“A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown.”
Mark 6:4b, NLT
The above sacred text claim, situates the critical analysis that we will make within this opinion-editorial (Op-Ed). Explicitly, we embellish the ancient writing found in the book of Mark, by arguing that Black scholars can receive external awards, external funding, external fellowships, external organizational appointments, external invitations to deliver keynotes, and external recognition from peers for the holistic work that they render, in, and across academy boundaries. Despite this, Black scholars face, internal racism and microaggressions, disrespect, and dishonor, within the institutions where they serve, and call “home.”
Before going deeper with our assertions, we (the authors that pinned this piece) also acknowledge that dishonor, is not the sole experience for Black scholars and administrators, who serve in higher education. Specifically, some of our Black colleagues are thriving, receiving genuine support, and feel a sense of workplace belonging within their respective institutions of higher education.
To further this point, in a recently released Diverse: Issues in Higher Education article titled, Next Phase of a High-Impact Career, which illuminated the legendary and remarkable career of Dr. Shaun Harper, who holds numerous very impressive and distinguished appointments at the University of Southern California, Dr. Harper shared, “Every Black person deserves to be as respected and as loved and appreciated as I’ve been over these last six years at USC,” he says. “It’s not lost on me that mine is an incredibly rare experience, which I think is really unfortunate.”
However, the “unfortunate” persistent and systemic dishonoring of Black scholars, which we contend is rooted in anti-Blackness, is what we unapologetically voice within this Op-Ed. This issue has been well documented by Black scholars throughout the years. For instance, in an article titled, (Re)Deining departure: Exploring Black professors’ experiences with and responses to racism and racial climate (Griffin et.al, 2011), the authors highlighted that participants shared “they believe some of their colleagues see them first as black and second as professors.” Within their findings, Griffin and colleagues also stressed the racialized experiences of participants, when it became time for tenure and promotion. Many of them expressed that their credentials and research were second-guessed during the evaluation process, which sadly, aligns with the narratives of many Black professors who seek tenure and promotion.
Due to the persistent acts of institutional racism, lack of respect and empathy for Black scholars, and outright undermining and bullying, which takes a toll on one’s emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health, some Black scholars and administrators, have decided to leave their institutions.
In an article titled, "The spook who sat by the ivory tower: A Critical Race Theory narrative of a Black man’s journey within the academy', which is featured in the book, The Beauty and the Burden of Being a Black Professor; the lead author of this Op-Ed (Dr. Whitaker), shares his experiences of dealing with dishonor and racism, within his professional settings, when he writes:
“In my own experience within the academy, I have also experienced The Look from faculty and staff colleagues. For example, on one occasion a Vice-Provost asked me to share my research agenda at a faculty meeting. During the entire 15 minutes I spoke, I had never experienced so many blank stares, eye rolls and outright disrespect. At that moment, I discerned the looks I received from my faculty colleagues as suggesting that I was not qualified to speak to them about research, scholarship or anything intellectual because I was not, and will never be, on their level. There have also been times when I have tried to speak to colleagues at campus functions, only to have them give me The Look, which meant they would not engage me at public events.”
As noted, the dishonoring of Black scholars, is not a contemporary issue. In a 1971 published article, titled: "Through the back door: Academic racism and the Negro scholar in historical perspective", Winston (1971), gave a keen analysis of Negro (Black is the term we now use) scholars, within the academy, when he writes:
“Like Negro intellectuals in general, the small groups of scholars have been regarded by hostile whites as either freaks or a menace, discomfiting because their very existence challenged the prevailing racial stereotypes and the system of racial accommodation, in which whites were presumed superior, black inferior” (pg.678).
And let us not forget that arguably the premier Black scholar, of all times, Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, despite having impeccable credentials and leading groundbreaking studies was dishonored by The University of Pennsylvania, during his appointment at the university in 1896, because of institutional racism; but rather, he was given the title of assistant instructor.
The co-author of this Op-Ed, Dr. Hilton, shares his experience of dishonor.
I have been in the academy for many years and have the stars and scars to show for it. Higher Education is a very challenging environment for anyone but particularly for scholars and administrators of color. For those of us who are, we must become accustomed to the constant questioning, the second-guessing, indeed the lack of interest in anything we might have to say. We are made to feel as if our combined presence and silence are all that is expected or required of us. You can either accept it or you can try and change it; I have chosen the latter. I believe these institutions of higher learning want to be better in every way and are looking for ways to improve. We help them rise by making improvements to these institutions one at a time. It begins with us!
In closing, we intersect the central law of improvement inquiry, into our concluding arguments of the dishonoring of Black scholars, which is “Every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results it produces” (Langley et al., 2009, p. 79). Therefore, a system that is built on white supremacy and anti-black racism, at the core, does not have the capacity to honor the brilliance and humanity of Black scholars.
Nevertheless, as Dr. Bettina Love asserts to Black students, which is also applicable to Black scholars, let us remember that “Anti-Blackness is not bigger than Blackness. Never question your genius, your humanity, your intelligence, your beauty, Never question it.” For this reason, despite of the dishonor that we might face as Black scholars, let us continue to honor one another, honor the sacrifices and traditions, of the Black scholars who came before us, and most importantly, honor our true work, which should be, standing in authentic solidarity with the students and communities that we serve!
Dr. Ronald W. Whitaker, II is an Associate Professor of Education, Director of District and School Relations, and Director of the Center For
Urban Education, Equity, and Improvement Cabrini University & Scholar of Practice in Residence at Duquesne University.
Dr. Adriel A. Hilton is an Associate Professor of Education at Southern University at New Orleans.