Updated: Oct 14, 2020
A couple of weekends ago I talked to a Black woman who left the academy. As a tenured professor, she and I are the same age. We discussed that we probably have about 20 years left in our work lives.
Although there have been many positive aspects of our professional lives, both of us have experienced really terrible times too. As much as I want to make it not sound as bad as it is, I refer to it as professional hell.
Over the course of our conversation, we realized that many of our Black female colleagues are going through the same thing. One of the problems we face is that we expected the academy to treat us with respect. We naively thought that when we entered this exclusive academic club and entered this narrow pathway toward success, the Ph.D. was enough for us to be accepted in the academy, which would be a place that would honor us, uplift us, and prepare us for greater. It would embrace and envelope us in an intellectual community that would be better because of our presence. This community would support us much like our cultural communities, like friends and loved ones who cheered for us even if they didn't understand our careers or what we did in that career.
We were wrong.
Many women of color stay in these loveless professional relationships because we do not have a plan B when things go wrong.
Hearing the experiences of many of my Black women colleagues in academia reminds me of weddings & marriage. Our professional weddings were beautiful, but the professional marriages are loveless and are hanging on by a thread. Everything looks okay to others, but there aren't date nights, and we don't sleep in the same bed.
What do you do with that?
What the academy lets many Black women know is that if we "behave," we will be accepted and promoted. That means that everything we are taught to be in our culture doesn't matter in academia. In fact, we are told implicitly and explicitly that what we do is wrong, how we do what we do is wrong, and who we are is wrong.
We are often treated as if we are mistakes. Who we are is not a mistake, however. Who we were raised to be is not a mistake. What we represent is not a mistake. How we speak and think about ourselves is not a mistake. Stop treating us like mistakes!
It is time for the academy to love Black women academics. We don't need to be fixed. We aren't asking to be changed. We are, however, asking colleagues to stand in solidarity with us. We demand respect because we don't want to get to the end of our professional lives wishing that we had done something differently.
My colleague started a business and left the academy because she wants to spend the rest of her work life doing work she loves, not doing work that attempts to diminish her value and stresses her out.
You can't convince me that many of us have gone through grad school and tenure to be treated like trash for over 40 yrs.
That's some BS, and it has to stop.