Given these efforts, imagine faculty members offering colleagues the following feedback concerning their scholarship and self-presentations at professional meetings. As reported by 33 faculty members in a new study:
- 15 said concerns about subjectivity were raised concerning their research.
- 12 said their rigor had been questioned.
- 19 reported their data had been challenged as “quite remarkable” or “unbelievable.”
- 14 said they’d experienced audience “shock” about the high quality of the research.
- 20 reported receiving an “unwarranted” amount of questioning about the quality of their academic pedigree.
- 9 reported experiencing an air of “super surprise” upon revealing that they were at a top-tier institution.
- 5 respondents said they’d been told their garments were too tight.
- 4 received comments about their hair.
- 24 said they’d been subjected to comments about their “passion” or energy level.
- A large portion of respondents reported expectations of being funny, or being the object of jokes or ridicule.
- 1 respondent overheard the following being said about one presenter: “He was so energetic and lively with his expressions….Actually, he was so enthusiastic I thought he was going to do a little dance.”
- 13 said they experienced “targeted audience disinterest.”
The response to this feedback? The study notes that 22 respondents reported changing their behavior in ways that violated their identities.
The comments were made by White professors about Black professors. The study is titled “Entertainers or Education Researchers: The Challenges Associated With Presenting While Black,” published in Race, Ethnicity and Education. It examined 33 black faculty members’ experiences presenting their research in academic settings. The authors noted:
Scholars and the general public have long acknowledged that African-Americans are often more revered for their entertainment value than their intellectual acumen. [Participants] revealed that researchers’ presentations are not seen as a form of entertainment at every venue, nor did every black scholar we interviewed speak of enduring this experience. Nevertheless, for 29 of the 33 black scholars in this study, and for dozens of other black education faculty we have talked to informally, it happens enough to warrant a discussion of the dynamics associated with presenting while black, and of blackness being interpreted as a form of entertainment during educational presentations.
Unfortunately, there is nothing about this study that surprises me, or will surprise any Black scholars or students of the way that race/racism function in America today. The problem of implicit bias in higher education is a huge reason why I and many of my peers who have had predominantly negative experiences with our White “peers” will no longer present to them inside our institutions, if we already have tenure. Instead, we are venturing outside to our home communities, artistic, journalistic and activist realms, which are often more receptive and self-aware.
In order to be perceived as competent, some people have feel they have to sell their soul. So they’ll move on to a space that’s more affirming. And we’re losing a lot of very talented folks who don’t want to put up with performing.
Might it be that all of this has been nothing other than another failed social experiment?
Let the discussion begin…
To read the study, click on the following link:
Race, Ethnicity and Education.