Addressing Passive Racism in the Academy

Going beyond repulsion at large scale acts of racism.

August 15, 2017


While most people working in higher education can agree that the racism on display in Charlottesville is morally reprehensible, the whole incident has made me reflect on what we - as white faculty and administrators - are doing to to address the passive racism that occurs in the academy every day.

We have all witnessed acts of passive racism, whether acknowledged or not. The racist mascot, the lack of diverse curriculum, the Black man who is not a “good fit” for a faculty position, the Native woman who is denied tenure because she has not published in the “right” journals, the sole woman of color in the Department being asked to provide the “diversity” content for office meetings, the Black student who has been passed over for a research position by a faculty member because of the way she wears her hair.

As a white person, I understand the difficulty of knowing exactly what to do to address these situations. I have personally seen countless acts of racial microagressions in the academy, including witnessing two women of color be pushed out of their positions. Sometimes I was able to speak out against these acts in ways that addressed the passive racism directly, other times I was not. I know that I can do better. We all can.

But where do we go for guidance?

When I am feeling in doubt of how to address passive racism, I look to those who are doing important work in the field. At the same time, I am careful not to turn to friends and colleagues of color, as they are already overburdened with doing anti-racist work in the academy (and in everyday life). This is work that we must do ourselves.

The blog Conditionally Accepted is a go-to for better understanding racism in the academy. I have also turned again and again to the collection Presumed Incompetent - an excellent work for those seeking more information about the everyday microagressions and other forms of racism experienced by women of color scholars in the academy. The collection also concludes with a list of recommendations for policy and everyday changes that can be made to address these issues at both the institutional and individual levels. We would all do well to (re)visit these recommendations today.



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