“Racial Intruders and Closed, White Shops: Reading Collin Craig’s and Staci Perryman-Clark’s Troubling the Boundaries”

By Carmen Kynard, St. John's University

A WPA and senior administrator went to the office of the only black female professor in the department to explain that her black female graduate student/mentee was too bold in her suggestions about how to handle departmental racism in her 4Cs presentation (a presentation the conference showcased with one of its most prestigious awards) because the student will alienate scholars (white scholars?). This is only one of the recent, everyday events that I have experienced in relation to racism, mentoring, and the academy. I know these counter-narratives that Craig and Perryman-Clark tell all too well.

We should all understand that gross disparities continue in education, income, employment, and housing between whites and non-whites. While quantitative data shows the structural racism in which we live, racial inequalities manifest as lived, daily experiences. We see this dailyness in Dr. Craig’s and Dr. Perryman’s experiences when we move past the idea that these are individual acts of meanness or ignorant, isolated comments. If we understand these experiences as microaggressions, we can challenge the tropes the CWPA president deployed: her idea that these are “small acts of racism”; her urge to call on the emotional response of perpetrators. By microagression, I am referring to what educational psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines as daily indignities, intentional and unintentional, that communicate racial insult to people of color.[1] When racial perpetrators are confronted, they usually deny that their actions are intentional, a rhetorical construct that obscures racial violence and maintains white power by keeping people of color “in our place,” by being locked outside the doors of a closed, white shop (quite literally in Craig’s case).[2]

The metaphor and literal sign of the closed shop become all the more relevant when we look at the numbers. As of 2005, 3% of all full professors were black and of that small number, 63% were men (a percentage almost identical to 2003 and years before). With half of these black professors teaching at HBCUs, less than 2% of full professors at white universities are black. At community colleges, the percentage of faculty of color decreases more.[3] Meanwhile, black female faculty report more alienation and significantly less job satisfaction than black male faculty.[4] Thus, the counter-narratives that Craig and Perryman-Clark provide are part of a larger pattern that speak to the work we must do to recognize and speak to the severity of structural racism.[5] I mean something beyond the white liberal mantra of having more dialogues.[6] I am also not talking about corporate-styled management and promotion of diversity. Where, at minimum, are the rigorous research commissions that tell us who is recruiting and retaining faculty of color successfully, how those faculty are experiencing their universities, what racism looks like in our field, and how to rigorously and theoretically interrogate how we know we are doing something about it?

For my part, I am most interested in supporting young faculty of color, color-conscious scholars[7], letting them know they must fight and write back. The racist microaggressions they experience are not imagined and they must combat feelings of isolation. I am interested in acknowledging, meeting, and greeting the radical white allies who see, notice, and publicly critique racial acts rather than justify their color-blindness and white comfort.

If the shop is closed for scholars of color, then the doors are not likely swinging open in a real way for students of color either. That makes the work ahead of us all the more critical.

 

Acknowledgements

I am grateful for Professor Collin Craig and Professor Staci Perryman-Clark for eschewing the cloak of bourgeois, professional silence where folk of color are only expected to talk about the dailyness of racism quietly amongst ourselves and never to or against the people, organizations, and structures that maintain it. I am equally indebted to Joe Janangelo and Tim Dougherty for seeing this as more than another academic moment where we read the newest published research privately in our own heads rather than deal with the racism that we have inherited as scholars of this field.

 

[1] See Sue, Derald Wing, et al. “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice.” American Psychologist 62.4: 271-286; Sue, Derald Wing. Microagressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley, 2010; Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact. Wiley, 2010. For foundations of this theory, see: Pierce, Chester, Jean Carew, Diane Pierce-Gonzalez, and Deborah. “An Experiment in Racism: TV Commercials.” Education and Urban Society 10.1(1977): 61–87. See also Davis, Peggy. “Law as Microaggression.” The Yale Law Journal 98 (1988-1989):1559-1577; Solorzano, Daniel. “Critical Race Theory, Racial and Gender Microaggressions, and the Experiences of Chicana and Chicano Scholars.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 11 (1998): 121-136.

 

[2] If, for instance, the white woman who bolted the doors of the conference dinner venue when she saw Craig (and then lied about extending an apology) and the white man who treated Perryman-Clark’s professional development strategies as sexual opportunities were exhibitions of an unintentional racism, we should shudder at the thought of what an intentional racism would look like.

 

[3] See Smith, Daryl, Caroline Turner, Nana Osei-Kovi, and Sandra Richards. “Interrupting the Usual: Successful Strategies for Hiring Diverse Faculty.” The Journal of Higher Education 75.2 (2004): 133-160. The usual, tried-but-untrue argument about these stunningly low numbers of faculty of color locates the problem in the pipeline: namely, that there are not enough applicants and doctoral students of color. This belies the fact, however, that minorities from some of the most prestigious fellowship programs have not been sought after, even before the economic downturn and hiring freezes that we see across colleges and universities. It is never a coincidence when power, status, and jobs are concentrated among people who look alike from one generation to the next.

 

[4] See Turner, Caroline S. V. and Samuel Myers. Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000; Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr. Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Workplace: Recruitment, Retention, and Academic Culture. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000; Stanley, Christine. Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White College and Universities. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., 2006.

 

[5] I am purposely juxtaposing Craig’s and Perryman-Clark’s counter-narratives with quantitative data. As Jacques Rangasasmy has argued, quantitative data shows us the magnitude and location of institutional racism and can establish targets and pragmatic agendas for future change. However, as Rangasasmy argues, quantitative data alone cannot show us the symptoms and outcomes of institutional racism, especially the hidden inequalities that lurk underneath patterns of structural racism, in the way that counter-stories and qualitative work do. See Rangasasmy, Jacques. “Understanding Institutional Racism.” Institutional Racism in Higher Education. Eds. Ian Law, Deborah Phillips, and Laura Turney. Trent, UK: Trentham Books, 2004. 27-34.

 

[6] My argument here about the limits of just having dialogues has been influenced by Angelina Castagno, one of the critical contributors to Unlikely Allies in the Academy: Women of Color and White Women in Conversation. Castagno particularly argues that dialogue is a safe place for white women. She criticizes this white-safe-place because it does not push our scholarship, teaching, and committee work enough in order to make a real difference in the lives of people of color in and out of the academy. See Dace, Karen, ed. Unlikely Allies in the Academy: Women of Color and White Women in Conversation. New York and London: Routledge, 2012.

 

[7] I use the term color-conscious as a direct and opposite negation to the predominance of the kind of colorblindness that Eduardo Bonilla-Silva interrogates in Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism And the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States(Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).

On Microaggressions

Hi Carmen,

Thank you for raising these incisive ideas. I hope everyone reads your blog and your notes in detail. Your purposeful juxtaposition in Note #5 stays with me.

It's infuriating that whenever "too bold" people identify and explore microagressions, the counter-change is that "they" have inflated or mis-characterized people and things. Carmen, can you suggest any ways we might respond to that accusation?

Thank you again,

Joe

Micro-aggressions

Thank you for your question, Joe!  I am sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner on this but have been mulling this over in my head for some time.

I think the notion of "racial microaggressions" has gained some wider currency these days, at least in the circles where people are willing to talk about race and everyday material realities that are shaping the experiences of students of color in education.  But I think this dominant counter-charge that we are just too sensitive or misinterpreting intentions when we make public note of racism is VERY theoretically rich and not explored enough.  As a black woman and person of color, that kind of counter-charge casts me a crazy, irrational, illogical, and, well, frankly, stupid.  These kind of expressions have, at their root, an epistemological system rooted in the belief of the intellectual inferiority of racially subordinated groups.  I must also wonder if the charge that I am too sensitive is just a euphemism for saying: hey, you don't have to drink at the separate water fountain anymore, so things are better for you!  What else do you want from us?  And I really do mean this here: you have to wonder how and why the white woman who locked Collin Craig outside of the conference (with her assuming he was one the basketball players/intruders because he is black) could justify such actions with the claim of her non-intentionality.  I mean really: what kind of violence would intention unleash if this is the realm of non-intention? Of course, we know what this intentional violence looks like around the world  (or on my street corner c/o the NYPD) and so we need to theoretically make these connections.

I think we need to remember that these counter-charges of irrationalism are part of justificatory logics for racism that we have always seen.  I think here of Ida B. Wells's 1895 work, The Red Record, still one of the most formidable accounts of lynching that we have.  We have to remember that many white people did not believe her accounts, thought she was crazy, doubted her literate capacity to even produce the text, refused to believe in the innocence of the masses of black people who were lynched, insisted that racial progress was being made (after all, slavery was over), and often thought, at best, that lynching was just the exceptionalism of a few violent zealots.  It's only historical hindsight that lets us see Ida B. Wells as NOT misunderstanding white intentionality and larger racist systems when she spoke out on issues no one wanted to hear. We certainly cannot look back at this historical Red Record and see large groups of privileged and/or dominant groups at the time who were willing to call out and see lynching as part of the daily, sustained practice of racial terror and apartheid.  We shouldn't expect such insights and racial challenge now either.  The only thing we can do is exactly what Ida B. Wells did: leave the record behind!  This is what Craig and Perryman-Clark and this blog are doing for the field right now... putting us on the right side of history so that, for those of us who want to do the work of really seeing and hearing, we can create a different kind of future.