Before I write anything it needs to be said that I have it relatively good in these academic streets. I’m a cis Black man who’s at a top Sociology PhD program with funding and advisors who support me and allow me to do the kind of research I want. My biggest personal fears in academe is being rendered as a token or getting my research and perspective ignored. Very few other people that this piece applies to have any of the advantages I do. So if you think I’m angry from what I mentioned in this piece, consider how pissed everyone else who has less buffers and support than I do are. Remember this when you get comfortable having sympathy for my privileged Blackness while ignoring Black women, LGBQA, Trans, disabled, and immigrant folks in the academy.
#TheseAcademicHands is a posthoc hashtag I attached to a discussion that started with this tweet:
RT if you a POC student/academic who has legit considered throwing hands w/ a white student/prof for saying some wild racist stuff in class.
— William J Richardson (@HoodAcademic) October 23, 2016
It was a venting moment, something which Twitter is great at facilitating. What it turned into is a collective venting moment that too often denied to people on the margins in academia. A few days later I combined it into a Twitter moment to make it easier for people to get a sample of what people were talking about and that’s when I added the hashtag.
The tweet and reactions are pretty self-explanatory. Folks are sick and tired of being abused in classrooms and academic spaces without any reasonable way to respond or defend themselves. In the hood, when someone keeps violating your space and disrespecting you, it gets to a point where you just want to fight. The people respect that because everyone has a right to protect themselves. In academe, defending yourself, verbally or otherwise, is deemed “unprofessional” (or worse). This is the daily impasse many marginalized students find themselves at every day, having to endue abuse and not respond lest they lose funding, fail classes, get kicked out of school, get arrested, or be physically harmed (to be honest, usually more than one at a time).
Now I would take the time to discuss the centuries of work by marginalized people on how higher ed and academia are constructions of colonial domination, white supremacy, and cishetpatriarchy but y’all have degrees that are supposed to teach you how to research new topics and identify social problems. There is plenty out there that is available and a google search away for people who want to learn. The problem is that the people do harm to folks don’t care to learn and their well-meaning privileged peers are, in MLK’s words, are “more devoted to order [read: professionalism] than justice” to face truths that have been staring them in the face.
Edit: A good friend of mines reminded me that although people should know about the very obvious abuse happening in academia, that it is still a good idea to provide resources so that nobody has an excuse to say that they didn’t know. So below are a number of pieces and books that highlight the broader dynamics that produces the abuses people are enduring on the timeline:
- Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians
- Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
- Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities
- Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: A Tragedy of Race and Medicine
- Sociology and Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline
- Methodology of the Oppressed
- White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology
- Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia
- Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure
- Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools
- Death of White Sociology
- The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology
- Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment
#TheseAcademicHands is unapologetically about anger and about the right to defend ourselves from harm in higher ed. Many people are in college and academe not for status but survival. They know that they NEED to get through these institutions in order to do the work they want to do or more likely do any work worth doing, that’ll also pay them a living wage. To have that as your goal and to daily have it undermined by arrogant others or be pushed and shoved into doing work that is harmful to you and others is infuriating. We need not apologize for our tone, cursing, insults, or demeanor because these reactions are the reasonable response of people when they are oppressed.
IF folks with privilege want to help, they can hold others like themselves accountable for harming folks. This includes other students who watch people get harmed and say nothing because it doesn’t affect them. I know the status quo of feigned outrage and surface reforms is definitely NOT the thing we need. Any lasting change in higher ed has to be connected to struggles to change the society that gives higher ed its substance and purpose. Lasting change also means that privileged people, including myself, are going to have to pay a price for that change. What you think of as your normal educational life will have to change because real change means putting some skin in the game, up to and including some folks job’s and positions. But that reality is likely why you will read this piece, tell yourself that you’re going to fight hard in whatever space you occupy, but ultimately fall silent. That may come off as judgey, condemning, or cynical but when you really understand that the problems that exist in higher ed today are the same ones that existed 20, 50, or 100 years ago, I think you earn the right to be just a tad skeptical of it all.