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May 08, 2003

It's Blackademic

Kali Tal told me about the depressing state of black academia and African American Studies several years ago. I believed her. She remarked about the old Mau Maus and the Young Bloods. The older generation were die hard Marxists who had a huge vision for the scope of Black Studies but few researching skills. The younger generation was sharper and more well disciplined, but were more like scholar squirrels. At least this is the gist I recall. In the end, the whole scene seemed rather sad, as so many things do these days.

Now, lamentably, I get this missive forwarded from a friend. It includes such dire observations as this:

Even those African Americans who are spectacularly successful on the job market are not advantaged by this within several years. Such individuals are unusually likely to be asked onto multiple committees and to accept the responsibilities of "representation" on their campuses. They also often, rather than settle down and finish their work, which they receive little collegial support to do, instead fly around being stars, and indeed applying for other jobs, at the encouragement of their micropolitical allies. The result is that the country is filled with brilliant African American scholars -- in specific cases the most brilliant people I know -- who sit on dozens of university and profession-wide committees, who appear on half a dozen or more campuses every year, who don't finish books or publish much at all. In turn their white supporters start mumbling about them, and initial difference in salary, which favored African Americans because of scarcity, will over the course of their careers disappear as white scholars who publish more and do less move into powerful positions in the profession.

It's difficult for me to understand, and worse yet, tough to imagine what it is that we can expect from African American Studies that will fall on eager ears. It has been quite some time since I was listening myself, and I wonder what I have missed. If the bad state I recall hearing about way back when hasn't improved, I regret that I won't be alone in that.

Posted by mbowen at May 8, 2003 10:04 PM

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