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‘Treatment’ does not confer ‘status.’ – affirmative action – Column

Many opponents of affirmative action argue loudly and unflinchingly
that race should no longer matter in the academy and that preferential
treatment for scholars of color is divisive and unconstitutional.

Somebody in the academy needs to shout, “Amen! Let’s stop the
preferential treatment.” But the kind of preferential treatment of
which we speak results in a disadvantaged status for scholars.

This issue has received little attention in the national discourse,
but in the spirit of President Bill Clinton’s national dialogue on
race, let’s talk. The following are five examples of
“not-so-preferential treatment” experienced by scholars of color:

“Am I Invisible, or What?”: Scholars of color are often denied
validation by their White peers. Statements like, “John made an
excellent point,” or “Building on Mary’s previous statement,”
particularly when spoken by leaders and influential members of the
institution, would serve to elevate and promote less powerful

In discussions, comments offered by minority scholars are
frequently met with eerie silence or blank stares. After the silence,
conversation continues as though nothing has been said by the scholar
of color. Not infrequently, the same comment that was ignored will
later be repeated by a White participant and receive laudatory comments.

Sadly, this pattern can also be found in scholarly journals, where
professors of color are seldom mentioned as the voice of authority or
wisdom and are infrequently cited.

Smiles that Lie: Perhaps out of fear of being accused of
insensitivity, many White colleagues will avoid giving junior
professors of color — and even their graduate students of color —
honest, helpful, and supportive feedback that will assist them to gain
tenure and status in the academy.

“This looks wonderful to me,” is the verbal response, said with a
smiling face, that is often spoken directly to professors of color by
White colleagues giving a critique of a paper. Yet behind the smile is
deception. The difficulties with the paper, obvious to another reader,
are ignored. Sometimes, as a result, scholars of color don’t find out
about those difficulties until their formal evaluation sessions.

“You People Are Just too Sensitive.”: Scholars of color are accused
of nostalgia if they research historical issues involving race. They
are forced to defend research choices if they involve people who share
their racial identity. And, they are frequently forced to participate
in conversations where their objectivity has to be defended. Scholars
of color are frowned upon when they introduce their experiences into a
scholarly conversation. The scholar of color is said to be too
sensitive when he or she speaks with a voice of commitment and
compassion. He or she is said to be too preoccupied with racism.

“My Black Colleague said…”: White scholars who wish to dismiss
the perspective of colleagues with whom they disagree often evoke the
name of another scholar of the same ethnic group — one who can be used
to contradict the scholar with the disagreeable perspective. In the
positivist and empirical world of the academy, it is unimaginable that
a White professor — in an effort to substantiate or discredit a point
— would evoke the name of another White professor, citing their
Whiteness as the basis of their expertise.

“This, too, Will Pass.”: When Whites feel personally guilty and
wounded because professors of color discuss racism, a common response
is to change the nature of the conversation. For instance, a discussion
of racism is abbreviated in favor of a discussion of discrimination
based on gender, disabilities, and sexual preference. While each of
these issues merit discussion, none is a substitute a for discourse
about racism. It’s as if Whites believe they can avoid dealing with the
race question by shifting the discussion and waiting patiently for
interest in it to pass.

The national dialogue will remain hollow and dishonestly stagnant
as long as we focus the discussion on the so-called preferential
treatment of scholars of color and ignore the discussion about the
preferred status accorded to Whites in the academy.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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