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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Academic Racism: The Repression of Marginalized Voices in Academia by Dr. Miguel De La Torre

*Expanded and revised October 11, 2018

Powerful image.  Courageous piece.  It pulls the curtain down on white privilege in the academy.  Dr. De La Torre is on point, "Scholarship can never be cutting-edge if one is ignorant of all aspects of their discipline."  I would even say that it involves a lot of personal sacrifice.  The beauty of this challenge that Dr. De La Torre lays out with respect to diversity, coupled with issues of equity and fairness, is that it's about figuring out how we can all get along better in the world. 

How much can we empathize, care, respect, and feel love for one another as a diverse humanity without one party requiring the other to hide, occlude, or feel shameful toward specific aspects of their being, including their ways of knowing and being in the world.

I write this at this very moment that Hurricane Michael wreaks havoc on the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia.  Are y'all keeping tabs?  Sadly, and with a deep sense of anguish that is keeping me up tonight, I still have Hurricane Harvey, Maria, Irma, and Florence in mind. 

Is the world taking note of what is happening to us here environmentally in the U.S.?  Perhaps they're enmeshed in their own environmental challenges and ecological crises, too. 

My message to all this evening is that we are an enormously diverse humanity—by race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, culture, language, religion, nationality, and so on, on the one hand, and that we are all on a collision course with Mother Earth, on 
the other.  

This means that us humans aren't only not always good with diversity, but that our relationship to the only Earth mother that we have is fundamentally flawed.  

We can begin changing this around by working on policies that reduce our carbon footprint.  Tax the polluters.  Require transparency in local, state, and national energy policies.  We can also cultivate subjectivities that are more ecologically progressive and Earth-focused, and social-justice oriented, too.

It all ties together, of course.  If we see (and are taught to see) women, people of color, immigrant children, African Americans, indigenous peoples, poor people, gays, lesbians, transgendered persons and so on as (reducible to) objects—or numbers on a piece of paper, in the Cloud—this maps on perfectly to an already, equally objectionable, objectifying posture that far too many hold toward the planet.  And much to our own peril, I fear.  

Ok, my abuela, my grandma' epistemology is kicking in right now.  I'm due soon to be a grandma again.  So I'm elated, of course.  But I am also very reflective of the world that we are leaving for the coming generations.

And I don't want to feel fear or be discouraged.  And I don't want anyone to feel this way as a matter of course either.  What kind of a life is that?  Yet that sense of dread, anger, estrangement, and hostility is at times so fierce that it threatens either to kill or to engulf.  

Pardon the water metaphor.  

Ok, bad taste...but it doesn't have to be this way, my friends.  

I refuse to let the evil spirit that got unleashed in this country with the Trump election to penetrate me.  To get anywhere near my family or my soul.  

And this IS what what that bad, evil spirit wants.  It seeks not to uphold diversity, benevolence, or democratic values, but to deny, weaken and de-spirit those constructed as "other."  

The same ol' punishing stuff that's hurting not just the kids, but everybody, prevails.  It's sad and pathetic to think that one of the primary preoccupations of federal and state government education agencies have after such disasters is with getting all the students tested.  Or they're focused on turning everything into charter schools, allowing the for-profit, charter sector to come in and take over.  This is "disaster capitalism," as coined by Naomi Klein that preys on communities at their most vulnerable. 

Alienated students is what we often see in the schools, most especially in those schools that are subtractive, erasing children's cultures, languages, and community-based identities.  By the fourth grade, sometimes earlier.  The children get de-spirited.  

Many are already so afflicted.  Too many forces opposing them and their families.  Poverty, food deserts, gentrification, ICE, and microaggressions at so many turns. Macro ones, too.  And yet our families largely remain strong, buoyed by high hopes for their children and the planet.  

And this IS a resource, my friends.  The incredible resiliency of our communities that we all so need to tap into.  

From a consciousness-raising perspective, the trick here is not to think of this as a radical break from the past, an extreme moment that we're in.  

Yes, it is extreme but we need to understand this as a logical extension and consequence of conquest ("invasion") and colonization and the colonial imposition on native peoples and their descendants of a culturally-specific way of knowing called "Reason" that however much we might dress it up, still ends up being consistent with oppressing native people and slavery, and forms of dispossession and dehumanization that continue into the present.  For 526 years, to be exact, beginning with when Columbus first set sail.

Like Dr. De La Torre, we all must have courage right now not because we're endowed with any particular or special faculties or capacities, but rather because fear and discouragement—even if they're not entirely avoidable—are luxuries that neither we, nor the geo-historical or geo-political moment that we are currently in, can afford.  We need all hands on deck.

I am confident that if we all just did our small part, our granito de arena, we might could re-make the world—even as it re-makes us.  

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
The American Red Cross is always a good organization to give to given their years of experience in relief work.  I am sure there are others.  

And please do read Dr. De La Torre's cogent piece below. 
This is an important read.

-Angela Valenzuela


Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.

by Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre
Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.
During one particular search, two of the candidates from different Ivy League schools provided problematic responses. The first replied that regardless of a strong commitment to diversity, they were unable to think of any scholar of color at the moment. The second, grasping for straws, offered the name Paul Ricœur, and then proceeded to convince me why this white scholar should be considered as representing communities of color. While these two particular individuals illustrate the depth of ignorance among many white academics concerning scholarship emanating from what will soon be – combined – the largest U.S. demographic group, others have provided slightly better, but no less uninformed answers. They have, for example, provided the names of scholars whose works were well known in the last century or have mentioned Latin American scholars as if they are representatives of the entire U.S. Latinx context. While these scholars of color are fundamental to the discourse, there use by the white candidate demonstrates a lack of in-depth knowledge concerning current contributors to the discipline.
Scholarship can never be cutting-edge if one is ignorant of all aspects of their discipline. As a Latino man, my teaching must not just include the thoughts and writings of Eurocentric and Latinx scholars, but also to the voices of Indigenous, Black, Asian-American, Queer, and Feminist authors. Lacking familiarity with the contributions from all marginalized communities does a disservice not only to my scholarship but, more importantly, to the students in my classroom as well. Many white scholars fall short of academic rigor because they can succeed, be published, and thus paraded as the fatted calf at the expense of better qualified and more knowledgeable scholars of color. They can do so because institutional racism continues to support a white affirmative action that protects their current positions and provides job opportunities while their counterparts of color must adopt a “double-consciousness” to not only understand the dominant culture’s discourse, but also their own.
Many white scholars fall short of academic rigor because they can succeed, be published, and thus paraded as the fatted calf at the expense of better qualified and more knowledgeable scholars of color.
Gaze upon your own academic department. How many Latinxs represent your core faculty? Our presence may be requested to demonstrate a politically correct diversity; nonetheless, our scholarship remains confined to our barrios. The voices of marginalized scholars must be kept at bay, for if they participated in shaping the academic discipline, they might reveal that a discipline that has been upheld for centuries as universal is in reality a privileged Eurocentric method of theoretical contemplation.
Students sitting in the classrooms of white professors are often prevented from obtaining a cutting-edge education because of the strategies employed by so-called top schools, either consciously or unconsciously, to maintain and sustain Eurocentric academic supremacy. And yet, every so often I receive a call from some well-meaning white colleague who considers themselves woke on issues dealing with diversity soliciting advice on how best to attract faculty of color. “We can’t find any scholars of color to hire,” is the excuse used to justify maintaining white academic supremacy. I don’t believe them. The reason most academic departments lack faculty of color is not because they can’t find any, but rather because they lack the will to hire any.
Academic departments, for decades now, have employed three strategies to maintain and sustain Eurocentric academic supremacy:
First strategy: Seek the darkest face with the whitest voice. Institutions prize scholars of color with colonized minds to reinforce and perpetuate Eurocentric thought. Quotas can be met without ever having to deal with perspectives being generated from minoritized communities. And if the scholar does hold students, colleagues and the institution accountable for their complicity with racist structures, they are labeled as hostile or angry so that everything they say can be easily dismissed for being too emotional, and thus void of academic rigor.
Courtesy of NSF.gov.

Second strategy: Deny tenure. Rather than seeking well establish scholars of color, a nontenured junior scholar can teach the diversity classes and then be denied tenure. Denying tenure is easy to achieve because 1) student evaluations for faculty of color and women (as multiple studies demonstrate) will always be lower when compared to the ideal (white men); and 2) because the person of color will be placed on every possible committee and/or situation dealing with diversity. Because they automatically become the unofficial mentor for every student of color in the department (and beyond), they lack the research time to meet publication tenure requirements. After seven years, the institution can find a new junior scholar of color to use, misuse, and abuse ensuring they will never amass the power to challenge, influence, or change the discourse at the institution.
Finally, the third strategy: Be radical for a limited time. When the institution begins to realize they lack academic rigor and excellence because they have systematically muzzled the voices emanating from disenfranchised communities, the rush is on to present these “exotic” perspectives in a way which may very well be uncomfortable but does not jeopardize Eurocentric dominance of the discipline. A popular tactic is to invite a recognized scholar of color in the field to serve as a visiting professor. While issues concerning diversity may be explored, when the appointment comes to an end, the scholar leaves and the institution need not fear the implementation of structural changes. Regardless as to how radical the scholar might be, after they are gone, the institution can quickly forget whatever challenges may have been raised and get back to “normal”.
Students sitting in the classrooms of white professors are often prevented from obtaining a cutting-edge education because of the strategies employed by so-called top schools, either consciously or unconsciously, to maintain and sustain Eurocentric academic supremacy.
Ironically, because whites by 2050 will cease to be the majority, any academic institution which continues to ignore the nation’s changing demographics do so at their own peril. Why? Because the U.S. context faced by communities of color will soon be the context of the majority of Americans. Continuing to ignore these voices ensures an absence of cutting-edge academic analysis. Indeed, academia is posed to lose its relevance for the emerging majority of Americans.
Now gaze again at your academic department. Maybe your institution is racist? How would you know? Well, your school might be racist if . . .
. . . white colleagues advise white PhD students they shouldn’t apply for tenure-track positions because of the existing discrimination against white men, even though the majority of professors at the school are white males.
. . . books written by scholars of color are absent from the class syllabus, and the token listed was published in the last century.
. . . students of color are unofficial spokespersons for their race or ethnicity, constantly asked what their community thinks about the issue being discussed in class.
. . . white faculty are eager to have students of color in their classroom so they can learn from them (even though faculty is being paid and not the student).
. . . a white adjunct professor informs you they too applied for the position for which you were hired but didn’t get it because they were white.
. . . the scholar-activist methodology employed by many scholars of color is dismissed, perceived as social work – not real scholarship.
. . . when discussing hiring a scholar of color, phrases like “maintaining academic excellence” or “not lowering the academic rigor of the school” are bantered around.
. . . when considering an Asian woman for a position, the Latino male colleague is informed they already have him to teach all that diversity stuff, thus no need for another one.
. . . you are asked to share your struggles and hardships from the hood, even though you grew up upper-middle-class.
. . . when discussing an offensive incident, your white liberal colleague assures you when it comes to racism, they “get it.”
. . . your fellow student or colleague assures you they “get it,” because they dated a person of color back in college.
. . . white students ask what credentials you hold that equip you to be their professor.
. . . colleagues question why you are teaching Kant instead of something more indigenous to your culture; while no one questions the white scholar who teaches Buddhism or Hinduism.
. . . the light-skinned Latina, during a faculty interview, is told she doesn’t look Hispanic, and hides it well; or when this same scholar is denied employment elsewhere because she does not look Latina enough.
. . . interviewees of color, during site visits, are placed in cheaper hotels and taken to less expensive restaurants than white interviewees.
. . . during faculty interviews, not all members of the search committee attend your presentation and fewer faculty showed up.
. . . you consistently make the short list at top schools due to your major contribution to the discourse; but, applicants with almost no publications – usually white – are hired because the “fit” is better, while the search committee continues to moan about the need to diversify.
. . . diversifying faculty is no longer limited to racial and ethnic diversification.
. . . adjunct and lecturer posts are over-represented by professors of color.
. . . as a student you mention a leading scholar of color working within your professor’s discipline; however, the professor confesses never having heard of the scholar.
. . . white female faculty define confident men of color as being too macho.
. . . white female colleagues possess a messianic need to save their sisters of color from what they imagine is a worse sexism than what exists among whites.
. . . when setting academic standards, white colleagues paternalistically offer to lower the criteria for students of color to get them through the program.
. . . your contribution to the discourse is an interesting perspective as opposed to the contributions of white colleagues, which are accepted as universal.
. . . when your presentation is praised for being articulate.
. . . when your presentation is met with awkward silence.
. . . when your presentation is attended by few if any white scholars.
. . . PhD students of color are told they will have no difficulties landing an academic tenured post.
. . .  you out-published all your colleagues, yet the academic rigor of your books is questioned by the dean; but when you ask which books, the dean confesses to not having read any of them.
. . . you out-published all your colleagues, and rather than recognizing that you out-produce them, rumors spread you must be plagiarizing the work of your students.
. . . you out-published all your colleagues, and rather than a critical engagement, white colleagues question if you really understand the issue.
. . . white students and faculty maintain the right to touch your body, especially your hair if you are black.
. . . Indian faculty hear from students and colleagues who claim they too have Indian blood; and those not making such a claim still insist Native communities have accepted them as one of their own.
. . . white colleagues and students perform sacred Indian rituals as part of their “new age” spirituality without having to be Indian.
. . . the vast majority of the students in a course germane to a community of color are of color.
. . . during faculty evaluations of professors of color, the one or two negative student comments raises red flags in considering promotion or wage increases; while the one or two negative evaluation of white scholars are dismissed as an aberration.
. . . white students express gratitude that you are their professor thanks to affirmative action; although it’s a shame some more deserving white scholar lost their seat to you.
. . . classes taught by scholars of color conflict on the schedule; while during evaluations, the dean expresses concern few students are signing up for your class.
. . . the focus for hiring scholars of color is outreach, recognizing many of the institution’s students come from that particular community instead of recognizing the need for white students to be exposed to a higher level of academic rigor.
Unfortunately, all these comments were either heard by me or were retold to me by a colleague of color.
DeLaTorre photo2.jpgSince obtaining his doctoral in 1999, Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre has authored over a hundred articles and published thirty-five books (five of which won national awards). He is Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. A Fulbright scholar, he has taught in Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, and Germany. Within his guild he was the 2012 President of the Society of Christian Ethics and co-founder/first executive director of the Society of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. Also, he was the founding editor of the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. A scholar-activist, Dr. De La Torre has written numerous articles in popular media. Recently, he wrote the screenplay to a documentary on immigration (http://www.trailsofhopeandterrorthemovie.com/).
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