RESEARCH: Academic Ebony McGee, pictured, was one of the study’s co-directors
BLACK UNIVERSITY lecturers are expected to entertain and crack jokes when presenting academic research to white peers, according to a new study.
The attitude recalls the historic objectification of blacks for entertainment including “blackface minstrels shows,” it is claimed.
Black female staff claimed their clothing and hairstyles came under greater scrutiny and said they were encouraged to play down their “passion” – and “smile more."
A male colleague reportedly told one black academic after her presentation: “Smile more. People already think that black women are too damn serious. Don’t add to the stereotype.”
Other black female academics interviewed for the study said their clothes were described as “having too much colour” or “being too tight” and their bodies were described as “overexposed,” according to the study Race, Ethnicity and Education.
In addition, nearly all of those questioned reported overt racist remarks in regards to their academic presentations.
A total of 33 per cent African American faculty members from institutions across the United States, including professors in education departments, were questioned about their personal experiences to provide a unique perspective on “presenting while black”.
Study co-director Ebony C McGee, assistant professor of education, diversity and urban schooling at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in Nashville, said the results were disappointing, but not surprising.
McGee said: “These micro-aggressions harken to a long history of blacks being objectified for entertainment value, all the way back to the blackface minstrels shows, which depicted African Americans as comical, lazy or dim-witted.
“Today the racialised objectification of African Americans may not always be as overt as it was a century ago, but the ‘black as entertainment’ ideology remains alive and well.”
The persistent racial stigmatisation of black college teaching staff was particularly troubling given the low number (less than nine per cent) working in higher education.
Study co-author Lasana Kazembe, adjunct professor at DePaul University, Chicago, said: “Disproportional representation in the academy combined with chronic racialised microaggression introduces serious personal and career complexities for black scholars.
“The stunning lack of diversity among higher education faculty presents serious challenges to levelling and democratising the educational playing field,” he said.
Presenting academic research to peers can open doors to research funding opportunities, promotion and job offers. Staff must present effectively to stand out from the crowd, but black scholars face additional hurdles for acceptance that range from “micro-aggressions” to outright racism.
Faced with “racial battle fatigue,” many try to change who they are in order to fit in, or simply give up and change careers, according to the report.
McGee added: “If we don’t deal with this, we will continue to lose a population of talented and promising researchers. Our hope is that this study will offer novel and useful insights to those who organise presentations and those who give them, so they will be able to understand, appreciate and provide an improved experience for black and other minoritised scholars.”