is to conclude that they’ve somehow been convinced that the second audience is of higher quality than the first. Speaking to 10,000 people without a Ph.D. is not considered as important to many black scholars as speaking to 20 people who have a doctorate. What is most tragic about such thinking is that it not only disrespects the humanity of other African Americans, but it also reflects the same kind of elitism that has always served to oppress the black community.

“Many of our most brilliant citizens have been taught to think small, selfishly and with great delusion. Our book smarts go through the roof, while our common sense has been left at the door. We live and die, and no one knows or cares that we were here. That’s the tragedy of black America, and the most glaring reflection of Carter G. Woodson’s ‘Miseducation of the Negro.’ The only thing worse than being fed psychological poison is to be given an overdose of that poison, which makes us, as black scholars, among the most intellectually handicapped citizens in our nation. Yes, I am part of that group, too, and I am working to outgrow my handicaps every day.

“So, if you went to college and wondered why your professor taught you a bunch of things that you never used in your career, it’s because he probably doesn’t even understand what you do on a day-to-day basis. The truth is that professors don’t need to understand what you do, and many of them don’t really care. If you’ve ever wondered why black scholars are never on the forefront of the most significant debates of the day, it’s because they would be punished by their superiors for speaking out on black issues. We’ve had a bubble built for us, our own little heaven. In this heaven, there is no crime, no poverty and no black struggle. There is only wine, cheese, bow ties and ivy. Our most powerful minds are enslaved, and I am not sure what it will take to free them. The intellectual suicide of the black American scholar has become one of the great tragedies of the 21st century”.

*Watkins is a finance professor at Syracuse University. He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, MSNBC, BET and more.


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